When you travel Highway 1 from San Francisco to the cliffs of Half Moon Bay, you’re never far from the lapping waters and crashing waves of the largest ocean in the world. The short drive will take you along the Pacific Ocean’s sandy beaches, coastal forests, rocky promontories and peaceful ocean-side farmlands. Dotted along the way are iconic eateries with ocean views and seafood.
As you come down Highway 1’s palisade to Pacifica, you’ll see a long curve of sandy beach and a grand ocean vista where surfers, picnickers, sunbathers, paddle boarders and skim boarders dot the beach and water, like a contemporary coastal version of Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte.”
At the far end of the shore is Pacifica’s Taco Bell, built in the 1960s. Newly renovated, it’s now Taco Bell Cantina with an indoor-outdoor fireplace, indoor murals, and a broad deck overlooking Linda Mar beach. The revamped beverage menu includes Draft Lagunitas IPA, a perfect accompaniment to the assorted tacos, burritos and nachos to snack on while watching the surfers.
Back on Highway 1, the drive up the hill through the forest approaches the Devil’s Slide tunnels, a terrific feat of modern engineering that bores through the mountains to connect Pacifica with the small coastal community of Montara. As you emerge from the brightly lit tunnel, heading south, you’ll drop down to a landscape of bucolic farms, their green fields, studded with farmstands, bordering the ocean.
Next comes Pillar Point Harbor, a marina chock full of fishing boats, bait shops, stores, and the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. The brewery serves up such fare as fish and chips, Dungeness Crab Roll, and Fish Tacos. You can eat outside on the heated patio or inside in the cozy warren of dark-paneled rooms.
Just down the highway is Sam’s Chowder House, a longtime Bay Area favorite for local and sustainable seafood, including its famous Manhattan-style chowder. The restaurant sits on the edge of the harbor where you can eat outside on the panoramic deck, or snug up inside where windows offer the same harbor view.
A few more miles of highway and you’ll spot the turn for the road that winds through coastal scrubs, landscaped grounds, and a golf course to reach the imposing, but welcoming entrance of the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. With gables and turrets, the shingle-style building stands alone in solitary grandeur on bluffs overlooking the rocky shoreline, slivers of beaches, and the ever-present, pounding Pacific Ocean.
You have free articles remaining.
The hotel, with its ocean and coastal view rooms, is a popular get away for Silicon Valley people and their visitors, offering a world-class look of California’s coastal landscape, whether from the 18-hole golf course, or the cliffside hiking trails. The trails crossing through the hotel property are part of the 1,200-mile network of the California Coastal Trail, and the 7.6-mile stretch of it along Half Moon Bay is one of the easiest to walk.
The trail passes within a stone’s throw of the Ocean Terrace Restaurant at the Ritz, where guests and hikers alike can enjoy drinks and food on the flagstone terrace. The restaurant has a raw bar with a wide offering of shellfish, plus a casual menu to suit all tastes and degrees of hunger. The terrace’s fire pit is one of the most convivial settings, but there are plenty of tables for two.
The terrace is a favorite place at sunset, not only for the view, but also for the bagpipe player. Every Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday, his haunting melodies drift across the property as the sun drops, making the wild, bluffside setting comparison with Scotland even more replete.
Navio, the hotel’s refined dining restaurant on the second floor, next to the casual Conservatory restaurant, opens its windows to let the bagpipe music float through the elegant space, a welcome accompaniment to the setting. The menu, under the guidance of newly hired Chef Jakob Esko,is a revelation in flavors, particularly the specials that reflect what is fresh at that moment. The night, I was there the specials included Watercress Risotto with tiny Japanese mushrooms and sea urchin.
Esko grew up in northern Sweden, where foraging for food was part of daily life. Although the California coast is a far different ecosystem than his homeland, his incorporation of the wild is apparent in his dishes.
The stretch of coast from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay is one that still retains the character of California’s early days of unobstructed views, coastal flora and fauna, and an unquenchable enthusiasm for the land and the ocean. Add to that the options of coastal eating at its best with a world-class hotel at day’s end and it all makes for an unforgettable getaway.