Friday, June 22, 2018

Uncle Pete's Most Excellent Seaside Adventure

Summer is back, my trusty cyberpeeps, and, as usual, the Monterey Bay is once again going OFF in all its beautiful, wildlife-filled glory! Thus it's time to make a choice, carpe diem and all that jazz; time to do whatever you have on the calendar for tomorrow or next Tuesday or next Whateverday, or chuck it all, hop in the damn car and get a wiggle on.

Time to hit the road. Hit the deck. Hit the beach. Time, in fact, for Uncle Pete’s Most Excellent Seaside Adventure!

"What's that?" you say. 
"Sounds exciting!" you add.
"Pray, do tell..."

Uncle Pete's Most Excellent Seaside Adventure (UPMESA) is an epic, adventure-filled day out on the road and on the water. Assuming you're starting in San Francisco—or Oakland or somewhere else North Bay—the idea is to freeway south in the AM to get where you're going fast, spend a few awesome hours on a boat in search of aquatic wildlife, and then mosey back up the slower, more scenic coast road in the PM.

So...with our eyes on the prize of Moss Landing, that krill-sized speck of a town on the edge of Monterey Bay, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey proper, let's begin with a basic outline of the round-trip road trip and follow up with some details.

Start - San Francisco

Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Ave, Capitola, CA
Stop here for to-go breakfast bites and/or snack provisions to tide you over until lunch after the whale watch.

Sanctuary Cruises
7881 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA
Blue Ocean Whale Watch
7881 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA

Allow a full 2 hours for the drive south to Moss Landing—including the stop at Gayle’s—just to be on the safe side (one never knows about traffic).

Phil's Fish Market
7600 Sandholdt Rd, Moss Landing, CA
If they’re on their game, it’s some of the best fish and chips around (I like the halibut). One order is big enough for two people. Ask for extra tartar sauce.

Swanton Berry Farm
25 Swanton Rd, Davenport, CA
Cute little coastal farm stand with organic strawberries, strawberry jam (do not miss!), coffee and some other sweets.

Historic lighthouse and beautiful point of land for a brief walk about.

Pescadero, CA
(Detour to the self-proclaimed artichoke capitol of the world.)
Duarte's Tavern
202 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay
1 Miramontes Point Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA
Dad's Luncheonette
225 Cabrillo Hwy S, Half Moon Bay, CA

Finish - San Francisco

Beginning in San Francisco, drive south on US 101 or US 280 to CA 17, up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains, to CA 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway). Head south on CA 1 to the day's first stop, Gayle’s in Capitola. Founded in 1978 as a small neighborhood bakery, today Gayle's is 10,000-foot food emporium loved by locals and tourists alike, and you’ll be blown away by the depth and breadth of all the edible goodness inside; by the cleanliness and organization of the place. Enter and peruse for a moment the mind-numbing, eye-popping, beautifully displayed selection of cakes, tarts, pies, pastries, cookies, breads, sandwiches, wraps, salads, whole roasted chickens, and other cold and hot prepared foods of several makes and sizes. (They also make a killer humus; I like to pick up a container for home.) When you’re ready, take a ticket from the machine by the door and wait for your number to be called. After some efficient and smiling service, grab your goods and jump back in the car.

Continue south to Moss Landing and check in for your whale watch (arrive ½ hour before boat departure time). In the parking lot, over by the first brick building on your right, there’s a drop box for parking fees ($8.00 per car, last time I checked). Good to take your own pen as sometimes the pencil is MIA, and make sure to display the receipt on your dashboard

Next...Enjoy your whale watch on Monterey Bay!

Putt-puttering from the slip, cruise down the harbor channel toward the big briny, toward the beautiful Monterey Bay and the mighty Pacific, passing cormorants and sea lions and western grebes and those cuddly California sea otters while your naturalist for the day points out the different boats, the various buildings, the wildlife, and what to expect once we leave the harbor behind.

And what should you expect?

Well, don't expect. Hope...that's better. You're bound to see something out there, but one never knows what that might be, exactly. Definitely some whales—humpback whales mostly—but also, depending the time of year, big blue whales, fin whales and/or gray whales, maybe orca (!), plus dolphins and porpoises of several different species (in groups that number in the thousands, at times), sluggish mola mola, sea turtles, jellyfish, sharks if you're lucky (great whites are out there and are being seen more often!). Albatross. Pelicans and shearwaters. Tufted puffins? Yup. There's no guarantee. Every trip is supremely different. I adore it out there!

Once back on land, drive or walk over to Phil’s Fish Market for lunch. The menu is large, but there's really no reason to not try the halibut fish and chips. Make the queue, order and pay, and take a number to your table (they deliver the food when it's ready); while you wait, grab a beverage at the bar (you pay separately). There's a quality retail fish market on sight, too, if you're hankering to cook up something for dinner at home. 

Tasty lunch complete, it's time to head north now, this time on the gorgeous, wide-open, curvy Pacific Coast Highway (CA 1), all the way back to San Francisco and/or home. You have to drive thru Santa Cruz proper (traffic can be a pain), but once beyond enjoy the view as you zip up the dramatic coast, pausing here and there should you wish (lots of beautiful vista points and beaches) until you reach...

Swanton Berry Farm is a must stop for fruit and quite possibly THE best strawberry jam on the planet. (About 3 miles north of Davenport, it’s the place with the old truck and the plants/big wooden strawberry display at the road.) Inside, find some jars set out for sampling the different jams, plus a coffee urn for a small cuppa. Honor system payment; accepts cash and now CCs.

Back in the car, 15 miles further up the coast, at wild and windswept Pigeon Point Lighthouse, stretch your legs, enjoy the view, and tour the grounds and the historic lighthouse. Tide pools for exploring (at a low tide) are about 100 yards north of parking lot.

Pescadero, CA. Detour inland to the kinda funky yet charming town for a look-see and some artichoke goodness, which could include the famous cream of artichoke soup at Duarte’s and a big loaf of artichoke heart bread.

In Half Moon Bay you have a choice, should you desire: relax for a spell at the ritzy Ritz-Carlton or get some more casual seaside sustenance at Dad’s Luncheonette, a cute little diner slash train caboose. The main street strip of "downtown" Half Moon Bay is actually kinda cute and might be worth a stop and short walkabout.

After Half Moon Bay I'm usually ready to hightail it back to SF, but should you desire there's a few more potential stops along the way.

Further north find Moss Beach Distillery, a local favorite for casual eats and drinks and jazz on selected days/dates, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a state-protected area of rocky seashore with an expansive intertidal zone perfect for exploring during low tide (naturally).

Moss Beach Distillery
140 Beach Way, Moss Beach, CA
A seaside patio, fire pits, more food and refreshment, and a ghost?

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve - Tide Pools
200 Nevada Avenue, Moss Beach, CA
Great place for kids and adults alike to explore an expanse of protected, healthy tide pools. In addition to the official park website listed above, use the following for more info and to check local low tide times/days: Friends of Fitzgerald Reserve.

As opposed to a big meal/luncheon at any one spot, I like to graze my way through UPMESA. Morning muffin or croissant from Gayle’s; a sandwich and a cookie for the boat from Gayle’s; split the fish and chips at Phil’s; strawberries at Swanton; with perhaps some more snacks in Pescadero and/or Half Moon Bay. I think the old west town of Pescadero makes for an interesting detour, whether or not you're hungry. Moss Beach Distillery is very popular and has some interesting history but is not my top choice for a food stop (tho many would disagree). The tide pools at Fitzgerald Reserve don't offer food but are def worth a stop if time (and the low tide) allows.

There’s so much to see and do on UPMESA, on the big day out, especially during the late spring and summer when daylight lasts and lasts and lasts. Enjoy sunset from the road or back in SF, then, if you're still even remotely hungry, head out for dinner!

Happy trails,
Peter J. Palmer