The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Montara and Princeton
From the San Francisco city limits, Hwy-1 runs along the Pacific Ocean through the rural and almost totally undeveloped coastline of San Mateo County. The first eight miles or so are high-speed freeway, but after passing through the suburban communities of Daly City and Pacifica, the pace abruptly slows to a scenic cruise. Pacifica, which has a long pier, a popular surfing beach, a bowling alley, an oceanview Taco Bell, and a handy Holiday Inn Express motel, makes a good edge-of-town base for seeing the San Francisco area. South of Pacifica, two-lane Hwy-1 hugs the decomposing cliff tops of Devil’s Slide, where the terrifying old highway is being converted into a cycling and hiking path following completion of a long-delayed new tunnel (decades in the making).
The first real place south of Pacifica is the ramshackle beach town of Montara, where the old but still functioning lighthouse has been partly converted into the HI-Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel (8800 Cabrillo Hwy., 650/728-7177).
South of Montara, Hwy-1 bends inland around the rugged shores of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (200 Nevada Ave., 650/728-3584), a wonderful (but very fragile) tide pool area filled with anemones and other delicate sea creatures. The tide pools are visible at low tide only; look, but don’t touch! Hwy-1 continues south past the Pillar Point Harbor at Princeton-by-the-Sea, where you can enjoy a different sort of sealife appreciation: the fresh fish-and-chips (plus nice wines and cold beers) at Barbara’s Fishtrap (281 Capistrano Rd., 650/728-7049, cash only).