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 ocean-view Taco Bell, and a handy Holiday Inn Express hotel, 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 has been converted into a cycling and hiking path following completion of the current tunnel.

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 (650/728-7177).

South of Montara, Hwy-1 bends inland around the rugged shores of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (650/728-3584), a wonderful (but 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 ’n’ chips (plus nice wines and cold beers) at Barbara’s Fishtrap (650/728-7049, cash only).

Map of Pacific Coast through California's Central Coast.
Map of Pacific Coast through California’s Central Coast.