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.
Pescadero and Pigeon Point Lighthouse
The 50 miles of coastline between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz are one of the great surprises of the California coast: The virtually unspoiled miles offer rocky tide pools and driftwood-strewn beaches beneath sculpted bluffs topped by rolling green fields of brussels sprout, artichokes, and U-pick berry patches. Access to the water is not always very easy, and while surfers seem to park along Hwy-1 and walk across the fields to wherever the waves are breaking, for visitors it’s best to aim for one of the half dozen state parks, like San Gregorio, Pomponio, Bean Hollow, or Año Nuevo.
The biggest town hereabouts, Pescadero (pop. 643) is a mile or so inland from Hwy-1 and well worth the short detour for a chance to sample the fresh fish, great pies, and other home-cooked treats at Duarte’s Tavern (202 Stage Rd., 650/879-0464, daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner), at the south end of the block-long downtown.
Less than 10 miles south of Pescadero, the photogenic beacon of Pigeon Point Lighthouse has appeared in innumerable TV and print commercials. The graceful, 115-foot-tall brick tower is closed, but the grounds are open for tours (Fri.-Mon. 10am-4pm, donation), and the adjacent lighthouse quarters function as the very popular HI-Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (210 Pigeon Point Rd., 650/879-0633), which has dorms beds, family-friendly private rooms, and a hot tub perched above the crashing surf.