I’ve always known Pacifica’s coastline boasts just about the best and most diverse five-mile span of beaches in Northern California. I thought I knew it well. Until I extended my usual day-trip to two nights and three days in this quintessential surfer haven beach town, I had no idea how much I was missing. I soon discovered the beaches are only the beginning.
Two beaches within walking distance of each other – Rockaway and Linda Mar -have always been my favorites and I soon added Mori Point to the list. Staying in Rockaway Beach at the Holiday Inn turned out to be pure genius for the simple reason that during the entire stay, my car remained unused. And yet I dined in wonderful restaurants, imbibed wine flights at a local pub, hiked miles of trails and seacoast bluffs, and attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at a local eatery where I shook hands with so many towns people I soon felt like a local myself.
The first evening I joined friends for a wine experience at the nearby Grape in the Fog. A soft, warm winter rain accompanied the three-block walk from my hotel; the salty scent of the sea lifted my spirits and I was soon welcomed into the pub’s convivial ambiance. We decided on several tastings recommended by Elizabeth, our server, who impressed us with her viticultural knowledge; we later learned that the staff visited several wineries north of Pacifica in search of selections for their cellar.
I was especially pleased with the 2013 Stubbs Vineyard Pinto Noir. Tasting of blackberry and cherry with a hint of smoke, it was finely balanced, clear and light. The pub was quite a find and though I’ve driven past Grape in the Fog numerous times, I’ve never noticed it as I slowed down to make the right turn off Highway One into Pacifica’s Rockaway Beach and here it was, just a stone’s throw from my hotel.
Dinner that evening was at the water’s edge and half a block from my lodging. Nick’s Restaurant and Bar has been a family-run culinary mainstay on Pacifica’s coastline for almost a century. In fact, this was the site of the 90-year anniversary ribbon-cutting party I came upon during my stay. With its half-round booths and 70’s era decor, the place has a retro feel that comes with friendly down-home service.
Add in the view from bay windows overlooking ocean waves crashing on the rocks and it’s a classic beachfront find. With a glass of zinfandel in hand, I knew this was the place to be. Nick’s is famous for their seafood especially the crab sandwich served on grilled sour dough bread with avocado. I can attest it is crammed with crab, contains very little mayo and is highly satisfactory.
Joining friends the next morning, we convened at Rockaway Beach and set out along a trail that led past a memorial garden created by a local resident in honor of the victims of 9/11. Rain had been forecast but the weather gods were feeling benign as we headed north along the Old Country Road path leading to the uphill turn for the Mori Point overlook.
Reaching the headland, we marveled at the stunning coastline views. We were fortunate to have long-time Pacifica native and local historian, John Flinn, along for the hike. As the former travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, John regaled us with tales of Mori Point’s colorful past as a haven for bootleggers and as the cinematic site where scenes from the cult classic “Harold and Maude” were filmed. No longer haunted by hooch brewers, Mori Point’s 110 acres are now part of the southern Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I plan to visit again in the spring when wildflower blooms carpet the hills.
Repairing to Uoyakutei Japanese Restaurant, we chased off any weariness from our walk with steaming Udon bowls and grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon. The side entry to the restaurant was directly across from the previous nights’ wine bar location and another new discovery in this resourceful pocket of Pacifica’s coast.
With the early morning clouds blown out to sea, I teamed up with another friend for one more walk as we headed south along the coastal trail with a view of surfers riding the waves just below the bluffs. Inspired by the clear air, the crescent beach below, our energies were renewed. Other hikers were out and it seemed as though love was everywhere with smiles and hellos as we passed each one. Our amble from Rockaway Beach took us on part of what is called the Pacific Coastal Trail as it wound up and down on the view-strewn bluffs. Before heading back to the Holiday Inn for an afternoon nap, we stopped at an overlook to take in one more view, the wide crescent-shaped Linda Mar Beach, also known as Pacifica’s State Beach and a favorite with surfers and families. Snowy plovers over-winter here usually nestling in the sand and enjoying the view out to sea before departing sometime in April.
With one last evening left and still having more of this little waterfront haven to explore, I headed off to the famed Moonraker Restaurant diagonally across the street from my hotel. Moonraker’s design was inspired by the 1979 James Bond film of the same name, as well as its close proximity to the ocean. I especially admired the interior space with its floor to ceiling windows and creative use of retro accents while still remaining classic, modern and comfortable.
I knew Moonraker is Pacifica’s fine dining establishment, known far and wide for its sumptuous Sunday brunch, so this evening was a special occasion. Dinner was not to disappoint with its second floor aerie of a bar perched above the sea and warm, roaring flames in the dining room fireplace. A seafood lover, I chose the seared sea scallops while my dinner companions dined on surf and turf, rib-eye steaks and vegetarian local farm plates. A fitting end to a weekend-worthy destination brimming with heart and fit for foodies, lovers and beach combers.
But one last treat lay in store; this time requiring the use of wheels as friends gathered for good-byes before heading off to the four points of the compass. A rendezvous at the next traffic stoplight south, but still in Pacifica just across from Linda Mar Beach, we convened for a Peruvian lunch and Pisco Sours at Puerto 27 Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar. Set on a bluff, the dining room’s commanding view of the ocean was one last visual treat served up by the salty town of Pacifica. I lingered over tea and dessert long enough to create a mental snapshot until the next time.
If You Go: Pacifica is just 15 minutes drive south of San Francisco but will feel world’s away. Visit the city’s website for more information. http://visitpacifica.com/