Driving down the coast in Northern California is something everyone should have done at least once in his/her lifetime. The romance of the rugged cliffs and the powerful Pacific Ocean underneath is only topped by the sheer natural beauty that surrounds you while following the serpentine road along sleepy coastal towns and surfer beaches to Capitola, a picturesque seaside city that would do just perfectly as a movie set for a “Jaws” remake.
After having slept in as much as possible from the previous trip to Yosemite National Park, I was ready for a more relaxed day. It was a sunny Sunday and by the time I was ready to grab my morning coffee just around the corner of the parking garage, Fishermen´s Wharf was already thriving with activity and hustle and bustle. Just the perfect timing to escape this circus and get some fresh ocean breeze into my lungs.
Packed with water, windbreaker and sweater (weather is ever-changing down the coast), I was ready to go.
While getting out-of-town was not as easy as the day before, by the time I reached the starting point of Highway 1 in Daly City, traffic had cleared and life was good. I love that feeling of freedom when being on the road, particularly when leaving large cities and heading for nature. It is almost like breaking free from these everyday strings that tie us to our busy, booked up lives.
I made the first short stop at Pacifica State Beach. The view onto it as the highway descends from the hill into the valley is absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, there was no chance to stop for a moment to enjoy it a little longer, but even when standing on the beach itself, the panorama was well worth it. Watching the surfers wait for the perfect wave or simply dipping your toes into the ice-cold ocean.
Just a few minutes further South and right behind the tunnel lies Devil´s Slide parking lot. This is also a point where blue skies suddenly turn foggy and misty. But don´t be sad, the skies normally clear up again towards the afternoon. It does give the coast its special mystical ambiance though.
The bunker at Devil´s Slide used to be a military triangulation and observation station and was part of San Francisco´s harbor defense during World War II. The cliff was also site to the 1960 thriller Portrait in Black with Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn. And the view? Gorgeous!
On the way to Half Moon Bay, where I stocked up groceries and drinks at the local Safeway, I halted at every roadside stop possible that looked promising for panoramic views.
The official State Park parking lots are chargeable. But once you have paid the 10 US-Dollars fee you may use them all along the highway without having to pay a second time. It is favorable to have cash with you though, a credit card may not be so helpful.
Another neat thing to do is stopping at one of the many fruit farms and stands on the road. At some farms, you can even pick the berries yourself! Def worth a visit for organic foods or a piece of handmade fruit pie is the Pie Ranch near Pescadero.
An absolutely romantic and idyllic spot to visit is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse further South. It was built in 1871 and is one of the two tallest lighthouses at the West coast. Some of the original buildings have been transformed into a hostel and the lighthouse is still in use today. The beautiful little park around it is worth a visit to learn about the coastal flora, yet the secluded location does seem a tiny bit spooky when thinking of horror movies like “The Fog”. I can literally see myself running up the spiral staircase during a stormy night, trying to save my life from the vengeful dead… . LOL, ok, silly thought.
Another stop that you definitely must stop at is Shark Fin Cove right outside Davenport. The cove is world-famous for catching the sunset light so compellingly that it is one of the most photographed spots on the Pacific coast. The Shark Fin, as the center rock is also referred to, was once an extension of the mudstone cliff enclosing the beach. Over the centuries, it was steadily eroded by wind and waves and now gives the area the specific nickname. It is a short walk away from the parking lot along shut down train tracks and the descend to the beach is quite steep. If you wander over the surrounding cliffs, beware of ticks! Stupid me (or maybe even lucky wearing them) had shorts on while walking through the grasses. Luckily, I have immediately noticed that bloodsucker when trying to find the perfect biting spot on my calf! That evil thing was huge, yuck. Wrong day to bite me though, Mister.
Another pretty rock formation is located at Four Mile Beach and shortly after you will already pass Santa Cruz to get to Capitola. If you have time and are not in a hurry like me (the rental car needed to be back in SFO by 7pm), Santa Cruz is supposed to be well worth a visit, too. But as my clock was ticking, I will have to postpone a visit to another time when in the area again.
Capitola, on the other hand, is my absolute insider tip for you to visit. This beautiful, beautiful seaside town is filled with gorgeous ocean view houses, a lively downtown beach and cute little side streets filled with local shops and cafés. In fact, it is one of the oldest resort towns on the West coast, yet not so well-known to tourists outside the U.S. . It once was home to the Soquel Indians for over 2,000 years and is these days a bustling little city with excellent bed and breakfast accommodations and seafood dining. Perfect for a romantic short getaway, if you wanted to. If I were a Hollywood producer and was looking for the set of a new “Jaws” remake, Capitola would definitely be my first choice. It is the perfect ideal of an All-American harbor town with a well-maintained cityscape and a picturesque location. Probably one of the prettiest spots to breathe in the fresh Pacific Ocean breeze.
Left with way too few time at this little Garden Eden, I was shortly back on the road towards San Francisco again. When you have a certain deadline to meet, I would recommend the next time to take the CA-17 North instead of going up the coastal highway. This might not be as picturesque to drive on as it winds up North up-country, but Highway 1 can get particularly crowded around the coastal towns in the late afternoons, causing unpredictable delays. I made it back in time to San Francisco last-minute, but not without having lost temper and over-speeding at some point or the other.
But what a beautiful day it was. I hope to be back soon…