Going Coastal in Half Moon Bay, California by Patty Burness

The sun was peaking in and out of the fog as my husband and I left San Francisco early one Sunday morning and headed south. Cruising down Route 1 past San Pedro Point in Pacifica where surfers were hitting their mark, through the Eucalyptus trees on Cabrillo Highway, winding by the massive new tunnel being built into the hillside at Devil’s Slide, past the Pt. Montara Lighthouse and on to Pillar Point Harbor.
Pillar Point Harbor bustles with fishing boats returning with their catch. Planning a seafood dinner? Call ahead to discover what fish are available right off the boat. But not on Sunday morning – it’s quiet and sleepy – with only the signs from yesterday’s sales to indicate what was jumping. Take in the fresh sea air and enjoy a peaceful coastside stop on the way to Half Moon Bay.

Dating back to the 1840’s, “Spanishtown” was first inhabited by Costanoan Indians, then Spanish settlers and Mexican and Chilean laborers. It was in 1874 that the name was officially changed to Half Moon Bay. Nestled between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay is the perfect place to kick back, relax and bask in serenity.

Half Moon Bay has a bit of everything – bluffs and beaches, antique shops and galleries, restaurants and cafes, B & Bs and bookstores. Strolling is the way to go, and Main Street is the place. Half To Have It is a collector’s dream with 10,000 square feet of unique items for home and garden. You’ll love the recycled colored glass – buy it by the pound for your own creations or purchase mosaics and other objects d’art that use this medium creatively. Browse Tokenz, a shop with something for everyone – clothing, handmade jewelry and an amazing bead emporium in the back room.

Hungry for brunch, we went straight to Cetrella, conveniently located on Main Street. High ceilings and skylights, wooden beams, open kitchen and a natural warm interior make this historic building come alive. (The structure is the former home of the Growers Association where farmers trucked produce destined for urban markets.) A double-sided limestone fireplace sat idle, but on a cold day, the blazing fire must be inviting.
We chose the ricotta stuffed brioche french toast served with a Chantilly cream and strawberry compote – it seemed like dessert for breakfast, but why not? We also enjoyed Monterey Bay calamari (light and spicy) and the wood-fired baked eggs, served in a terracotta pot, complemented with stone ground polenta. Brunch calls for sparkling wine so we tasted Cristalino Brut, Penedes, NV from Spain, Roderer Estate Brut, NV from the Anderson Valley and Clerostein NV from Alsace, France.

As my husband headed off to play the Ocean Course at the Half Moon Bay Golf Links, I went back up Main Street to Half Moon Bay Wine & Cheese. For eleven years, Nancy Girard has guided this local tasting room – carrying more than 800 wines from around the world to pair with luscious cheeses. Whether you choose a taste in the store or goodies to go, you’ll delight in the high quality amid a casual atmosphere.

Time to leave Main Street for a quick drive south to The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Spectacularly situated atop a coastside bluff, the property blends in with the undulating golf courses and pristine greens. Our luxe corner room gave way to vistas of crashing waves and a lush landscape.

It seemed only fitting – Half Moon Bay being the pumpkin capital of the world – to succumb to a Pumpkin Body Peel at the hotel spa. After 45 minutes of slathering, exfoliating and massaging with an exclusive pumpkin formula – and a Vichy shower – then hydrating with Vitamin A and pumpkin shea butter, I was rejuvenated and definitely soft and smooth.
My husband came off the Ocean Course raving about the rolling dunes, the Scottish feel and the stunning views of the Pacific. The course was in perfect condition. He called the 17th hole, a par three set on a cliff overlooking the pounding surf, one of the most exciting holes he’s ever played.
Since our room price entitled us to access the Club Lounge, we grabbed a glass of bubbly and headed for the blazing fire pits on the hotel’s terrace. Overlooking the ocean, we watched the glorious sunset. There’s even a hot tub further out towards the edge of the bluff. As the sun sunk lower in the sky, we went inside to Navio for dinner. Not losing the view for a second, we settled into the middle of an extraordinary room. Navio is Portuguese for “ship” and the dining room transports diners to the days of the 1800s and the master craftsmanship of Portuguese boat builders. The ceiling is shaped like the underside of a ship’s hull. All fitting since Chef de Cuisine Aaron Zimmer salutes Half Moon Bay’s coastside location in his flavorful cuisine.

The tasting menu (which changes seasonally) paired with wines from around the world got our votes. We enjoyed dill-scented risotto with smoked trout roe and soft shell crabs with freshly-picked strawberries and pickled red onions; Chef Aaron is now serving boat scallops with a Muscat tapioca and a salmon with chickpeas and a red wine fish sauce. For beef lovers, there’s always Niman Ranch steak – tender, juicy, delicious. Plums were in season when we visited, so dessert combined sweet plum gelato with a luscious white chocolate cream. And of course now, it’s all about pumpkin – pumpkin panna cotta with marcona almond, pumpkin seed, gingerbread ice cream.

Even after that dinner, we had room for a little more, so settled in next door to Navio at ENO, the wine bar. From more than 15 flights, we sampled local Santa Cruz offerings paired with the Chocolate Buzz. Created by chocolatier Mark Ainsworth, the bittersweet ganache, the milk chocolate blended with Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and the vanilla-butter caramel in a dark bittersweet chocolate were superb with the tastes of syrah, pinot and cabernet.

The fire pits were still ablaze as we fell into bed. Before long, we were lulled to sleep by the sound of waves rolling into shore. Next morning, coffee, fruit, cereal, bagels and more awaited us in the Club Lounge. Then it was back on Highway 1 north, leaving the coastside for San Francisco. Can’t beat twenty-four hours of great fun, delicious food and wine, fresh sea air.