What to Love in Pacifica, California by Emma Krasov

Photography by Yuri Krasov


One of the most beautiful coastal towns, Pacifica is found along the beloved by travelers picturesque Highway One, mere a 20-minute drive from San Francisco. So close to the busy metropolis, yet so far away from its hustle and bustle, the town is shrouded in summer fog that rises from the cold oceanic waters, and gets sunnier by wintertime when the temperatures of air and water equalize in seasonal harmony. Known as a surfer’s and fisherman’s paradise, Pacifica holds many unsung treasures for art and nature lovers as well. It’s good to visit any time of year, with numerous things to see and do.
Built by a San Francisco attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey in 1908, the fortress-like building on a hill was supposed to shield his family forever from natural disasters like the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. In its more than a century-long history, the Castle hasn’t suffered any damage from shaking ground, but took its fair share of disasters from a motley crew of its occupants who came in the wake of the original owners. They have ranged from an illegal abortion clinic and a Prohibition-era speakeasy the “Chateau Lafayette” to a communications center for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II to guard against Japanese saboteurs potentially coming ashore from their submarines.
In 1959, Sam Mazza, a theater painter and decorator for 20th Century Fox, purchased the Castle – not to live in it, but to “store his junk,” and thus created a museum of theater décor with its 24 rooms filled with period furnishings and artwork that had been used in films or onstage.

Lately, the Sam Mazza Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, was using the Castle for its charitable work to promote arts and education, and for private events. Now the museum is open to the public for monthly Sunday tours with an experienced and knowledgeable guide. (The upcoming tours are scheduled for November 29, December 20, and next year January 18, February 21, and March 8).

Sanchez Art Center

Located in a former elementary school building, Pacifica Center for the Arts is home to various performance arts and multiple artists’ studios. Sanchez Art Center, founded in 1996, began with a group of local artists who saw the potential for studio and gallery space in the unused school building. It now includes 18 studios, three galleries, and an arts education room. The Main Gallery holds four major exhibitions a year by well-known and emerging artists. Two annual juried competitions, Left Coast Annual, and the 50/50 Show are judged by distinguished jurors, while a lot of gallery space opens on a regular basis to the artists from the community, including children, seniors, and disabled adults.

Lovey’s Tea Shoppe

This tiny tea house is filled with mismatched china, toys and figurines, gingerly covering every surface in a cozy sun-lit dining room. There are dozens of black, green, flavored and herbal teas to choose from, all served in whimsical teapots and accompanied by finger sandwiches, greens-and-fruit salads, homemade soups, hearty lunches, or scones and crumpets with clotted cream and berry preserves. According to the shop owner, Muna Nash, women love to bring here their kicking and screaming husbands and boyfriends for high tea, but all of them leave with a smile on their faces, and many become regulars of this sweet, warm and delicious place.

Moonraker Restaurant

In Pacifica, this glorious salty air beach town, the culinary emphasis is understandably placed on fresh seafood, and there’s hardly a better place to enjoy it than Moonraker Restaurant overlooking the famous Rockaway Beach. Every window offers a panoramic ocean view, and a Sunday brunch buffet is nothing short of spectacular. From oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, and smoked salmon to soups, salads, vegetables, meat dishes, and overwhelmingly lavish desserts, the Moonraker has it all, including your morning champagne and mimosas. A wonderful place to enjoy with a family or a company of friends! The regulars say that from the restaurant windows they often see migrating whales in season (December-January and February-April). According to the National Marine Sanctuaries of the West Coast, Pacifica is one of the richest areas in the world for marine mammal life.

Puerto 27 Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar

This new restaurant, packed on any evening, serves Latin-American staples and Peruvian specialties. Spicy tangy starters include Ceviche Elegancia (classic Peruvian ceviche with white fish, aji rocoto leche de tigre, red onion, lime, sea salt); Mushroom Empanadas (maitake, shiitake, beech mushrooms, spinach, corn, Jack cheese); Jalea Mixta (calamari, shrimp, scallop, yucca, salsa criolla, black mint tartar sauce), and Anticuchos de Corazon (beef heart skewers). Among the mains Lomo Saltado (steak strips), Aji de Gallina (chicken stew), and Choritos (mussels in tomato-chorizo sauce) are the stars.

Nick’s Restaurant

Built in 1927, the historical landmark restaurant is still owned and operated by the fourth generation of the founding family. Located right on the Rockaway Beach with raging waves and silvery foam under a full moon, this respectable establishment, well-known way beyond its native town, serves classic libations, generous portions of fish and meat dishes, and decadent desserts. Live music plays on weekends over a dance floor that’s never vacant.

Devil’s Slide Trail

Hikes and walks in Pacifica are a great addition to bicycling, Segway tours, watersports, and other outdoor adventures. A newly opened Devil’s Slide Trail stretches for a little over a mile on a former Highway One segment known for its dangerous landslides and associated with them accidents and closures. Last year, with the opening of an engineering wonder – Tom Lantos Tunnels – the San Mateo County Parks Department began converting this segment of the old highway into a non-motorized trail opened to hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. An easy walk along the Devil’s Slide Trail grants unparalleled panoramic views of the endless Pacific and dramatic cliffs populated by seagulls and cormorants.

Mori Point Trail

Even on a foggy day, a leisurely walk to Mori Point is a fascinating experience. With an endless ocean beach of one side, and the Alister MacKenzie-designed Sharp Park Golf Course on another, the trail opens to stunning seaside vistas, and to golfing greens surrounded by dramatically crooked cypresses bent by the Pacific winds.


Hotels in Pacifica

Pacifica Beach Hotel across from the surfer’s favorite Linda Mar Beach is a great place to watch sunsets from you room window, and to relax in a Jacuzzi tub right in your room after vigorous outdoor activities like surfing, boating, scuba, fishing, paragliding, hiking, birding, cycling, golf, tennis, bowling, archery and horseback riding. Pacifica Beach Hotel: (650) 355-9999, http://www.pacificabeachhotel.com.

Other accommodations include America’s Best Value Inn Pacifica: (877) 784-6835, http://www.pacifica-bestvalueinn.com; Best Western Plus Lighthouse Hotel: (650) 355-6300, http://www.bestwesternlighthouse.com; Holiday Inn Express & Suites: (650) 355-5000, http://www.hiexpresspacifica.com; Pacifica Motor Inn: (800) 522-3772, http://www.pacificamotorinn.com; Sea Breeze Motel at Rockaway Beach: (650) 359-3903.

For more information about the destination of Pacifica, California, please visit http://visitpacifica.com.