Take a second and close your eyes, and try to transport yourself to California. I’ll help you a bit: Imagine the sharp, cliff-side turns of Highway 1. The chill, small town coastal vibes. The placid crash of the waves coming in from the Pacific.
It’s hard to believe this place is less than 30 minutes from San Francisco.
Half Moon Bay is a gem of a destination along California’s famous Highway 1, and a destination that probably doesn’t receive enough credit relative to its southern siblings like Santa Cruz, Carmel, and Big Sur. It’s got everything you’d want in a small Highway 1 town – surfing, seafood, craft beer, and West Coast sunsets – without the long drive from the Golden State’s coastal metropoles.
I recently spent the latter half of the US Thanksgiving holiday buckling down on a new podcast during a solo creative retreat at the HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve found my new San Francisco escape.
To give you a quick history lesson, all along the Cali coast, small lighthouses like the one in Montara were built because a few too many ships were getting lost in the fog and crashing into the coastal rocks. Like, 90 ships or so…took them long enough, didn’t it? These lighthouses were built to help seamen kick this bad habit, and to this day they actively help denote the shoreline to prevent wayward vessels from getting too close. Fortunately for budget travelers, a handful of these lighthouses have been converted to hostels. They are incredibly comfortable, and provide an even more incredible bang for your buck.
The hostel itself includes a sizable common area and 2 kitchens with the best views of the rugged coastline. Cheryl and Ben keep this place running smoothly, and also operate a full coffee shop menu out of the registration desk (get “The Cheryl” cappuccino if you go; it’s not on the menu, but totally worth it if you like cinnamon). They offer a range of male/female dorms, as well as (4) 2- to 3-person private rooms. I was lucky enough to get a bed in the “Tool Room” which gives you the closest proximity to the crashing sound of the waves that are sure to sooth you before going to sleep. Oh, and save all your jokes about me speaking in a space called the “Tool Room”…
Things To Do:Whether you’re booking a Highway 1 road trip, or just looking for an easy escape from the urban portions of the Bay Area, Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel is a must.
- Surf in Pacifica – Pacifica State Beach is just on the other side of the Tom Lantos Tunnel from the hostel, and offers waves for beginners and pros alike. Don’t have gear? Rent from the Nor Cal Surf Shop next door to the beach.
- Hike to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve – The hostel provides excellent directions to a number of short hikes in the area, and the trek to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is an easy one right out of the hostel gate. You’ll enjoy semi-scenic ocean views along the cliff-side trail regardless of when you go, but depending on the season, you could get some views at the ocean wildlife as well (whales, seals, etc.).
- Watch Big Wave Surfing at Maverick’s Beach – Unlike Pacifica, this site is NOT for beginners (or the faint of heart in general), but spectating at what might be the most legendary big wave surf destination in the world is a must.
Things To Eat/Drink:
- Moss Beach Distillery – What was once a whiskey distillery is now a cliff-side restaurant, and a big brunch spot. Contact them ahead of time to make a reservation.
Barbara’s Fishtrap – There are plenty of hoity-toity restaurants with fancy table clothes and expensive seafood in the area, but Barbara’s does it right: this no-frills dock-side joint serves up anything from fish & chips to oysters, as well as beer specials that won’t break the bank. Don’t forget to bring cash! They don’t take cards…
- Half Moon Bay Brewing Company – After filling your belly at Barbara’s, head across the street to Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. for a pints, flights, and live music! Like most west coast breweries, they’re known for their IPAs, but for $10 a flight, it’s worth trying the spread. Their Calf-eine Coffee Milk Stout is a personal fav or mine.
To book a stay at HI Point Montara, head to norcalhostels.org/montara. You can also call (650) 728-7177 between 7:30am and 10:30pm while reception is open (do this if the place looks fully-booked online, as sometimes extra space is available). Rooms start at $28, with private rooms running between $80 and $90.