It's only about a 20-minute drive south of San Francisco and just another 20 minutes north of Half Moon Bay, but the coastal town of Pacifica has its own distinct pace and vibe. Expect panorama vistas and spectacular sunset views at this oceanside escape, not to mention lots of surfing.
When traffic backs up over the Golden Gate Bridge on weekends, don't forget that Pacifica, like Marin, boasts plenty of hiking trails. The Devil's Slide Trail repurposes a 1.3-mile portion of what had been Highway 1 into a paved multi-use path open to cyclists and horseback riders, along with hikers, and one that offers some stunning coastal views. There are even restrooms and interpretive signs along the way. Pacifica's 1,052-acre San Pedro Valley Park—spread between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Pacifica's foothills, is home to several hiking trails. While the 6.4-mile Montara Mountain Trail is one of the most scenic, the four-or-so mile Hazelnut Trail features plenty of switchbacks, as well as the park's 175-foot-tall Brooks Falls—absolutely stunning after ample rainfall. A bit more inland is the Sweeney Ridge Trail, a 7.7-mile hike between Pacifica and San Bruno with some adequate climbing and plenty of impressive coastal views. Don't forget to bring snacks!
Pacifica is an excellent place for surfing, whether you're new to the sport or an old pro. The crescent-shaped, mile-or-so long Linda Mar State Beach (aka Pacifica State Beach) is perfect for beginners, while both Rockaway Beach and Sharp Park Beach attract intermediate-level surfers and those more advanced. Pacifica is also home to the University of Surfing, a surfing school that hosts both private and group lessons, as well as weeklong all-inclusive surfing camps throughout summer. For those hoping to ride the ways for their first time, the university's Surf 101 class is the way to go and includes a wetsuit, booties, and big soft surfboard, along with detailed instruction and at least an hour of hands-on experience.
On the hillside cliffs overlooking Rockaway Beach is Nick's Seafood Restaurant, a local landmark that's been serving up food since 1927 (and is an ideal alternative to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf). With exquisite Pacific views and live music and dancing, Nick's is a one-stop-shop for a night out in Pacifica. There's a horseshoe-shaped bar for imbibing, and seaside dining that includes dishes like lobster ravioli covered in brandy cream sauce, steamed clams or mussels in a white wine broth, and Nick's famous grilled crab sandwich, a helping of delicious Dungeness crab served on house-baked grilled Wedemeyer sourdough and topped with a tomato. Ask for it open-faced with cheese for the ultimate reward.
Every September for the past three-plus decades, residents, friends, and fans of Pacifica have gathered to celebrate the local community with live music, family-fun contests, arts & crafts stalls, and an annual parade. But while Karl the Fog may seem perennially parked at San Francisco's Ocean Beach, his foggy tendrils reach down this way too—hence the name Pacific Coast Fog Fest. It's a weekend-long event that's free to attend, though bring along cash for edible treats like steamed artichokes, potato spinach knishes, and funnel cake served up boardwalk-style.
Sample West Coast Brews
Opened in 2014 at the Pedro Point Shopping Center along Highway 1, Devil's Slide Taproom offers an ideal space for sipping hard-to-find brews such as the full-bodied Russian River Blind Pig IPA (crafted in Santa Rosa), Anchor Mango Wheat, and New Bohemian Devil's Advocate—a mouthwatering Belgian Triple straight from Santa Cruz. The Taproom also dishes out a menu of sandwiches, including French Dip, pulled pork, and a jumbo shrimp po' boy, as well as snacks running the gamut from a Bavarian-style pretzel to parmesan-topped truffle fries. They even host occasional tap take-overs.
Delve into the Arts
The Pacifica Center for the Arts is home to several Pacifica art communities, and a place where you can both catch shows in everything from blues music to dance performances and peruse artworks by West Coast artists, including those specifically from Pacifica and throughout the greater Bay Area. The center hosts workshops in things such as Live Figure Drawing for Adults, and hosts local acts like the six-piece Pacifica rock band Fingerpuppets, who play original tunes as well as rock n' roll covers by big names like Johnny Cash, Sublime, and Amy Winehouse. For engaging theatre, don't miss the Pacifica Spindrift Players whose upcoming repertoire includes "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."
Embark on a Home Tour
Perhaps Pacifica's most unusual property, the home known as Sam's Castle, has a fascinating history. Henry Harrison McCloskey (grandfather of former U.S. Representative from California, Pete McCloskey) built his gray concrete mansion in 1908 to protect himself should the Bay Area endure another devastating earthquake, like San Francisco's 1906 catastrophe. Since then, the four-story structure has been everything from a brothel to a Coast Guard outpost. After at least a decade of sitting empty, the eccentric Sam Mazza—a man known for his lavish parties—bought the property, filling it with kitschy artwork and collectibles, including suits of armor and a throne. When Mazza died in 2002, he left provisions to establish the property as a Pacifica landmark. Following renovations, Sam's Castle opened for public tours in 2014. Both regular and 'High Tea' monthly tours are available. You can purchase tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets.
Comprised of a series of greenhouses built in the mid-20th century, Shelldance Orchid Gardens is the Bay Area place for finding world-class hybrid orchids. However, the flora-filled nursery also has a fantastic selection of begonias, bromeliads, gesneriads, and more. It's also home to various art pieces made from natural materials such as stone and bamboo. A nursery gift-shop sells everything from incense to homemade jams, and Shelldance also hosts occasional events such as guided meditation. It's a relaxing place to visit even if you're not looking to purchase anything, but want to get among nature and spend some time enjoying rare plants and exquisite flowers.