Although our roaming range continues to be somewhat limited, the Monterey Peninsula is an ideal jumping-off point for day trips. Highway 1 north offers the best string of sites, bites and beaches along a 100-mile corridor to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
As my husband David and I headed off the Peninsula in the early morning hours I saw the opportunity to use every familiar curve, farm field and roadside stand between Monterey and Santa Cruz as an exercise in mindfulness. I ignored my electronic devices’ tug into the distracting world of emails, texts and Facebook posts, and turned my attention to observing and downshifting my mental gears into the moment. It’s amazing how everything old can seem new again.
By the time we approached Davenport, the portal to fresh stimulation, my taste buds were primed for an olallieberry croissant at the Whale City Bakery. The blackberry and raspberry hybrid’s perfect tart sweetness ratchets the mouthwatering flavor of a warm flaky buttery croissant to a whole new level of palate-tickling pleasure. It wasn’t my first time at the Whale City Bakery, but some things endure the test of repetitiveness.
One of the most interesting stops was the American Abalone Farms seafood market off Highway 1 on Davenport Landing Road. Having driven past the entrance a dozen times, we finally had a chance to stop and satisfy our curiosity. The row of netted tanks across from a small rudimentary open-air retail counter barely offered a glimpse of what is involved in this operation of seafood sustainability. Abalone is considered a pricey delicacy, but being that I’m more of a finicky, rather than an adventuresome eater, David’s description of the texture quickly squelched the foodie bravado I was mustering up.
Several environmental factors are increasingly endangering the wild abalone population, but the growing popularity of aquaculture is boosting availability and affordability. Last I heard, American Abalone Farms had cultivated over one million California red abalone from egg to table over the past 30 years. The Farm sells these unusual looking sea snails known for their jeweled shells, live or in packages of fresh pre-pounded steaks. For those who prefer the abalone’s juicier mollusk cousin, you can purchase oysters and sit at the outdoor table to enjoy your salty slurp. The market is open on weekends from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
We rejoined Highway 1 at the north end of the road just past the tucked away and dog-friendly Davenport Landing Beach, ideal for walking, surfing and tide-pooling, depending on the ocean conditions.
Another short hop north, the Swanton Farm has been known for its organic and fair farming practices since 1983, but word of its flavor-bloated berry pies and jam is adding to the fame. There was so much to choose from on the shelves that we left with armfuls of our favorite preserves plus a jar of tayberry jam for my berry tasting “life list.”
I was taken aback by how far north and west last year’s fire had devastated Big Basin Redwoods State Park as we drove past the closed entrance to the park’s Rancho del Oso Nature & History Center across from Waddell State Beach.
Cruising on, as if his Pavlov bell was rung, David veered abruptly at the sight of the word “Pie” on a roadside sign. We smacked our lips at the line-up of freshly baked choices in the Pie Ranch glass case and settled on the eye-rolling sweetness of a caramelized walnut tart to fuel our Ano Nuevo State Park hike.
Although Ano Nuevo’s popular guided walk program to view the astounding colonies of elephant seals is currently suspended as a COVID-19 precaution, one of the park’s most delightful hikes is off Highway 1 at the South Whitehouse Creek trailhead. The interpretive panel at the trailhead describes “coastal terrace prairies” as the eighth rarest ecosystem in the country. We took time for an easy 4-mile out-and-back hike northward through meadows of native grasses, across a creek and along a ridge of powdery dunes. Our reverie was momentarily interrupted by the sight of a several thousand-pound elephant seal resting in the shadows of a rocky cove below Franklin Point, which is named after the clipper ship that wrecked off the foggy coast in 1865.
A Mushroom Farm sign jumped out at us just past Costonoa’s campground and resort. As it turns out “Mushroom Farm” is the name of someone’s personal residence and not a business, so don’t get fooled into thinking you’ll find chanterelles for sale at the top of that driveway.
We lingered too long on Mel’s Trail from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse bluff and ran out of time to walk at the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. Travelers seduced by Pescadero Beach across the road from the Preserve often overlook this idyllic tapestry of habitats on the Pacific Flyway.
Zipping through Half Moon Bay we spotted an eye-popping field of intense yellow Bermuda buttercups. The expanse and density of the blooms were startling, but the flock of people wandering around the field bombarding their Instagram accounts with snapshots and selfies was its own show.
Pressing northward beyond Pacifica, we took time for a quick stroll at Land’s End before driving through the posh Seacliff neighborhood and the Presidio. We punctuated our day trip at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to learn about Joseph Strauss, the main engineer responsible for the construction of the Golden Gate named as “one of the seven wonders of the modern world” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
We headed home ebullient and confident that even when the world travel barn doors fly open, Highway 1 north will still rank as one of the best California day trips.
Linda B. Mullally and husband David share their passion for travel, outdoor recreation and dogs through articles, hiking books and photography at www.lindabmullally.com, Falcon.com and Facebook