AMATEUR TRAVELER FEBRUARY 18, 2017
BY CHRIS CHRISTENSEN
Less than 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco is the beach town of Pacifica, a place that seems much further away from the traffic of America’s second densest city center. Pacifica is located on a narrow strip of land between the first range of California’s coastal mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The town’s different neighborhoods are surrounded by public lands that isolate it and restrict its growth.
I visited Pacifica on a press trip arranged by the local Chamber of Commerce. Oddly enough, even though I have lived within day trip distance of Pacifica for most of my life, I had never visited.
Spud Hilton, the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, pointed out that he could drive from his house or office in the city to Pacifica faster (< 20 minutes) than he could get to San Francisco’s own Ocean Beach. From 1907-1920 weekend tourists could ride the old Ocean Shore Railroad from San Francisco to Pacifica, but today you will have to be contented with taking an Uber ride from the Colma Bart Station for $12.
Because Pacifica is surrounded by public lands, there are some good hiking opportunities in the area. Two segments of the Golden Gate National Parks are located around Pacifica. The largest of these two is Sweeney Ridge which runs along the spine of the mountains to Pacifica’s east. This park includes the spot where Spanish explorer Captain Gaspar de Portola and his party first spotted the beautiful and strategic San Francisco Bay.
We hiked the second and smaller park which is Mori Point. John Flinn, the former travel editor (and Spud’s former boss) at the Chronicle has settled in Pacifica and he was our tour guide. We learned that the Mori family used to have a dairy where the park now sits. The story goes that an Italian friend named Baldocchi took the Mori family cheese recipe down to the ranch of David Jack near Monterey where they commercially produced the cheese we have come to know as “Monterey Jack”.
We later learned that the Mori ranch may have been involved in bootlegging during prohibition, although the family claimed they had no idea how all those barrels of whisky ended up in their barn.
Mori point is also the home to two endangered species, the San Francisco garter snake and the red legged frog (the same frog Mark Twain wrote about in the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County). Unfortunately the favorite meal of the garter snake is a red legged frog. So, as John pointed out, every time it eats the snake violates the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Flinn told us there used to be a well known roadhouse at Mori point whose organist Anton LaVey later went on to less musical endeavors when he founded the church of Satan.
If Mori Point looks familiar to you, it is possible that you recognize it because it was used to film the last scene in the cult classic film Harold and Maude (1971). If you have seen the movie, it is the place where a car goes over the cliff.
I also had a chance to tour the city by Segway on a tour from Silicon Segway. It was the first time I have ever been on a Segway but the genius of the device is how easy it is to learn to control it. I am not sure I ever got it up to its top speed of 12 MPH on a rainy day in Pacifica, but within a minute or two after getting on it, owner Jim Heldberg had us circling the office. They have given 15,000 people Segway tours so they know what they are doing.
We then went across the street to try out a few more maneuvers before we hit the streets and the paved path from Rockaway Beach towards Mori Point. We stopped along the path to visit a local 9/11 memorial garden. We continued out past the Moose Lodge and the golf course.
Our ride was cut short by a cold rain in a very rainy February I would love to get back to Pacifica in the summer (when it never rains) to get a longer tour of the area. This day was probably better weather for a visit to the Pacifica Coastside Museum at the Little Brown Church where the less adventurous or maybe smarter members of our group visited instead.
Where to Drink
We started our trip with a visit to the Grape in the Fog wine bar. This is the kind of wine bar I want in my neighborhood. We sampled a selection of local wines from Petaluma chosen with care by the proprietor Beth Lemke. The wines were accompanied by an appetizer plate that left me with the idea that all “work days” should start this way.
Where to Eat
We ate dinner the first night at Nick’s on Rockaway Beach. Nick’s has been owned by the same family for 90 years and is a local institution. Nick’s on Rockaway Beach also has a large bar right off the dining room.
They are known for their seafood, but even a non-seafood aficionado like me was able to find something to enjoy. In my case it was a pepper steak. Although the highlight of the meal was a freshly baked berry cobbler I had for dessert. Nick’s has great picture windows that look out at the coast so sit facing the shore if you can. They are also open for breakfast at 11am on weekdays and 9am on the weekend and their homemade blueberry muffins are a thing of legend. They honestly made me wish I had skipped the breakfast at my hotel.
Our first lunch was at Uoyakutei, or as it is known locally “The Japanese Restaurant”. The group gave high marks to the sushi and other seafood, but the non-seafood eater found plenty of good options as well. For appearance it would be hard to beat their Dragon Roll.
Dinner the second night was also at Rockaway Beach at the Moonraker at the Best Western Hotel. The Moonraker is a bit more of a splurge than Nick’s across the street but the food was quite good. I had a Wild Boar Bolognese that was wonderful. The most popular dish was the crab, for presentation if nothing else.
The most photogenic of the desserts was a smore kit that included homemade (square) marsh mellows and a table side “campfire”, but for decadence I vote for the Banana’s Foster / Bread Pudding combination.
Lunch the last day was at Puerto 27 Peruvian Kitchen & Pisco Bar (reviews) right by the Pacifica Beach Hotel. We ate family style so I can’t tell you what I had but I can tell you it was great. We had beef, chicken and a vegetarian entrée. Dessert was a lovely and very very very sweet tres leches cake.
I did not have a Pisco Sour since I was driving home, but when they put the name of the drink in the name of the establishment, one would guess they know the recipe. Puerto 27 and the Pacifica Beach Hotel look out at Pacifica State Beach where you you will probably spot surfers.
Locals also recommended breakfast at Breakers on Rockaway Beach.
Where to Stay
The Pacifica Beach Hotel is one beach further south from Rockaway Beach along Highway 1. It has an indoor pool and a design that is reminiscent of the Coronado in San Diego.
For welcoming presentation it would be hard to beat the silk rose petals on the jacuzzi and the bed at the Pacifica Beach Hotel. Too bad it was wasted on me since my lovely wife had been left at home. I probably would not have used the hot tub at all if I wasn’t so cold after a Segway ride in the rain. Breakfast is included, although, really those muffins at Nick’s are calling out to you.
For more information, I talked with all the journalists on the press trip about Pacifica and about press trips in general on “Not Specifically Pacifica” – This Week in Travel 217.