Why do I love this small coastal town of fewer than 600 people an hour south of San Francisco, a half-hour north of Santa Cruz, and 14 miles from Half Moon Bay? A destination bakery and restaurant, gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, and adorable goats, for starters.
Here’s what to see in this laid-back farm town just inland from Highway 1 in San Mateo County, whose name, Pescadero, means “fisherman” in Spanish.
1. Harley Farms
In spring, you can see baby goats during “kidding” season (over 200 each year) at Harley Farms. Visit its shop to buy goat cheese (some festooned with flower petals, some flavored with honey and lavender or bathed in herb-flecked olive oil), bath and body products made from goat milk, and honey from the farm’s beehives.
You can walk public areas for free and view the goats through fences, or book a guided tour ($55) — a mile-long walk that includes meeting the milking goats, Anatolian shepherd dogs, cattle, peacocks, and cradling an awfully cute baby goat. Tours that include a Sante Arcangeli wine and cheese tasting, private tours, and dinners (held in the hayloft in summer) are also available. The farm dairy, whose owner Dee Harley is an English expat from Yorkshire and 2007 Farmer of the Year winner for San Mateo County, is open daily year-round.
2. Duarte’s Tavern
Destination Seafood Restaurant
You can’t miss Duarte’s Tavern, a destination seafood restaurant opened in 1894 by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands. It’s the bright red building on the main road, Stage Road (the town was once a stagecoach stop). The rustic eatery is known for its cream of artichoke soup (if you want it spicy, ask for the version with green chile peppers), artichokes (steamed and folded into an omelet or stuffed with fennel sausage), Dungeness crab cioppino (stew with shrimp and clams in a tomato sauce), and other fresh seafood and pies made from pear, rhubarb, and olallieberries. A winner of the James Beard Foundation’s American Classic Award in 2003, Duarte’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a wood-paneled dining room, bar room, or counter. Owner Tim Duarte is the husband of Harley Farms’ Dee Harley.
3. Made In Pescadero
Handcrafted Furniture, Jewelry, And Art
Next door to Duarte’s, this gem of a shop and gallery is great for high-quality handcrafted furniture, jewelry, art, textiles, candles, and home décor made by artisans from Pescadero, Half Moon Bay, and Santa Cruz. Six local woodworkers, including owner Ken Periat, make beds, dining tables, chairs, dressers, and nightstands from cherry, mahogany, and other hardwoods in Craftsman, Shaker, Arts and Crafts, and Mission styles. Jewelry made from antique buttons, non-traditional quilts that depict birds and animals on block-printed and hand-painted panels, whimsical door draft blockers that look like yellow banana slugs, and squid-shaped air-plant containers are other treasures here.
4. Arcangeli Grocery
Artichoke Garlic Bread
The artichoke garlic bread, packed with large artichoke pieces, is so legendary, some people drive from San Francisco or San Jose to this destination grocery founded in 1929 by an Italian immigrant. Fat round loaves of garlic herb dough stuffed with roasted artichoke heart quarters are baked all day long at Arcangeli Grocery. Hot loaves are behind the cash register, while partly-baked loaves are on shelves. Four varieties are available: artichoke garlic, pesto artichoke, cheddar artichoke, and artichoke focaccia.
The fifth-generation family grocery, founded by owner Mike Benedetti’s ancestor, Sante Arcangeli, also sells sandwiches, jams, sauces, produce, and meat. But most folks come for the artichoke bread — invented by Mike’s father. The region is artichoke central for the entire U.S. — by 1930, 95 percent of all artichokes in the country came from here.
Eco-Resort On 140 Acres
An eco-resort on 140 acres surrounded by forests, overlooking an often-deserted beach on the Pacific Ocean (Gazos Creek State Beach), Costanoa is an ideal spot to commune with nature. Several hiking trails are on the property, 12 miles south of Pescadero at Highway 1 and Rossi Road, and activities range from yoga, mountain biking, kayaking, and guided bird-watching to tie-dye workshops. Live music by a fire pit often ends the day.
There’s an unusually varied choice for lodging, both luxury and moderate: the main two-story wood lodge, wood cabins, tented bungalows for glamping, and an RV site. Twelve Douglas Fir cabins each have a fireplace, skylight, private deck, views of the Chalk Hill Mountains and Ohlone Ridge, plus access to an outdoor hot tub on a wood deck and a comfort station with hot showers, bathrooms, and heated floors. Some two-bedroom cabins have three flat-screen TVs, a stove, a refrigerator, and boast an ocean view. Coastal California food from Costanoa’s onsite organic farm and garden is served at Cascade Restaurant. A general store sells local, recycled, and biodegradable products.
6. Pigeon Point Light Station
Tallest Lighthouse On The West Coast
Pigeon Point Light Station — 115 feet high, one of the tallest lighthouses in the U.S., and the tallest on the West Coast — opened in 1872 on a cliff 5 miles south of Pescadero. The focal point of a state historic park — where you can encounter marine creatures from hermit crabs to starfish in the tide pools at Whalers’ Cove — it still guides ships with its distinctive flash every 10 seconds (every lighthouse has its own distinct flash pattern) but uses an automated LED beacon. Its original lens (16 feet tall, 6 feet wide, and containing over 1,000 prisms) is in the fog signal building in the visitor center.
An unusual hostel is located at the foot of the lighthouse, the HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, which famously has an outdoor hot tub perched at the edge of the cliff. You can soak as you admire the limitless ocean view and ideally time it by watching the sunset or gazing at the star-spangled sky. The hostel’s three off-white, powder-blue-trimmed wood buildings, where Coast Guard families once lived, have both dormitory and private guest rooms. One has dolphin-themed décor.
Pro Tip: Hot tub reservations are first come, first served. At the hostel front desk, book a half-hour session from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
7. Pescadero State Beach
The sandy beach, coves, and cliffs of Pescadero State Beach, on Highway 1 just a mile and a half west of town, is a lovely place to walk. It’s not a beach for swimming; the water is cold and surfers wear wetsuits. A 600-acre preserve with over 200 species of birds, Pescadero Marsh lies across the highway.
8. Año Nuevo State Park
Largest Elephant Seal Sanctuary In The U.S.
One of the biggest colonies for northern elephant seals in the world is Año Nuevo State Park, 3 miles south of Costanoa. Northern elephant seals are giants whose male species can weigh up to 5,070 pounds and are 14–16 feet long. Females can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and are 10–12 feet long. They live in the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico’s Baja California to Alaska, and only come ashore to breed, give birth, and molt their skin. (Southern elephant seals, which are much bigger, are found only in and near Antarctica.)
You can see elephant seals year-round at Año Nuevo, and from April–November, no guided tour is needed — you just need a free permit from the park and to pay a parking fee. From December–March, you need a reservation and a guided tour ($10.99). To see the huge mammals, you’ll walk 3 or 4 miles round-trip on dunes from the parking area. Elephant seals (named for the large nose on males, which resembles an elephant’s trunk) are very vocal, making loud throaty clicks and roars. You may see the males wrestle for dominance both onshore and in the water. Elephant seals can identify each other by their sounds and rhythms, which means some may flee when they hear a male they’d rather avoid.
Pro Tip: Don’t get within 25 feet of an elephant seal. They’re aggressive and can bite.