Gas $2.69/gallon (awesome!)
There’s only one way you should travel from Carmel…via Highway 1. South is Big Sur, but I’m headed North this time. There are so many adorable little coastal towns and stopovers…Moss Landing, Santa Cruz, Swanton Berry Farm, Half Moon Bay, San Francisco. My destination today was Point Arena, a quaint little town I’d passed through several times on my way to Mendocino. I always wanted to stop, but when you only have 2-day weekends you have to make tough choices. This trip is about making those other choices…stopping everywhere I want to, taking an exit that entices, following signs to antique stores, Mystery Holes, and ghost towns.
The first stop is Moss Landing, 22 miles north of Carmel and home to some of the best whale-watching cruises on the coast. I’ve always done the Blue Ocean trips — it’s a nice 60-foot boat with a top deck the other boats don’t have, and the onboard naturalist, Kate, is friendly, informative, and genuinely enthusiastic. These photos are from trips this past year…
Santa Cruz is a cool, funky, counter-culture center filled with old hippies, young hippies, surfers, and homeless people. The Boardwalk is an old-fashioned Coney Island-style carnival, right on the beach. I recently spent a dreamy night at Dream Inn, on the beach just north of the Boardwalk and the wharf — it’s a great location, but is unfortunately not dog-friendly. 😦
The beach area gets lots of attention, but downtown Santa Cruz is funky fun, with cool vintage shops, sidewalk cafes, bookstores (with actual books), and antiques.
Swanton Berry Farm is my secret stopover. You might pass right by the cool vintage pick-up truck with the giant strawberry in the back and never know what you’re missing. This charming u-pick farm is a great stop on your way to San Francisco. The friendly farm store has an “honor till” — you throw your money in the drawer and make your own change, for delicious fresh strawberries, jam, scones, fair trade coffee. If you have time, sit a spell and play dominoes. This place reminds me of a great fruit stand on the old highway between Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina. It’s got a very laidback, southern vibe.
Half Moon Bay is a sweet coastal town. The main street is not on the beach, but a few blocks inland. A great dog-friendly hotel is the Half Moon Bay Inn, right in the middle of Main Street. Another 28 miles up Highway 1 and you’re in San Francisco. Highway 1 actually becomes 19th Avenue through San Fran, sending you right through the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. I took Highway 101 up to Petaluma, then cut over to Bodega Bay to re-join Highway 1 (you can cut over earlier, but I like stopping over in pretty Petaluma). This San Francisco suburb has it all. A funky history, funky stores, and a funky future. And you know that “funky” is one of my favorite adjectives, awarded only to the most-interesting places I run across.
From Petaluma it’s an easy hop over to Bodega Bay on the coast, most famous as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds.” Then straight up Highway 1 to Point Arena, population 473. I rolled in about 6:00, just in time for a pretty Pacific sunset. Stayed at the Wharf Master’s Inn, home to the home of the Wharf Master, originally. It’s now an inn, built around the original 1865 home, which you can also stay in. It’s on the hill above Point Arena Cove and the pier, and provides a spectacular view. But don’t think about staying here if you can’t do stairs — they’re everywhere! And funky wooden sculptures. The cove and wharf are small, with a very East Coast feel. The beaches are rocky, so not much fun for dog-walking or sunning, but I did see surfers and kayakers.
The town of Point Arena is just about 3 blocks long, with some cute stores.
But the undeniable star of Point Arena is the Point Arena Lighthouse.
The 115-foot lighthouse is the tallest on the West Coast. Originally built in 1869, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 seriously damaged the lighthouse. If not for the staircase, it would have fallen. But it proved easier to rebuild it than repair it, so the current lighthouse dates from 1908. It costs $7.50 to enter, and they give tours of the museum and the lighthouse every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 10:00-3:30. It was SO WINDY when I was there that I could barely stand up (I later found sand in my ears!), so it’s easy to see why there were so many shipwrecks (plus, those big rocks didn’t help much).