It doesn’t matter whether you’re the kind of traveler who has to plan every step of the journey or the go-with-the-flow-type: when you’re a visiting a new city there are certain things that you have to see or do because they are unique to that place. When in New York, you can’t miss Central Park and the Statue of Liberty; if you’re in Florida, you couldn’t go without seeing the state’s unique swamps; or if you’re in Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t see the Hollywood sign or the Santa Monica pier. When in Northern California, you have an eclectic spread of must-dos and can’t misses, from big city life and unadulterated nature, to eating world-class food and having small town experiences.
If you’ve got enough time and gas, you can venture from the bottom to the top of state stopping at all the important landmarks along the way so you can say you truly ‘did’ California. If you can’t afford that luxury, fear not, because it’s actually quite easy to experience many of the Golden State’s highlights just by using HI Point Montara Lighthouse and HI Pigeon Point as your base.
Get Some Beach
One of the main reasons travelers flock to this state is because of the sparkling Pacific Ocean and the promise of idyllic beaches suited for sunbather, surfers, and beachcombers. And if you’re staying at HI Point Montara, about half an hour south of San Francisco, you already have access to a sweet little cove with tide pools that’s a short walk from the front door. If you want to venture out and explore further, you’re simply spoilt for choice. There’s the Montara State Beach, which is conveniently close and is a great stretch of sand and surf ideal for a picnic (when it’s not too windy) as well as tide-pooling. Venture a little north and you can take a stroll along the Grey Whale Cove trail, a haven for wildflower lovers in the springtime and an awesome spot to spy some whales from the shore in the colder months.
Surfers can head south towards the little town of Half Moon Bay and catch some serious waves at Pillar Point, where the annual Mavericks Surf Competition takes place. You can also eye the coast from the seat of a bike along the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, which is about three miles long and like a greatest hits collection of the area. Starting at Miramar beach and winding its way down to Seymour Bridge, the trail has access to several beaches big and small (including Pillar Point) and is great for bird-watchers.
Get On Highway 1
Another quintessential California experience has to be a road trip along one of the most famous roads in the world: Highway 1. Now, in a dream world you would start in Los Angeles and end up in San Francisco like scores of travelers have done before (and it really is worth it), but if reality doesn’t allow that, you can do at least 28 miles of the iconic route from HI Point Montara south to HI Pigeon Point. This road has the reputation it does simply because of the ridiculously picturesque scenes of the ocean expanding to the end of the world on one side, and the greens and browns of California country on the other. If you’re traveling solo, why not grab another lone wanderer and take the trip together since you know the destination will be another fabulous hostel, and the journey is short enough that you won’t get friend-fatigue from being in the car too long.
Get Small Town Action
We travel not only to tick off the major items on a must-do list, but also to get to know a place beyond its major attractions and touristy sites. Aside from being rather stunning, the road from HI Point Montara to HI Pigeon Point is peppered with quaint coastal towns that are rich in history and offer up a slice of California culture, laid back beach vibes and seriously good food. There’s Moss Beach, a little south of Montara, which is home to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (an area known for having one of the best tide pool habitats in Northern California) and Moss Beach Distillery. This historic eatery with ocean views used to be a popular speakeasy during the Prohibition era and is said to be haunted by “The Blue Lady,” who just can’t seem to leave her favorite bar. Closer to HI Pigeon Point is Pescadero, a movie-pretty little country town that also happens to have a legendary taqueria and an equally famous artichoke bread (from Arcangeli’s Grocery).
Get Some Redwood Action
Many people think you have to go way up north to see the magnificent giant redwoods that this part of the USA is known for. But when you stay HI Pigeon Point, you’re actually just about an hour’s drive from Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which boasts the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods this side of San Francisco and also happens to be California’s oldest state park. With over 80 miles of trails, this park has much to offer nature lovers and hiking fanatics while showcasing the area’s wildlife and birds, waterfalls and variety of environments. And of course, there are the towers of trees, some of which seem to be impossibly old, emitting nature’s remedy to all of life’s worries.
So now you can breathe easy knowing that it’s entirely possible to experience some of the best that Northern California has to offer no matter what your time or budget or time constraints are. And when you do finally get the chance to make a go of the west coast, HI USA has hostels will be right alongside with awesome hostels from San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, all the way up to Portland and Seattle.
HI USA Tip: If you’d like to stay at the hostels for a little bit longer and explore the immediate surroundings more intimately, here’s how to have two perfect days at HI Pigeon Point and HI Point Montara.