A native of the Midwest, Mallory Goelz grew up in Danville, Illinois. She spent the last six years living in various states, slowly making her way to the West Coast, until she landed in Montara. She's been at the front desk of the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel for a year and a half now, and loves everything about Montara. Indecisive, or "all decisive" as she calls it, and a child of the "flat middle," she can never choose between coastal waters or rugged mountains. Luckily, the Northern California coast gives her both.
I love the way the Pacific crashes right into the rocky cliffside. Feeling "away" but knowing that the sweet, breezy, eclectic offerings of San Francisco are a quick half-hour away certainly adds to the appeal. The Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel is only 25 miles south of the city, and the property it tucked off Highway 1 between Montara and Moss Beach. As you make your way south from San Francisco, up and over the infamous Devil's Slide, you quickly fade into small-town coastside, feeling much farther than you really are from the big city. Latch on to that feeling.
Consider the weather report irrelevant. Let go of the desire to plan according to the sun-fog interchange. I assure you that you won't freeze, nor will you experience heat exhaustion. The sunshine highlights the coast magnificently, but it certainly is not necessary to enjoy it. Native plants flourish in this area in a great variety of bright colors, and the mystic sight of the fog shifting above the water and along the Santa Cruz mountain range can be just as stunning.
There is one thing you can plan around -- turn your attention to the Princeton/Half Moon Bay tide charts. Without ever leaving the hostel property, make your way down a path to the private cove beach to discover both tide pools and a stretch of nature's rocky playground that is, quite literally, hidden at high tide.
To the South
Just a mile south of the hostel -- a beautiful walk, stroll, or ride -- you'll find the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where there's more access to tide pools as well as trails winding through a peaceful canopy of cyprus trees in the reserve's arboretum. From here you could opt to set off on the remaining two-mile trek along the cliffside trails toward the Pillar Point antenna, to the right of which is the location for the world-renowned Maverick's surf competition.
Another half-mile stroll around the marina lands you at Princeton by the Sea's array of waterfront restaurants and shops. Enjoy indoor or outdoor seating, fresh seafood, local micro-brews, gelato, or a nice Italian meal. Though walking the 3+ miles from the hostel is suggested if you're up for it, there's plenty of parking available at Princeton. Perhaps by driving you'll save yourself some energy for bicycle or kayak rentals, available on the harbor in Princeton as well.
Another four miles of beaches run south from Princeton to Half Moon Bay. Take a walk down the quaint Main Street and stop in any number of cafes, restaurants, or local shops. There are a great handful of independent used bookstores that leapfrog each other up and down each side of the street.
To the North
Spend another day, and be sure not to ignore what the few miles just north of the hostel have to offer. A stone's throw from the hostel entrance you'll find two access points for Montara State Beach, followed by a path leading down to Gray Whale Cove Beach on the ocean side. About a mile and a half north of the hostel on Highway 1, looking inland you'll find a trailhead for McKnee Ranch State Park. This mildly strenuous hike includes a combination of trails and fire roads running along and up Montara Mountain. Take the North Peak route to reach the highest accessible point, with potential for views of San Francisco and the Farallon Islands. If you'd prefer to cover more ground and make your way into Pacifica, follow the San Pedro trail. This trail is also suitable for -- and often used by -- cyclists.
Once returning to the hostel, if at all possible, remain unplugged. Grab an espresso drink from our Hostel Grounds cafe and have a seat in the living room with whatever unpredictable mix of local, out-of-state, or international individuals, families, or groups happen to be sharing the place for the evening. Feel free to take your warm drink out to the point beside the lighthouse, where benches face the open water. This is a perfect place to catch a sunset, and perhaps some whale traffic.
While you're out, pick up some fresh seafood and/or local produce to prepare for dinner at the hostel. There are a few great farmers markets in the area as well as grocery and convenience stores nearby.
And most importantly, enjoy your surroundings and the Neverland-feel that this hostel elicits.
This story is part of a series asking hostel staff to share their insider tips and recommendations with travelers. Last time, Jan shared her favorite places to see live theater in San Francisco. Before that, Jane shared her guide to State Parks near the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.
Stay at the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel and enjoy the beaches and trails around Montara.