Crashing waves, sand between your toes, the smell of the salty ocean air… who can resist the temptations of a coastal getaway every once in a while? Here in Northern California, our wild and windswept beaches offer easy escapes from the San Francisco Bay Area, even if you're short on time.
Just half an hour south of SF, the little beach community of Point Montara is a wonderland for surfers, tide poolers, cyclists, and hikers. And it's easy – and affordable – to spend a few days taking in all the adventures the little seaside haven has to offer. Just check into HI Point Montara Lighthouse hostel, located on the site of a historic light house overlooking the Pacific, and get busy exploring with our handy two-day itinerary.
Morning: Check-in at the hostel doesn't start until 3:30, but you should still plan on arriving in the morning. Park your car in the on-site lot and leave your bags in the trunk, or drop them off with the hostel's friendly desk staff, and you'll be free to take off on a morning adventure!
Before you hit the road, fuel up at Hostel Grounds, HI Point Montara's on-site espresso bar. Take your latte or cappuccino outside and sip in the shadow of the 1875 lighthouse as you listen to the waves below.
Caffeinated and ready to go, jump back in the car and head south to the town of Half Moon Bay, less than 15 minutes from Point Montara. Cyclists will love Half Moon Bay's Coastside Trail, connecting four different beaches over the course of three miles. Rent bikes in town by the hour or the day at Bike Works, then spend a few hours exploring the shoreline on two wheels.
From the trail's southernmost point at Half Moon Bay State Beach, you can cycle about a mile inland to the town's quaint downtown district. Along Main Street, take your pick of casual cafés and upscale restaurants, second-hand bookstores and upscale boutiques.
Afternoon: Swap your bikes back out for the car and drive back north to Montara for an afternoon of tide pooling. The area's known for having some of the best tide pools in the entire state, and you don't have to stray far from the hostel to find out why. Right between the lighthouse and the picnic tables in back of the hostel, just pick up the short path leading down to the beach. At low tide, the rock formations covering the sand area full of aquatic critters. Just a mile from the hostel, there are even more spectacular tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. This protected reserve is one of the most biologically diverse inter-tidal areas in the state and is home to everything from sea stars, to hermit crabs, to octopi. (Insider tip: Be sure to bring along sturdy shoes and a wind-breaker when you hit the tide pools, as conditions can get windy – and slippery – as you scamper across the rocks).
Remember, the time to check out these little pockets of marine activity is during low tide, which varies day to day. Before coming to Point Montara, you'll want to check out the tide charts for the month or day of your visit and plan accordingly. If the tide's going out in the morning, just swap tide pooling and cycling on your schedule!
Evening: What's the best beach-view dining spot in Montara? Easy: the hostel! HI Point Montara hostel has two fully equipped guest kitchens that make it easy to whip up anything from casual dinners to multi-course meals. Sitting right in front of a picture window overlooking the ocean, the hostel's dining table is the perfect spot to enjoy sunset views with dinner.
After dinner, join other guests in on-site activities that play up the hostel's beach cottage atmosphere. The hostel hosts occasional movie nights around a giant projection screen, as well as monthly board game nights. And every Wednesday night from 7:00 - 8:30, Coastside Vipassana brings mindfulness meditation to the hostel with free sessions in the Fog Signal building.
Morning: Start the day off at the Montara Bakery & Café – often referred to as "the little red café" thanks to its barn-red exterior. Serving coffee, fresh juices, and baked-on-site pastries alongside other breakfast staples, this is the perfect spot to fuel up for a long day ahead.
From the bakery, keep driving down Main Street until you hit 2nd Street, then make a right. After a few blocks you'll come to a small parking area at the entrance to McNee Ranch State Park, home to Montara Mountain. Part of the Santa Cruz Mountain range, Montara Mountain rises almost 2,000 feet above sea level, rewarding hikers with expansive views of the Bay Area on clear days. Whether you want to scale the entire mountain, or just explore its coastal mountain habitat nearer to ground level, hostel staff members recommend checking out the EveryTrail website for user-generated tips on routes and hike times.
If hiking's not your cup of tea, there are also plenty of diversions on the water to keep you busy for the morning. Back in Half Moon Bay, paddle amongst seals and birds at Pillar Point Harbor in a rental from Half Moon Bay Kayaks. The company rents both kayaks and stand-up paddle boards by the hour, and even offers classes for those who might want a little extra help in the water.
If you really want to get in touch with the ocean, you may want to take a surf lesson at Nor Cal Surf Shop in Pacifica, about six miles north of Montara. While waves south of Montara are generally only safe for advanced surfers (including the professionals who come to Pillar Point each year for the legendary Mavericks surfing competition), the waves in Pacifica are much gentler and well suited for beginners.
Afternoon: Whether you choose to spend your morning on the trails or on the water, chances are, you'll be hungry afterwards. Just a few minutes' walk from the hostel, Gherkin's Sandwich Shop serves up hoagies with names as unique as the shop's beachside location. Show some local pride by ordering the Pillar Point (chicken, marinara, and provolone), the Beach Bonfire (roast beef with cheddar and BBQ sauce), or the Cabrillo Highway (chicken with Swiss and teriyaki). Nearby, Fish 'n Frites puts a new twist on traditional fish 'n chips: here, diners get to choose their favorite combination of fish and batter based on what's fresh that day.
In the early evening, take advantage of the killer happy hour menu at La Costanera. This sleek Peruvian restaurant, peeking right over the ocean, is less than a mile from the hostel. While dinner here can quickly get pricey, you can enjoy $6 pisco sours and $8 tapas plates from 5:00-7:00 p.m. (and all day on Tuesdays).
Evening: End your day on a high note with live music at a local bar. In Half Moon Bay, the Old Princeton Landing offers a regular line-up of singers and bands, as well a local acoustic night from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. Tuesday nights, the bar also holds winner-take-all open pool tournaments. Up in Pacifica, Surf Spot features live bands on weekends and globally inspired, locally sourced food all week long.
Ready to make your own escape to the Montara Coast? Book yourself into HI Point Montara Lighthouse hostel, and be sure to ask the friendly staff for even more suggestions!
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