HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel, located on the site of a historic lighthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean, can feel as if it’s truly perched at the edge of the world. This is the go-to hostel for anyone who wants to feel secluded, removed from the bustle of everyday life. But many visitors may not realize just how much there is to actually do out here where the road ends and the vast ocean begins.
Whether you’d rather watch for wildlife or feast on fresh gourmet goodies, relax in the hot tub at sunset or spend an evening out, you can do it all while staying at the Pigeon Point hostel. Our handy two-day itinerary will show you how it’s done.
Morning: Coming from the North, take your time driving down California's coastal Highway One towards Pigeon Point. You'll pass a number of picture-perfect beaches and windswept views along the way, from the legendary waves of Arthur's Point (where the annual Mavericks surfing competition is held), to the long, sandy expanse of Pomponio State Beach.
Once you reach Pescadero State Beach, about six miles north of the hostel, pull over and park in the large lot. The beach itself is lovely, with rocky cliffs and plenty of shoreline, but it's what's on the other side of the highway that's really special. From the parking lot, follow signs that will take you down to the beach, under the highway, and over to the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. With nearly 250 protected acres, this preserve offers diverse habitats for hundreds of species of birds. While visitors are welcome to explore the marsh on their own, you can also opt to take a docent-led tour of the marsh on either the first Sunday of the month (at 10:00 a.m.) or the third Sunday of the month (at 1:00 p.m.).
Afternoon: Just after Pescadero State Beach, make a left turn on Pescadero Road to head inland. Before long you'll arrive in the little town of Pescadero, a farming community with a quaint main street and the kind of food people come here specifically to taste. Make sure you're hungry when you arrive, and head straight to Arcangeli's Grocery on Stage Road. This specialty grocer, in a storefront that looks straight out of the Wild West, is famous for its artichoke-garlic bread. You can buy a loaf (or – who are we kidding? – a couple loaves) still warm from the oven along with other goodies like pastries, homemade sauces and jams, and fresh deli sandwiches.
Just steps from Arcangeli's, Duarte's Tavern is a Pescadero landmark that's been around since 1894. Their famous cream of artichoke soup is the perfect complement to a loaf of bread from Arcangeli's, and the tavern will even let you enjoy both on site.
If you’re still feeling peckish after lunch, make a quick detour to Harley Farms Goat Dairy on North Street, just a few minutes off Stage Road. Stop by the restored 1910 goat farm Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and visit with some of their goats and llamas. You can also sample the cheeses made on-site and even buy your favorites at the dairy’s cheese shop.
And if you happen to be in Pescadero on a Thursday in the spring or summer, be sure to stop by the Pescadero Grown! farmers' market, which runs once a week from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Pick up fresh produce from the local vendors, then load up the car with ingredients for dinner back at the hostel. Augment your haul at the Pescadero Country store, just a stone's throw away. In addition to carrying general grocery items, the store serves pizzas piping hot out of its wood-fire oven.
Evening: From Stage Road, make your way back out to Highway 1 and continue south about six miles until you reach HI Pigeon Point. Along the way, don't miss taking a photo op at Bean Hollow State Beach, a pristine little alcove where rocky outcroppings meet the waves.
Once you've checked in at the hostel, take a walk around its historic on-site lighthouse. The 115-foot-tall tower dates back to 1872. While visitors aren't allowed inside the actual lighthouse, you can still walk around the tower. Visitors are allowed inside the fog signal building, where you can see the intricate 19th-century Fresnel lens once used to focus lamplight out towards the sea. Friday through Monday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., volunteer docents also lead half-hour historic tours around the grounds.
For dinner, survey your loot from the farmers' market or Pescadero Country Store and make whatever you'd like in the hostel's fully equipped guest kitchen. Before you head off to bed, be sure to check out the tide times for the next day: there's a chart posted near the hostel's front desk, and you'll want to have an idea of low-tide hours for tomorrow!
Morning: From December through the end of March each year, Ano Nuevo State Reserve, a few miles south of the hostel, is one of the best places in the world to see northern elephant seals. Public access is available only on docent-guided walks, which last about two hours. Tickets are $7 per person and should be reserved in advance. HI Pigeon Point has a limited number of tickets available for weekend tours, which you can purchase directly at the hostel.
About ten minutes south of Ano Nuevo, Swanton Berry Farm gives visitors a chance to pick their own strawberries, kiwis, blackberries, and olallieberries (a sort of blackberry-raspberry hybrid grown primarily in California). Before you go, check the farm’s website to make sure your fruit of choice is in season.
Visiting outside peak seasons for elephant seals and berries? Not to worry: there are plenty of other outdoor adventures to keep you busy for the morning. About a 15-minute drive from the hostel, Butano State Park offers miles of hiking trails through a redwood-filled canyon. The park is only about seven square miles, lending a quiet, hidden-away vibe to its almost primordial scenery. A larger (and better-known) alternative about an hour's drive from the hostel, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park has over 80 miles of hiking trails that let visitors take in redwoods, waterfalls, and wildlife.
Afternoon: Make your way back to the hostel in time for low tide. Just a quick walk from the hostel grounds, craggy rocks reach into the ocean and harbor countless tide pools. Watch your step on the rocks as you kneel down for close-up views of tiny sea creatures and multi-colored seaweeds. (Keep in mind that tide times fluctuate based on the season and the day. Consult a tide calendar in advance, and if low tide’s in the morning, start the day at the tide pools before going to Ano Nuevo or Butano State Park).
You can also sometimes spot grey whales right from the hostel grounds during their winter and spring migrations. Just behind the hostel, a boardwalk leads to a perch with excellent views of the whales’ annual path.
After you’re finished spotting sea creatures, head back to the front desk at the hostel and make a reservation to visit its hugely popular hot tub. The tub sits on a cliff hanging right out over the Pacific Ocean, and is the best – and most in-demand – place to watch the sunset each evening. Reservations are available starting at 3:30 p.m. each day, and can only be made on site and the day of. You can reserve your half-hour slot for $8 per person, and reservations are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Spots are available each day from 4:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Evening: Even if the hot tub's booked for sunset, you can still take in stunning views over the water at the new Highway 1 Brewing Company, just a few minutes south of the hostel on Cabrillo Highway. House-made brews, ranging from an easy Belgian blonde to a spicy, jalapeno-inflected French saison, round out a menu of seasonal plates (think pot roast sliders, mac 'n cheese, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, and fried risotto balls).
Just remember: the only pace of life out here on the very edge of the world is your own. So take your time, stop for detours, and have fun!