I've always found a magical allure to hitting the open road. Being a city dweller, walking is pretty much all I do, so getting out of town and looking at an open stretch of road from the driver's seat is really thrilling. On my latest adventure, I explored Route 92, which runs east to west from the San Francisco Bay, over the mountains to the coast. It's a nice alternative route to get to Coastal Highway 1 and the Pigeon Point or Point Montara lighthouse hostels. That day, I learned that the slower you drive, the more you see. Also, the more people honk. But on a two-lane highway, better safe than sorry, so use your blinker, observe the speed limit, and keep your eyes peeled.
Purisima Creek Redwood Nature Reserve
When you first hit Route 92 from the junction with Highway 280, the views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Crystal Springs Reservoir are awesome -- but the best natural feature of 92 is the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. Try saying that five times fast. It's actually a little off Route 92 -- there's a junction with Route 35 that you take for about 4 miles, and then the parking lot and trailhead are on the right side of Skyline Boulevard. The signage along the North Ridge Trail is a little sparse, but there's a 7-mile loop trail that's easy to follow (albeit with some moderate elevation) and goes through redwood forests and over creeks and open meadows. There are many great picnic spots along the path, should you choose to pack a snack and sit in the shadow of the mighty redwoods.
Wine and Glass
Once the San Mateo Road and Route 92 merge to become one two-lane road heading into Half Moon Bay, a slew of small and interesting signs start to crop up, mostly on your lefthand side. My first detour was La Nebbia Winery and Half Moon Bay Art Glass. La Nebbia is a small winery with a tasting room and a wonderful outdoor picnic area -- with bocce ball! The staff is helpful and unassuming, and the rules are simple: picnic tables and bocce ball are first come, first served, and no alcohol is allowed unless it's purchased at La Nebbia. Wine tasting is $12 and includes a flight of all their wines; the collection of white, red, and dessert wines range from $12 to $48. Pick up some picnic fixin's, play some bocce, and sip some vino. Across the parking lot from the winery (literally 12 feet away) is Half Moon Bay Art Glass. It's worth pulling over from 92 just to poke around the tiny studio, where you can ogle the color, complexity, and craftsmanship of beautiful glass baubles, see a glass-blowing demonstration, or for $40, take a glass-blowing class and make a paperweight, glass heart, or pumpkin.
Art and Artifacts
On the subject of pretty things, when you continue on 92 you'll notice a lot of signs for art studios. Or rather, you'll see large-scale outdoor installations that grab your attention and tempt you to pull over and explore. One of my favorites is Spanish Town, which is actually three studios in one space, and features a variety of eclectic arts and crafts: outdoor fountains and statues, Tibetan treasures, and ocean-themed paintings, jewelry, and glassware. It's an uncommon mix but, like peanut butter and Oreos, don't knock it till you try it. Wandering from room to room, playing with meditation bowls, garden gnomes, and beach ball ornaments was actually really fun, and I bought a travel-sized statue of Buddha. Win!
Fruit Stands, Organic Produce, and Nurseries
Art and wine are great, but the real richness of Route 92 is found at the roadside fruit and vegetable stands. I'm a big fan of edible souvenirs and I stopped almost everywhere along the way to bring home a farm-fresh bounty of goodies. I recommend stocking up on tasty treats and preparing a meal back at the hostel made from Half Moon Bay's finest produce. I stopped at a fruit stand and picked up fresh cherries and raw honey, prime ingredients for a breakfast of champions! Then the smell of roses was so strong, even from my car, I had to pull over at Pastornio's and grab some fresh-cut garden roses. When I got there, I got distracted by their organic produce stand and ended up leaving with six colorful roses, a pound of garden-grown asparagus (they also had artichokes), and a dozen eggs in a dozen different shades of white, cream, brown, and green.
Sit-down restaurant options on Route 92 are limited, so it's best to hold off until you're near the junction with Highway 1. Flying Fish is a typical coastside restaurant -- it has an endearing dive-bar vibe and a menu of local fare, i.e. fish and chips, clam chowder, and other usual suspects. On the day I went, the salmon was local, which is always a plus, and I tried the crabby cheese bread (toasted bread, melted cheese, and fresh crab) which is as scrumptious as it sounds. Other restaurant options abound in the historic downtown area and along the harbor.
Route 92 ends at Coastal Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay; from there you can turn left and go 21 miles south to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, or turn right and head 7 miles north to the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel.
This story was written by Allison Doyle, the marketing and communications coordinator for Hostelling International's eight Northern California hostels. Allison is a proud Bay Area native, and when not at work she can be found doing yoga, hiking in lipgloss, trying new restaurants, or writing one of her many blogs.