Early last summer, I decided I'd had enough of the Central Valley's heat and needed a cool escape. So I called my pals Linda and Terry and we headed out to the coast. Pillar Point Harbor, in Half Moon Bay (Northern California), holds a lot of memories for me.
When we were little, our parents would take us kids (four or five, depending on who was away at school) down to Princeton and Pillar Point, with its protected breakwater and small fleet of tiny fishing boats. It seemed a harbor of refuge for the boats even then. As we walked atop the curving jetty, we'd watch mesmerized as waves smashed against the structure's rocky outer edge, while keeping the waters in the harbor smooth as glass. We fished for crabs here, dropping our rented crab pots (baited with cans of dog food--eeuuwww!), and once we even snagged one big enough to keep.
In my memories, the summer skies over the northern California coast are continually overhung with moist, chilly clouds, and a day at the beach always calls for long pants and a jacket. This day, the three of us find the same kind of weather. And boy, is it a relief. The misty harbor is my refuge from the inland's blast furnace heat. In other ways, Pillar Point has changed--now its a modern harbor, and you're discouraged from walking out on the jetty (insurance risks, probably). There's a cute, recently remodeled Pillar Point Bed and Breakfast inn here, and a swanky hotel, the Oceano Hotel and Spa with a village of shops.
The three of us head for one of Linda's fave local lunch stops in Princeton--no ocean views but killer pasta. Mezza Luna Italian Restaurant is housed in a classic old home and the food tastes like Mama Luna must have made it. Try the Linguine della Baia ($15), linguine sauteed with mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp in a light tomato sauce.
From the harbor, you can't really see the huge, killer waves at Maverick's, which break offshore in winter. But it's neat to know that one of the world's premier surf competitions takes place here (waves permitting). If you want some really fresh fish, call the fish phone at 650-726-8724; every morning the harbor master leaves a message describing what fish is for sale right off of the boats. Go early in Dungeness crab season, starting in November. And bring a cooler to haul your catch of the day home.
Linda, Terry, and I opt for a stroll along the Jean Lauer Trail along Pillar Point BLuff, part of the California Coastal Trail and a segment of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). It's an easy ramble of about a mile or so, looking down over parts of the harbor and out to sea (on clear days, it is said, you can see the Farallon Islands from here). The sky is a gunmetal gray this day, as I remember so many 'beach days' from my childhood, and the air is clean and tangy, smelling of kelp, salty mist, and memories.
Details: For lunch, try Mezza Luna Italian Restaurant, 459 Prospect Way, Princeton by the Sea, 650-728-8108. For more trail info on hiking the Jean Lauer Trail at Pillar Point Bluff, visit the outings page on POST’s website: http://openspacetrust.org/activities/tour_pillar.html.