Getting out there in Pacifica: The Real Fog Capital of California
"All that is sunny does not glitter, not all those in the fog are lost." — Karl the Fog
Driving south on Highway 1 into Pacifica for the very first time, an apocalyptic fog plume appeared out of nowhere and swallowed my entire car, like that sandstorm monster from “The Mummy.” It felt like driving into a vacuum. One minute, tidy sardine rows of Daly City homes gleaned bright and colorful in my rearview mirror; the next, a wall of gauzy haze absorbed everything in its path—the road, the highway signs, the wind-sculpted cypress trees.
Did I just die? I joked to myself, internally.
San Francisco’s notoriety as a fog-socked metropolis is world famous by sheer virtue of its populace. But while The City is embracing its foggy reputation and making light of “San Francisco summers” on Twitter, the residents of a laid-back, blue collar surf town 30 minutes to the south are the true mist dwellers of the Bay Area.
Think you’re chummy with Karl? Not until you've lived in Pacifica, my friend. Granted, certain parts of this linear, highway-hugging town are foggier than others, and it’s certainly not socked-in 24/7 (an extremely common misconception—one I think locals purposefully perpetuate). But when it is foggy here, it's like a Stephen King novel.
Still, four years after moving to P-town (yes, that one city you saw on the national news that one time), I wouldn’t trade my coastal abode for the hippest, most up-and-coming SF neighborhood (as though I could afford it). Socked-in or sunny, here are my favorite ways to get out there in the real Fog Capital of California.
Stop playing Pokémon Go and watch the whales. WHALES, you guys!
Something magical happens along California's Northern and Central coasts during the months of February through April. And Pacifica—with its series of protected inlets that serve as feeding spots and “playgrounds” for grey whales migrating north—has a glorious front row seat to the show. Pack a blanket (and maybe some Cali Cöast Kölsch-Style Ale), post up at Mori Point, Rockaway Beach, Linda Mar State Beach, the Pacifica Pier or Devil's slide walking trail, and steady your gaze in the general direction of the ocean. During migration season, spouts are going off like popcorn—some days, it's pretty much impossible not to see a whale.
P.S. - Dear Pokémon Go players who have been flocking to Pacifica Pier as of late: You’re at the beach. It’s beautiful. There’s whales jumping out of the water. FOR PIKACHU'S SAKE, LOOK UP!
Wide open spaces
On days when the fog is taking a hiatus (and trust me, there are plenty) drivers heading into Pacifica are greeted with a gorgeous view of Mori Point. Spanning 110 acres of rolling hills, grassy wetlands and a dramatic coastal outcrop jutting into the sea, it’s a welcome sight for eyes that have been glued to a computer screen all day long.
Purchased in 2000 by the Trust for Public Land, Pacifica Land Trust and California Coastal Conservancy—which awesomely joined forces to outbid potential developers—the land was acquired and donated to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Transformed and maintained by ongoing volunteer and restoration efforts, this natural respite connects bikers and hikers with an ever-expanding trail system north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge.
And we’re just scraping the surface here. Ascend above the fog line for high-up ocean vistas: Explore the island ecosystem of Milagra Ridge off Sharp Park Road; McNee Ranch State Park a little further south (just north of the unincorporated town of Montara); the Sweeney Ridge Trail; or the 1.3-mile multi-use Devil’s Slide Trail. Wanna chill and BBQ? Trade the Saturday crowds and seagulls by the pier for trees, shade and serenity in lovely San Pedro Valley County Park.
Will bike for beer and ocean views
Biking is fun. Biking towards beer is even more fun. If you’re destination-motivated and enjoy pedaling towards a reward, park your car at Pacifica Pier and ride along the (unpaved) Sharp Park Bluff Coastal Trail towards Mori Point. From there, you can burn some calories and pedal up the bluffs, or continue on the (unpaved) Mori Point Coastal Trail, onto the (paved) Calera Creek Trail through Rockaway Beach, and finally into the Linda Mar area, where Devil’s Slide Taproom has a cold one with your name on it.
Work up a sweat, soak up those Pacific panoramas, then drive seven minutes south to Hop Dogma, a dog-friendly artisan brewery in El Granada that specializes in small batches with big flavors. Check Hop Dogma’s website ahead of time and plan your visit for when Beyond The Border food truck is parked out front. Place your order outside, and the nice guys will walk your fish tacos and pupusas into the taproom when it's ready. You can thank me later.
Not into mountain biking? When it comes to the stretch of highway from Pacifica to Half Moon Bay, cars are used to sharing the road with cyclists, so don’t be shy. Below is a snapshot of a 30-mile route recently taken by ZOZI staffer Jason DeWillers. Start out in San Francisco (or, you know, Pacifica, because not all of us are insane like Jason) and end (appropriately) at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.
Fogfest: My favorite day of the entire year
I wake up giddy for two things in this life: Sunday doughnuts from Mazetti’s Bakery, and Fogfest. Wonderfully executed by its organizers and still maintaining a hyperlocal feel even in its 30th year, this mirthful extravaganza is the best excuse to start day drinking Lagunitas with friends at 9:30 a.m. while soaking up the festival’s many highlights. This includes live music, sand sculpture magic, a cornucopia of delicious food, 200 plus arts and crafts vendor booths lining Palmetto Avenue, and more. Sign up for the Fog Jog and run a 5K in the morning, then reward yourself with a Fog Cutter (the festival’s signature secret drink that’s been served every year since 1982). Fog Fest is a feel-good celebration of community that satisfies my nostalgia for neighborhood summer block parties. The theme for 2016 is “In Fog We Trust.” I can't wait.
Dinner with a view: Not just for ocean-front homeowners or fancy restaurants
Yes, Pacifica is famous for that one Taco Bell perched on the sand at Linda Mar Beach. But if you want a killer view with your meal and real Mexican food, order tacos to go from El Toro Loco on Francisco Boulevard, then post up in the paved area just north of the pier. There's a sign that says no parking, but people pull in here all the time in short stints to watch the whales and sunsets—just don't camp out for hours. Open the back hatch of your car, pop a Pacifico and watch the sun melt into the horizon (I recommend doing this on a day when you can see farther than 20 feet). As the sky darkens, the pier lights look like a pearl necklace strung out across the water.
Linda Mar: A great place to learn how to surf
From newbs on soft tops, to long-time locals on longboards, to short borders tearing it up on the northern end, Linda Mar (a.k.a. Pacifica State Beach) has something to offer surfers of all ability levels. Consistently firing on most days and protected by two land outcrops on either side, this is a great spot for beginners to cut their teeth on gentler breaks on the southern side of the beach. I recommend brushing up on basic etiquette before your lesson (terminology can’t hurt either). Not only will it help avoid tension with more experienced riders, it will also boost your confidence. Support the local folks and check out lessons with Nor Cal Surf Shop or Pacifica Surf Camp.
Visit our castle. That’s right—we have a castle!
The Central Coast has a knack for attracting eccentric wealthy men with a thing for European-style castles. Perched on a steep, craggy bluff just above Highway 1, the neighborhood anomaly that is Sam’s Castle triggers "WTF?" double takes for out-of-towners who catch a glimpse of the fortified stone towers looming among cypress trees.
Constructed in 1907 by a San Francisco attorney who wanted to assuage the fears of his wife by moving into an earthquake/fire-proof home, the four-story, 24-room mansion boasts a bevy of intriguing past lives. It’s been a speakeasy, abortion clinic, brothel, Coast Guard outpost, serious cat lady home, lavish party palace and community event center. Today, it serves as headquarters for the charitable Sam Mazza Foundation and is open to the public for tours in the fall. It’s also got some cool ghost stories, which I try not to think about when I'm walking my dog past the castle at night.
Get your “Deadliest Catch” on
Unless you’re Sig Hansen or own a boat, Pacifica Municipal Pier, which doesn’t require a fishing license, is one of the best spots to catch your own Dungeness in the Bay Area. When open season rolls around, the vibe here emulates a sporting event: Hoards of people arrive during late April and July with all the trappings for a tailgate party—hibachi grills, foldable chairs, battery-powered coolers, radios and pushcarts filled with gear—and camp out for hours in hopes of snaring some scrumptious shellfish.
For bait and gear needs, swing by New Coastside 2 Bait & Tackle or Rusty Hook Bait & Tackle. I’m not crazy for crustaceans, but I still enjoy grabbing a coffee from Chit Chat Cafe and strolling among the anglers. New to crabbing? Snares and rings are your best bets for catching these critters off the pier—check out this video for gear tips and more.
Good clean fun: Bowling, batting, and the back nine
As far as Bay Area institutions go, the Sea Bowl is a classic. With its retro aesthetic and blast-from-the-past vibe, I always half expect to see Kenickie and Rizzo hanging out at the wraparound bar. Check out the Astro Bowl on Friday nights, complete with glow-in-the-dark bowling balls and multi-colored laser effects choreographed to your favorite music videos.
If you’d rather hit balls, the Pacifica Batting Cages—a local favorite that now sells beer—is a fun way to spend an afternoon, fog or no fog. Or, grab the irons and book a tee time at beautiful Sharp Park Golf Course, designed by the same architect behind Augusta National and Cypress Point.
Next time you need to escape the The City's bustle or the East Bay's temperatures, don't bother checking the forecast. Even if it's windy, cold and overcast, I guarantee the sounds of crashing waves, a stroll on our coastal bluffs and a flight of red wine from A Grape In The Fog will do you good.