I was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area, mostly in Redwood City on the Peninsula, 25 miles south of the City, on the east side of the mountains that separate the bay from the ocean. During my teens, on warm weekends and hot summer days, my friends and I would inevitably head to San Gregorio Beach. I’m not sure why, of all the possibilities, we always went there, but it may have been simple geography. The road that goes directly to the Pacific Ocean from where we lived, CA-84, goes over the hill and through La Honda and ends at that beach, so San Gregorio was our beach.
It’s 10 miles from El Camino Real, Junipero Serra’s mission road, in Redwood City to the top of the Peninsula coast range, and another 15 down the west side to the beach. Except for an underpass at I-280, which didn’t exist back then, the road looks nearly identical to it’s old self of my youth. Still slow going, through upscale Woodside with hairpin turns on both sides of the mountain, and except for the beauty of the redwood forest, I dislike the drive every bit as much as I did back then. But the good news is, since I no longer live in Redwood City, I can approach the coast on easier roads and I have every reason in the world to do it. My son and 8 year-old granddaughters live there, in La Honda on the coast side.
Coming over the hill on 84, the road to the beach intersects at the summit with Skyline Boulevard, which rolls for miles along the ridge of the mountains with the most fantastic views of countryside, bay and foggy coast. Parts of Skyline pass through iconic Northern California landscapes of golden grass and scattered oaks, then into deep woods. At the intersection of Skyline and 84 is Alice’s Restaurant with burgers named for motorbikes and the store across the road. If you pass this way and find no congregation of bikers, it may be a sign that it’s not a propitious day for a drive. They’re almost always there, and those who love the bikes, stopped for a chat and to admire the machines, for many the entire reason to drive that way.
From Skyline west to La Honda on the way to the Pacific is about 6 miles of narrow winding road, redwoods and bicyclists with a death wish. The road is the one of my youth but with average speeds increased, I’d guess 50% or more. The result is predictable, as my son reports to me, La Honda firemen sent regularly to pick up the pieces.
La Honda is the “hamlet” in the title and consists of, most importantly and in debatable order, the post office and Applejacks, the local watering hole. Next in importance to residents, other than the park and community pool, I’d guess would be the store and deli. Otherwise, there’s, sadly, a closed restaurant which used to be the center of much of the public social life for locals, a real estate office and the much appreciated La Honda Fire Brigade.
Continuing on 84 through redwoods that give way to rolling hills and farms as you near the coast, 8 miles from La Honda, the wide spot in the road, San Gregorio. It consists of one functioning commercial building that includes the post office, and another tumbledown one on the other side, with several houses tucked back in their gardens. Highway 84 ends a short mile beyond, at San Gregorio Beach and California’s famously fantastic Coast Highway 1. If you overshoot the stop sign there’s a small hill and some trees to keep you from rolling into the Pacific.
A left turn will send you south along one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines, studded with a string of perfect, and often deserted, intimate beaches. At about the 5 mile mark will be an opportunity to turn inland again and in 2 more miles you’ll find yourself in Pescadero, the title “village”.
Pescadero seems not to have changed much in all the years I’ve known it. Although in better repair since I first came here as a teenager, I’m told it hasn’t grown because it sits on a flood plain and permission to build new structures isn’t given. The result is a charming little Victorian-flavored place, surrounded by farms and seemingly lost in time, except for the tourists that are encouraged to visit and leave by sundown.
Duarte’s Tavern has been my lunch stop of choice for years. Not exactly haute cuisine, it’s best known for mediocre artichoke soup and ollalieberry pie and I like the fried oyster sandwich with great french fries. My 2 girls and I stopped on our picture-taking route and had what may be my last meal at Duarte’s (pronounced Doo’ arts). The spike in menu prices since I was there last has done it for me and, I’m told, to much of the local population. It’ll be largely tourists occupying those tables from now on. If someone will pay it, I can’t blame the owners, but still, a disappointment.
Sometimes, for a change of pace, I’ll take Stage Road past the cemetery instead of going back to the coast, on my return trip to La Honda. It’s a slightly different kind of beautiful, a few farms and ranches on the golden hillsides and I rarely pass another car on my way back to San Gregorio Store and the right turn onto 84.
The 3 of us walked all around the long block that’s the center of town, taking pictures, buying pastries to have later with our tea and reading the commemorative plaque at the church. Then back to the car in Duarte’s lot for the short drive to our next stop, the Harley Farms Goat Dairy. That’s for next week.
Beautiful downtown Pescadero.
For others in PortMoresby’s Coastal California series, click here.
To read more of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.