Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Vacation in Half Moon Bay and San Francisco, August 2012
I love visiting San Francisco, so on my most recent trip to the Bay Area I decided to venture out just a bit and explore the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay. After all, I heard it was a lot of fun and is just 25 miles south and 30-40 minutes away from San Francisco.
To get there, we took an early morning flight to San Francisco, and then rented a car at the airport. Its interesting to note that when I first checked on rental cars, the rates were very high (over $100/day) but I found a car for $30/day on hotwire.com. Once we landed, it was easy to take the airport's train directly to the rental car site. We were in our car and on the road by 11 a.m., drove directly to Half Moon Bay, and arrived within a half hour.
The drive was short and somewhat magical--just before we arrived, we found ourselves driving through a beautiful forest that ended right in front of several large farms with pumpkin patches out front. It was quite a sight! We even saw a farm growing many sizes of Christmas trees. Our first stop in Half Moon Bay was Main Street to shop in the adorable boutiques that line the street in this cute little town. We found it so cute to note how the street signs point you to the types of stores on the street, as opposed to street names. This is the friendliest town! Although this was the end of September, all of the stores were decorated in various Halloween themes. We got into the holiday spirit right away. Half Moon Bay is known as the pumpkin capital, so everyone in the city goes all out for Halloween. They have a big festival every year in October where 500,000 people visit the city for this special pumpkin festival. So, if you can get away in October, then Half Moon Bay is a great place to visit for the Halloween spirit.
We had lunch at a wonderful restaurant Chez Shea and enjoyed fabulous home-made soup and beet salad. While walking down Main St, we were fascinated by the décor of a local Japanese restaurant called Sushi on Main. The interior design was absolutely stunning. They import their distinctive furniture and wall decorations from Indonesia. We learned later from locals that their food is good, too. Definitely worth a visit. I wished we'd had time for a meal there.
After shopping, we drove to Princeton Harbor, where there are more shops and restaurants. Our next and final stop of the day was our fabulous hotel, a most special and magical resort: The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. We were immediately transformed by both the absolute beauty of this location, as well as the ultra-friendly and warm hotel employees. At check-in, we were immediately welcomed with a glass of their "monthly wine pick" from local vinters (this month's is Stage Left winery). What a nice touch! And, our room was spectacular: a perfect size with an absolutely straight-on view of the Ocean, and very comfy beds and pillows. Even their choice of bathroom extras (toothbrush kit, emery board, comb, shower cap) showed the thought they put into their guests' comfort. We changed our clothes and were excited to venture out to explore the Coastal Trail, that rims the ocean and runs along the front and sides of the property. This is one special trail: it takes you 1 mile in one direction and 7 miles in the other. You can choose to walk or ride along it. We borrowed the complimentary bicycles to ride along it. The views are absolutely stunning. When we returned, we borrowed tennis racquets (again, complimentary) and hit some balls. Pure fun! The resort offers many different activities, including an indoor swimming pool, 2 fitness centers (one overlooking the ocean), complimentary tennis (including the ball machine), bikes, and basketball. Also, if you are a golfer you will love their two beautiful golf courses, one of which was originally designed by Arnold Palmer. I am not a golfer, but I was definitely inspired to become one after watching them hit their golf balls while enjoying the incredible ocean view. While walking back to our room at sunset, we heard such soulful bagpipe music and were pleasantly surprised to see a man dressed in a kilt expertly playing his bagpipes in the gazebo. We learned that he can be found playing every night at sunset. This is a beautiful touch that adds to the "Scottish castle" ambiance there.
After such a busy day, we'd worked up quite an appetite. We dined at Navio, the more formal restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. It was a wonderful dining experience. First, the décor of the room is beautiful. The main dining room has an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs at work preparing and caring about the meals they are creating, or if you want a quieter atmosphere, there is a separate, more intimate dining room with a fireplace and ocean views. Darren, our terrific server, took amazing care of us. He has been at this hotel since it opened and takes great pride in his work. He knows all of the menu offerings in detail and gave us great recommendations. Our dinner began with the most amazing appetizers: Sashimi of Pacific Hamachi and a fabulous organic heirloom tomato "farm to table" buratta salad with tomato sorbet(!). The colors were captivating and the food was delicious. Our main course consisted of lamb loin and salmon with a unique macaroni and goat cheese gratin (yum!). In addition to tasting absolutely delicious, the presentation of each dish looked like a piece of art. Everything was layered beautifully and presented with grace. For dessert I had the most delicious dessert, a chocolate French macaroon, fresh raspberries, cocoa gelee, and raspberry sorbet. It was shaped like a clown. I loved the different textures and edible gold-leaf topping.
After dinner, we walked outside to sit by the fire pit and enjoy listening to the waves and feeling the ocean breeze. They think of everything: there are even blankets stored in a little shed next to the fire pit if the air gets too cold. Upon returning to our room at the end of the evening, we found another nice surprise: we were given a bottle of Stage Left red wine--their monthly wine pick--along with chocolates and a schedule of the next day's activities.
Another special touch at this resort: on the last Thursday of each month, the "pet-friendly" Ritz hosts a "Yappy Hour." The outdoor patio is transformed into a small dog park, where guests and locals are invited to meet up with other dogs for complimentary drinks (beef and chicken broth) and specialty dog treats. The Ritz also invites local vendors there for this event. It was so cute to see so many people having a wonderful time with their pets. While the dogs eat their treats, the grown-ups can order from a special menu as well as a unique hot chocolate bar, where I headed--it was so much fun to create my own hot chocolate from a selection of a number of different toppings….so good.
The next morning, we went for an early morning peaceful walk along the Coastal Trail. We then went horseback riding at Sea Horse Ranch, a few minutes from the hotel. What an incredible experience, which I highly recommend. This ranch houses 80 horses, so there is a horse for every level of rider. My friend was very nervous, as she had not been horseback riding in years, but they listened to her and matched her with a calm and obedient horse who was perfect. Also, our guide, Angel, was wonderful and calmed her fears. We went on the 90 minute ride and traveled through a stream, then forested trees, and then to the beach where we rode on the sand. This was thoroughly delightful. The horses were very easy to control and well trained. They love to trot but when a rider pulls on their reins, they slow to a regular walk. What a great way to experience this magical town. After horseback riding, we had a fabulous lunch at Ritz-Carlton's golf club-house restaurant called Mullins Bar and Grill. We had the most amazing deviled eggs appetizer, topped with salmon, cheddar and bacon, and Cajun spice. The Cajun chicken with marsala sauce and mushrooms was delectable.
After our horseback ride, I was really looking forward to spending the day at Ritz-Carlton's spa, a 16,000 square foot spa consisting of 16 private treatment rooms (including a couples' massage room). The locker room has all of the necessary amenities, including a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room. The lounge is a peaceful room with a fireplace, comfy chairs and couches and blankets. There is also a co-ed Roman mineral bath with lounge and fireplace so you can relax with your partner. As a guest of the hotel, you can visit the spa anytime without getting a treatment, but I couldn't resist getting a massage. I was blown away at how wonderful my massage was. Jim had an amazing technique that was so relaxing. The massage table was heated and when he finished working on my back, he put a warm towel on me (very soothing). He used a Yoga Balm on me that was incredible. Afterwards, I felt like a new person and was completely relaxed.
For dinner we went to Sam's Chowder House, a very popular and bustling restaurant. In addition to the nice indoor seating area overlooking the water and the gorgeous view, they also have a roomy outdoor patio with a fire pit. They offer a variety of items, but they are best known for their clam chowder and lobster rolls, so of course I had to have them. They were really wonderful. I also had the creamed corn, which was a treat. The duck confit was delicious as well. We were very full after dinner but we were very curious to try the organic soft-serve Strauss frozen yogurt with sea salt and olive oil. It was different but so tasty. At the end of the night we were so tired, but did stop for a bit to enjoy the lovely Jazz music and singer that grace the hotel every Thursday night.
By the time our visit at the Ritz was over, we were truly sad to leave. This is a fine resort and I highly recommend it. What is also so apparent is that everyone there, both staff and guests, are so happy to be there. The staff is incredibly friendly and really seem to enjoy their jobs.
On our last morning in town we made another special stop to the Half Moon Bay Art Glass studio. What an amazing experience. We actually made our own colored glass hearts. The owner, Doug Brown, gives so much of his time and skills with such grace: he invites children ages 10 and up to come and experience this art form for a small and reasonable fee. He is a true artist and quite proud of his studio and mastery. He first gave us a short lesson on how to use the equipment, and then we put our gloves on and went to work: we inserted long pre-warmed rods directly into melted glass and then turned, pulled, and shaped our own piece of glass while standing in front of very hot ovens. I created a beautiful purple heart. The art glass creations have to sit in the cooler for 24 hours (to set), so this is a good place to go on Day One of your trip so that you can retrieve it in 24 hours, before you leave Half Moon Bay. If you can't do that, then they will mail it to you as they did for us. This was truly a unique and memorable experience. Right next door to this is Half Moon Bay's only winery: the cute Nebbia Winery, with a beautiful garden outside where guests can sit and enjoy the wonderful wines. Their wines had a unique and distinctive flavor; I especially loved the port served in the chocolate cup. Across the street from Nebbia Winery is Lemos Farm. In true Half Moon Bay spirit, it was decorated for Halloween and they had many fun activities for the kids.
Our last stop in Half Moon Bay was The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for lunch. We were completely taken in by this charming and special restaurant, which is another must-do there. The menu has an incredible selection and the chef Gaston is a gem. He takes much pride in his food, and loves to come out and meet the diners. We were no exception: he talked to us for a long time about his creations with a great deal of joy. Gaston said he has a dream job: "I don't like to just cook food, I like to play with food. I enjoy going to work because I get to play." The restaurant also does, as the name suggests, brew their own beer and the menu has suggested food pairings. It was so much fun to peruse both the food and the beer menus. Their (beer-infused) sourdough bread came out warm and had a unique and distinct (and delicious) flavor. I started out with the seafood sampler, which included their signature Yucatan ceviche and Ahi tuna poke served with house-made mango salsa. We also had the artichoke hearts battered with their Mavericks Amber Ale and then fried. It was served with a home-made bleu cheese dressing but it was so flavorful you didn't even need the dressing. For my main course I had Avo's Portugese Fisherman's Stew, a seasonal mix of fresh fish, shellfish, and linguica simmered in a garlic and saffron broth with cilantro. I had to keep dipping the bread that was served with the dish in the sauce because it was so good. We ended our meal with a sampling of the desserts that included raspberry cheesecake, "beeramisu," and pumpkin torte. Wow, everything was so delicious and presented beautifully.
We were indeed sad to leave Half Moon Bay, and could have spent more time experiencing this little friendly town. I can't wait to return there some day.
If you are still reading this, I'll bet you are saying: wow, can it get any better? Well, not better, but different. Yes, the fun did continue. The city of San Francisco has a completely different vibe, yet it is so close to Half Moon Bay! So, we drove back to the SF Airport (only 20-30 minutes) to drop off our rental car, which was so easy. Then we hopped on BART (which you catch right there at the airport) to get to Union Square for the stop at our next hotel: the fabulous and modern Hotel Diva on Geary Street. This is a very cute boutique hotel in a great location; it is only steps away from all of the wonderful stores at Union Square. There are several unique design features that make this hotel stand out. One is the special corner suite with a kid's room, which is adorable and charming. The kid's room is situated right next to a private master for mom and dad, but it's a separate room with bunk beds, karaoke machine, computer, and chalkboard walls (essentially it's every kids dream). Also, the hotel has one large room on each floor--like a living room--where guests can go to hang out in an area apart from their own room. Each of these rooms is decorated with a different theme and has an unusual and notable "vibe." My favorite is the colorful and fun Perrier room, with a cool chair hanging from the ceiling, microwave, tv, and couches. The hotel offers a nightly sake and Starbucks is conveniently located right next door and attached to the hotel.
As we walked out of our hotel that night, there were thousands of people on their bikes riding the streets of San Francisco. Once a month there is a bike ride event throughout the streets of San Francisco that a number of people participate in. This happened to be the 20th anniversary of the ride so there were 2000 bikers hitting the streets. What a scene to see. Some had their bikes decorated, others were blaring music from their bikes, and yes being in San Francisco, some even rode their bikes in the nude. Needless to say, we had to walk to our restaurant that night as the cars were not moving.
I love to try different types of food so I was really looking forward to eating at the new Turkish restaurant in S.F. that everyone is talking about: Machka. Rather than order a main entrée, we selected a number of smaller plates. Our favorite was the dates which were stuffed with chorizo and blue cheese. It sounds divine, and it was! They were so good they could call that a dessert! We also loved the pistachio-encrusted goat cheese with caramelized onions, golden raisins, wild flower honey, and toasted bread. The lamb tartare with fresh mint, grainy mustard, and argan oil was delightful and distinctive. The fattoush salad with cucumbers, tomtatoes, bell pepper, feta cheese, and mint was light and fresh. All of the food was unbelievable--every bite was full of flavor. We were full and happy, but our friendly and warm server Natalie encouraged us to try the Kunefe, Turkey's "official dessert," and I'm so glad we did. Kunefe is shredded filo dough stuffed with mozzarella cheese with an orange blossom and rose water syrup. It was served with a side of almond coconut ice cream that tasted like a frozen Almond Joy. Wow--this was the ultimate taste sensation and an unforgettable delight. It was so amazing to me that even though I was so full I couldn't stop eating it until it was completely finished. Not only was the food wonderful at Machka, the service was impeccable and our server Natasia and her friend and co-worker Jessica were sweet as can be and both had great personalities. By the time we left, we felt like we were all long-time friends.
On the last morning of our trip, we got up early and went to Blazing Saddles to rent bicycles to have one final fun jaunt--this time around the city of San Francisco. I must tell you that we were so impressed with this business. Blazing Saddles is one of the most organized companies you can ever rent a bike from. The staff was completely prepared for every situation: they had us in and out in no time with helmets fitted, bikes sized, route instructions, maps, locks, and step-by-step instructions on how to get to Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge if we wanted to go there. I loved this detail: without me even asking, they whipped out a rubber-band to secure my bell-bottom leggings from the bike chain! They even provided us with pre-printed ferry tickets (which you pay for only if you use them: this saves you time once you get to the ferry--no need to wait in line). Our ride through San Francisco to and through the park was trouble-free and a lot of fun. As we rode through the park, we saw beautiful flowers at the Conservatory and rose garden. There are even a gorgeous waterfall and lakes there, too. It is just spectacular and the weather was perfect, the air was so crisp. We even saw a really great band playing under the bridge at the Conservatory. The Exploratorium and the De Young Museum (which we visited) are also located in the park. Be sure to take the elevator ride to the observatory on the 9th floor for a beautiful 180-degree view of the city.
After we returned the bikes, we stopped for lunch at Scala's Bistro, a beautiful restaurant with great food on Powell Street at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. We had a nice lunch and then headed down Powell for some last minute Union Square shopping. Unfortunately, we did not take the cable car as the lines we too long, but it looked like fun. We did watch the train conductor (manually) turn the cable car around at the end of Powell Street. That would be really fun for kids to see. After shopping, it was time to end our whirlwind trip and get to the airport and head home. We bought tickets and reserved a ride on the airport shuttle service from our hotel concierge. At the price of $15.00 per person, this was well worth it.
Overall, I highly recommend a trip to Half Moon Bay and San Francisco if you want a lot of adventure and fun in a short amount of time. It was a refreshing, relaxing, fun and fabulous trip.
I would like to thank Half Moon Bay, Hotel Diva, Mashka, and Blazing Saddles for hosting my visit