When it’s not possible to get away for the weekend, don’t miss the fun that’s right outside your door. Grab your partner or good friend and head for the hills — literally.
Recently, my husband and I started in the South Bay; another day we headed north to Marin County and ended our odyssey in St. Helena. These jaunts were great for recharging, getting in time together and indulging at nearby restaurants.
PLAY & EAT
Half Moon Bay
The Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve covers more than 4,400 acres on the western edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Within the preserve, find more than 24 miles of trails and historic logging roads — ideal for easy walks or challenging hikes and bike rides. There are also equestrian paths.
For knock-out views of the coast and Half Moon Bay, several trails wind up to 1,600 feet. A popular attraction in this verdant area is the Purisima Creek Canyon. Walk by the often rushing creek, giant redwoods, Douglas firs, ferns, and wildflowers. The redwoods are about 100 years old, the second growth in a forest with original trees close to 1,000 years old before they were cut by loggers. Many of the old stumps are visible as you go along the Purisima Creek Trail. In the early 1900s, the trees in the canyon were taken to one of seven mills located in the Preserve (openspace.org/preserves/purisima-creek-redwoods).
In keeping with the natural surroundings of the morning, we headed straight for The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay for lunch. Its spectacular position atop a coast-side bluff enlivens the senses. We settled into Navio with its floor-to-ceiling windows and endless views of the ocean and championship golf course.
We visited on a Saturday when the Farmers Market Brunch was in full swing. We each started with a create-your-own Bloody Mary. Lots of choices, but we opted for the Classic — salted rim, with several garnishes (think bacon, tomato. and olives) — and the Cajun — kicked up with spices guaranteed to make your eyes open wide.
The all-you-can-eat buffet overflows with the chef’s discoveries at the Coastside Farmers Market. It’s overwhelming, so start slowly and work your way through the starters and salads, the raw bar, breads and cheeses to go with charcuterie, breakfast specialties, and last but not least the dessert bar. Favorites include the chilled English pea and mint shooter, Fanny Bay oysters, steamed and peeled whole shrimp (head included), herb-crusted salmon, snails and garlic sausage, and the luscious potatoes au gratin. Not thinking about the calories burned hiking, we tasted our way through the Sunrise Farm lemon chiboust, honey-roasted nectarine façon Melba and smore’s chocolate mousse. For the faint of heart, or full stomach, there’s plenty of fresh fruit (650-712-7000, ritzcarlton.com/halfmoonbay).
PLAY & EAT
There is no better place than Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley for incredible vistas of the surrounding area. One of the most spectacular panoramas is from the top of Mt. Tamalpais at more than 2,500 feet. From here, it’s possible to see the Farrallon Islands, the hills of Marin County, San Francisco, and across to the East Bay and Mt. Diablo. If that height seems too challenging, the park contains about 50 miles of hiking and bike trails that connect to a larger 200-mile trail network — all set in 25,000 acres of mostly redwood and oak forests.
A popular hike winds up to the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, a natural setting for theatrical performances. The loop covers part of the southern side of the mountain with stunning views in most directions. Along the way, take a break on Forbes Bench and catch the scene — from the East Bay south to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Moffett Field (415-388-2070, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=471).
After a hike on Mt. Tam, don’t give up the sights — opt for lunch at Murray Circle, the popular restaurant at Cavallo Point in Sausalito. With a dramatic tableau of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in front of us, we lounged in the oversized chairs on the restaurant’s expansive front porch and sipped tropical breezes (Square One botanical vodka, St. Germain, and coconut water).
The hearty portion of steamed mussels was luscious — plump and juicy cooked in white wine, crème fraîche, and tarragon and served with warm garlic croutons. The Prather Ranch burger was smothered in cheddar cheese from Fiscalini.
The restaurant also serves a 4-course tasting menu. The small portions make this an appealing option at lunch and include starters and choice of main (brought at the same time). The strawberry and rhubarb tart with mango and basil ice cream was a sweet ending to a beautiful day (415-339-4751, cavallopoint.com/murray-circle-restaurant.html).
PLAY & EAT
The peak of Mount St. Helena rises over 4,300 feet in the Mayacamas Mountains. Located in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, the mountain is composed of volcanic rock more than 2 million years old from the Clear Lake Volcanic Field. Begin in the forest of pine trees and Manzanita bushes on the 5-mile Stevenson Memorial Trail. Pass a stone monument that commemorates the site where Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon in 1880. As you wind your way to the top (mostly on a fire road), enjoy gorgeous valley scenes — and on a crystal-clear day, see all the way to San Francisco.
A longer (11 miles) and more scenic trail starts close by and includes the Table Rock, Oat Hill Mine, and Palisades trails (napahiking.com/Robert_Louis_Stevenson.htm).
The day was warm and sunny, so we chose the relaxing patio at Goose & Gander for lunch. Known for their artisanal cocktails (and lots of ingredients), we had the Rosemary-Pear Shrub with Distillery No. 209 Gin, rosemary-pear shrub syrup, lemon, ginger, and seltzer, and the cucumber Collins made with Square One Cucumber Vodka, yuzu, lemon, fresh and pickled cucumber, huckleberries, and seltzer.
With cocktails we had a zesty gazpacho made from strawberries, chili, almond, and basil. Then we shared the grilled Spanish octopus served with tapenade, green garlic aioli, and other sides. The fried green tomato BLT with bacon came with fries cooked in duck fat. Trying to remember the benefits from hiking, we passed on the Sticky Toffee pudding (707-967-8779, goosegander.com).
OTHER ESSENTIALS & SPECIAL EVENTS:
Half Moon Bay Visitors Bureau: visithalfmoonbay.org (Coastside Farmers’ Market every Saturday until the end of December)
Marin County Visitors Bureau: visitmarin.org
St. Helena Visitors Center: sthelena.com