Sometimes it’s just not possible to get away for the weekend. But that doesn’t mean fun has to be put on the back burner. Recently, one of my girlfriends and I decided to get out in the Bay Area for invigorating hikes followed by delicious lunches. We started in the South Bay, then headed north to Marin County, and ended our odyssey in St. Helena. These jaunts were great for recharging, getting in some important girlfriend time, and savoring the cuisine at nearby restaurants.
Play And Dine: Half Moon Bay
The Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve covers more than 4,400 acres and overlooks Half Moon Bay on the western edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Within the preserve, find over 24 miles of trails — ideal for easy walks or challenging hikes and bike rides. There are also equestrian paths.
For knockout views of the coast and Half Moon Bay, several trails wind up to 1,600 feet. A favorite attraction in this lush area is the Purisima Creek Canyon. Walk by the often-rushing creek, giant redwoods and Douglas firs, and next to ferns, wildflowers and berries. The redwoods are about 100 years old, the second growth in a forest with original trees close to 1,000 years old before loggers cut them. You can see many of the old stumps 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. (650-691-1200, www.openspace.org)
In keeping with the verdant surroundings of the morning, we headed straight for The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay for lunch. Its spectacular position atop a coast-side bluff is the perfect antidote for sore muscles. We settled into The Conservatory Bar and Lounge, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and endless views of the ocean and championship golf course.
Specialty cocktails in hand, we toasted a job well done. The spiced pear martini had just the right kick served up with spiced pear vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon, and ginger beer. The strawberry basil lemonade incorporated all fresh ingredients with vodka and a little soda on the rocks.
After an energetic hike, there should be no guilt in ordering the truffle fries — a must-have with roasted garlic aioli. Share the charcuterie plate and enjoy a delicious selection of artisan meats and rustic multigrain walnut bread. For over-the-top decadence, try the chocolate peanut bar with Chantilly cream. (650-712-7000, www.ritzcarlton.com)
Play And Dine: Marin County
There is no better place than Mt. Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley for incredible vistas. One of the most spectacular panoramas is from the top of Mt. Tamalpais at over 2,500 feet. From here, it’s possible to see the Farrallon Islands, the hills of Marin County, San Francisco, and across the bay to Mt. Diablo. If that height seems too challenging, don’t worry because the park contains 50 miles of hiking and bike trails that connect to a larger 200-mile trail network — all set in 25,000 acres of redwoods 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 take in the scene — from the East Bay south to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Moffett Field. (415-388-2070, www.parks.ca.gov)
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 front porch and enjoyed tangy pisco cobblers with lime and blackberries.
The four-course tasting menu with its small portions makes this an attractive lunch offering. To start, we had a cup of cauliflower soup, rich with flavor, and a salad. We split the avocado chicken salad sandwich and a cheddar cheeseburger. Both come with thinly sliced potatoes and roasted onion dip. The chocolate s’more semifreddo was the sweet ending to a beautiful day. (415-339-4750, www.cavallopoint.com)
Play And Dine: St. Helena
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 two million years old from the Clear Lake Volcanic Field. Begin in the forest of pine trees and Manzanita bushes on the five-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 — on a crystal-clear day, see all the way to San Francisco. (www.napahiking.com)
The day was warm and sunny, so we chose the patio at Goose & Gander for lunch. With its lush landscaping, it was the perfect location to relax after an exhilarating hike. The restaurant is known for their artisanal cocktails — we loved the Paloma Hermosa (tequila, elderflower liqueur, lime, grapefruit, egg white, and bitters) and the pisco sour Brava (pisco, blood orange spice liqueur, lime, egg white, and bitters).
No matter what you choose from the menu, you’ll be happy. Highlights for us included the luscious crudo of Hawaiian lemon snapper, the spicy skillet-roasted whole prawns, and the seared day boat sea scallops. If that wasn’t satisfying enough, we also shared the gorgeous pork belly wedge. At this point, it would be easy to say we were done, but when the server described the lemon buttermilk pudding cake, we couldn’t say no. It was moist, delicious, and served with a huckleberry compote and crème fraîche. (707-967-8779, www.goosegander.com)
Half Moon Bay Visitors Bureau: www.visithalfmoonbay.org
Marin County Visitors Bureau: www.visitmarin.org
St. Helena Visitors Center: www.sthelena.com