Pacifica, which means “peace” in Spanish, is a historic surfing town where Southern California cool meets a Northern California climate. To get there, head 15 miles south from San Francisco on Highway 280, which splits to become scenic Highway 1 in Pacifica. When the road starts to wind—or when you hit a stretch of highway blanketed by fog—you know you’ve made it to this charming coastal community.
Breakers Cafe is a favorite breakfast, brunch and lunch spot for a reason. Three-egg scrambles, crab cakes Benedict and an array of savory and sweet crepes fill the belly, while walls covered with bright photos by local photographer Bradley Wittke delight the eyes. Pour yourself a complimentary cup of coffee during the brief wait for a table.
Afterward, walk down to Rockaway Beach to see surfers bobbing in the waves and pelicans diving into the Pacific. Just up the block, you can visit local gift shops Resurrected Boutique and Pedro Point Sirens, stocked with everything from sea salt body products to children’s books about marine life.
Walk off breakfast along Sweeney Ridge, a trail system of ridges and ravines beloved by mountain bikers and hikers. From the 1,200-foot summit high above Pacifica, you’ll see native wildflowers and hawks and enjoy unobstructed view of the ocean. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Farallones, a jagged cluster of islands 30 miles off the coast that serve as a bird preserve. If hiking is too high-impact, there’s also nearby Sea Bowl, a bowling alley and arcade with plenty of lanes and games for the whole family.
Fuel up with lunch at Gorilla Barbeque. Get there early because the popular joint housed in an orange boxcar is known to sell out of its famous pulled pork and beef brisket. Take your lunch down to crescent-shaped Pacifica State Beach (also known as Linda Mar Beach) to savor your food and the view, but be sure to return to Pacifica’s best boutique right next to Gorilla.
Yonder Shop is filled with handmade pottery, jewelry and prints by the artist-owner ceramicist Linda Fahey as well as other local craftspeople and artisans. Fahey’s workstation blends seamlessly into the shop, and she and her friendly dog will make you feel so at home, you may pull up a stool and stay for a while. Better yet, before you stop in, get coffee or tea in another converted cafe, the P-Town Coffee caboose. On a warm day, get your cup of joe on ice and ask if they have any coffee ice cubes in the freezer.
Up the road, you’ll see Shelldance Orchid Gardens, but you’ll have to work to reach it. The multi-greenhouse florist and nursery requires gunning up several switchbacks to the top of the hillside. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, the breathtaking views from the vista are well worth the drive.
Head back down to a destination you’ll have spotted from just about any vantage point in town: the historic L-shaped Pacifica Pier. It’s the only pier in the Bay Area that permits crabbing in season, and you’ll see amateur and pro fishermen alike pulling in traps teeming with Dungeness crabs. Don’t be surprised to see catches that include salmon, kingfish and even sharks.
Mosey back to town and pull up a seat at Paisanos, a cozy Italian trattoria serving simple, delicious pasta dishes and pizzas made with love. Grab a seat at the bar and order everything your server suggests, from vino to dolce.
After the sun dips behind the horizon, enjoy a nightcap on the dog-friendly back patio at A Grape in the Fog, a wine bar that offers happy hour 3:30-6:30 pm on Monday-Saturday, and tastings with the winemakers on Sundays. The menu features an impressive array of California wines and beer, charcuterie and local cheeses. You might catch a local live music act.