Laid-back in Pacifica

South of San Francisco, the quiet beach town has a low-key surf spirit and great coastal hikes
Abigail Peterson

We can't figure out why more folks don't make the jaunt to Pacifica. Maybe only surfers know that the gentle rolling waves at Pacifica State Beach are prime territory for beginners.

The town is also home to a vintage pier, a wholesale orchid nursery, and some of the best coastal hiking anywhere at Mori Point, a little-known recent addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Getting there: Pacifica is 2 miles south of San Francisco on State 1. From the south, take I-280 to State 35 to State 1.

HAPPENING NOW

September's a great time to try to catch a fresh dinner at the pier. Both salmon and perch are in season now, and you don't need a permit. This is one of the few spots in California where you stand a small chance of hooking a salmon without heading out in a boat. Cheryl and Joe Jimno at Rusty Hook Bait & Tackle (Thu-Tue; 2130 Palmetto Ave.; 650/355-8303) sell a basic rig for about $30 and can give you a rundown on what you need to know ― after all, they've been working with anglers here for 28 years.

EAT

Nona's Kitchen. Pacifica's best meals by far are served at this unlikely spot in the strip mall near Pacifica State Beach. We love the "kitchen sink" salad, with fresh corn and tomatoes, and the skirt steak with beans. $$; Wed-Mon; 5450 Coast Hwy.; 650/557-1455.

Ristorante Portofino's. Decorated like the inside of a ship, with huge windows overlooking the waves at Rockaway Beach. Stick to simpler dishes, such as pasta with pesto. $$$; 105 Rockaway Beach Ave. (in the Best Western Lighthouse Hotel); 650/359-0303.

GO

Mori Point. Walk ¼ mile south from the pier past a golf course to access trails that crisscross golden, grassy bluffs. End of Beach Blvd.; brochure with map at www.nps.gov/goga/maps

Pacifica Municipal Pier. A community crossroads usually packed with local fishers testing their luck. Beach Blvd. at the foot of Santa Rosa Ave.

Pacifica State Beach. Surprise ― the water is warm(ish) now at this mile-long crescent bookended by cliffs. State 1 at Linda Mar Blvd.; 650/738-7381.

SHOP 

NorCal Surf Shop. Its gothic logo stickers are seen on surfers' cars everywhere. Buy a hoodie sweatshirt or surfing DVDs, or rent a wetsuit and board ($15 each per day). 5460 Coast Hwy.; 650/738-9283.

Shelldance Orchid Gardens. Thousands of rare and colorful plants for sale direct from the greenhouse ― a true don't-miss. Sat-Sun; 2000 State 1; 650/355-4845.