Over easy on the coast

Beach breakfasts at these eateries are simple, satisfying, and served with a whiff of salt air
Lisa Taggart

Not much will get me out of bed on a winter weekend morning. But the prospect of eggs poached just right with house potatoes and a steaming mug of coffee might open one eye. Add to that the luxury of strolling on the beach when it's empty save for the birds, and I'll push aside that cozy comforter.

What is it about surf and sand that excites the appetite? It's inexplicable: All I know is that food just tastes better after a walk by the ocean.

Perhaps it's because my cravings are simpler. A nonfat double decaf and an entrée topped with hollandaise doesn't seem right at the continent's edge. The beach is about the basics. When we head out for an early morning of good eating, my husband says, "We're not getting anything foofy."

We found seven breakfast joints in the Bay Area where you can gaze at the sea over a short stack or a plate of eggs and potatoes. There's nothing too fancy about these places, and your mug may even be chipped in spots. But the food is hearty, servings are generous, and the tab won't bust your budget. And there's no better way to start your day than to take your coffee with a little saltwater.

• PACIFICA: Nick's Seashore Restaurant. The scalloped, powder blue booths and carved wood fish hanging on the walls give this Pacifica standard the ambience of an aquarium. Outside the fishbowl, surfers work Rockaway Beach's famous waves. From inside, you can watch their tricks without the chill, sampling old-fashioned eye-openers such as steak and eggs or corned beef hash. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat-Sun; breakfast until 1 daily. 100 Rockaway Beach Ave.; (650) 359-3900.


• POINT REYES: Drakes Beach Cafe. The menu is short and the cafe tiny here near the tip of Point Reyes, but the food is tasty and cooked up right in front of you. You can get an omelet with oysters harvested just down the road or a generous stack of pancakes with blackberries. From the cafe's cozy interior, watch the waves crash onto the spot where Sir Francis Drake and his crew may have landed in 1579. Or use the telescope to gaze at points afar and look for whales. Outdoor tables are great when the wind and fog aren't too heavy. 10-6 Thu-Mon; breakfast all day. Visitor center at Drakes Beach (off Sir Francis Drake Blvd., follow signs to Drakes Beach); (415) 669-1297.


• SAN FRANCISCO: Louis'. The orange- and green-dotted faux brick linoleum is the tip-off that this is a San Francisco old-timer, overlooking Seal Rocks and the Sutro Baths--and, later, its ruins--since 1937. Though tour buses pack 'em in at the Cliff House just down the road, this is where the locals come. The coffee is weak and plentiful, the omelets layered with American cheese, and the servers frazzled but friendly. Add stupendous views to the menu, and you've got the quintessential beach breakfast. Stick to old standbys like pancakes or scrambled eggs. 6:30- 4:30 Mon-Fri, 6:30-6 Sat-Sun; eggs all day, pancakes until 12, waffles until 2:30 daily. 902 Pt. Lobos Ave.; (415) 387-6330.


• SAN FRANCISCO: Pier 23 Cafe. Though the restaurant draws a foot-stomping dance crowd at night, mornings on the back deck overlooking San Francisco's waterfront have the recuperative lassitude of a frat house on a Sunday. Tasty brunch choices here include spicy chilaquiles and artichoke frittata. 11:30-3, 6-10 Mon-Fri (music 10-2); brunch 10-3 Sat-Sun. Pier 23 on the Embarcadero; (415) 362-5125.


• SANTA CRUZ: Aldo's Harbor Restaurant. From the deck's wood chairs, you can watch boats entering and exiting Santa Cruz Harbor, as well as beachgoers heading out over the dunes. You may have to shoo the shorebirds from your tofu scramble (it is, after all, Santa Cruz), fierce pesto omelets, and spicy house potatoes--but the fight, like the salt air, just makes the meal more satisfying. 7-4 Mon-Fri, 7-5 Sat-Sun; breakfast until 1 daily. 616 Atlantic Ave.; (831) 426-3736.


• STINSON BEACH: Parkside Café. Okay, so you can't actually see the ocean from this cafe's back patio. Still, it's only a short stroll from the water's edge, and it's worth the amble just to sink a fork into the cafe's cheddar cheese, tomato, and bacon scramble, or to munch the sweet, crumbly coffee cake. Go early: The cafe can get crowded on weekends. 7:30-2 daily; breakfast all day. 43 Arenal Ave.; (415) 868-1272.


• TIBURON: Sweden House. Locals squeeze onto the tiny back deck of this downtown Tiburon spot, as much for the postcard views across the bay to San Francisco as for the limpa, a slightly sweet, orange-flavored Swedish rye bread. Perfectly fluffy omelets and house potatoes are other good menu options, or choose from the wide selection of pastries. 8-5 Mon-Fri, 8-6 Sat-Sun; breakfast until 3 daily. 35 Main St.; (415) 435-9767.