Take a food lovers' holiday

What to do and where to eat on a seafood pilgrimage along California's most delicious drive

Charity Ferreira

A seafood drive may sound like an irreverent way to spend Thanksgiving weekend, but fall is about appreciating plenty, and on the Northern California coast, that means fresh seafood.

My family is no stranger to unconventional holiday celebrations (I've cooked bouillabaisse for Thanksgiving dinner, making fish stock while most people were brining a turkey), so a coastal seafood pilgrimage seems just right for observing our own version of the holiday.

Our plan is to taste our way from Bodega Bay all the way south to Monterey. We'll sample the best of the harvest's largesse: everything from Dungeness crab (whose season starts this month) to local clams and oysters and Pacific Coast sardines.

We'll also look for giant purple-tipped artichokes, local berries that have been made into preserves, wild mushrooms, and lingering Indian-summer produce, all of which are still going strong here as late as November.

It's hard to imagine a more beautiful time to take a drive down State 1. We count the black-and-white Holsteins grazing placidly by the side of the highway. The fog rolls in as the cow sightings give way to brown pelicans, otters, and sea lions on their own seafood quests. My husband and I stop frequently, mostly to let our 3-year-old son run around, but also because we can't resist spontaneous beachcombing on quiet stretches of sand, local wine and cheese tastings, or walks on the chaparral-covered rolling coastal hills.

The most striking thing about the entire span of highway is how it presents itself with little fanfare. The route is one of the most visited in the world, yet it feels hidden from exposure, virtually unchanged from year to year. As legendary and celebrated as some of its destinations are, it still feels like we're stumbling upon a tremendous secret every time we round a bend and see an oyster farm or crab shack or cheese shop.

The food, too, is simultaneously unpretentious, simple, and out of this world. Everything we eat is prepared with a tangible respect for the ingredients, from Seaweed Café in Bodega Bay, where chef Jackie Martine strives to buy only from sources within 30 miles, to Passionfish in Pacific Grove, where a wallet-size guide to making conscientious seafood choices accompanies our bill.

By the end of our trip, we're sated and happy, and filled with a renewed sense of gratitude that we live in such an abundant, delicious corner of the world. Nothing irreverent about that.

Next: Where to stay and what to do

 

NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO

Bodega Bay Lodge & Spa Cozy wooden buildings on the bluffs that feel retreatlike and luxurious. INFO: 84 rooms from $235; in Bodega Bay; 888/875-3525.

Doran Beach Regional Park Ideal for beachcombing, kite flying, or fishing from jetties. Campsites are also available (112 sites from $19). INFO: $6 day-use fee; 201 Doran Beach Rd., Bodega Bay; 707/565-2041.

Tomales Bay Oyster Company Get an up-close look at an oyster farm and buy fresh oysters to take with you or eat on-site. INFO: 15479 State 1, Marshall; 415/663-1242.

SAN FRANCISCO

Argonaut Hotel Ship-shape, nautical-themed hotel is housed in a renovated historic brick warehouse at the Cannery. INFO: 252 rooms and 13 suites from $179; 866/415-0704.

Fisherman's Wharf Yes, it's kitschy. But it's also a lot of fun to stroll around, taking in attractions like Pier 39 (415/705-5500), the aroma of bubbling crab pots, and the Aquarium of the Bay ($14, $7 ages 3-11; or 888/732-3483).

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Get immersed in Pacific Coast maritime history onboard five late-19th-century ships, each of them floating National Historic Landmarks. INFO: Closed Thanksgiving; $5, ages 15 and under free; 499 Jefferson St.; 415/447-5000.

USS Pampanito The World War II submarine is open while being restored to its 1945 appearance. INFO: $9, $4 ages 6-12; Pier 45; 415/775-1943.

NORTH OF MONTEREY

Año Nuevo State Reserve Thousands of northern elephant seals (and visitors) come to Año Nuevo every winter, but earlier in the season, free self-guided walks may yield glimpses of early arrivals. INFO: $6 per vehicle; on State 1, 12 miles south of Pescadero; 650/879-0227.

Bean Hollow State Beach Spread out a picnic, or walk around tidepools to look for crabs and anemones. INFO: On State 1, about 2 miles south of Pescadero; 650/879-2170.

Beauregard Vineyards Enjoy ocean and bay views as you sample wines made by a small family-run winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. INFO: 55B Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz; 831/425-7777.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park The coast side of the park ― Waddell Creek and Rancho del Oso ― offers lots of windsurfers to marvel at; or hike the first few miles of the Skyline to the Sea Trail to waterfalls, wildlife, and ancient coast redwoods. INFO: 17 miles north of Santa Cruz on State 1; 831/425-1218.

Costanoa Lodge Part summer camp, part spa, with tent cabins and more luxurious lodge rooms. INFO: 80 tent bungalows from $95, 12 cabins from $145, 39 lodge rooms from $165; on State 1, about 11 miles south of Pescadero; 877/262-7848.

MONTEREY AREA

Asilomar Conference Grounds Julia Morgan designed much of this peaceful, secluded retreat on the Monterey Peninsula. Rooms are TV- and telephone-free, which only enhances the appeal. INFO: 312 rooms from $133, including breakfast; in Pacific Grove; 866/654-2878.

Dennis the Menace Playground Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip, designed one of the town's best attractions for families. Fanciful play structures include a climbing wall, a hedge maze, dizzying slides, and an antique steam locomotive. INFO: Closed Tue; 777 Pearl St., Monterey; 831/646-3860.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Spectacular exhibits and an ocean-conservation message are hallmarks of the world-class destination. INFO: $25, $16 ages 3-12; 886 Cannery Row, Monterey; 831/648-4888.

Next: Where to eat

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