Rob D. Brodman
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