Port of San Diego's Public Parks (via Flickr Creative Commons)
You think you know the Cali Coast? Take it from us: There are still lots of surprises. Here are the best places to eat, drink, hike, and more
– July 14, 2015
Port of San Diego's Public Parks (via Flickr Creative Commons)
1 of20 Port of San Diego's Public Parks (via Flickr Creative Commons)
Waterfront Park San Diego
A big, big deal, and if you haven’t been to San Diego lately, it’s worth going just to experience it. The 12-acre paradise situated between San Diego Bay and the city’s 1938 Spanish colonial revival–style Administration Building, Waterfront Park emerged from a pair of parking lots and now boasts gardens, a playground, interactive fountains, picnic areas, and a large greenbelt for festivals, concerts, outdoor movies, and Monday evening yoga classes. sandiegocounty.gov/parks/Waterfrontpark.html.
Flickr user John Fellner
2 of20 Flickr user John Fellner
Rooms with views
Inn at Laguna Beach
This longtime Laguna Beach stalwart has been nicely renovated. Almost all the beachy, breezy rooms at the blufftop boutique hotel feature views of the iconic Laguna coastline. Order lunch from neighboring Las Brisas and take it to the rooftop bar, set with cushy deck furniture and wooden tables, then hit the oceanfront pool or follow the staircase down to the beach: This is Southern California at its best. From $200; innatlagunabeach.com.
3 of20 Lisa Corson
Pacific Wheel, Santa Monica
It’s worth fighting summer crowds for a spin on the solar-powered Ferris wheel, which offers unparalleled coastline views. 380 Santa Monica Pier.
4 of20 Lisa Corson
Caffeine with local cred
Dogtown Coffee, Santa Monica
This stellar breakfast spot occupies the building where the Zephyr Skate Team, aka Z-Boys, was formed. It pays tribute with skater-friendly food, like the Munchies burrito. $; 2003 Main St.
5 of20 Lisa Corson
Rent a cruiser at the Santa Monica Bike Center.Follow The Strand, a 22-mile paved path along Santa Monica Bay, or bike to Tongva Park, a 6.2-acre public space with gardens and 18-foot-high observation decks. From $20/2 hours;1555 Second St. Tongva Park: 1615 Ocean Ave.
6 of20 Kimberly Genevieve
Playa Provisions, Playa del Rey
This small beach neighborhood wedged between Marina del Rey and Los Angeles International Airport often gets ignored. Playa Provisions provides an excellent reason not to. Pick your poison at this four-in-one concept from Top Chef runner-up Brooke Williamson. First, grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee at King Beach ($), or an ice cream cone at Small Batch, to take to the beach across the street. Later, settle in at a table at the upscale seafood restaurant Dockside ($$$), where picture windows frame ocean views, or duck into the whiskey bar Grain. 119 Culver Blvd.; playaprovisions.com.
7 of20 Jessica Sample
Gifts by the sea
Malibu Beach Supply Co.
The Malibu Farm restaurant on the Malibu Pier may draw the crowds, but this charming gift shop across the way is worth a visit too: You’ll find not only souvenirs but also anything you might need for a day on the beach, from sunscreen and lip balm to board shorts and beach towels to ice cream sandwiches from Santa Monica’s Beachy Cream. 23000 Pacific Coast Hwy.; (310) 456-8031.
Flickr user Damian Gadal
8 of20 Flickr user Damian Gadal
Santa Barbara Sea Center
Sure, there are larger aquariums, but the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Sea Center benefits from its relative intimacy—it just may be the best place on the West Coast to get up close and personal with the denizens of the deep. In 2015, the center marked the 10th anniversary of its reopening after a fire by quadrupling the size of its intertidal touch pool, where seastars, urchins, and anemones invite gentle handling. Be the first among your friends to boast that you’ve petted a shovel-nose guitarfish (a
kind of ray) at the shark touch pool. $8; sbnature.org/twsc/2.html.
9 of20 Chris Leschinsky
Pismo Preserve, Pismo Beach
The stunning views from atop Pismo Preserve’s oak-shaded ridgeline sweep over an arc of coastline nearly 20 miles long, from Point San Luis to Point Sal. This 886-acre former cattle ranch, its gentle hills forming Pismo Beach’s inland backdrop, was destined for development until a grassroots campaign succeeded in saving the property for public use. When it opens in fall 2015, hikers, bikers, and equestrians can explore miles of multi-use trails through chaparral, grassland, and woodland that open up to the Pacific below. lcslo.org/project/pismopreserve.
10 of20 Lisa Corson
Morro Bay Skateboard Museum
One of Jack Smith’s skateboards (the one he rode across the country in 1976) hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But its replica, and nearly 350 other boards, are on display at his own institution, the Morro Bay Skateboard Museum. The bayside museum, with views of Morro Rock and the marina, traces the history of skateboarding from the 1950s to today, and includes boards donated by such luminaries as Tony Hawk, Jay Adams, Rodney Mullen, David Hackett, and skateboarder turned filmmaker Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys).Free; mbskate.com.
11 of20 Kodiak Greenwood
Post House, Big Sur
When Billy Post and his partners developed 98 coastal acres of his Big Sur cattle ranch in the ’80s, the land included the family home he’d built for his parents on a knolltop 1,200 feet above the Pacific. In 2014, Post Ranch Inn embarked on a complete refresh of the 2,200-square-foot, one-bedroom Post House, where natural redwood interiors and walls of glass blur the boundaries between indoors and out. Adjacent to the large patio area is a private soaking tub that looks out over the rocky coastline and Santa Lucia Mountains to the south. Guests also have access to the resort’s two infinity pools overlooking the ocean, as well as a complimentary Lexus if you want to leave the property for a while … and why would you do that, exactly? From $3,950; postranchinn.com.
12 of20 Garrick Ramirez
Sawyer Land & Sea Supply, Santa Cruz
Nowhere does Santa Cruz’s ocean-meets-redwoods spirit converge as joyfully as it does at Sawyer Land & Sea Supply, where owner Stacy Forrester curates smart sportswear, camping gadgets, and surfboards that reflect the town’s active lifestyle. Forrester is determinedly Cruz-centric: Artwork from area artists is on display, and the hand planes (for bodysurfing) and wooden bellyboards—themselves worthy of hanging on a wall—are crafted locally. The store, tucked into a corner of what was once cold storage for brussels sprouts, has also become somewhat of a community gathering spot, where, on a given Friday or Saturday evening, locals hang out after hours to catch a surf film or local band. 402 Ingalls St.; sawyersupply.com.
13 of20 Erin Kunkel
Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Ocean Beach extends 3 1⁄2 miles from Lands End south to Fort Funston. It’s long, straight, and wide—great for strolling and dog-walking. Swimming? With water temps averaging in the 50's, not so much. But you can applaud the hardcore, wetsuit-insulated surfers braving the waves.
14 of20 Erin Kunkel
Outerlands, San Francisco
The restaurant's haute driftwood design and seasonally appropriate menu put Ocean Beach on S.F.’s fine-dining map. $$$; 4001 Judah Ave.
15 of20 Mike Norquist
The Croft at the Cove
Nick's Cove, Marshall
With its restaurant and knotty-pine cottages perched on pilings over Tomales Bay, Nick’s Cove opened as an upgraded version of a joint your fisherman uncle—let’s call him Nick—might build for himself and his buddies. Now Nick’s has added a 2-acre kitchen farm, The Croft, whose lettuces, strawberries, eggs, and herbs put a locavore spin to the restaurant menu. Standouts here are the seafood, including oysters and a spectacular crab mac and cheese, and the amazing water buffalo’s–milk gelato from nearby Double 8 Dairy. Restaurant $$$, cottages from $349; 23240 U.S. 1; nickscove.com.
Flickr user Jon Oropeza
16 of20 Flickr user Jon Oropeza
Fort Ross Vineyard, Jenner
This winery in Jenner is one of the most spectacularly situated in California. Views from the hilltop tasting room extend south along the Sonoma Coast to take in, on a clear day, the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes. As for the wines produced up here, they’re good too—especially the 2011 Pinot Noir Symposium Pinot, blended with 3 percent Pinotage grapes, honoring the owner’s South African birthplace. $15 tasting; fortrossvineyard.com.
Tai Power Seeff/Getty Images
17 of20 Tai Power Seeff/Getty Images
California Coastal N.M., Point Arena
Added in 2014, the 1,665-acre Point Arena–Stornetta unit is the only on-land portion of the national monument, which
extends 1,100 miles along the coast. Best access is from the pullouts on Lighthouse Road; signage is still iffy, but the blufftop trails are easy to follow and stunning. Worthy detours include Point Arena Lighthouse, tallest on the Pacific Coast; in town, Franny’s Cup and Saucer, whose post-hike cakes, cupcakes, and puddings are beyond delicious. Monument: on.doi.gov/1ud4UtR. Lighthouse: $7.50; pointarenalighthouse.com. Franny’s: Closed Aug 23–Sep 1; 213 Main St.; frannyscupandsaucer.com.
18 of20 David Fenton
Heritage House Resort, Little River
The piano still sits in the corner of the bar. The ocean views are still cinematically romantic. A generation fell in love with this resort in Mendocino County’s Little River after it costarred in 1978’s Same Time Next Year, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. And when it suffered financial reverses and closed for much of a decade, fans felt as battered as if they’d gone through their own nasty divorces. Now Heritage House is back, with tastefully renovated guest rooms, a good restaurant, and, soon, a small spa. Construction continues, but what’s done will bring back happy old memories or make happy new ones. From $209; heritagehouseresort.com.
19 of20 Erin Kunkel
Beach and breakfast
Oyster Beach, Samoa
On 14 acres of the sandy peninsula that forms the west boundary of Humboldt Bay stand three once-ramshackle cottages now very stylishly redone. They’re probably not for everyone—a few neighboring buildings have fallen from ramshackle to ruined. But they’re elegant and comfortable, and the beach is good for long, moody walking. And you’re only minutes away from a true Western landmark: the Samoa Cookhouse, which has served hearty lumber-camp meals (breakfast is our favorite) in
the same rambling red building since 1893. Cottages: From $190; oysterbeach.squarespace.com.
Samoa Cookhouse: $$; 908 Vance Ave.; samoacookhouse.net.
20 of20 Erin Kunkel
Humboldt Bay Tourism Center, Eureka
Housed in a gorgeously ornate late-1800s building in Eureka’s pretty downtown, this has what you’d expect from a good visitor center: souvenir T-shirts and caps and brochures on local attractions. But it also has something you don’t expect—Taste, an inviting oyster bar where you can lunch on Humboldt Bay bivalves along with local breads, cheeses, wines, and microbrews. humboldtbaytourismcenter.com.