Day Trip: Highway 1 Slowcoast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve ever met me, you’ve probably gathered that I love a road trip. I will use any excuse I can find to drive down Highway 1 and take in the scenery. As a child, my parents took us to San Gregorio State Beach to play in the sand as well as Año Nuevo State Park to watch the elephant seals. It was good, cheap fun for my family, as we didn’t have a lot. Fast forward a decade or two and I remember being a young adult, freshly released into the wild, always driving down Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz… well, because I could. Gas was cheap back then and it was a nice way to spend the day alone. Today, I still I find great nostalgia in the familiar curves of the highway and the friendly ocean cliffs that have been burned into my memory from a lifetime of acquaintance.

Considering the fact that I’ve been driving up and down that stretch of freeway for the last 31 years, it’s only natural that I know quite a few great places to stop at along the way. The great thing about a road trip is that there is no destination; it’s about the journey. Here are some of my favorite places to go if you find yourself driving on Highway 1 between HMB and Santa Cruz. Don’t forget to bring cash, as many of these places are cash-only.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABob’s Vegetable Stand & Pumpkin Patch is the first farm stand you will see after heading south from Half Moon Bay on Highway 1. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually a really great place to get some cheap, local fresh veggies. They have artichokes, shelling peas, brussel sprouts, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, local honey… basically anything that grows in a 5 mile radius. They also have a nice pumpkin patch in the fall which is perfect for kids. Buyers beware: Not everything here is local. Be sure to look for the items listed as such, and ask to make sure your veggies weren’t sprayed with pesticides. If they tell you “I don’t know”, then they were probably sprayed.

San Gregorio State Beach should be next on your list, as it’s only a few miles south of Bob’s Veggie Stand. Be sure to pay for your parking spot, as our state parks need all the money they can get. You have to pay even if there is no attendant, so be sure to follow the instructions at the kiosk. Once you arrive, you can take a long walk south on the beach, dipping your feet into the cool & salty water. If sand isn’t your thing, you can stay near the parking lot and perch on a cliffside (being careful not to get too close to the edge, people DO fall off) and have a nice picnic. This place was on the short list of locations for my wedding, I love it that much.

Heading further south, you will encounter some signs for the town of Pescadero. At the junction for Pescadero Creek Road, there is a beach to your right and a turn-off to your left. Make a left on Pescadero Creek Road, and head east for about a mile. At the next intersection (Stage Road), make a left and you will be smack-dab in the middle of Pescadero. There are several businesses worth visiting here. If you are hungry, stop at the Arcangeli Grocery Store. They have excellent sandwiches made-to-order in the back, or just pick up a loaf of their delicious garlic herb artichoke bread. It’s usually still warm from the oven, and it’s so good it might not make it out of the car.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter re-fueling, there are a few other places you could visit. My favorite is Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where you can go on farm tours or just visit their quaint cheese shop to buy some of their award-winning goat cheese. They are located just around the bend; follow the wooden signs of a girl with a goat pointing in the direction of the farm. Once you arrive, park in the designated area and head towards the shop. If you are there in the springtime, you will be blessed by the sight of the cutest baby goats you’ve ever seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf it’s not the springtime while you’re visiting, say hi to the mama goats and then head to the store, where they have a ton of different, farm-made products to choose from. I love their fromage blanc, fresh chèvre, and berry nectar. They also sell farm-fresh eggs, goat cheese ravioli, goat ricotta, chalk paint, and much more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you’re done spending a small fortune on cheese, head back down to Pescadero Creek Road and hang a left this time instead of going back towards the ocean. Once you reach Cloverdale Road (you’ll see a sign for Butano State Park), make a right. Follow this road for several miles until you see additional signs for Butano State Park. Get your cash ready – you have to pay to park here, as you do with all state-run parks. Be ready to get your money’s worth because this place is truly magical, especially in the summer. Park at the second parking lot where the bathrooms are (not right next to the entry kiosk). From here, there are picnic tables and trail heads. If you are here in the height of summer, there is an abundance of wild berries growing all over the place. Thimble berries and blackberries are king here, and I like to gorge myself like Yogi Bear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can opt to head farther into the park to get a little more privacy. There are several turn-outs where you can park and trailheads that lead into some of the most pristine and under-appreciated redwood forests in California. Alex and went there just this last weekend and had a wonderful picnic under the redwood canopy. We enjoyed a salad of radicchio, arugula & scarlet runner beans, grenadine apples, dried salumi, comté cheese, and a really funky French petillant rosé.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButano is also great for hiking (a 12 mile loop will take you on a tour of the whole park) and camping (drive-in as well as hike-in campsites are available). Due to budget cuts, it’s been closed during the winter for the last few years. It’s unfortunate as this temperate coastal redwood forest is quite mild in the winter. Next time you vote and see an option to add a small annual tax to keep our beautiful state parks open, please vote yes.

Once you’re done at the park, you can either turn back towards Highway 1 or head into the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you choose to continue east on Pescadero Creek Road, it will eventually run into Highway 84. Make a right on 84 and head up towards Skyline. At the intersection of 84 and Skyline, there is a fantastic roadside diner called Alice’s Restaurant. They have delicious burgers, great beers, and unbelievable sweet potato fries. They almost never have a wait, even if it looks insanely busy. This is a must-try place. Every time I walk through the doors, I hum Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name. Once you’re done eating, continue east on 84, which will eventually intersect with 280 and take you back home.

If you choose to head back towards the ocean, you can continue south on Highway 1 and visit a few more farm stands and attractions. There is Pie Ranch, Slowcoast, Swanton Berry Farm (seasonal berry U-pick), and a variety of beaches and state parks you can visit. Be sure to check the hours for these places before you leave, as many of them are seasonal and close in the late summer and fall. I was up there last weekend and Pie Ranch was closed, but Slowcoast and the Swanton Berry Farm pie shop (not the U-Pick) were both open. I scored a delicious Tayberry Pie and strawberry truffle while I was there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere you have it, folks. This is about as soul-baring as it gets for me. I feel like my insides are made up of beach glass, brussel sprouts and fog. I hope you find a chance to explore this beautiful stretch of California.

Do you know this stretch of highway? Do you have some favorite places to stop at that we didn’t mention here? Let us know in the comments!