It’s November. On the California coast that means two things: the start of the winter rain and crab season. This time of year the Pacific Coast and the San Francisco Bay are teaming with fresh Dungeness crab, the sweetest seafood on Earth. And what better way to start crab season than a trip to Half Moon Bay, where nearly every fishing boat in the harbor is loaded with crab traps.
The drive up the coast to Half Moon Bay is gorgeous, with breaking waves, dramatic cliffs and blue waters dotted with kite surfers.
First stop is Davenport, for brunch at the Whale City Bakery. A few doors down is the Bonny Doon Winery tasting room, but let’s save that, and colorful owner Randall Graham, for another column. Instead, we headed further up the coast and made a quick jog inland to visit Pescadero, home of Santa Arcangeli Winery. The tasting room is modest, but the Santa Cruz Mountain wines are delectable. Be sure to try the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. And don’t leave town without a stop at the vintage Pescadero Country Store for some fresh artichoke bread.
Continuing north on Highway 1, we soon reached our destination. Half Moon Bay is home to just two wineries, La Nebbia and Barterra. La Nebbia is a few miles inland on Highway 91, surrounded by excellent nurseries. Also on 91 is Spanish Town, which features a collection of life sized steel dinosaurs and a vast collection of statuary. If you’re short of time, I’d recommend stopping at Spanish Town and skipping La Nebbia altogether. Either way, be prepared to make a dangerous left turn back onto Highway 91.
Barterra Winery is in downtown Half Moon Bay on Main Street, situated among boutique shops and fine restaurants. Be sure to park the car and walk around. The day we visited Barterra the tasting room was staffed by owner Mary Colucci and her winemaker husband Bart, a charming elderly couple who have probably forgotten more about wine than most of us will ever know. Their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot won a double gold medal at the San Francisco Chronical Wine Competition, as did their 2009 Delmar Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet. Be forewarned: you might like the Cab enough to pay the $125 list price.
Half Moon Bay is host to many beautiful waterfront hotels. If you’re feeling flush, try the Ritz Carlton situated on a cliff top with views to die for (which you may well do when see your credit card bill). For anyone on a budget (or saving up for the fabulous Barterra Cab), I recommend the Beach House, Oceano, or the Inn at Mavericks. All have ocean and harbor views and are walking distance from excellent dining. We opted for the Inn at Maverick’s, a cozy six room inn named after the world famous surfing spot located nearby. Bring your camera: the views are astounding. Within a short walk is Mezzaluna, an Italian restaurant frequented by locals. Just a block further, at the harbor is the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, voted one of America’s best beach bars. I recommend the Princeton-by-the-Sea IPA or the Maverick’s Big Break Ale. Better yet, have a flight and see what you like best. And the Cochinita Pibil sliders are crazy good. Cochinita Pibil is a close cousin to carnitas, my favorite thing to make with pork shoulder. The seasonings are similar (citrus, cumin and chili peppers), but Cochinita is lightly smoked then slow roasted in a banana leaf.
And don’t leave town without a stop at Sam’s Chowder House for some clam chowder or a fresh shrimp and Dungeness Louie salad (be sure to go early or make a reservation). I’m ready to go back already.