Highway 1 from Santa Cruz to San Francisco isn’t just one of the world’s prettiest drives, it’s also packed with attractions and side adventures to delight people of any age. Here are some of the best things to do on that quintessentially Californian stretch of road, from shopping and dining to enjoying nature along the rugged, seal-dotted Pacific coastline.
1. Seymour Marine Discovery Center
Seymour is a charming aquarium you can do in an hour for cheap and still feel rewarded with a great marine-wildlife experience. There are touch pools where you can examine starfish and pet swell sharks, as well as all kinds of animals from Monterey Bay from jellyfish to eels to octopus. On display outside is the immense skeleton of “Ms. Blue,” who in better days was a live blue whale, and many walking paths to explore along the ocean beach.
Details: Seymour Marine Discovery Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday at 100 McAllister Way in Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8-$11; seymourcenter.ucsc.edu.
2. Venus Spirits
It’s probably not the best idea to start off a road trip with a strong cocktail, so this one’s best for your passengers. But Venus Spirits, named after founder Sean Venus, serves award-winning small-batch creations including delicately balanced gins and aquavits and “El Ladron Yolo,” an agave-based tipple made using traditional pit roasting. Enjoy them in tasting flights or in cocktails at the accompanying restaurant, where they’re often canopied with fresh fruit and herbs.
Details: The Venus Spirits tasting room opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 1 p.m. Friday-Sunday. The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. 200 High Road, Santa Cruz; venusspirits.com
3. Beauregard Vineyards
In the hamlet of Bonny Doon is one of the best wine experiences you can hope for in California. Beauregard’s 65 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains include a historic tasting room, a shady redwood grove and a burbling stream populated with chirping frogs. Sipping a cab or pinot noir here makes you feel privy to a mystical and hidden experience, even though Highway 1 is less than 10 minutes away.
Details: Beauregard Vineyards is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at 10 Pine Flat Road in Santa Cruz; beauregardvineyards.com.
4. American Abalone Farms
Ever been to an abalone farm? Here’s a great one that raises these delicacies on kelp and sells them wholesale, as well as at its retail shop on weekends. Prices are reasonable, and there’s an outdoor picnic area, too. Chomp on raw abalone and farm-raised oysters – you have to shuck them yourself, knives are available to rent – while staring at the ocean and contemplating where it all came from.
Details: Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends at 245 Davenport Landing Road in Davenport; americanabalone.com.
5. Año Nuevo State Park
This park is home to perhaps the Bay Area’s most sublime seal watching. Gigantic elephant seals are routinely laid out on the beach, going through their seasonal activities of molting, hauling out and breeding. The breeding part can be a little bit gruesome as it involves force and biting, but hey, that’s nature for you. Right now visitors can only see the seals on guided tours; head to the website for seasonal visitor information.
Details: Año Nuevo State Park is open Thursday-Monday until 5 p.m. at 1 New Years Creek Road in Pescadero; find reservation information at parks.ca.gov.
6. Pie Ranch
If a name like “Pie Ranch” doesn’t make you swerve off the highway, there’s something wrong with you. The folks behind this operation are dedicated to creating an equitable “seed-to-table” food system and offer the quality results of their labor at a farmstand selling flour and grains, homemade preserves and shrubs, and unique condiments like poblano vinegar and smoked shishito-pepper jelly. Oh right — and pies, which come in flavors such as peach, chocolate and lemon-buttermilk olallieberry.
Details: Pie Ranch is open from noon to 5 p.m. weekdays (closed Tuesdays) and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends at 2080 Highway 1 in Pescadero; pieranch.org.
7. Arcangeli Grocery
Some people drive all the way from San Francisco to Pescadero just to lay their hands on Arcangeli’s artichoke bread. (The grocery even ships it all over the country via Goldbelly.) The local institution has baked veggie-and-herb bread for almost a century, using ingredients sourced from local farms. It’s soft yet crusty, sweet yet savory, warm from the oven, if you time it right, and totally worth a detour even if you’re watching your carbs. The grocery also has a small menu of large sandwiches, like the Godfather with three kinds of Italian cured meats.
Details: Arcangeli Grocery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed on Tuesdays) at 287 Stage Road in Pescadero; normsmarket.com.
8. Downtown Local
This is your place to go for a cup of strong, toasty coffee and something that’s equally eye-opening: a bake shop seemingly pulled through a wormhole from decades back. The walls are papered with pages from old Life magazines, furniture is bound with cut-off jeans, and classic motorcycle and automotive artifacts abound (peep the Beatles-themed Porsche out front). Buy yourself a vintage trinket to take home for a friend and, in the warm weather, a lovely soft-serve with espresso.
Details: Downtown Local is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Wednesday-Sunday at 213 Stage Road in Pescadero; facebook.com/downtownlocal.
9. Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Have an inexplicable desire to be surrounded by bleating baby goats? Harley Farms can accommodate with guided tours of their dairy, which features young goats in the spring as well as Anatolian shepherds, donkeys and an alpaca named “Gentleman Jim.” There are peacocks roaming a picturesque orchard, and at the farm shop, everything possibly related to goat milk from soap and body lotions to chevre and cheesecake. Grab some tasty treats and enjoy them at picnic benches near the pond.
Details: Harley Farms Goat Dairy is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 205 North St. in Pescadero; harleyfarms.com.
10. Dad’s Luncheonette
It’s not often a chef at a three-starred Michelin restaurant quits to run a sandwich shop in a train caboose, but that’s what Scott Clark did with this Half Moon Bay luncheonette. Formerly of Saison, Clark now hangs with his family and makes killer burgers and mushroom sandwiches for vacationers and hungry surfers alike. Rotating soups and desserts have featured coconut-corn chowder and pistachio-and-lime cookies, and people say the homemade chips are the best in the land. There are also cans of kombucha and wine to enjoy outdoors in the coastal sun.
Details: Dad’s Luncheonette is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday at 225 Cabrillo Highway South in Half Moon Bay; dadsluncheonette.com.
11 337 Mirada ART
Located right on the beach in a quintessential beach town, this gallery pulls off the difficult feat of actually being good and not a tourist trap. It features a regular rotation of artwork and handicrafts from local makers, some of them quite skilled at designing jewelry and glassware. There are also paintings and clothing and occasionally the artists themselves, who are glad to guide you around and chat about the Half Moon Bay arts scene.
Details: 337 Mirada ART is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday at 337 Mirada Road in Half Moon Bay; 337miradaart.com.
12. Wyatt Earp’s grave
The famous lawman and gambler claims a Jewish cemetery south of San Francisco as his eternal resting place. He wasn’t actually Jewish, but his wife had a plot there, and they wanted to be together, as their tombstone avers: “That nothing’s so sacred as honor, and nothing so loyal as love!” It’s quite a scene, with Old West aficionados paying homage with offerings of marshal badges, whiskey, playing cards and even live rounds. Walk a minute, and you’ll see another bit of long-gone history – the Tomb of Levi Strauss, of denim-jeans fame.
Details: Hills of Eternity Memorial Park is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Saturdays and on Jewish and secular holidays) at 1301 El Camino Real in Colma; jcemsf.org/wyatt-earp-gravesite.
13. Sutro Baths
There’s no more scenic place to wind down (or start off) a trip along Highway 1 than a short hike to the old Sutro Baths, a 19th-century recreation complex that could hold 10,000 people inches from the Pacific Ocean. It burned down in the 1960s and is now a visage of extraordinary urban ruin and natural beauty, with crumbling concrete structures, shipwrecks visible off the coast and a seaside cave that’s reputedly haunted: Bring a candle in, and an invisible presence will always blow it out. Bonus points if you get there for the sunset.
Details: Sutro Baths is open daily at 1004 Point Lobos Ave. in San Francisco; nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/cliff-house-sutro-baths.htm.