Happy Wanderer: The San Mateo Coast


In all the Bay Area, who knew that Half Moon Bay would be a great place to pick up chicks?

I’m talking about the feathered kind, the kind popping up in coops around the Bay. Day in and day out, Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel sells more baby chicks than their competitors — some 200 peepers a week. And these are not your father’s hens. Some lay white eggs, and some lay light brown. But some chicks lay pink, green and blue. Think Easter eggs without the dye.


It all perfectly describes Half Moon Bay, a town with a funky flavor and a slow farm movement that was big before slow food was cool.

“It’s like entering a bygone era,” say locals who are proud of Half Moon Bay and the rest of the rural towns on the San Mateo Coast. They seem somehow frozen in time — and you can thank the Santa Cruz Mountains for running like a spine through the county, trapping fog and creating a barrier in bad weather.

The San Mateo Coast has a way of getting inside you — the miles of undisturbed beaches, the old Redwood forests and the patchwork of farms that push into the foothills. Here, you can stay in a 19th century lighthouse (Point Montara Light Station) or sleep in a luxury tent cabin (Costanoa). You can stroll through hamlets like Pescadero, with more than a dozen historic buildings including the town watering hole, Duarte’s Tavern.

And you can smoke in a double-decker English bus. Just south of Half Moon Bay is a heralded pub called Cameron’s. The owner, Cameron Palmer, has a knack for knickknacks and his place has more collectibles than a Nantucket antique shop. It’s also got quite a storied past.

“The Inn was built about 100 years ago and has quite a history,” says Palmer. “At least three times since the turn of the century it has been a house of ill repute.” It was also a hot spot in the days of prohibition, and Al Capone’s sister was said to have slot machines here.

On the grounds are two bright red double-decker buses, which Palmer set aside for smoking when it was banned indoors. It’s one of the many PR moves that has given him coverage on the BBC and in the Wall Street Journal.

Add Palmer’s collection of 2000-plus beer cans and his talent for marketing everything from his RV Park and campground to his bangers and brews, and you have an oddity and landmark that folks rarely miss on their drive down the Cabrillo Highway.

On the list of Bay Area getaways, the rugged San Mateo Coast is “the land that time forgot,” as author David Laws describes it in his book “Coastside: Exploring the Ocean Side of the San Francisco Peninsula.” It’s a place where you can still buy a chicken in town and light up on a double decker bus with an ale in your hand. It’s a place where individuality is still recognized — and celebrated.

For an instructional video on chicks, see www.ginnyprior.com.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I’ll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at www.ginnyprior.com.

If you go

The San Mateo County CVB website is http://www.smccvb.com.


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