Happy Wanderer: Pacifica’s a favorite destination for Europeans


I was sipping a zin in a cozy coastal wine bar when the call went out. “Does anyone speak German?” asked Beth Lemke, the owner of A Grape in the Fog in Pacifica.

“I do,” I said, like a savvy world traveler. Four years of German four decades ago didn’t make me fluent, but it was enough to help two foreign tourists order red wine and beer.

It turns out, Lemke’s request to translate for her customers wasn’t that odd. This Bay Area beach town is a favorite destination for Europeans visiting San Francisco. Fifteen minutes from the airport and a short drive up Highway 1 to the city, Pacifica has oceanfront accommodations, miles of hiking trails, great food and even a European-inspired castle.

McCloskey Castle, or Sam’s Castle as it’s now known, is a Scottish-inspired château perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Built in 1908 and bought by movie buff Sam Mazza in 1959, this unique structure is open to the public twice a year with tours led by the Pacifica Historical Society.

Sam’s Castle is just one uncut gem in a treasure chest full of surprises. An impressive 60 percent of Pacifica is open space. Take the hike out to Mori Point in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A trail laced with wildflowers that crests gently above the coast, you may find this spot vaguely familiar. It’s the place where Harold’s car plunged off the cliff in the cult classic “Harold and Maude.”

Jan and Dean fans can hang out at Pacifica’s Surf Spot where chef/owner Derek Burns books surf bands and acoustic musicians for his cafe’s outdoor stage. The food is inspired by “global surf cuisine” and the cocktails are just as eclectic (for example, 10-year-old single malt Rob Roys and authentic Moscow Mules served in chilled copper mugs.)

Want to get salty? There are lessons for surfing and just about every other coastal sport including hang-gliding. And if you like fishing — one of the best fishing piers in the state is Pacifica Pier — a hotspot for halibut, striped bass, salmon and crabs.

On the weekend I was there, there was no trace of the famed Pacifica fog. In fact, locals joke that that’s often the case. They say the annual Pacific Coast Fog Fest (Sept. 28-29) is known more for its sunshine than thick water droplets suspended in air.

The myth that Pacifica is always “socked in” makes it rather seductive. It lets you feel like you’re in on a little-known secret — like you’ve got paradise all to yourself. Yet, the sound of the surf is often punctuated with live music and soft conversation — sometimes in a language you haven’t heard in years.



One thought on “Happy Wanderer: Pacifica’s a favorite destination for Europeans

  1. I was just there for the Fourth of July and have to say that it was insane and well worth a destination for the holiday. The beach along the entire cove was filled with revelers armed with every pyrotechnic imaginable… what a spectacular show it was. We watched from the elevated balcony of a friend’s house, which gave us a collective view of the entire cove, an exceptional vantage point to see the beach exploding with burning ambers of light that lit up the surf.

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