Don’t let the diminutive size of Montara fool you. What it lacks in population, it makes up with grand-scale scenery.
Engulfed by mountains and the Pacific, the cozy coastal community enjoys one of the most dramatically beautiful pockets along the Half Moon Bay Coastside. Set roughly 20 miles south of San Francisco, the quiet enclave also serves as a worthy introduction to the region’s pristine splendor for visitors fleeing urban environs. From exploring golden sand beach coves to strolling a former, cliffside stretch of Highway 1 perched high above the ocean, you’ll discover many stirring adventures in this nature-filled escape.
WHAT TO DO
Devil’s Slide Trail is a must-stop for any visitor to the Coastside. What was once a treacherous stretch of Highway 1 has been transformed into a breathtaking, 1.3-mile multi-use trail perched between towering granite cliffs and the wild Pacific. For years, the road would frequently close due to landslides, frustrating stranded commuters. Now, thanks to a pair of adjacent tunnels bored through Montara Mountain—the second and third longest tunnels in California—motorists have a reliable route, and Devil’s Slide has returned to nature. Informative signs dot the waterfront path offering insights into its fascinating natural and cultural history. The cliffside trail also provides an excellent vantage point for spotting wildlife including rare seabirds and migrating gray and humpback whales (for more local trails, see our Coastside Trail Guide).
Offering peek-a-boo views from Highway 1 above, Gray Whale Cove lures visitors with golden shores ringed by dramatic coastal cliffs. The sheltered cove is accessed by a steep trail, yet those who make the trek are rewarded with one of the most striking beaches on the Coastside. On a sunny day, you could easily mistake the setting for some far-flung Mediterranean beach. Just note that the only parking is located on the mountain side, forcing visitors to exercise extreme caution when crossing a very busy highway.
One mile south of Gray Whale Cove lies the more accessible shores of Montara State Beach. Backed by low-slung coastal bluffs, the scenic, mile-long beach attracts beachcombers, tide poolers, and wetsuit-clad surfers. On weekend mornings, you’ll see hikers heading inland toward Montara mountain which is part of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and, according to California State Parks, the only undisturbed coastal mountain habitat found within 100 miles. The 7-mile trek to the summit is a Bay Area bucket list staple thanks to top-of-the-world views enjoyed from the 1,898 foot peak.
When visitors compare the Coastside to New England, they likely have destinations such as Point Montara Lighthouse in mind. The postcard-perfect property exudes seaside charm with colorful vintage buoys, thick nautical rope strung over white picket fences, and a squat lighthouse built in 1881 and exported from the East Coast. Visitors are welcome to stroll the landscaped grounds, stopping to peer out at the vast Pacific. Plan in advance, and you can also spend the night in the former fog signal building as part of an onsite hostel.
WHERE TO EAT
Housed in an iconic building overlooking Montara Beach, La Costanera enjoys enviable views of Montara’s sweeping coastline. The multi-level dining rooms features floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights to immerse diners in the area’s coastal splendor. Plus, a heated outdoor patio provides front-row seats of the crashing surf. Translated from Spanish as “The Coast”, La Costanera serves Peruvian and Latin American-inspired dishes including seafood dishes such as Pescado a lo Macho, a stew brimming with prawns, mussels, and seasonal fish. From 5-7 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday (and all night Tuesdays), you’ll enjoy happy hour deals on menu faves such as a seafood paella and La Costanera’s famed ceviche.
WHERE TO STAY
Situated in the heart of Montara’s quaint village along Highway 1, the newly remodeled Ocean View Inn serves as a comfy homebase to explore the region. Reopened in spring 2019 after an extensive, two-year renovation, the inn sports nine guest rooms with contemporary, coastal-inspired interiors. With a variety of layouts, each spacious room features hardwood floors, modern furnishings, and, on upper floors, ocean views. Each evening, guests are invited to gather in the airy, fireplace-warmed lobby for a nightly wine and appetizer service. Plus, a complimentary breakfast greets guests each morning before hitting the beaches and trails.