A former stop on the Ocean Shore Railroad, the quiet community of Moss Beach has lured visitors since its inception in the 1880s. Today, the railroad is long gone, but the magnificent coastal splendor remains.

Though just 22 miles from the clamor of nearby San Francisco, Moss Beach’s undisturbed coastline feels worlds away. Here, you’ll find a vibrant marine reserve teeming with sea life, an historic eatery with killer views and a swashbuckling past, and a stylish, boutique inn plunked on a dramatic coastal bluff. Discover this nature-filled getaway with the following guide to its most notable destinations.

WHAT TO DO

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Celebrating its 50th year as a state reserve, this thriving marine refuge is famed for its vibrant, sea creature-filled tidepools. In fact, Fitzgerald’s three-mile stretch of rocky coastline is considered one of the most diverse intertidal regions in California. The intertidal zone—the area of shore that’s exposed at low tide and submerged at high tide—is home to an extraordinary collection of colorful, alien-like organisms who weather harsh conditions including sweltering sun, chilly waters, and a pounding surf.

Sea Star in Tide Pools
The tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve are home to an extraordinary collection of colorful, alien-like organisms.

Explore its tide pools, and you might spy giant green anemones, spiky purple sea urchins, and a variety of sea stars including the otherworldly giant sunflower star. You’re also likely to see a variety of shorebirds including the black oystercatcher, and at low tide, harbor seals sunning themselves on the shore and offshore rocks. For best viewing, plan your visit at low tide which happens twice a day (you can check tide charts here). The reserve opens each morning at 8 am., and features a small parking lot. Note that groups of 15 or more are required to make a reservation by contacting the San Mateo parks department at (650) 363-4021.

Moss Beach Ranch

Situated in the foothills above Moss Beach, this beloved horse ranch offers private, guided rides through scenic, hillside terrain with sweeping ocean vistas. Suited for beginners, all rides are preceded by a horse riding lesson from professional guides who can assess each rider’s abilities. Once geared up, guides will lead you into the adjoining, nearly 4,000 acres of countryside at Rancho Corral de Tierra, one of the largest undeveloped land parcels in the region. Along the way, you’ll learn about the local ecology, and likely spy some wildlife, too!

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Moss Beach Distillery

Set on a remote stretch of coast overlooking a quiet beach cove, it’s small wonder that Moss Beach Distillery—it opened in 1927 as Frank’s Place, named after its owner Frank Torres—would prove popular with bootleggers and rum-runners during the wild, Prohibition-era of the 1930s. Today, the restaurant’s locale proves just as enviable for sipping rum as smuggling it. During the day, a sprawling, outdoor terrace fills with diners enjoying the knock-out views of Pacific and the surrounding coastline, while fire pits and blankets provide warmth into the night.

Moss Beach Distillery
The Moss Beach Distillery boasts knock-out views of Pacific and the surrounding coastline

The all-day menu features a mix of crowd-pleasing seafood and American faves such as crispy, buttermilk-battered calamari, linguine di mare bursting with shellfish, and a ½ pound Angus beef burger. Drink selections toast to the eatery’s past with a Prohibition Mai Tai, Bootlegger Bloody Mary, and their signature cocktail, The Blue Lady, named in honor of the alleged ghost that roams the premises.

WHERE TO STAY

Seal Cove Inn

Tucked within a cypress forest overlooking the churning Pacific, this charming 11-room inn feels like a modern, storybook cottage in the woods. Newly constructed in 1991 and completely refurbished in 2013, the inn features luxe guest rooms with cozy fireplaces and terraces or balconies that overlook a serene garden with rippling fountain. Plush amenities include high-end linens, comfy bathrobes, evening wine service, and breakfast delivered to your room each morning.

Seal Cove Inn
The Seal Cove Inn features luxe guest rooms with cozy fireplaces and terraces or balconies.

Outside, a garden gate opens onto a series of trails which skirt waterfront bluffs, pass through an enchanting tunnel of cypress trees, and lead to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Ask for a map which will guide you to local sights including an overlook to spy frolicking seal pups (usually present from June to March). The inn also offers complimentary use of two bikes to cruise the nearby California Coastal Trail to noteworthy destinations including Pillar Point Harbor, Sam’s Chowder House, and Half Moon Bay State Beach. Plus, it’s just a quick, seven-minute walk to a sunset cocktail at the Moss Beach Distillery.


 

Garrick Ramirez is a freelance writer and photographer who loves sharing compelling destinations within California. As a native, he has yet to tire of exploring the many cities, small towns, and natural splendor found throughout the state. His travel guides have appeared in the SF Chronicle, Via Magazine, and The Mercury News among others. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.