San Fran to Santa Cruz, preferably with the top down.
California’s scenic Route One is a mainstay on Best Road Trip lists. Yet, guides often overlook the stretch of coast that links San Francisco and Santa Cruz, missing much of the scenery… and beer. A new crop of breweries and tap houses has sprung up along the route and joins windswept beaches, verdant hills and quaint farm stands that beckon with signs for pie. Time it right and you’ll travel alongside migrating whales whose plumes dot the shore. Prime your Instagram, nab a designated driver and follow our itinerary. With such immense splendor, your altruistic pal—or teetotaling aunt—might actually have as much fun as you.
DAY ONE: Heading south from San Francisco along Highway One, your first stop is Half Moon Bay Brewing, whose patio overlooking Pillar Point Harbor—and big-wave surf spot Mavericks beyond—is the perfect spot for fish tacos and a Tunnel Vision IPA. Take away beach-friendly cans of fractional brews like a chocolate porter that packs a heap of roast flavor into 3.7% ABV. A coaster’s toss away is Hop Dogma Brewing, a 3-barrel homebrew hobby turned buzzing public house where neighbors and weekenders clink pints of crisp Polydactyl Pilsner and hop-bursting Golden Woodpecker IPA. After the pumpkin hamlet of Half Moon Bay, you’ll be lured by the rocky outcrops of Pescadero State Beach and sandy coves of Bean Hollow State Beach. Just don’t miss California doing its best impression of New England at Pigeon Point Light Station. Around the bend is Highway 1 Brewing, a nano- brewery and eatery whose French-Mexican War melds saison esters with gentle, earthy spice from deseeded jalapeños. Afterwards, bed down amidst the wilderness at nearby eco-resort Costanoa.
DAY TWO: Your second day leads you past elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park, colorful kitesurfers at Waddell Beach and thousand-year-old redwoods at Big Basin. Slow when you spy a yellow 1950s pickup marking Swanton’s Berry Farm. You’ll be charmed by the picture-perfect stand especially after digging into one of their berry cobblers. From here it’s 15 minutes to Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for organic ales in the spirited beer garden that serves as the de facto living room for the neighborhood. Lunch comes delivered from Kelly’s French Bakery around the corner. Find your way to West Cliff Drive, which skirts the Monterey Bay and sports views that prompt visitors to relocate. It’ll lead to your night’s base, The Dream Inn, a mod beachfront hotel whose decor suggests Gidget and Don Draper shacking up together. You can walk to downtown Lúpulo Craft Beer House, which pairs taps with tapas (“lúpulo” being Spanish for “hop”). Around the corner is stylish Assembly Restaurant, whose craft beers complement rustic California cuisine, including a killer cheese plate.
DAY THREE: Start at Discretion Brewing, an organic 10-barrel brewery with an airy pub that dishes out locally sourced, beer-focused comfort food. Pair lunch with the English-style mild that won them a 2014 World Beer Cup medal. Down the road is Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House with 30 clever taps and over 250 bottles that include a sizable selection of sours. Let the staff help you customize a taster tray and enjoy an impromptu picnic in their family- and dog-friendly atmospheric garden with snacks from surrounding restaurants and markets. Five minutes away is Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, whose pastoral-chic tasting room and exceptional ales bring local beer enthusiasts together. Pray for a bottle of one of their barrel-aged saisons like the West Ashley aged with apricots in pinot noir barrels. Down the road is New Brighton State Beach for one last commune with the coast before heading back.