12-Hour Pub Crawl: Half Moon Bay to Monterey
The stretch of Highway 1 that meanders from Half Moon Bay to the towns and villages dotting the Monterey Peninsula offers some of the most breathtaking vistas that the California coast can muster. Tourists from halfway around the world literally make it a point in their itineraries to travel down that winding road for a day trip full of cliffs, lapping waves, and (weather permitting) perfect tufts of diaphanous fog. Sure, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Cannery Row usually gets thrown into the mix, but those are little more than tourist traps that can’t provide more than sticky crowds, a few low-thrill amusement park rides, and Ghiradelli chocolate.
A peak into the hinterlands around the touristlands reveals a wealth of breweries and distilleries bringing funky fresh flavors to the Peninsula and Central Coast. Propped up by loving locals, these mom-and-pop operations produce brews and concoctions that typically can’t be sourced outside of the area, and are far more interesting, and inestimably fresher, than anything that can be found in the typical liquor store. If you’ve been thinking about planning some kind of day trip this summer, or have a hankering to try something new, here’s how you might structure your day as you head south.
10:30 AM It doesn’t matter what day of the week you try to make this drive, earlier is better to avoid either workday congestion or a clog of tourists. If traveling south, plan to make it to the town of Half Moon Bay by no later than 10:30 AM. It’ll be for getting a fresh cup of coffee, tea, chai, smoothie, or whatever starts your engine, at AJ’s Coffee. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, AJ’s has fresh-baked pastries, but little in the way of stuff that isn’t fluffy, baked, and/or doused in an insulin shot or two’s worth of sugar. For something a little hardier, head to Ebbtide Café and get the quiche with an ocean view.
11:30 AM Next stop, Santa Cruz. (Well, technically, it’s Soquel) Don’t worry if it takes forever to get here, the map doesn’t account for the twisty-turny, coastal-hugging road and the inevitable car in front of you, driving at a crawl so Aunt Gertrude can take it all in. Whenever you get there, set a calendar reminder to be at Discretion Brewing when they open at 11:30 AM. There are plenty of high-quality breweries in the area, but if you can only go to one, Discretion is the one. Their award-winning beers include all the IPAs you expect, alongside a big presence of tubular German and British styles. The Kitchen in their Tap Room offers small plate delicacies like paté alongside barroom staples like popcorn.
1:30 PM After fortifying your stomach, head into Santa Cruz proper for a tasting at Venus Spirits. Walk-ins are welcome starting at 1:00 PM, and, at $12, are inclusive of six quarter-ounce pours. For the price, you’ll be trying some sick interpretations of gin, tequila-inspired agave distillations, and good ol’ whiskey. Each spirit in their roster has won some iteration of an impressive award from national judicial organizations, or placed for a medal at competition. If you like it strong, go for the Single Malt. If you want something lighter, then hone in on the Scandinavian-inspired Aquavit.
2:15 PM After you’ve had your fill of Venus Spirits, next up is Elkhorn Slough Brewing in Watsonville. This off-the-beaten-path joint is a local’s favorite that puts the “art” in artisan craft brewing. Their program includes wild ales and beer made with wild yeast procured by fermenting juice from fresh-pressed homegrown apples. Each brew is a revelation, so partake of as many as you can while staying “responsible.” For real, though, make sure you try the Mothership.
3:30 PM Having survived the drive to Monterey, a celebration is now in order. There’s no better place to do that than Alvarado Street Brewing on Alvarado Street, in the very heart of Old Monterey. Alvarado Street Brewing is, easily, the most celebrated brewer on the Peninsula. Hang like a local as you take swigs of the Milk Stout Porter, the Hawaiian-inspired Haole Punch, a bottle of the Yeast of Eden series, or any other of their twenty or so beers. Take this opportunity to refuel on grub, too, because their lamb burger and loco moco just won’t quit.
5:00 PM Even though the sun isn’t setting for a couple of hours, start thinking ahead and load up on a self-selected sampler of other local fare so you can find a cozy spot along the shore in time to watch the glorious sunset. The best liquor store in the area is Bottles N’ Bins on Lighthouse, above Cannery Row. They’ve got every beverage you could think of (ask the guys behind the counter if you need a little guidance), and if you happen to spot some Ratel Cider, scoop up as many as you can carry: it’s so good, the owner keeps the location of the apples used in this small-batch cider under lock and key so no one will pilfer his stash (it is local, that’s all we know). Stocked up, keep driving south and head to Asilomar. These alien-crag rock formations that jut outward into the crashing waves are the perfect place to feel the salty ocean mist fly through your hair while you enjoy a libation along with the last rays of the day’s sun.
8:00 PM The sun might’ve set, but there’s still a bit of Monterey to take in to get the full experience. Pacific Grove and Carmel are great choices for finding a cottage or an AirBnB. (Go with Pacific Grove if you’re looking for something relaxed.) Their motto is “America’s Last Hometown,” and things are, appropriately, chill. You could probably catch the last showing at the theater before grabbing a bite to eat at Jeninni Kitchen and Wine Bar (get the bao of the day and eggplant fries) and then round things out at Monarch Pub, the first pub to open in town in the last half-century. Carmel, however, are where things get popping. The crowd can get a little bougie if you go to Vesuvio’s, but the scene everywhere is about schmoozing and boozing. The mood’s pretty light, and the beer and liquor’s pretty swell, if you go to one of the watering holes, like Sade’s, Brophy’s, or, especially, Barmel.
When it’s time, retire to your room, and get some rest, because you’re going to need it: in our next issue, we’ll dive into Part two, and uncover more wonders that await as you make the return drive from Monterey back to Half Moon Bay.