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March 11, 2011 > Travel: Half Moon Bay - Dogs Welcome

Travel: Half Moon Bay - Dogs Welcome

By Denny Stein

Most road trips don't start with a visit to the dentist, but appointments in Los Gatos spurred us on to drive south to Santa Cruz, then up Route 1 to Half Moon Bay. This odd itinerary gave us a chance to enjoy the scenic ride along the coast, yet not venture too far from home or use up the whole week-end. It's an easy drive, but like most California highways, there were too many people in a hurry. When we finally left Santa Cruz and headed north on Route 1, the traffic abated, until it seemed we were almost alone on the road. We drove past wildflowers, purples, yellows, pinks, then green, yellow and brown dune grasses, tall and waving. We left the sun high above while riding through dark forests, then passed along fields of farms, fertile and fallow.

To the west, beaches and cliffs hove into view, surfers in black skins swarmed around old station wagons, then headed down narrow sandy paths, boards pointing to the sea like compass needles. Unmarked trails or state beaches with parking lots invited us to experience the excitement of the waves. But "No Dogs" signs competed with the welcome and we did not stop.

This was our first extended trip with our "Cuisinart" dog, Sidney. He's small, only 10 lb. and a bit scruffy in an elegant kind of way. We adopted him 2 years ago at an Adopt-A-Pet happening in Niles Community Park, right behind our house. Sidney has a poodle mix mother, therefore he has long ballerina like legs, but a mysterious mix of terrier genes has blessed him with large ears, soulful eyes, and a comic under bite. His specific lineage being a mystery, he has been identified as many things, from Saber-Toothed French Terrier to Scroodle.

We wanted to give Sidney his first taste of sand and surf, but so far it wasn't happening. Our drive took us through permutations of sun and clouds, in and out of misty marine layers. We reached the town of Half Moon Bay at 3 p.m., after pulling over for car sandwiches of BBQ ribs and home made bread, and a stop at a strawberry, pie and jam shop along the road. The town was overcast, or what in Northern California coast towns can be described as an atmosphere of benign sea fog.

The feeling is a bit ethereal, a bit magic, a bit cold and damp. But the Main Street of Half Moon Bay, lined with colorful displays and appealing storefronts, makes up for the iffy weather. There is a superfluity of coffee shops, bistros, sandwich joints and up-scale restaurants, interspersed with gift shops, clothing stores, salons, and one large country store. Happily, many places allowed Sidney to trot on in with us. It seems that Half Moon Bay is dog heaven. We could hardly traverse a whole block without being stopped by fawning folks exclaiming "What kind of dog is that?" or "How cute!!!" or just smiling adoringly at Sid.

Having done our research, we had a one night reservation at the Half Moon Bay Inn, right on Main Street. Dogs are welcome and our charming, ground floor room included dog bowls, biscuits, and a big round soft dog bed. There was a queen-sized bed for us and a day bed with pull-out trundle in case we had been traveling with children. The Southwest-ish decor: pine bed frame, terra cotta tile floor and wrought iron sconces, was relaxingly simple and serene, the linens and blankets abundant and comfy, and our handicapped accessible bathroom spacious. First on our agenda, as it usually is when we travel - the nap, or, as my Dad likes to say, "a little stretch-out."

An hour or so later, restless and leaving Dr. Park to sleep, I took Sidney for a walk around the block. We wandered down Main Street, window shopping. A kitchen gadget and appliance store caught my eye. The owner loved dogs, and we talked "dog" while I wandered amongst the primary-colored plastic spatulas, juice squeezers, egg slicers, oven mitts, and past the bright orange retro refrigerator. Next door was another favorite haunt, a stationary emporium, stocked with tempting notebooks of all sizes and colors, lined and unlined, filled with blank pages awaiting inspiration. There were shelves of beautiful cards, and pencils, amusing erasers, and assorted temptations begging to be picked up and purchased. I escaped with one set of notebooks, with coordinating blue covers (a journalist's write-off).

Sidney and I strolled on down the street, across a wooden foot bridge and found a small secluded dog park on the other side. Unfortunately, a woman with a large black dog, already in the park, warned me that she didn't think her dog liked small dogs, so Sidney and I beat a hasty and disappointed retreat. No sense in looking for trouble, we agreed. Further along, past the bridge, the scene turned commercially mundane. There was a Starbucks plus eateries found ubiquitously across the state if not the country. We turned back as the mist grew thicker, the dew heavier. Passing by a bar, we heard the excited cries of soccer fans. Traffic thickened as the end of the day drew in, the passage of cars was steadier, folks headed for home rather than meandering along.

The Half Moon Bay Inn, situated right on the corner of Main and Mill Street, houses a nice Italian restaurant on the ground floor. In fact, our room was directly next door to it and shared a wall with the patio. We could hear the staff preparing for the night's customers. So we went off to Its Italia Restaurant for dinner, a jumping bistro full of diners and bar patrons and a lot of happy sounds. Again, we had made the choice because it has a patio out back and is a dog-friendly bistro. I don't think they expected how friendly they were going to get!

Despite the table level gas fires and patio heaters, the tile floor was damp. Sidney was wearing his best hand-knit sweater and it never occurred to us to make him lie under the table. We sat him on a towel on a chair, his little head poked above the white table cloth, and his big brown eyes watched everything. He shared my sole and focaccia, had a bite or two of Dr. Park's spaghetti, and a bit of meatball. We all had decaf cappuccino rather than dessert. Perfectly behaved, he attracted a coterie of admiring wait staff, babies and children. Yes, we know it's a bit "over the top" but it amused us no end. Many of Half Moon Bay's bistros and coffee shops have outdoor eating areas that welcome dogs, so it's a good destination if you travel dog en famille.

The next day was supposed to be clear and sunny but the marine layer was still laying around. It was a good day to visit Fengari, the stunning yarn and knit shop next to the Inn. We chose some chunky green tweed wool for Sidney's next sweater. Across the street is the two-story Cunha Country Grocery store (which reminded us of Al and Susie Cunha's Antique Treasures in Niles). It is filled with international foods: coffees, chocolates, and canned goods. There is a fresh deli section, and upstairs a sparse offering of gifts, second hand clothes, and a grouchy parrot.

Outside again we followed the signs for the local Farmers Market. It turned out to be a small but classy affair. A trio of musicians played folk music, fresh blueberries, raspberries, nectarines and peaches were cut up for sampling. Locally made cheeses were laid out in a stall next to fresh-picked corn, and Cafe de Mi Abuelo coffee, from the family's farm in Dilpito, Nicaragua, was irresistible.

It was time to head home. We thought we might find a viable beach south of town, but the weather was still so chilly that none of us were tempted to slide down the dunes to the water. Strangely, it seemed, the beach did have families out, lying on blankets and playing in the waves, despite the low temperatures. We doubled back to Route 84, which heads east from Route 1, and would take us all the way home to Fremont. It is a beautiful, winding drive through redwoods and pines, without a lot of traffic until near the end. In fact, our journey home took only an hour and a half. We had been on an adventure and back again; and still had most of our weekend to relax.

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