Things to Do in Pacifica, From Surf to Sky

Linda Mar Beach

On a clear day, Sutro tower is still visible from the oceanfront trails that traverse the hilly coastline of Pacifica. Only 15 minutes south of San Francisco by car, this small seaside town—long known as a top Northern California surf destination– makes a compelling case for staying on long after the morning paddle.

A weekend here can transport one from surf to sky, with miles of exhilarating trails in between and views as good as any you’ll see along the California coast. It’s an irresistible stop for weekend adventurers in search of a wide range of outdoor activities. But more than just a dynamic coastline, Pacifica’s inviting atmosphere and local pride are evidence of the strong community you’ll want to revisit often.

Hangliding in PacifcaWhat to do
Pacifica State beach
, also known as Linda Mar beach, is one of the best learn-to-surf destinations in the greater Bay Area. On weekends, University of Surfing offers Surfing 101 for beginners, a two-hour group lesson that includes a board, wetsuit and booties ($100). Energetic instructors, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and infectious love of their beach, will cover everything from surfing technique and etiquette to wave formation. Private lessons are also available, as are package deals.

After a morning in the water, hiking and biking in Pacifica is an excellent way to admire the pounding surf from above. Some of the most stunning trails can be found between Linda Mar and Mori Point. Sweeney Ridge, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offers miles of trails to explore just inland from Highway 1. Mori Ridge trail ends dramatically at Mori Point, with Rockaway beach to the south and Sharp Park and the fishing pier to the north.

PacificaBased out of San Francisco, Hang Gliding Dream Company teaches people how to take flight. If you’re new to the sport, lessons with an experienced instructor will help you learn the steps necessary to safely soar above the California coast.

Where to eat
For after-surf refueling (or an energizing pre-hike meal), head to Salada Beach Café. Located in an old general store just off Highway 1, Salada is a breakfast and lunch spot popular with Pacifica residents. It offers a generous morning menu and shelves of books to browse before the food arrives.

Gorilla BBQlBy day, Nick’s Seashore Restaurant serves up its revered grilled crab sandwich. After sunset, live music and dancing take over the bar area, only just drowning out the pounding surf at nearby Rockaway Beach.

It’s a good idea to take Gorilla BBQ’s slogan “if it’s smokin’, we’re open” to heart. Although officially open until 8pm most of the week, this popular roadside destination often attracts lines, and can sell out before evening on a busy weekend. If you’re longing for their excellent brisket, pulled pork or other hearty fare, plan accordingly.

Opening in June, The Surf Spot is an ambitious project that will “encourage maximum enjoyment of the beautiful Pacifica coast.” With outdoor fire pits, rolling lawns and live music, it just might be the perfect spot to relax and recount the day’s adventures.

Where to stay
Best Western LighthouseThe Best Western Lighthouse Inn (from $126) sits directly over Rockaway beach, with views of the open Pacific and surrounding hills. The Moonraker restaurant, located at the inn, features floor-to-ceiling windows with uninhibited ocean views. Designer Michael Brennan, inspired by the 1979 James Bond film of the same name, used retro accents in the space while maintaining a modern, classic feel.

The Pacifica Beach Resort (from $119) is just across the street from the busy Pacifica State Beach and all the activities it offers. Many rooms feature balconies overlooking the water and fireplaces to warm up after a long day in the water.

For more information on things to do in Pacifica, visit For more great hotel options, consider Holiday Inn Express, Pacifica Motor Inn, Americas Best Value, and the Sea Breeze Motel.

Photos: Peter Sterling, Lynne Fried, Pacifica Chamber of Commerce, Best Western Lighthouse, José Antonio Galloso

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