Nearly everyone heads to Napa for some wine tasting on a Northern California vacation. While that’s certainly a worthwhile pursuit, there are a handful of other great coastal spots where you can get some of the best local food and drink on a budget. Check out these five places to fill your belly in coastal Northern California:
Half Moon Bay
This beach town is only 30 minutes from San Francisco, but it feels a world away. Known as the pumpkin capital of the world, Half Moon Bay is host to the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival each October, but the bright orange gourds are scattered throughout farmers’ fields during the entire fall season. Choose a pumpkin ale, or another locally crafted beer from the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, to complete the theme. Or, buy a take-away growler and carry it back to your hotel, or home.
A short drive down the coast from Half Moon Bay is the even smaller town of Pescadero. Satisfy your inner rancher and visit some four-legged cheese makers -- the goats of Harley Farms. The farm's award-winning goat cheese is for sale in the on-site shop, so be sure to stop in and get some for lunch. Duck into Duarte’s Tavern (pronounced DOO-arts) for the famed cream of artichoke soup and olallieberry pie.
The scenery along this shining blue ribbon of water is spectacular in every direction, but don’t let that distract you from some good eating at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, in the town of Marshall. Shuck your own farm-to-plate fresh oysters, or have it done for you. Enjoy more local cuisine at Nick’s Cove, where you can choose from barbecued oysters to Dungeness crab macaroni and cheese to roasted chicken.
Glorious cheese is a specialty in Point Reyes, which is smack in the middle of the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail, a dream destination for dairy lovers. Make a stop at Cowgirl Creamery’s shop in Point Reyes Station to get an up-close curd-making demonstration and a taste of the popular cheese. If you time your trip right, you can sign up for a class or dinner at the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Don’t leave without sampling the mead at Heidrun Meadery, where you can combine a tour and tasting with an advance reservation.
Learn how to forage for your own food in Mendocino, where there's an abundance of edible wild mushrooms during the rainy months (November to March). The Mendocino Edible Wild Mushroom Tour is both fun and educational, and allows you to learn how to identify the safe edibles with the help of a guide. If you’d rather just eat them, check out the menu at the Little River Inn, which features fresh local fare.