San Jose, CA

A summer bucket list of hidden gems - starting point – San Jose, CA

Vic Aquino
Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill in Davenport, CA(photo by: Vic Aquino)

In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are incredibly spoiled. There’s just an absurd number of things to do that one can get paralyzed with choices.

But rest assured, this summer bucket list is a full day trip aimed at quality and quantity starting with these assumptions: 

  • You generally want to avoid crowds
  • You love the ocean (who doesn't?)
  • You’re not sad when the sun isn’t out
  • You don’t want to always spend a ton of money to have a fantastic time
  • You enjoy a little drive and a little bit of hikng and walking

The rules of enjoyment are also simple: 

  • Start and end your days relatively early, especially on weekends
  • Do a bit of research on the weather and the locations mentioned
  • Be sure all aspects of your car are good-to-go
  • Pack some essentials, such as first-aid kit, extra cloths and shoes

If you’re good with the above, let’s continue off the beaten path (and watch the short two-minute video below). 

From San Jose, head south over the summit on highway 17 and make your way to Davenport, CA on highway 1.

Davenport is a great stop-over town of only three-square miles about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz. It has a population of under 400 people. You’ll see this small town right after a high crest on highway 1 where Davenport sits right at the bottom. 

You'll see your first stop – a small yellow and blue trim building - Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill.

If there’s space, and there should be given your early start, either park in front or in their parking lot or across the street. If you park across the street, you can trek around the cliffsides and among the trees to walk off your breakfast. Keep in mind, you’ll be walking back across highway 1, so always be super diligent.

With safety out of the way, need it be said that all the food at Whale City is great! A personal favorite is the Mexican Mocha and salmon pesto omelette. But you really can’t go wrong with any of the gastronomic goodness at this quaint stop.

Share and eat light if you can, as more charming food stops are along the way!

Now, if you care to catch some local surfers doing their thing at a beach typically not full of tourists, check out Four Mile beach. It’s just a few miles south of Whale City Bakery and it’s a about a quarter-mile stroll to the beach. 

Four Mile beach is another nice way to walk-off the breakfast to ready up for the next food stop. Or consider stopping here first before heading to Whale City. It really depends on when you start your day. If you see lots of cars in the dirt lot that’s a good sign of surfers.

Keep in mind surfers usually like to get out there when waves are at least 5 - 8 feet high. Hopefully, you get a chance to catch some grace and athleticism on the water. Or save it for another time when you want to switch things up.

Continuing north enjoying the coast, make a stop and take a stroll at Pie Ranch.

Pie Ranch is a non-profit offering school group tours on an actual working ranch. Go home with a pie too. Another personal favorite - the strawberry peach crumble pie. 

It should be around lunchtime or early afternoon at this time and hopefully, you have a bit of an appetite for a view and more good food.

Costanoa Resort is a great hidden jewel for a quick bite and short walk around. 

Costanoa is an eco-glamping spot of lodges, tents, cabins and an RV park. There’s a general store and Cascade restaurant has excellent food. Just tell the attendant at the booth you’re visiting the store and restaurant.

At Cascade restaurant, order your food to eat outside on their picnic tables on their grassy knoll or walk a bit over a small mole hill and line of trees to check out another nice seating area facing the ocean. The picturesque view is a good half-mile to the ocean, which always goes great with any meal.

What’s also cool about Cascade is it’s open from 8am-9pm every day. So, on another trip you can switch up the drive path depending on if you want lunch or dinner next time. No doubt it’s worth it in more ways than one! 

A Cascade restaurant favorite (assuming a small meal so you can enjoy another stop) is the steam roasted clams and mussels and any mixed drink.

Afterwards, take a mosey around this eco-gem and scout around to plan for your next visit.

If you haven’t already found this day trip full of joy and relaxation, let’s add a trip back in time to Pescadero. 

Pescadero is a very small weekend tourist town with much of its 19th century charm still intact. There’s a couple of great spots for more great food and wine tasting.

125-year-old Duarte’s Tavern on Stage Road offers some robust seafood. As a venue, it’s a small throwback in time but it’s palatial to your palette!

Duarte’s is only open in the early afternoons on weekdays (closed on Tuesday’s). From Friday through Sunday, it’s open from noon to 6pm. That might give you enough of a hint that it’s best to visit Duarte’s during the early-mid part of the week.

After or before visiting Duarte’s, stroll around Stage Road to get gist of Pescadero in the 1920’s - coffee shop, bakery, church, and a local store.

If you’ve saved some of your wine tendencies, visit Santa Arcangeli Family Wines. Drive to the end of Stage Road and go right on North Street. About a mile around the bend on your right, you’ll see a 180-year-old nicely refurbished barn with lots of great wines and an open barn seating area. It’s good to have reservations, of course, but you don’t necessarily need it. Keep in mind, it’s only open Friday through Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM. And keep in mind, you can still get some critters like a few flies joining you.

When you come back in time from the Pescadero past, the last part of the trek will take you east across state route 84. It’s a winding and hilly drive that takes you among a redwood forest and back to highway 280.

If you’re up for one more stop, visit a popular restaurant called Alice’s at the intersection of state route 35 and 84. It’s a hotspot for bikers, car enthusiasts, weekenders and lumberjack locals. It's another contemporary rustic venue of great casual dining and local hospitality.

If you time it right and eat “evenly” through the day, you can still enjoy and end your trip perfectly at Alice’s. By the end of the day, the crowds usually die way down, especially on weekdays.

It’s a spunky lineup of stops and it’s a bucket list you’d want to vary up and do again. If it’s a bit of overload, just drive through at some of the spots and save some of the goodness for another day trip.

In all, experience one of the best things of the Bay Area - how you can feel so far and still be so close to home.


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A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

San Jose, CA

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