Just minutes from San Francisco but miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Pacifica is a quaint beach town with rocky shores, restaurants serving the freshest seafood and tons for the kids to do. Whether you make it a day trip or a long weekend, we’ve got all the hot spots for you so read on!

Beach Day

Linda Mar Beach
Also known as the Taco Bell beach (it’s home to what must be the most beautiful, beach-front Taco Bell in the world), surfers, boogie-boarders and beach bums flock to this mile-long stretch of sand for its excellent waves and plentiful parking ($4 for 4 hours or less, $8 for all day). Several surf schools offer lessons for kids and adults (more info here). A paved trail leading to a dirt path climbs over the hill to Rockaway Beach and all the way to Mori Point if you’re feeling adventurous.

Sharp Park Beach and Fishing Pier
The beach here is long and sandy and a partly-paved promenade runs along it. The southern part of the trail is packed sand and leads to wetlands full of beautiful birds and other wildlife (more info here). Picnic tables and BBQ pits are first-come, fist-served. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered (and harmless) San Francisco Garter Snake.

One of the best fishing piers in Northern California juts out of the north end of the beach. It’s open from 4 a.m. until 10 p.m. (unless it’s been closed for weather, high surf or repairs). It features overhead lights, fish cleaning stations, benches, restrooms and a coffee house and snack bar. Parking is plentiful and free.

Rockaway Beach
A bit quieter and more secluded than Linda Mar, this beach is a stunner with rocky hills on either side. Parking can be more difficult, but it’s free. Nick’s Seafood Restaurant is just off the beach if you and the fam get a hankering for some old-school fish dishes (the crab sandwich is a definite winner). Moonraker is also close by, and while it has more of an adult vibe, one of their nice big booths would do fine for an early dinner or brunch with the youngsters.

Explore

Little Brown Church—Pacifica Historical Society
Step back in time and swing by the Little Brown Church where you can learn all about the history of this beach town. From the Ohlone Indians to mammoth bones that washed up on the Pacifica beaches, you’ll learn a ton from the friendly volunteers there. Ask about the Pacifica Jack cheese and it’s controversial history (stolen by Monterey, perhaps?) and purchase a pound of this tasty treat from the gift shop to bring home with you.

Sea Bowl
This old-school bowling alley is the perfect spot for a birthday party or a rainy day adventure. Get the bumpers set up for the littles and don your bowling shoes for an afternoon of fun. They also have billiards and arcade games—and the food is pretty good!

Jean E. Brink Swimming Pool
Formerly Oceana Pool, this enormous 10-lane, 25-yard indoor pool is open year round. It has two diving boards and ranges from 3 to 12 feet deep with a water temperature of 82 degrees. Dressing rooms and lockers are available but bring your own locks and towels.

Mori Point
Park near the Moose Lodge where Mori Point Road and Bradford Way intersect and take the half-mile flat path out to some of the most beautiful views you have ever seen. Look for whales migrating off shore as you walk along the water’s edge. More ambitious hikers can take the meandering path to the vista point and the stairs back down. Or follow the walkway north to the pier.

Pacifica Skatepark
The City of Pacific erected this skate park in 2005 so kids could skate in a legal, safe, outdoor place and it’s a great way for noob youngsters to challenge themselves. Be sure your kid wears a helmet plus knee and elbow pads or risk getting a ticket. Hours are Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-sunset and Sun. 10:30 a.m.-sunset.

Frontierland Park
This enormous kids’ park is one of few Pacifica gems not visible from route 1 and therefore often unnoticed by folks who don’t live near the beach town. But it’s well worth a five minute drive east for its enormous play structure, BBQ grills and a wide open grassy area for running, playing and picnicking.  The beautiful setting is surrounded by hills and trees as well as hiking trails. Plus, it’s protected from Pacifica’s infamous fog and is often shockingly sunny!

Sam’s Castle
If you’ve ever glanced up and to the east while driving by the Paloma/Francisco Pacifica exit, you may have noticed a castle atop the hill. Sam’s Castle  is a little less opulent but no less eccentric than Hearst Castle. It’s filled with knights’ armor, art, a throne and, allegedly, ghosts. It was first built for an attorney named McCloskey, who was terrified by the 1906 earthquake and wanted to build a home out of the strongest materials available: concrete blocks with steel-reinforced corners. Over the past 100 years the castle has been a speakeasy, a clinic, a party house for the Coast Guard and finally a seaside escape for eccentric San Franciscan Sam Mazza. When he died in 2009, he left the castle to a foundation, which runs tours and events a few times a year. Tours are adult-only but it’s still a cool place to drive by with the kids when you are in the area. 

Eat

Devil’s Slide Taproom
This unassuming spot in a strip mall near Linda Mar State Beach is the place to go when your people are hungry. Burgers and sandwiches fill the menu (like the massive Pickle Brine Chicken Sandwich shown above) and the fries are the best we’ve had in a long time. Grab one of their specialty beers on tap and relax before you head back to the beach.

Gorilla BBQ
This rib joint is housed in an old train car and is famous for its pork ribs and an appearance on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. There’s often a line before they open their doors for the day and when they’re out, they’re out so plan accordingly. Portions are ample and great for sharing on one of the picnic tables above the parking lot.

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Nick’s Seafood Restaurant
This old-school joint is bustling with regulars any time of day and offers the best crab sandwich in town. Make sure you order the garlic bread, sourdough of course. Live music in the evenings makes it a fun spot to hang out and enjoy the crashing waves out the windows.

Breaker’s
Right across the street from Nick’s is this breakfast and lunch joint where Crab Cake Benedict tops the menu for favorite items. Kids will love the fruit-topped crepes and fruit smoothies.

Make it a Staycation

Lighthouse Hotel
With a prime location right on the beach and steps away from Nick’s, the Lighthouse Hotel is a good option if you want to extend your visit to Pacifica. Request an ocean-view room so that you can hear the waves crash at night as you fall asleep. The two-double rooms have ample space for a family to spread out. If the Pacific Ocean is too cold for you, check out the hotel’s heated pool.

—photos and story by Kate Loweth