The saying is trite but true: Some folks eat to live and others live to eat. While many people plan their vacations around museums or scenic vistas or historical landmarks, there are plenty of others who will plan a trip, literally, from meal to meal to glorious meal — with multiple options for midday pastries or farmers' markets built in.
Yet even for those who find the very notion of a "foodie" insufferable, these excursions can offer unexpected pleasures: not just eating freshly picked strawberries for a price that's cheaper than you'd find at your neighborhood supermarket, for example, but also enjoying the fresh air and learning about local agriculture. So as you look ahead to your summer plans, think not so much about where you're going to go, but what tasty treats you might uncover while you're there.
The Bay Area is one of the country's most destination-rich regions for day trips within, say, a two-hour driving radius — and wherever you end up visiting, there are likely to be plenty of delicious adventures to be had.
Pretty much any drive down Highway 1 is going to offer spectacular views — something to do with that intersection of precipitous cliff, lush vegetation, and infinite sea. (If you make it as far as Big Sur, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.) Between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, there's an especially nice stretch of coast where you'll find the Swanton Berry Farm, home to some of the best-tasting organic strawberries you can buy at the Berkeley farmers' markets.
This summer, instead of paying $3.50 a basket at the farmers' market — or, alternatively, buying cheap, flavorless berries from the supermarket — you might consider making the trip down the coast to pick your own. Swanton has two "u-pick" locations, one at its farm stand near Davenport and another at its Coastways Ranch, about twelve miles further north on Highway 1.
According to Barrett Boaen, Swanton's on-farm sales manager, the advantages of picking your own strawberries are myriad: You get to establish a closer connection with the food you're eating, especially as you're out there among the plants getting your hands dirty. And since strawberry plants don't have any thorns, if you have kids, you can feel free to give them a basket and just set them loose.
What's more, a berry that you pick yourself is going to taste better — and not just for psychological reasons. Boaen explains that most supermarket strawberries, and even some of the ones sold at farmers' markets, are picked three-quarters ripe and then refrigerated in order to transport them more easily and to make them last longer. A berry like that is going to be a pale shadow of what a strawberry is supposed to taste like.
At the farm, Boaen says, "You get to pull one right off the plant that looks absolutely perfect and put it in your mouth. That's a magical moment."
Indeed, that's the biggest piece of advice that Boaen would offer to prospective u-pickers: Look for fully ripe berries that are the perfect texture and the perfect shade of red — don't pick ones with white shoulders or green caps. Other tips are to dress in layers (it gets windy out on the coast!), to wear sturdy shoes, and to allot plenty of time.
Boaen says Swanton's farm stand u-pick (25 Swanton Rd.) should be in full swing by mid-May. And the Coastways Ranch (640 Cabrillo Hwy., Pescadero), which is the prettier of the two sites, should have its u-pick up and running no later than the beginning of June. You can always check the Swanton web site (SwantonBerryFarm.com) or call ahead to make sure.
From the East Bay, the best way to get to the farm is probably a straight shot down 880 and then across the San Mateo Bridge to hit Highway 1. At the end of the day, when you're perhaps in less of a hurry, you can complete the loop and head up 101 and through the city.
A nice detour on the way home would be Pillar Point Harbor, in Half Moon Bay. For most of May and parts of July, it'll be king salmon season — the first decently promising season for local fishermen for a few years now. During the winter, walking down the pier to buy live Dungeness crabs is one of the Bay Area's great luxuries, but getting fresh salmon directly off a fishing boat is certainly nothing to sniff at.
You could just show up at the pier on a Saturday and see what's available, but the better way to ensure that you're getting fresh fish is to call a day or two ahead. Bill Webb, who usually docks his boat, "The Cricket," at the harbor on weekends, is particularly reliable and accommodating. Webb suggests calling him (925-813-1591) during the week to let him know when you want to pick up a fish, and he'll make sure he sets one aside.
As far as price is concerned, Webb says it all depends on this year's catch.
"If there's any fish, I think we'll find them for sure," he said.
Webb and most of the other fishermen sell the fish whole, but those who don't have use for an entire king salmon might consider splitting a fish with a couple of friends. Just bring your prize across the street to the fish market at Princeton Seafood Company (9 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay), where for a mere $5 — or $10 for a fish heavier than 20 pounds — they'll cut it up however you like.
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