As summer approaches and the final weeks of school wind down before the crazy chaos that defines “family vacation” days descend upon our household, my husband and I decided to coordinate a romantic weekend to celebrate (both of our birthdays are in the same month). We were looking for a locale no longer than about an hour away by plane, with plenty of outdoor activities and indoor recreation, a temperate climate and fine wine and dining. And ideally an all-inclusive experience so that once we checked in, we wouldn’t want (or need) to leave until it was time to head home.
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay (1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay) proved to be the perfect two-night stay at an idyllic retreat situated between forested hills and a stretch of coastline that is arguably among the most beautiful scenery in northern California.
A mere 23 miles from San Francisco International Airport, this secluded, luxury hotel feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Perched atop a cliff on a crescent-shaped stretch of California coast with panoramic views of the Pacific, this luxury five-star, six-story resort is more akin to a European castle than a California hotel property. Spread out across the main building with several adjacent guesthouses, the 261 rooms are defined by marble soaking tubs, Egyptian cotton linens and large picture windows. From the moment we stepped into the lobby to the time we checked out, our experience was an unforgettable escape to another time and place.
From dramatic lanterns greeting guests on the front drive and glass of local wine offered upon check-in to indoor fireplaces throughout the property and wine tasting in Cork Wine Bar (the resort’s custom-built wine room), fire and wine define the “theme” of the guest experience here. Curl up with a good book at the communal firepits against a backdrop of breathtaking views and relax to the sound of waves crashing on the beach below. Enjoy a glass of wine at sunset or roast s’mores (gourmet kit available for purchase).
Rich in amenity and thoughtful touches range from a luxurious 16,000 square-foot spa, a trio of dining experiences (more on that later) and the Cork Wine Bar featuring Vintner Series wine tastings, local cheeses, expert sommeliers and over 5,000 bottles of wine. But our most favorite feature was hands-down The Ritz-Carlton Club Level. Often referred to as a “hotel within a hotel,” guest rooms and suites on this concierge level (available for an additional fee) allows access to an elegant, sprawling lounge characterized by sweeping ocean views (think waves crashing on the sand below and the signature 18th hole of one of the resort’s two championship golf courses), wood-burning fireplace and complimentary beverages and exceptionally delicious culinary delights served throughout the day.
We loved being able to pop in pretty much anytime during the day for a quick bite during the food and beverage presentations (Club Breakfast, Light Snack, Hors d’ourvres, Evening Desserts) - showcasing regional specialties made with locally sourced ingredients, whole fruit and freshly baked cookies. The lounge was the perfect place to unwind at the end of the day with a glass of wine, champagne or made-to-order cocktails paired with artisan cheeses and cured meats and a farm-fresh casual menu.
Take a long hike following the Coastside Trail which follows the ocean bluffs between Pillar Point Harbor and Poplar Avenue. If you’d rather take to the water, California Canoe and Kayak and Half Moon Bay Kayak Company rent kayaks and offer lessons and tours. Sea Horse Ranch offers trail rides on the beach every day (except when it’s storming) and you don’t need a reservation. Just drop by (wearing long pants) and they’ll do the rest (there are horses of every temperament for the novice to the experienced rider).
Wine & Dine
Dining is also a special experience at the resort, the recently renovated upscale Navio Restaurant serves coastal-inspired California cuisine against a backdrop of panoramic views of the Pacific. Meaning “ship” in Portuguese, Navio’s wooden ceiling resembles a boat hull and its menu changes with the seasons - dishes here are true farm-to-table appetizers and entrees. The Brandt Farms Prime Grilled filet was cooked to perfection and the Fort Bragg Black Cod served with serrano ham, Half Moon Bay Artichoke, fava beans and spring onions was melt-in-your-mouth heavenly - and that’s high compliment from a girl who’s half-Japanese and knows her way around black cod (aka butterfish). Other popular picks included the Diver Scallops which arrived with English peas, pork belly and Little Gem lettuce and the Olive Oil Poached Halibut accompanied by heirloom carrots, puffed wild rice and snap peas.
Cork Wine Bar: Stop by the resort’s signature wine room for flights of wines, cheese and chocolate, as well as wines by the glass or bottle. Sommeliers specialize in introducing guests to interesting new wines and in providing education on every aspect of the wines.
Vintner Series: For the curious beginner to the seasoned wine connoisseur, the resort’s Vintner Series brings California wine country and wine educators to Cork Wine Bar every weekend. Each month, a different California winery is featured and representative from the winery is on property each weekend to educate guests about their wines and wine in general.
Monthly Vintner Dinner: On one Friday each month, the Chef de Cuisine of Navio creates a custom four-course dinner menu, meticulously paired with wines from the monthly vintner. Ingredients for the vintner dinner, including produce, meat and fish, come from producers in and around Half Moon Bay.
For more information, visit ritzcarlton.com or call (650) 712-7000.