Summer solstice has passed, marking our transition into the sunniest of seasons… and yet, it doesn’t feel it in San Francisco. My coworker looked out the window and compared the view to that of a snowglobe — and indeed, our dear Karl the Fog is making his presence strongly felt today. As I type this, I am wearing my puffiest L. L. Bean winter coat (which I actually just consider a wearable down comforter). What to do, then, when the weekend rolls around and we’re craving daylight? More directly: how does one feel alive again?
An easy answer is simply to head east and swap the colder climes of the city for the warmer ones. My preferred alternative, however, is to escape San Francisco altogether. I’m a huge fan of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for predictable, picturesque Marin and wine country. Some days, though, the trek isn’t worth the traffic and tourists. One fine Saturday, I proposed we head in the opposite direction: just twenty minutes south of the city to a little town named Half Moon Bay. In doing so, Jay and I discovered what is possibly one of the Bay Area’s possibly-best-kept maybe-not-so-secret secrets.
Our drive down the 1, that gorgeous highway stretched along the Pacific Ocean, prepared us well for the coastal beauty of Half Moon Bay. While this sleepy surfer town boasts a charming downtown area (see We Are Adventure’s guide for some pointers), we headed straight for a waterfront lunch at Barbara’s Fish Trap instead. It was immediately apparent that we weren’t the only ones with a hankering for fresh fish. We briefly debated ordering from the take-out window, but ultimately opted to wait 45 minutes for a table. I’m glad we did, because everything about the space (from the fishnets hanging off the ceilings, to the colorful nautical tablescapes, to the friendly, maternal waitresses — with the exception of the cash-only policy) is perfect.
We began with a bowl of clam chowder, served with a hunk of sliced sourdough bread and the requisite oyster crackers. Jay and I swooned over the freshness and purity of the loaded soup. While it may not be the buttery, creamy version that many view as paragon, I thought the potato base allowed the seafood to star front and center.
Jay had the Mini Fish Trap Tempura for his main: a sampler plate of deep-fried fish, shrimp, zucchini, calamari, scallops, and chips, accompanied by cocktail and tartar sauces. Normally I’d balk at such an oily dish, but um… not this time. Each morsel of food had been battered and fried so expertly that it tasted greaseless and even, somehow, light. Clearly I was suffering from wishful thinking and/or an adrenaline high from furious dunking-and-devouring.
Lest you think that Barbara denigrates all her fish, I should point out that the menu also lists tons of grilled and simply prepared dishes, including my Dungeness Crab Louie. This super-fresh salad came loaded with irresistible chunks of unadulterated crab, kidney beans, red onion, tomatoes, shredded carrots, pickled beets, avocado, hard-boiled egg, and a tangy red wine vinaigrette. It was everything I could’ve wanted in a seafood salad, and a refreshing foil to Jay’s heavier plate.
It’s apparent that Barbara’s Fish Trap is an operation with heart and soul, committed to feeding the community with only the best ingredients. They even posted a letter apologizing for a recent raise in prices. Speaking of which, it’s unsurprisingly a bit of a splurge — fresh doesn’t (and shouldn’t) come cheap! That said, however, Jay and I both agreed that our meal was, far and away, worth the investment in time and money. We left the restaurant two very happy patrons, opting for one last stroll along the water on our way back to the car. If only I’d known that all this was only a hop, skip, and jump away this entire time..! Now that I do, however, I imagine I’ll be getting doses of Vitamin D and quality seafood in Half Moon Bay a lot more often.
Barbara’s Fish Trap
281 Capistrano Rd
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019