Wednesday, November 23, 2011
California doesn’t have much history. It didn’t become a state until 1850, and not many people were around before the Gold Rush in 1849. Compared to London, where there are actual Roman ruins in the city center, my state looks pretty pathetic. But there are a few places that have more history than most, and one of them is the coastal town of Pescadero, California.
Pescadero was founded in 1856, which makes it ancient by west coast standards. Located just two miles inland from the stunning beaches along California’s famous Highway 1, the town is surrounded by fertile agricultural land and a well-known bird sanctuary. The main street is called Stage Road because it was originally a route along which a stagecoach ran, and the town’s church was built in 1867. Not exactly Roman ruins, but pretty impressive for California.
My family has traveled to Pescadero since I was a child. A quick hop over the Santa Cruz Mountains from home, it was an easy day trip from Silicon Valley. While the historic buildings and rugged landscapes were only an hour’s drive from the dot com world in which I grew up, the atmosphere was a million miles away.
But it wasn’t just the history that drew us to the California coast. It was also the food. (Surprise!). Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero was founded in 1894 and is known across the country for its excellent artichokes, which grow like weeds in the region.
The restaurant originated as a bar when the great-grandfather of the current generation of owners bought a barrel of whiskey in nearby Santa Cruz. It then then reinvented itself during Prohibition, when alcohol was banned in the USA. Today the original bar counter still stands in one room while rustic wooden tables fill several dining spaces.
On Monday my family decided to take a pilgrimage to Duarte’s Tavern restaurant, which won a James Beard Award for being an American Classic in 2003. I was so excited to go back that I restricted myself to seconds at breakfast to save room for the excellent food.
It was a Monday in late November, but Duarte’s was packed. The hostess, who wore a long denim skirt and a braid in her hair, looked like she came straight out of the 1890′s. She seated us at a large communal table in a room that also looked like it was from the 19th century. The food, however, looked anything but.
After perusing the menu, we ordered and ate our fill of Fanny Bay oysters, littleneck clams, cream of artichoke soup, Mexican coleslaw, linguine with artichoke hearts, and a huge slice of pumpkin pie.
The food was divine, and we washed it down with a Navarro Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from nearby Mendocino County and a Ferrari-Carano Pinot Grigio 2010 from California’s famous Sonoma County. It made me immensely happy to enjoy local cuisine from my home state with my family in a restaurant with such a long story behind it.
Outside of Duarte’s, Pescadero revealed even more history. Stage Road was packed with antique shops, wooden houses and churches, and the Pescadero Country Store, which could have come straight out of Litte House on the Prairie. All this for a town with a population of 643.
At the end of the block the road opened up into great green fields that extended all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. It was the land of artichoke farms, of John Steinbeck novels, of the way California used to be.
Heading out to the ocean, we continued our travels with a trip to Pescadero State Beach. The strip of sand was one of Highway 1′s beauties, complete with sand cliffs, rugged rock formations, and tiny tide pools. Their history far outdated the history of human settlement in the region, and the stunning scenery had me in awe.
Northern Californians know that the best time to go to the beach is from September to November, when the fog that plagues the coast all summer lifts and the sunshine graces the shores up and down the state. Monday was no exception to the rule. The weather was perfect for walking on the beach, and afterwards we couldn’t resist a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway before heading home.
As we drove away from Pescadero and towards Silicon Valley, I couldn’t help feeling like I was time traveling from the 19th century back into the 21st. Gone were the old wooden houses, the general store, and the historic restaurant. In front of us was the world’s most famous technology hub, buzzing with the energy of the future.
While I appreciated the area where I grew up and the role that it has played in shaping the current world, there is something nostalgic about places like Pescadero, California. They remind me of how far my state has come from the rustic days of the Gold Rush and the bygone era of living off the land. Sure, the history isn’t full of Roman ruins or Shakespeare, but Pescadero and Steinbeck suit this lady by the bay just fine.