Whenever I travel to a new city, I find myself trying it on for size, seeing how it fits, imagining what it would be like to live there, to shop in the corner grocery, hang out in the neighborhood bar, eat in the cozy outdoor café under the shady trees. More often than not, I fall madly in love with the town I’m visiting and return home with crazy plans to pack my bags and move miles away, to start over in a new place, a place where I know no one and no one knows me, where my past is as blank as my future, and the possibilities loom on the horizon like the promise of a new day.
Of course, reality soon sets in. I remember I have three kids, two dogs, a business, and a husband, all of which I can’t exactly leave behind to head off for the hills of Tennessee, the mesas of New Mexico, or the craggy coasts of California. But deep in my heart I know the day will come when I’ll follow my heart to a new destination. The question is only where and when?
In the meantime, I’ll continue trying on new places—as if I’m on a never-ending shopping adventure—and finding pleasure in the textures and colors and styles of each town and city I visit.
Not long ago I discovered a new addition to my list of places that pull me like a magnet to their city limits. Even its name—Half Moon Bay—has a magical sound to it. Nestled in the northern California coastline, just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, this bucolic town exudes warmth and conviviality. With a population of only 18,000, a quaint Main Street, and wood-frame homes lining tidy streets, Half Moon Bay offers the small-town ambience that I crave—and friendly folks to boot.
One of those friendly folks, Kendyl Kellogg, who owns Obester Winery on the edge of town, welcomed me for a tour on a particularly busy day last fall, one of a half dozen or so times each year that she invites customers to bring clean, empty bottles to her winery and fill them up with a vintage that she personally selects. “It’s proven to be a very popular event,” Kendyl said.
When I arrived on a sparkling September afternoon, I could see what she meant. Carrying a lone clean empty bottle to the barn, I passed a line of locals stretching out the back door and down the steps, each one with a case or two of empty bottles ready to fill with red wine. Pouring a glass for me to taste, Kendyl told me how she ended up making wine in Half Moon Bay. “Because I wanted to,” she said with a self-effacing grin. After working as a marketing executive, Kendyl moved from southern California partly to escape the madness there and partly because the opportunity presented itself. She jumped at the chance to buy the winery, even though she really didn’t have a background in wine. It was easy to admire her gutsy verve.
The location of the business in Half Moon Bay also factored into her decision. “I love this town,” she admitted as she showed me how to fill and cork my bottle with ruby-red wine from large vats. “You know the ‘Gilmore Girls,’ the town where they live? That’s this town.”
As I sipped the tasty wine—a rich full-bodied red with a velvety smoothness and ripe berry flavors, I glanced around at the happy faces surrounding me. Kendyl’s employees laughed and danced to a rock station on the radio while they worked. Customers appeared happy, too, some having a glass of wine while they waited their turn, knowing their purchases would bring them lots of pleasure in the days and weeks ahead—at an excellent price. I could envision myself standing beside them and chatting easily as the line snaked up stairs and into the barn—redolent with the heady bouquet of wine.
My fantasy about moving to Half Moon Bay actually began that morning when my eyes first fell on the gorgeous beaches that line the town. From sand dunes perched on bluffs above the Pacific, unobstructed views of the wide blue expanse of ocean met me as I sauntered toward the sea astride a horse named China. I’d rented her at the early-bird rate of $40 for a two-hour ride from a place called Seahorse Ranch right on Highway 1. While I’d been nervous about riding alone, I needn’t have been. China knew her way along the well-worn path toward the beach.
As we ambled along, I noticed a state park with campsites overlooking the ocean and decided that it would be hard to find a more picturesque camping spot. Joggers ran by on a path that paralleled the Pacific, and I realized finding a prettier place to run would be a challenge. As China picked her way carefully down the bluff, a wide-open beach met my gaze, and I reckoned a more gorgeous beach would be hard to find. Coaxing China into a canter on the sand, I knew this had to be the prettiest place to ride a horse imaginable.
These are all my impressions, of course. I’m sure there are lovelier places in the world, and one day I hope to see them. But I try hard wherever I am to embrace the moment. Sometimes it’s difficult—when I’m at deadline, for example, and the phone rings nonstop. Other times—such as when I’m exploring new landscapes or seeking new adventures—appreciating the here and now is easy.
You see, when you surrender yourself to the utter beauty of the place you’re in—even if it fills your heart with a kind of yearning that by definition is destined to disappoint—when you live in the moment, the satisfying sense of wonder you feel deserves a shower of superlatives. It feels right to revel in the momentary truth that you can imagine no better surrounding. This is the best place you could possibly be at this moment in your life.
The day before I had awakened at dawn for an early-morning hike along the Pacific Coast. I was staying at a unique resort called Costanoa about fifteen miles south of Half Moon Bay, a gorgeous drive along the coastline down Highway 1. Costanoa is a hybrid resort with varied lodgings ranging from suites in the upscale lodge to campsites with a view for folks who want to sleep under the stars. I stayed in a tent cabin decorated with rustic charm, wooden furniture, and a comfortable bed covered in warm blankets to fend off the coastal chill. The hike to the bathroom, especially in the middle of the night, proved daunting, but with flashlight in hand under an inky black night sky, I felt like a pioneer living in bygone days.
My morning hike out to the ocean wended through waist-high grasses and brambles full of rich woodsy smells. I relished the peaceful stillness, a silence broken now and then by the rustling of hidden animals and occasional birdsong. A deer with pointed ears erect appeared out of nowhere in the brush beside me, startling both of us before bounding off with quiet quickness. As I approached the ocean, the roar of its crashing waves grew louder, as if to assert its dominance upon this tranquil morning. Pausing to take in the magnificent view—rocky bluffs rising over the sea, craggy cliffs looming like giants beside me—I felt as though I’d left the real world behind and wandered into a different realm, where nature reigned supreme and everything else was secondary. I decided this was the most beautiful place to hike I’d ever seen.
As my visit unfolded, I continued to have epiphanies—as if I were judge and jury of my own “best of” awards. Lunch at the Moss Beach Distillery Restaurant yielded a best-of award for their ahi tuna sandwich, a symphony of tastes and textures. Strolling down Main Street, I stumbled upon a farmer’s market, which earned a best-of award for fresh produce and smiling faces. Later that evening I would meet and mingle with Half Moon Bay residents at the 3rd annual Wine Walk, a fundraiser for the local public schools that featured live music, excellent wine, and some of the friendliest folks I’ve ever met.
But the highlight of my Half Moon Bay visit, the best of the best-of accolades I awarded with humble adoration to my dinner at the Ritz-Carlton. I believe we should all spoil ourselves at least once in life with an over-the-top evening at the Ritz. And if dinner is beyond your budget, you can order a cocktail and sit in the lounge looking west over the Pacific as the sun drifts downward, slowly settling into a pinkish-orange glow, blending in with the clouds until it’s hard to tell where the sky ends and the sea begins. They melt together, the way experiences combine sometimes to form an impression that amounts to much more than its separate components.
That was how my dinner at the Ritz-Carlton was: a melting experience that fused flavors and textures with pretty presentations and divine service. I ordered the tasting menu, which included such delicacies as artisan foie gras perched on a piece of organic chicken lying in a bed of blue chanterelles; an heirloom tomato salad with a mound of Black Pearl caviar on top; a piece of Wild Portuguese turbot alongside a Taylor Bay scallop served with a ginger, cognac, and honey sauce; a veal breast, perfectly cooked with a buttery sauce served with potatoes and carrots. A Russian River pinot noir paired well with each of the delicious dishes, including the cheese course and the chocolate trio served for dessert.
During my meal, the sky before me changed from pinkish-orange to purple to bluish-green, fading into a palette of violet and purple, and finally succumbing to midnight blue and black. After darkness fell, I could see in the window the reflection of other restaurant guests dining at nearby tables, their faces glowing in candlelight, the murmuring sound of their conversations providing a peaceful backdrop. I wanted the moment to last forever, but knew in my heart that this was just a dream of a place, one that would shimmer on the edges of my consciousness, like a shining star that pulls me toward its distant light.
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