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Bay Area driving destinations (or within 1hr of region)

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I have a car rental tonight and am in the mood for some fun with my girlfriend... I'm not looking for anything super fancy (no $$$$ michelin dining) and it doesn't necessarily have to be dinner either; an old bar or swanky dinner lounge, alpine style lodge to nurse cocktails somewhere in Marin County amongst the old redwoods, perhaps some historic coastal hotel perched on the bluffs where we could have dinner overlooking the sea or fireside and good strong drinks on the porch afterword? Would also be interested in any roadfood-worthy destinations with hopefully other sites of interest nearby. '60s style mini-putt and burger stand type of thing, or tiki related attraction. Basically anything FUN and interesting and not from the usual list of places around the Bay Area! Food is secondary to atmosphere. Bars and cocktail lounges are just as good! I'd like to stay within approx. 1hr of the city proper, unless it's really worth our time to venture further... We don't want to head out to Santa Cruz for instance. Any ideas?

Old bars or restaurants, road stands, seafood shacks, distilleries, historic sites... anywhere out of the ordinary where we can get something to chew on and preferably a strong mixed drink.

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  1. Nick's Cove on Tomales bay is a nice spot and great drive to get there. To the south, Half Moon Bay might fit the bill. Haven't eated there in awhile, so here is link to some restaurants.
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/777034

    Barbara's Fish sounds good and Duarte's in Pescadero is an institution.

    1 Reply
    1. re: macdog

      Heading north this time of day you'll hit rush hour traffic.

    2. Duarte's in Pescadero

      1. I'd head down to Half Moon Bay for Pasta Moon or La Granada for Cafe Gibraltar.

        3 Replies
        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Those all look like good restaurants... but there are plenty of good if not better Italian, etc. in SF.

          I'm looking for atmosphere and something different; not just restaurant recommendations outside of the city. Is there no place with history and ambiance to spare nearby? Again, an old fashioned cocktail bar is just as good as a restaurant. A burger stand by a mini-putt or drive-in would also be the kind of thing I'm after. Not just a place to sit and eat...

          Harley Farm in Pescadero would be the kind of suggestion I'm looking for, if they were offering one of their barn dinners tonight. Good cheap fun would be best though. An old speakeasy type of place or rat pack era steakhouse maybe. A roadstand that serves the most killer Mexican or whatever that's worth driving all the way out for. Not just good restaurants outside of San Francisco though please.

          Thanks for all the recs so far!

          1. re: OliverB

            The Vans in San Mateo.

            http://www.thevansrestaurant.com

            Bertolucci's in South SF.

            http://www.sodinisbertoluccis.com/

            1. re: OliverB

              There's a taqueria in the only corner gas station in Pescadero. It's good by Bay Area and California standards...but it is inside a gas station.

          2. Thanks!

            Barbara's looks great and isn't too much of a haul, seems to only be approx. 30 mins outside of the city and would be nice to eat on the coast.

            Is Duarte's destination worthy? It looks great if you're hanging out in Pescadero, but what else is there to do besides eating? The restaurant looks neat but not enough that it'd be worth the drive without a fun bar or something to do afterword.

            I'd be eager to drive an hour in any direction of the city, but the destination should offer something other than just dinner... unless it offers an atmosphere that's interesting/unique enough to spend several (2-3) hours of the night nearby - think Harley Farms barn dinners. Is there anything to do in Pescadero on a Monday night to merit the drive?

            4 Replies
            1. re: OliverB

              Duarte's no. How about La Costanera?
              http://lacostanerarestaurant.com/inde...

              1. re: OliverB

                Duarte's is not just a restaurant, it's also a 100-year-old bar that's the town hangout.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Check out the glowing recommendations for Duarte's including RL's "Some of the food is good."
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/604804

                  1. re: wolfe

                    The food quality at Duarte's seems to have dropped off in the past couple of years. If the prices were on par, no biggie but prices have creeped up. I'd much rather go to the taco joint in the gas station.

              2. If you are in the mood for a hearty meal, you might want to try Le Chalet Basque (on North San Pedro Road in San Rafael). It is an old-school, family-style place that has been open for decades. The drinks are stiff and it also a nice patio if you would like to dine outside. The drive out North San Pedro Road that takes you thru China Camp and into the back side of San Rafael is very scenic.

                1. See if you can find out if the Basque Cultural center has jai alai(pelota).
                  http://www.basqueculturalcenter.com/

                  1. Watch the sunset with a drink on the patio of the Moss Beach Distillery. Can't vouch for the food (have not eaten there in years), but sure the ocean view will still be spectacular.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: FoodTrippin

                      Meh - if you want to go for a Sunset, you are better off at La Costanara in Montara

                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        Costanera has a Michelin star and is kind of expensive.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          And I'm wondering who they paid off to get their Michelin star.... The last three dishes I had there were laughable and one was sent back for being inedible (the manager agreed).

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            Deserved or not, it is that kind of place.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Out of curiosity, I went this evening. Tuesday is Happy Hour all night so I wasn't too put out by the money...

                              BF ordered a sangria (warm, no ice) and I ordered a Pisco sour which, for some reason I have yet to understand, was garnished with slivered red onions. Ick.

                              We had two appetizers; the ceviche and skewered beef heart "with crispy potato and green sauce. I found the ceviche fish to be quite fresh, but (again) overly salted and spiced for my taste. The garnish of large hominy and corn nuts is interesting.

                              The beef heart was more fun for me; well-marinated and sliced thin to be tender, it was the best dish of the evening but the "crispy" potato was nothing other than a really large, single potato on a bed of green sauce that was mostly unnecessary.

                              I know I'll be back because it is walking distance from where my BF lives and he likes the proximity, but I'm still shocked it has a Michelin star. Maybe the entrees on the menu are better than the tapas.

                    2. The Pelican Inn at Muir Beach ("20 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge") beats all for ambience. It is a re-creation of a 16th century English pub, and the scenery driving to and from is very nice in a West Marin hillside and coastline sort of way. The beach itself at Muir Beach has a clothing-optional section if you want to come early and catch some rays.

                      Dinner prices are $16 - $34. They also have reasonably priced lunch and weekend brunch.

                      http://pelicaninn.com/

                      1. Oliver - where did you end up going?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          Thanks for all the great tips everyone!

                          We were all set to drive to Barbara's for fish on the piers followed by sunset cocktails at Moss Beach, just because my girlfriend really wanted to go there. I got too tired and hungry and flaked out, so we ended up at 54 Mint Vineria, haha. To be fair, we did drive over the GG Bridge to Point Bonita afterword, but it was too dark to see anything.

                          The Pelican Inn looks amazing though; I'm definitely adding that to next week's itinerary!