Moss Landing: a hidden gem on the California coast

by nika37

Whether you are after fresh seafood, antique shopping, scenic kayaking, or relaxed beach strolling, Moss Landing has something for everyone

When cruising along California’s scenic coast road, Highway 1, it can be easy to overlook the small town of Moss Landing. Dominated by the twin chimneys of its power station, the town is easily visible on a clear day from both Monterey and Santa Cruz, the two powerhouse cities that vie for your attention on either side of the Monterey Bay. For the discerning road trip enthusiast, however, Moss Landing is so much more than its power station. Whether you’re staying a few days, on a day trip from one of the cities, or just stopping to stretch your legs and grab lunch, there’s a beguiling drawing power at work here that has nothing to do with the plant.

The community, as it is known today, was established in the late 1880s by namesake Captain Charles Moss and his Portuguese partner Cato Vierra, who together created shipping facilities and a pier for commercial aqueous traffic in the natural harbour created by the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. The influence of Portuguese and Sicilian immigrants sparked the growth of the whaling industry in Monterey Bay, as well as the even more successful sardine fishing industry of the early 20th century. Moss Landing served as an important nucleus for both trades. Though both enterprises dwindled significantly in the late 20th century, Moss Landing has never lost its importance as a fishing port and marine biology research station.

The power plant was opened in the 1950s, and was, at the time, the second largest fossil fuel thermal electric power plant in the world. It is presently owned by Duke Energy, whose recent efforts have been to make the plant more environmentally sound. Fishing, however, is still the primary economy in Moss Landing, one of the only commercial fishing harbours left in California.

In spite of the imposing edifice of the power plant, Moss Landing hosts an outstanding wealth of nature reserves, wildlife, and scenic beaches. Immediately to the north of the town is Elkhorn Slough Research Reserve, a wetlands habitat that is open to the public, and best explored by kayak - available for rent from several agencies along Highway 1. The slough will leave you breathless as you observe native birds flitting between reeds and moss-covered oak trees. This is an excellent activity for kids and a wonderful introduction to conservation for them, too.

But pull off into the town itself, and this is where the fun really begins. Opposite the power plant is Moss Landing Road, along which you will find Captain's Inn, an outstanding bed and breakfast. Owned and operated by locals in a historic building, this recently renovated guesthouse once belonged to the Pacific Steamship Company. Rooms are also available in the newly built ‘boathouse.’ All rooms are inviting, cozy, and well-appointed according to a different theme. The breakfast is home-cooked, with baked goods fresh from the oven, and rooms include a private bath, high speed internet, phone, TV, and hair dryer. You can schedule a massage in advance, and the inn also hosts a library with books for casual relaxing as well as information about the surrounding area. You will be outstandingly well looked after here!

There is also an RV park next to the harbour, run by KOA, available for those with their own accommodation on wheels. Travelling by boat? Visit the harbor master’s website, for rates and information about available berths.

Almost everything is within walking distance in Moss Landing. Over the bridge from Moss Landing Road is access to Salinas River State Beach (there is free parking here, as well) for a relaxing stroll on the shore. The wide shore here is perfect for sand castle building, kicking back with a book, or watching the sun set over the bay. This side of the bridge is also home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an excellent marine research facility. The facility is not open to the public but does host an open house once a year. Check out the website ( to find out if it will be on when you are in town!

Back on Moss Landing Road, it is hard to miss the other local commodity that this town has on offer in spades: antiques! Within a few minutes of each other are several top-notch stores for the antiques enthusiast in the group. The last Sunday in July plays host to the antique fair in Moss Landing.

But a commercial fishing harbour would be nothing without restaurants in which to enjoy the daily catch. Along Highway 1, it would be a crime to miss out on the delicious fare served up at The Whole Enchilada, specializing in Mexican cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Try Ray’s Platter: jumbo prawns, deep-fried calamari, seafood flautas, steamed mussels, ceviche, ‘besos calientes,’ and the other local speciality: artichokes! This divine combination is guaranteed to knock you off your seat! And just next door is the Moss Landing Inn, one of the Bay’s best watering holes. A dive that is both friendly and aims to please, this establishment serves excellent domestic and international brews on tap, hosts live music or activities every night, and is home to a lively and diverse crowd. You could find yourself rubbing elbows with fishermen, Harley riders, clued-in college students, and plant operatives. One crowd you won’t find here is the fussy tourist crowd. You’ll be plenty busy playing pool, enjoying the tunes, and trying new beers, but don’t forget to leave behind your own autographed dollar bill to decorate the bar - that is, if they can find room to paste it!

If you’re into relaxing and taking in some art with your food, try The Haute Enchilada, run by the same good people of The Whole but with a relaxed, café atmosphere to welcome you, and rotating art displays to enjoy. Sip a coffee on the patio, or dig in to a light lunch. This is an excellent place to pause for breath while you explore the antiques shops.

If all this isn’t enough to satisfy you and your travelling companions, cruise further south on Highway 1 to try out Moss Landing Café, a friendly diner dishing up reliably good American breakfast and lunch fare. Continue south a little further, and you can gather fresh produce from the roadside stands for a picnic, or venture into Castroville, artichoke capital of the world. Take a photo next to the giant artichoke, feast on deep-fried artichoke hearts, or go hog-wild at the Central Texan BBQ, where straight talk is as abundant as the meat - don’t come in just to browse. But, with home-smoked meats and homemade sausages on offer, and a brisket to die for, you won’t want to just browse! Vegetarians won’t find much on offer here, especially sympathy.

Whether you stop for a breather, visit on a day trip, or stay a few days to relax, you’ll walk away in little doubt that this town in the shadow of a power plant has a power all of its own.