“We always try to wow visitors with our three course breakfasts.” The message comes by e-mail from Kelly Dayan who has been the co-owner (with her husband, John) and co-chef (with Jason Tozer, who got his cordon bleu culinary training in Australia) at Seal Cove Inn in the Moss Beach neighborhood of Half Moon Bay for less than three months when she sends it.
The good fortune stars must have been shining on the Dayans the day they came upon Seal Cove Inn when, long-distance from Texas, they were searching online to buy a property in Northern California for Kelly to run as a food-focused bed and breakfast.
The inn is a short stroll to the start of what I consider to be one of the best beach walks anywhere — the Moss Beach coastal stroll that takes you from the entrance of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve south along a three mile stretch of beach that disappears, in parts, when the tide comes in, to the sandy shore of the beach that fronts the famed big-surf Mavericks location.
A beach walk; a scenic cliff-top hike; a chance to see harbor seals up-close-and-personal; and if you keep your eyes peeled perhaps a whale to two breaching and blowing or, at this time of year, flocks of pelicans heading north.
You can scramble up a path at Mavericks and walk back along the top of a cliff. Or, from the Mavericks look-out, see fishing harbor and resort hamlet of Princeton-by-the-Sea.
The Inn first opened its doors in 1991. The original owners (until 2007), the Karen Brown Travel Guides folk, were inspired by their world travel experiences, especially through France and England, to create the ultimate hospitality property in terms of comfort and location, says Kelly.
It was sold to an owner who gave over the management to a company. The Dayans, thanks to Kelly’s passion, are making it personal again.
A dream come true
“Your typical corporate renegade,” is how Kelly, who has an accounting degree and an MBA, describes herself. She was working in hi-tech, at Hewlett Packard (where John still works), handling federal contracts.
“When we’d sit at happy hour on Fridays and the ‘if I won lottery’ conversation came up, I’d typically say, ‘I’d go to culinary school.’
“One day my husband said, ‘Why don’t you do that? You hate your job.’
“I said, ‘Really’!!!”
“So then I did.”
Getting “out of the corporate ego and into a classroom with 18- and 19-year-olds” was both fantastic and humbling, she says.
Given that HP is based in Palo Alto, they had spent quite a bit of time in the Bay Area. “But Half Moon Bay is a whole new world.” One they didn’t know before they found Seal Cove Inn online.
“It’s a fantastic talented and supportive community of people.” They’ve been using community contractors, a local soap maker to develop a unique range, a local photographer to create new wall art.
“Most of the people who come to stay live within two hours. Redwood city, San Mateo, San Jose. We get busy at the weekends. Much is by word-of-mouth."
Kelly, who would love to be more of a full-time chef but can’t, given that she’s running the show, collaborates with Chef Tozer on the food and the menus.
The serve afternoon appetizers. The source their cheeses and most of their produce locally: “an overused term now, I know. But, for example, we had gorgeous farmers market golden beets this week, which inspired a salad. And great corn so we made corn fritters. We create in the kitchen together.”
They have a veggie garden, no thanks to the gopher population.”Luckily we planted in pots — not realizing how smart that was.”
Every evening Kelly and John walk out on the bluffs and down to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. “It’s impossible to be stressed or unhappy here,” Kelly says. “It’s so physically beautiful. People come here for the location.”
To this end, the leave bikes out all day for guests. The encourage strolling and have a book featuring walks. The pay attention to the garden. And while they’ve done a lot since they arrived, Seal Cove Inn, Kelly says, is still a work in progress, which to date has included floor sanding and dining room tables custom made in Sonoma, to seat two and four people, so that they’re mix-and-match for different sized groups and “match the chairs we’d picked.”
The breakfasts change each day. On our Saturday morning, we came in to find a plump and luscious lightly smoked salmon had been brought in from Princeton. There was French toast. There were muffins. There was fruit and good coffee.
Then there was a view and the stroll. And nearby Mavericks. There were seals with babies down on the beach. There had been a hugely comfortable bed in an enormous room. What more could you ask for?
See the Seal Cove Inn website for more info. As a “great escape,” it is less than 40 minutes south of San Francisco.