Guide to: West Cornwall

Drive as far southwest as you can in the UK and eventually you come to the raw beauty of wild West Penwith, where the sea sparkles an iridescent turquoise and miles of white-sand beaches are punctuated by boulder-rich granite cliffs. The rugged moorland peaks between the peninsula’s two coasts are steeped in history and peppered with Iron Age monuments. It feels undiscovered and unspoilt, yet, excitingly, it also oozes a pioneering hipster vibe thanks to some of the most awe-inspiring cultural fillips and trailblazing restaurants, bars and hotels in the country. Thought you knew everything Cornwall had to offer? Think again.

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Eat Early

There is nothing like sitting in one of the pods overlooking the bay at Porthmeor Beach Café in St Ives, tucked under the Tate gallery and on top of the stunning sandy beach. Here, you can kick back, tuck into a full Cornish breakfast, coffee and cakes, or a tapas lunch, while watching the pros play on the perfectly formed surf in the bluest of blue seas. The grilled halloumi salad and saffron arancini with whipped feta are huge highlights.

If you’re heading out for a surf yourself, or simply meandering along the three miles of sand and dunes from St Ives to Gwithian, the wood-clad shipping container that forms the home of Sandy Acres Café is the prime spot for a burger break. Staggering views, fabulous local meat, voluminous vegan options and on-point cooking means you won’t find a better post-surf burger in the county.

No Cornish beach break would be complete without a pasty and some ice cream. Lavenders pasties in Penzance get the loyalty vote locally as undisputed kings of the crust. For ice cream, it’s a choice between tasting the perfection of clotted cream vanilla, straight from the churn at Jelbert’s in Newlyn – a local favourite owned by the family of Olympic rower Helen Glover; or indulging at an Italianate bar at one of the Moomaid of Zennor parlours dotted across the peninsula. Once you’ve tried the brand’s ‘shipwreck’ blend it will be hard to ever go back to any other.

Eat Late

While there is obviously a smorgasbord of other options, standout food highlights here are all about seafood. Tuck in to the catch of the day at one of these places and you’ll believe there can be nowhere on earth that boasts a better, fresher or more delicious version. Porthminster Beach Café sits right on the bay’s fine white sand and serves fish like you have never eaten before, accompanied by foraged coastal bounty and vegetables from its adjacent clifftop garden. It’s justifiably multi-award-winning stuff. Don’t leave without tasting the Porthilly Oysters with their cocktail-inspired accoutrements.

If you want to see a vision of the future where the fishing industry sits comfortably alongside environmental sustainability goals, you need to spend time at Argoe, housed in a wooden cabin on the edge of the main fishing harbour of Newlyn. Food pioneers Richard Adams and Ben Coombs have established the business around the premise that there is no such thing as ‘off catch’ (fish caught accidentally alongside that being targeted). Equally, no part of the fish is off limits here, which cuts down waste. Featuring seasonal catches at their very best in recognition and celebration of Newlyn’s long fishing history, the ever-changing menu encourages diners to experiment with oft-overlooked delicacies such as Cornish megrim sole, and revel in new taste sensations like the inimitable braised squid balls served with saffron onions. 

Mousehole (pronounced ‘mowzel’ to all but the most ill-informed) is an idyllic fishing village gently encircling a harbour full of colourful boats. It’s also home to some phenomenal foodie outposts. 2 Fore Street is a fabulous example; its whitewashed tables with uninterrupted harbour views hold understated food perfection. It’s cooked by Joe Wardell, whose training under Raymond Blanc is clear from the first mouthful. Seafood is an obvious feature given the location and it’s inspirationally served – everything from hand-picked Newlyn crab to seafood curry. But the restaurant’s brilliance doesn’t only lie in its fish; the Mcfadden ribeye steak with rosemary skinny fries and watercress is heaven sent.


From gin bars to smuggler’s taverns, there are establishments to suit most here but four stand out as giving a rounded sense of this area’s vibe. Hidden in a valley between the moors and the clifftops is the small village of Zennor, beloved by DH Lawrence and rich in mystical stories of mermaids and lost love. The Tinners Arms, a tribute in name to the rich mining history of the region, has been at the centre of this village since the 13th century. With slate floors, low ceilings, roaring fires in winter and seascape gardens in summer, it is the perfect place to sip a cold pint of the local brew.

Lovetts in Newlyn is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Emma and Rohit. It’s a little pocket of inn genius. During the day it is all laid-back café culture – coffees, smoothies and light bites – whereas at night it is transformed into an inspirational natural wine bar. Rohit’s extensive knowledge of the world’s best low-intervention and biodiverse wineries means that there is always something new, unexpected and delicious to try here. 

In neighbouring Penzance, 45 Queen Street is the hipsters’ hangout. This formerly abandoned industrial warehouse now has a seriously excellent bar and kitchen. A labour of love owned by the team behind Tinkture gin, their vision and focus shine out of every basket-weave hanging lamp and addictively delicious cocktail. 

It’s not just local entrepreneurs who are driving the future here. Multi-award-winning Scottish chef Adam Handling has launched his own Cornish outpost, The Ugly Butterfly, in a phenomenal glass-fronted building alongside the turquoise gem of Carbis Bay. The bar here is sublime, with snacks created using offcuts and trims from the showcase restaurant to ensure zero waste and maximum unique appeal. 


From luxurious hotels to stunning campsites, there is something for everyone seeking an Instagram-worthy place to lay their wetsuit or walking boots. For hotels, check in to The Old Coastguard overlooking the stunning Mount’s Bay in Mousehole, or its sister, The Gurnard’s Head, where the moors run onto the soaring cliffs near Zennor. Both have on-point coastal design, rattan flooring, a restoratively relaxed air, sweeping views and a phenomenal restaurant and bar.

For those wanting a whole self-catered house, the highly acclaimed Pembroke Lodge in Newlyn is a Georgian beauty that has been freshly renovated with enviably inspirational style. But for the most authentic experience, a camping trip is de rigueur and the wilder sites with the best views hold the greatest kudos. With its jaw-dropping clifftop location above the aquamarine Pedn Vounder beach, Treen Farm Campsite is a firm favourite of locals and visitors alike. It’s wonderfully tricky to get to and even harder to leave.


Boutique, unique and local are the go-to here. Give your beach chic an upgrade at the fabulous Ebb Flow on Chapel Street in Penzance, with kaftans, beach bags and hammam towels that will make you feel like sandcastle royalty. Or you could choose an at-source work of art to take home from Stevie McCrindle at Sea Moor Cornwall. Inspired by the ancient Gyotaku technique that Japanese fishermen traditionally used to measure and categorise their catches, Stevie ink prints, paints and etches her extraordinary paintings and bespoke furniture. Recently part of global sustainable art exhibition Project Earth at Selfridges, her work is highly sought after and eminently collectible.

Elsewhere, channel your inner Scandi chic and stock up on environmentally conscious outdoor adventure gear at The Common Wanderer in St Ives, which sells all the beautiful bits from the likes of Fjällräven and Finisterre. Kit yourself out before heading off to explore the wild clifftop trail of the South West Coast Path.


Get your stoke on and head down to the (almost) consistent beach break at Sennen to book a surf lesson with the team at Sennen Surfing Centre. Whether you are a seasoned pro or an absolute beginner, the team’s enthusiastic and professional approach will leave you inspired and improved, grinning from ear to ear and aching rewardingly in body parts you didn’t know existed.  

For a calmer maritime experience, join Duncan and Hannah Jones of Marine Discovery Penzance and board their catamaran for a marine safari. The pair’s profound knowledge of these waters and the creatures within them is second to none. Dolphins, grey seals, porpoises, sunfish, basking sharks and even the odd passing humpback whale or leatherback turtle can all pop up alongside the bow.

The Tate St Ives is a fantastic outpost of the London institution, dedicated to celebrating the vibrancy and influence that the Cornish landscape has had on generations of artistic movements. The Tate also owns the Barbara Hepworth Museum in St Ives, where the sculptures inspired by her life in West Penwith are displayed in their full glory within the house that was her home and studio. End your trip with an evening performance at the unsurpassable Minack Theatre, built by hand into the clifftop over Porthcurno Beach. It is a magnificent place to watch world-class performances while trying not to be distracted by the view (read more here).  


Live like a local: pack your smallest barbecue, some easy-grill food and a backpack chiller full of drinks, then climb down the vertiginous steps to Gwenver, arguably the best ‘secret’ beach in Cornwall if not the whole of the UK. A perfect crescent of golden sand, it’s a local surf hotspot that’s never overly busy (as most people can’t face the climb back up). In mid to late summer, the sun will set itself perfectly into the sea directly in front of you as you gently turn the sizzling kebabs during an evening that will ensure you are utterly immersed in the alchemy of this far-flung corner of Cornwall.

Melanie O’Shea is a freelance editor and writer who’s based in West Cornwall when not wandering the world.

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