A tale of two beaches
Bean Hollow State Beach
Neil Wiley

Bean Hollow State Beach is home to two beaches connected by a one-mile trail. These beaches couldn’t be more different. The result is two contrasting experiences in one small state park.

It begins with a short ride from Santa Cruz up the coast on Highway 1. You’ll see the sign for Bean Hollow about three miles north of the Pigeon Point lighthouse. You could park at this entrance, but I recommend driving another mile to the Pebble Beach parking lot. (On summer weekends, this lot may be filled. If so, you may need to park at the park’s larger lot at the southern entrance.)

This Pebble Beach is nothing like Carmel’s 18-hole golf course or Pebble Beach on Tomales Bay. It offers a more compact, intimate experience. A short walk to the right from your car takes you down a flight of steps. At the bottom is a small beach popular with fishermen. To the left, you’ll see a miniature canyon of rocks and a floor of colorful stones dating from the Pleistocene era. You may find jade, chert, agate, jasper, and moonstone that you can touch but not collect.

You can also see tafoni, sometimes called stonelace. These rocks are covered with many smooth honeycomb holes caused by weathering, variations in permeability, and other micro-climate changes. Ancient geological events have shaped larger rocks in this same area into all sorts of smooth and cragged shapes.

Walking back up the stairs and to the south of the small parking lot, you’ll find an easy but narrow path that follows the coast down to the second beach.
In spring and summer, this lovely trail is home to native wildflowers and shrubs, such as beach primrose, seaside daisy, yellow bush lupine, coast buckwheat, lizard tail, and leather leaf fern.

Looking out at the ocean, you see many small rocky islands, home to seabirds and resting harbor seals. Tide pools provide habitat for sea slugs, snails, crabs, anemones, and urchins. Overhead are gulls, sandpipers, and sanderlings. Flocks of pelicans fly by, looking like commuters off to work.

The only trail amenities are a bench located about halfway between the two beaches, several short footbridges, and a few interpretive signs. It’s fortunate that the coast is usually cool because you won’t find any shade. The path is primitive. In places it is less than a foot wide, and I mean a human foot, not twelve inches. Be careful when stepping over holes or getting too close to the cliff edges.

The southern beach is a prototypical sandy crescent with some rocks near the center and rocky points at each end. It’s a good place to picnic, sit in the sand, fly a kite, or get your feet wet. Unfortunately, the cove creates a strong rip current that makes swimming dangerous.

At the southwest end of the beach, you can scramble up to a vista point. It may be too steep to be an official trail, but a path leads to the top where you can get a panoramic view of the beach or look up and down the coast.

Across the highway on Bean Hollow Road is the pretty but inaccessible Lake Lucerne Reservoir. The conservation land and reservoir are protected by Peninsula Open Space Trust, but it is legal to take a picture.

If you are hungry after your tour, I recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at the Costanoa resort. You’ll see the signs on the east side of Highway 1 across from the northern end of Año Nuevo. The Costanoa Cascade restaurant is more expensive than McDonalds, but worth the price, especially if you like desserts such as tiramisu. You can also buy snacks in the visitor-center store.

Other places to visit along the coast include Pigeon Point Light Station, Año Nuevo (north entrance for hiking, south for elephant seals), and Wilder Ranch State Park. On a sunny, breezy day, I stopped at Waddell Beach to watch the kite surfers, including one pro who jumped about thirty feet in the air. It looks like fun; I might try it when I’m younger.

For more information about Bean Hollow State Park, visit www.parks.ca.gov.