Riding the Coastline Trail
Half Moon Bay

Neil Wiley

Are you looking for a family-friendly day trip or weekend on the coast? Consider visiting the Half Moon Bay area. Enjoy easy trails for biking, horseback riding, or walking. Rent an easy-to-ride coaster-brake bike, a horse, surf board, ocean-going kayak, or fishing boat. If you want to spend the night, choose from small bed-and-breakfast inns, motels, or the fancy Ritz-Carlton. You have lots of easy choices to shape your experience on our nearby coast.

Your excursion begins with a pleasant drive up Highway One past Wilder Ranch, AŮo Nuevo, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, and miles of beaches, crashing surf, and cool, fresh air. Even with frequent stops, you can reach Half Moon Bay in a few hours.

If your family is like mine, the first stop is for food. For a restaurant, deli, or grocery, bear right on Main Street as you enter the town. As you drive along Main, small brown street signs direct you to parks, museums, and other points of interest. One recommended place for good, inexpensive food is the San Benito House Garden Deli. (Youíll find it by turning left off Main one block past Kelly.) Continuing on Main youíll see several shopping centers where you can buy supplies.

Ready to choose your exercise? If you want to get out on the ocean, go to the wharf area on the north side of town. As you near the harbor, youíll see a kayak-rental facility on the left. On the right, nearer the harbor, youíll see fishing party-boat rentals.

Rather surf? If you are new to surfing, call David Alexander (650-726-8686). He offers private, semi-private, and group surf lessons and camps. If you are experienced, head out to Pillar Point and the famous Maverickís surfing area, or try the less challenging beach area to the south of Pillar Point Harbor. (Caution: Before surfing, be sure to check current conditions.)

If you would rather look at the ocean than get in it, you can walk or ride Half Moon Bayís Coastside Trail. Although this trail runs from Redondo Beach in the south to Pillar Point in the north, the most well-developed, paved sections most suitable for family bicycling and walking are from Poplar Avenue to Miramar. You can drive in from Highway One, and park next to the trail at Poplar Avenue, Kelly Avenue, Venice Boulevard, or Young Avenue. The trail follows scenic ocean bluffs, with paths leading down to the sandy state beaches. The paved trail is relatively flat and well-developed with many park benches, several picnicking and camping areas, and bathrooms. It is wheelchair-accessible and stroller-friendly. Dogs are allowed on leash on the trail but not on the state beaches. At Francis Beach, the first mile of the trail runs parallel to an equestrian trail separated by a fence. After crossing two wooden bridges, the bike and horse trails briefly merge, then separate. The paved path starts at Poplar Beach, and passes three state park beach areas: Francis, Venice, and Dunes. The paved section is about five miles in length, but you can extend the hike north to the harbor, or south to higher bluffs on dirt trails.

Where do I find a bicycle? If you donít own a bicycle or would rather not transport one or more on your car, call David Alexander at 650-726-8686, or visit www.BikeRec.com. Dave can arrange to deliver easy-to-ride cruiser bikes to your hotel or a trail parking lot at a specified time.

If you prefer riding a four-legged beast instead, call Sea Horse Ranch at 650-726-9903. They offer escorted two-hour beach and trail rides, beach barbecues, and other equine-related activities.

My ride

I met David Alexander near the Poplar Avenue parking lot. He had a clean, blue bike for me, complete with coaster brakes, key lock, and chain. He also offered me a helmet. Although I hadnít ridden a bike for ten years or so, and I carried a heavy pack with two cameras, several lenses, and enough food for several days, it is true that you donít forget how to ride a bicycle. In fact, it was amazingly easy, especially since the trail was paved and flat.

I stopped often to take pictures, and walked down several paths to the beach. The trail passed through stands of coyote brush, lupine, and oxalis. I was surprised that many spring flowers were still blooming in August, perhaps due to Half Moon Bayís summer fogs. (Your best chance for clear skies is in November.) I was impressed by the cleanliness and order of the Francis Beach Campground, and enjoyed seeing people having fun kite-flying, kayaking, riding their horses on the beach, or contemplating the ocean from benches along the way.

Although the trail officially stops at Mirada Way, I followed the beach-side road to the Miramar Beach Restaurant, where I enjoyed a mildly expensive lunch and a good ocean view. Continuing on, I followed the road almost to Highway One before turning north on a dirt trail. At times, the trail took me to the very edge of Highway One, where I walked the bike. The trail improved, and I was able to ride on to Half Moon Bay harbor to see the fishing boats, kayaks for rent, and a few fishing families.

I backtracked to the Poplar parking lot, then continued south on a dirt trail. The bluffs were higher and the trail was rutted dirt, and although I enjoyed this extension, it could be too dangerous for children.

Hiking to history

After I returned the bike to Dave, I drove south on Highway One to Higgins Purisima Road where I turned left. (The first sign is labeled Higgins Canyon.) I passed a fire station on the left and two historic buildings on the rightóthe beautiful "saltbox"-style James Johnston House (built between 1853 and 1855) and the Kelly Avenue Train Depot (used from 1908 to 1920). The Johnston House is open for tours once a month.

I drove on for 1.6 miles to the Burleigh Murray State Park parking lot, and then walked through a quiet hidden valley for over a mile to see an unusual barn. Built in 1889, this long two-story dairy barn is built into the side of the hill. A ramp to the second floor enabled wagons to deliver hay to the loft without lifting. The barn also curves to fit the curvature of the hill. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this unique barn is now being restored.

The walk itself was worthwhile, passing through forests featuring some of the largest eucalyptus trees Iíve ever seen, some nice, small streams, and at least one 18-inch-long garter snake.

Driving home

Rather than backtracking home on Highway One, I drove back north through town to Highway 92, and east up to Skyline Boulevard. It was a great drive down Skyline in my little Solstice, with the top down, the Scottís Inside Man on the CD player, and the sun playing through the trees. Days like this remind me that we live in a place worth celebrating.




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