One of the most beautiful drives in California and certainly one of our favorites is along Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The scenery is stunning, especially early on a bright, clear, autumn morning. The ocean is blue and calm with a few small fishing boats dotted around.
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Notices for pumpkin patches abound at this time of the year but as it is only 9 in the morning I doubt whether any of them are open yet. By lunch time they will be in full swing.
The views inland are just as spectacular, with low valleys in the foreground and the Santa Cruz mountains behind. Along the way we pass many interesting beaches, each with their particular charm. There is San Gregorio with its driftwood sculputres; Pescadero with its sand dunes and trails around the marsh and Pomponio with its fascinating rocks. All of them deserve their own account and we will visit them all at a later date.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse is roughly half way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz and is a landmark both offshore and on. ‘In June 1853 the Boston-based Carrier Pigeon, on her maiden voyage, was torn apart by a fog-blanketed rock off Whale Point. Thereafter, it was called Pigeon Point.’ (taken from the Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park brochure.)
The lighthouse was built in 1872 and its Fresnel lens guided mariners for over a century. A light still flashes every 10 seconds but now it is from a 1,000 watt light bulb.
As we stepped out of the car, all five sense were on full throttle. The smell of the ocean, pine and seaweed; the sound of the surf and birdsong; the sight of the distant horizon and the light flashing from the lighthouse; the taste of salt spray and lastly, the feel of the sand under my feet and the rough texture of the rocks.
In the last couple of years they have added a couple of features. To the east there is now a short trail along the top of the bluffs and since our last visit there are stairs leading down to a small beach.
The lighthouse itself is temporarily closed to the public. In December 2001, a section of the metal cornice fell off the outside. Now, for safety reasons, it is fenced off. A huge amount of money is required to repair it. Hopefully it will open again in the not too distant future.
There is a small building near the start of the boardwalk which houses a fascinating photographic exhibition. Further down there is the Keepers Store which opens at 10 a.m.
To the side of the boardwalk is a hostel operated by Hostelling International, with 41 dorm bedrooms and 4 private rooms. The rates are very reasonable, from $20 per night. What a marvelous place to stay if you are on a tight budget..
I save the best to last. At the end of the boardwalk is a viewing area with a couple bench seats. Here it is utter bliss to sit, out of the wind, and contemplate the view. There was a fishing boat a few hundred yards out, bobbing on the water with half a dozen fisherman on board waiting patiently for a bite. Also an elephant seal was spotted nearby but I missed it. Apparently they can stay under water for about an hour and surface a long way away so I didn’t hang around. I watched the pelicans gliding by and relaxed and enjoyed myself.
This is a perfect place for whale watching but not at this time of the year. From December to January the gray whales can be spotted going south on their annual migration from Alaska to the Gulf of California. The best time to see them closer to shore is on their migration back to Alaska from mid March to the end of April. A docent told me today that on March 30 this year over 200 whales were seen, some only 40 yards out. Of course Pigeon Point gets a lot of visitors so the very best place for whale watching would be Franklin Point just to the south. I must make a note in my diary for next year.
For peace and utter tranquility visit here early in the morning before the hordes arrive.
To the north are tide pools but not today as it is nearly high tide. For the best tide pools, visit Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to the north of Half Moon Bay. Tom and I will be visiting there next month when they will have a minus low tide.