San Mateo Coast

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Today is our first trip out this year. It is a cold and frosty January morning and we are heading for the coast. Normally we would get there by driving over the mountains towards Santa Cruz on Highway 17 but decided to drive north and take Highway 92 towards Half Moon Bay because not only is it a shorter journey through the mountains but the pass is lower and less likely to be icy.

(Click on the photos for larger versions.)

Even though it is 32 degrees outside, the sun is shining. We are expecting it to be cold and maybe even foggy at the coast but we have dressed appropriately in layers with extra jackets, etc in the trunk.

We have no set destination in mind; it depends on where the fancy takes us. It is such a long time since we saw the ocean that just seeing, hearing and smelling it will satisfy us. There is a warning out about sleeper waves – several people have been swept away by huge rogue waves – so we will not be getting too close to the water’s edge.

Driving on 280 just north of Palo Alto, the temperature dropped to 30 outside. Thank goodness it is not raining as it would be falling as snow. Exiting 280 to 92 we encountered a thick layer of low lying fog across Crystal Springs. Tom couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo. It did look beautiful with the sun shining above the fog and the white, frosty grass on the ground.

Entering Half Moon Bay it was bright and sunny with no trace of fog at all. Not only that, the temperature had risen to 36. We ate before we left home this morning so no breakfast blog this time. Tom didn’t have any coffee though so we stopped off at the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company for a coffee and hot chocolate.

Refreshed, we set off again driving south. The ocean was near and after a few miles we could see it. It looked magnificent, glittering in the early morning sunshine. The water was calm and there were no white caps to be seen.

Pigeon Point lighthouse

Pigeon Point lighthouse

We passed San Gregorio beach. There was only one car in the car park and an awful lot of driftwood on the beach which had been washed up by the recent winter storms. Pomponio, Pescadero and Bean Hollow beaches were also by-passed They all tempted us and were worthy of a visit but we had decided to make our next stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Before long we saw the lighthouse in front of us and turned right on Pigeon Point Road. There have been a few changes since we were last here. The car park was been enlarged and the porta potty is no longer there but it had been replaced with a much better outhouse. We made our way to the deck at the back of the lighthouse where my second favorite bench is. This is a really good secluded spot to sit and look at the view and a prime place to spot whales. At this time of the year the  whales are swimming south and they some way offshore.  With the ocean so calm I thought I might spot whale spouts on the horizon and I was armed with my binoculars just in case. I spent a happy half hour in the sunshine and enjoyed watching the surf breaking over the many rocky outcrops just off Pigeon Point and the one lone pelican skimming the surface of the water. No whale spouts to be seen though. I became quite warm sitting there I even took my jacket off. Both of us may even have got a touch of sunburn!

Path down to Franklin Point

Path down to Franklin Point. Our favorite spot along the San Mateo Coast.

On to our favorite spot – Franklin Point. Even though we did not really plan where we were going, somehow I knew we would end up here. The place draws us because it is unique. Normally we drive north from Santa Cruz and it is easy to find but driving south from Half Moon Bay we were not too sure. Everything looked different plus the old tree stump which marked the beginning of the trail fell down a few years ago and there are no signs at all for Franklin Point. Once on the trail though I recognized it. It felt good to retrace my steps down the familiar path, wondering what the changes would be since our last visit a year ago.

First thing I noticed was that the old tree stump is now covered by shrubbery with just the bottom exposed. The second thing were the number of stinging nettles growing along the edge of the path. There have been times when we couldn’t get down the trail at this time of the year due to   one section being flooded after heavy rain. A few years ago a couple of short board walks were been put down and it is easy to get through. One thing is always different each time we come and that is where the path actually meets the beach. On this visit the sand was a bit wet and much lower than last time, in as much we didn’t have to scramble down onto the beach.

The beach was deserted, although I did pass one couple on the trail making their way back to the road. I stood for a while just drinking in the view, as I do every time. It felt so good to be back. Slowly I ambled along the beach but staying on the dry sand. Up on Franklin Point I could see my favorite bench and made my way towards it. At one point the waves came too close to the shore to get past  safely but fortunately there is a trail over the bluff which led straight to the boardwalk, which in turn led to the bench.

Franklin Point

A young couple about as far out as you can get at Franklin Point.

I had the bench all to myself for about ten minutes before Tom arrived. I watched a young couple down on the beach scramble over the rocks to get past the point which I decided not to walk round. They were obviously heading for the bench as well and sure enough they turned up about five minutes later. Tom had spoken to them earlier down on the beach. We chatted with them for bit and then they climbed off the deck and made their way as far as they could over the rocks. At one point they called out to us as they indicated a couple of seals bobbing along just offshore.

It was so relaxing sitting on that bench. I spent the time trying to write but, inexplicably, my eyes were drawn to the view. Off to the north I could see the lighthouse; nearer the waves rolling onto the beach were mesmerizing and straight in front the surf broke over the rocks and the spray exploded into the air. Tom and I chatted now and again and we agreed that we were in a perfect spot.

Eventually we made our way back to the car. Nobody else was on the beach at all. We decided to drive into Pescardero, where we bought artichoke and garlic bread fresh from the oven at Arcangeli Grocery Company and goat cheese from Harley Farms. We sat outside in the car enjoying our picnic lunch of bread and cheese while enjoying the view of a swathe of mustard growing in a field and gazing at the goats in the paddock. Then we took the scenic route home through La Honda up to Skyline and then through Woodside back to 280. Once again we enjoyed another perfect day.

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6 thoughts on “San Mateo Coast

  1. Phyllis

    Hi Margaret and Tom – sounds like a lovely relaxing day! You really have a lovely way with words Margaret…
    Can’t wait for you to see West Cork!

    Phyllis x

  2. Margaret and Tom

    Hi Phyllis – thanks for your kind words. Writing these posts is like writing a diary for me in that I never expect anyone else will read it and am always surprised to find out that people do.

    We always value your comments Phyllis. And one day we will visit West Cork.

    Margaret and Tom x

  3. David July

    Yes, we do (read it). In fact, I just spent two weeks in your neck of the woods and one of my key destinations was inspired by this site.

    For my birthday, I planned an outdoor nature day consisting of Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, dinner in Sausalito and then the Marin Highlands. Mount Tam ended up being a highlight for my friend and I, in no small part due to the excellent weather.

    The reason I wanted to visit was because of your article, “Mount Tamalpais Revisited,” from which I used one of Tom’s photos on my Sutro Tower website. It seemed like a very beautiful place that I would like and boy, was I right.

    Coincidentally, a few days after your trip (above) I drove part of the PCH south from Half Moon Bay and stopped for a visit at Pigeon Point. I was not expecting it but pulled in after I spotted the lighthouse. My friend and I were more fortunate than you, however, and did spot a group of whales there. Very lucky!

    Anyway, thanks for your great articles about your travels. I will be sure to be on the lookout for more destinations for my next trip out west.

  4. Margaret and Tom

    Hi David,

    Yes, Pigeon Point is one of favorite places along the coast. Franklin Point just a little south of the lighthouse is a special place too. Seeing the whales is a real treat. Next time stop at Ano Nuevo for the elephant seals. When the bulls are in it’s a thrill.

    Folks should check out your site about the Sutro Tower too. It’s fascinating.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Andrea

    Just found your blog for the first time and love your posts. I was looking for the name of the ice plant flower (I have it now :).

    I really enjoy your writing. Wonderful work!

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