We zoomed through San Francisco in a whirlwind of family, friends, fantastic trails, and fabulous fun. The City and County of SF share the same geographical boundaries, so in the blink of an eye, all 11 miles of SF County’s coastline had flown by, and we were entering our 6th county—San Mateo!
One of the first sections of CCT in San Mateo is the new Devil’s Slide Trail. For decades, Devil’s Slide was a treacherous section of Highway 1 plagued by landslides and closures. This area’s instability and propensity for landslides comes from its unique geology. Here, the granitic rock of the Montara mountain meets sedimentary rock of the ancient ocean floor. Landslides occur where the sedimentary layers were thrust over the granitic rock, causing wrinkles and unstable formations that are prone to slides.
Today, highway traffic has been routed inland through a tunnel, and Devil’s Slide is a new public multi-use section of the California Coastal Trail open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Devil’s Slide Trail provides spectacular views of the rocky coastline, seabirds, and marine mammals. Now people can slow down and appreciate the views rather than having a white-knuckle drive!
We love that this section of highway is now a trail! Especially after a scary experience just south of Pacifica where we had a very sketchy highway biking section. After Pacifica State Beach, we took our bikes along Highway 1 as far as we could before the shoulder disappeared. Cars were zooming by at lightspeed in the spirit of the busy city rush, screaming past us on our bikes. There were many more cars here than we had experienced on any highway section before. We looked nervously at each other and debated if we should continue this way. The blind curve ahead looked scary and we made our decision to get in the car for the first time and drive a segment due to safety concerns. We picked up the phone to call for a ride, and just then SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!! SLAM! CRUNCH! A car had been rear-ended just meters away from where we were standing, probably about where we would have been if we hadn’t stopped.
We were very thankful that we didn’t risk our safety, but very bummed to have to resort to a ride for the only time along our CCT hike so far.
After Devil’s Slide we entered Pillar Point and Half Moon Bay, where there was some lovely coastal trail and excellent CCT signage.
This was in contrast to this confusing combination of signs that we encountered near Pacifica:
“Multi Purpose Trail” and a CCT emblem right next to a No Trespassing sign? Hmmm…
We expected navigational challenges when we decided to thru-hike an incomplete trail, but these were some serious mixed messages!
We also encountered some interesting signage while walking through the Ritz Carlton resort and golf course. When the Ritz was approved for construction by the city in 1991, one of the conditions attached to that approval required the resort to develop a segment of the California Coastal Trail and allow public beach access. The Ritz made it very clear where we could and could not go, which was fine with us, as long as we were allowed to walk through their coastal property, rather than retreating inland to Highway 1.
South of the Ritz, we got to experience one of our favorite San Mateo CCT segments when we arrived at the Cowell-Purisima Trail and met with lovely folks from the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). POST is a land trust organization that has been working with public and private partner organizations to preserve open space, farms and parkland along the Peninsula since 1977.
The Cowell-Purisima Trail is a delightful section of CCT that ambles through working farmland with stunning Pacific Vistas. The trail led us through fields of fava beans, brussels sprouts, and artichokes and gave us a wonderful peek into responsible coastal agriculture.
This area is one of the most important sites on the San Mateo coast for wintering raptors, and we had a special encounter with a red-tailed hawk as we walked through. As the The Mercury News put it, “On the day they reached the 500-mile mark of their 1,200-mile trek down the California coast, Morgan Visalli and Jocelyn Enevoldsen received a silent benediction from a hawk that allowed them to pass within 10 feet as the women ambled south on the Cowell-Purisima Trail.”
The next treasure we encountered on the California Coastal Trail was Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, which is perched on a gorgeous stretch of coastline 50 miles south of San Francisco. Julie Barrow, State Parks Docent Coordinator and maritime heritage expert extraordinaire, gave us an exceptional tour. She took us back in time to the 1800s, when the Pigeon Point lightkeeper would climb the tower each evening to light a lard oil lamp placed in the center of a first-order Fresnel lens comprised of 1,008 prisms. The lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 2,000 pounds! Pigeon Point also boasts a top-notch hostel, and we thoroughly enjoyed spending a night there and soaking in the cliff-side hot tub under the starry night sky.
A few miles south of Pigeon Point, we entered Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve and fell in love. The sight of dune flowers in full bloom against the teal sea soothed our souls. The Atkinson Bluff trail wound past magical coves where clear turquoise waves lapped at white sand beaches. We took a moment to soak up the serenity, tucking it away for our future selves.