It's all about dramatic beauty and some of the cleanest water in California at Montara State Beach.
Montara State Beach has the kind of beauty that calls Highway 1 drivers in off the road. Suddenly commuters find themselves in a gravel pullout and idling car, gazing across a shrubby cliff top, watching the surf surge in and out and thinking, “What just happened?”
Well, maybe it doesn’t transpire all that often, but it should. Those that do answer the siren’s call find a long rectangle of sand 40 feet or so below the road, hemmed in by sandstone cliffs on three sides and opening to the roiling Pacific on the other. The buffering walls lend the beach a remote feel despite its proximity to and visibility from Route 1. Adding to the wildlands atmosphere is a dramatic set of headlands, one stacked in front of the other, on the northern horizon. Meanwhile Montara Mountain, home of the trail-crossed McNee Ranch, bucks up to the east. A pretty vegetation-topped ridge climbs out of the water on the south side just above a cluster of distinctive black rocks and toward the quaintly nestled town of Montara. All in all it’s kind of spectacular.
Social trails stream out of three parking lots (four if you count La Costanera Restaurant) along the bench above this popular, but somehow never crowded, spot. The low-lying jungle carpeting the cliff bench is itself quite an arresting sight. Deep, buffeted greens greet yellow, white and purple accents when spring flowers arrive. It’s one lovely walk down to the beach. Be careful which trail you pick, however; some are rougher than others. Perhaps the nicest descends a wooded staircase from the northernmost, and largest, lot. Unfortunately, the base often sits in a large pool of stagnant water. Slosh through or rustle up another way down.
Signs warn of riptides at the southern entrance, keeping swimmers out of the water. But that doesn’t stop the surfing set from staying on the prowl. Two sets of volleyball net posts and a world full of sand, sun (or fog), and fun await visitors. The water here is exceptionally clean: Heal The Bay's 2014 report named it one of California's "Honor Roll" beaches.
The broad stretch of beach offers even broader stretches of horizon to watch for migrating gray whales from November to April as well as the resident seafarers (dolphins, sea lions, seals, pelicans, gulls, etc.).
Four-legged friends are welcome as long as they come accessorized with a leash of 6 feet or less.
BONUS A state park-owned lighthouse offers lodging just south of the beach at Point Montara. For information check with the non-profit group Hostelling International.
GREAT FOR lazy beach days/hours/minutes, bonding with friends, taking the best driving break of your life, and generally celebrating the glory of being alive.
EXPECT the unexpected when it comes to the weather and layer accordingly.
ALWAYS keep an eye on the ocean, the tides, the potentially crumbling cliff faces and to take your trash back up to the bins in the lot.
FACILITIES some lovely Port-a-Potties adorn the southern parking lot, and civilization is just across the street.
NO fires, fireworks, or stealing pretty shells or driftwood from Mother Nature.
—L. Clark Tate
Directions:Montara State Beach is 8 miles north of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1.