Along Highway 1 in San Mateo County, as you drive along the scenic coastline, there is a particular 4.4-mile stretch of incredible beaches where you can easily pull over and explore.
This 4.4-mile jaunt ties in the towns of San Gregorio and Pescadero. There are no homes or businesses to block the view. San Gregorio is an unincorporated town of 214 residents, mostly known for its general store, an eclectic little shop full of trinkets and gifts where you can grab a coffee or a cocktail and maybe listen to some live music. Pescadero, Spanish for "fishmonger," is also an unincorporated farming and ranching town with a little over 700 residents. Both communities of San Gregorio and Pescadero lie inland from the coastline.
What beaches are you talking about?
The beaches that I speak of within these 4.4-miles are from the north, San Gregorio State Beach, Pomponio State Beach, Pescadero State Beach North, and Pescadero State Beach. All these beaches share the same characteristics, beaches with high cliffs with trails that meander about, long stretches of white sand, and lagoons spawned by a creek that provide abundant wildlife.
San Gregorio State Beach
The first of these beaches, San Gregorio State Beach, is 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay. There is a good size parking lot with restrooms and a picnic area. Getting down to the beach can be challenging at times because of the lagoon where San Gregorio Creek flows under Highway 1. At times, the lagoon will fill most of the cove. Of course, you can wade ankle-deep through the water, but that can be challenging if it's Wintertime! North of the main beach there are caves to explore. It is not too far of a walk if you want to bring your beach gear and "hide" a bit in these caves. If you continue north on the beach past the caves, be careful, because you can reach San Gregorio Private Beach, which is a clothing-optional beach.
Pomponio State Beach
You can walk the trail above on the cliffs that will take you south to the next beach, Pomponio State Beach. Much of Pomponio Beach is difficult to access if you park on Highway 1 due to all the shrubbery. Just drive a little south and there will be a parking lot. The parking lot at Pomponio is not as big as at San Gregorio Beach, but there are restrooms available as well as picnic tables and BBQs. Pomponio Beach has very similar terrain as San Gregorio, with a lagoon and driftwood strewn about. You can also explore the caves to the north and south of the main beach, but you can really only explore if there is a low tide. It can be dangerous if the surf is really high, so you want to be vigilant about this. Also, because of the seclusion of these caves, be aware of "clothing-optional" folks. I would say, if you have children in tow, just stick to the main beach area.
Our favorite beach!
We head south some more and arrive, at what is our favorite beach, Pescadero State Beach North. At the parking lot, you can walk to the right (north) or to the left (south). The north end has a great beach with some high cliffs, so, if it's windy, the cliffs may break the wind a bit. We prefer going to the south end, or to the left of the parking lot. This part of the beach has many dunes where my wife and I like to set up our day camp as it's a bit more private. It is a bit of a walk to the vault toilet the farther you walk, but we bring a camp toilet with a canopy. From this end of the beach, you can stroll to Pescadero Creek at the Highway 1 bridge. You can also park on Highway 1 near the bridge and walk down to the southern edge of Pescadero State Park. It is a popular spot for families because the kids can play in the creek as it is very shallow. There is also a natural arch that you can walk through here.
Pescadero State Beach
Just south of the Highway 1 bridge, lies the actual Pescadero State Beach, and there is a parking lot which is listed as the Cabrillo Hwy S Parking. At this parking lot, you get quite a view of Pescadero Creek and the aforementioned "family" beach because this parking lot is located on a cliff. There are short trails from the parking lot where you can get incredible views of the ocean. There is not a beach per se at this parking lot, it is more for your Instagram account. At the southern end of this parking lot, you can walk down and explore the rock outcroppings, and there is a bit of a beach, but it is rockier, and not the white, smooth sand that these other beaches provide. This beach provides the best opportunity to explore tidepools, however. Across Highway 1 from Pescadero State Beach, is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a great trail for hiking and bird watching.
So, get out and explore!
So, in recap, in exploring this 4.4 mile stretch of beaches, if you're looking to wade in the water, that is not the ocean, because that can be dangerous, and you have kids, want to picnic may be, check out San Gregorio or Pomponio State Beaches. If you are looking for a beach with a wide swath of sand and no worries of having to wade ankle-deep through lagoons, go to Pescadero State Beach North, on either side of the parking lot, and if you seek more privacy, definitely go to the left of the parking lot at Pescadero State Beach North. For sheer beauty, and incredible pictures, and for exploring rocky outcroppings and tidepools, then head to Pescadero State Park.
At all these beaches, there is an $8 fee. If the booth is unattended, then there are envelopes where you can put cash in, and fill out the envelope with your information, and you will tear off the attachment and put it in your car, and drop the payment in the slot. If you have a California Poppy Pass, which is $120 for the year, then you are good. These passes may be available if there the booths are staffed. PLEASE do your part and pay the $8. This helps out keeping the beaches clear and maintained. Get out and explore!
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