San Mateo Section 4
Montara State Beach to Pillar Point Harbor
In contrast to the mountainous nature of the previous section, this walk follows flat coastal terraces, passes through one of the most significant intertidal areas in California, and ends at the town of Princeton at Pillar Point Harbor.
From the parking area at the south end of Montara Beach, carefully cross Highway 1 at 2nd Street, walk to Main Street and follow it south to 11th Street. At the end of Main, step around the barrier to follow the abandoned roadway which now serves as an informal walkway. When this ends at 14th Street, walk the highway shoulder to 16th Street around ¾ mile.
Cross the highway to the driveway for Montara Lighthouse and Hostel. Take a look around the grounds and lighthouse. If you plan to stay, remember the hostel is closed during the day.
Turn left and walk the side road running along the chain link fence. Just past the Sanitary District office the road ends, and the path continues past a few trees before ending at the Vallemar Street cul-de-sac before one mile. Walk Vallemar Street to Juliana Street, where you go right one short block to the bluff edge, and turn left on Weinke Way. The bluff on your right has a public trail and a few benches. At 1½ miles Weinke Way ends at the intersection of California Street and Highway 1. Turn right on California Street and walk a few blocks to its end. On your right are parking, picnic tables and toilets, plus an information kiosk for Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. To reach the reefs, which are exposed during low tide and offer excellent tidepooling, go down to the tidal zone. CCT crosses North Lake Street and follows the footpath down and across the small creek. Continue for about 100 feet and take the trail to the right. Go 300 feet to where the CCT switches back to the left and uphill. CCT passes through a forested area atop steep cliffs overlooking the reef 100 feet below.
The trail ends at the corner of Cypress Avenue and Beach Street overlooking the ocean at 2 miles. Walk down Beach Street in this quiet residential area (quiet because it's caving into the sea due to an earthquake fault, and the residents are nervous!) past the Moss Beach Distillery Restaurant. Continue on Ocean Boulevard, walking to the end of the street at 2⅝ miles. Follow the trail there that continues south along the open, undeveloped bluff. The huge Air Force tracking station looms prominently on Pillar Point in the distance.
The rail comes to a paved road at 3½ miles which serves the tracking station. Step around the gate and continue down the road to the parking lot. Here you have two choices to reach Princeton. At low to medium tides walk down to the beach, turn left and walk the beach ¼ or ⅜ mile, then take either West Point Avenue or Vassar Avenue up to Princeton Avenue. The other route follows the road around the north side of the marsh, then goes left to follow Princeton Avenue.
Take Princeton Avenue to its end, then jog left on Broadway for a half block, go right on Prospect Way for another short block, turn right and follow Capistrano Road another block to the harbor parking area and the end of this section at 4½ miles. The harbor facilities here include restaurants, stores, a pier and marina.
ALTERNATE ROUTE: The beach from Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to the north end of Pillar Point is passable at low tide. From there it's a scramble up the bluff to the trail described above.
SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: From Fitzgerald Marine Reserve walk to Pillar Point Harbor and back.
Distance: 4½ miles (7.3 kilometers).
Open to: Hikers. Bicyclists on road.
Surface: Highway shoulder, trail.
Access point: Montara State Beach.
How to get there: Turn west off Highway 1 at the north end of the town of Montara into Montara State Beach parking area.
Other access: Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach.
Elevation gain/loss: 100 feet+/100 feet-.
Cautions: Watch for traffic on highway. Stay back from cliff edge.
Further information: San Mateo State Parks (415)330-6300. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (650)728-3584.
Facilities: Water, restrooms, picnic tables at both ends and at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Campgrounds: Francis Beach Campground at Half Moon Bay State Park.
Lodging: Montara and Half Moon Bay have motels. Montara Lighthouse Hostel (650)728-7177.
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