Over Memorial Day weekend, we took a camping trip with my parents at Francis State Beach in Half Moon Bay. We had been looking forward to this weekend of relaxing for months — not only to enjoy some quality time with my parents and eat a lot of s’mores, but to check out some of the the only section of the California Coast we haven’t explored: the stretch from Pacifica to Bodega Bay.
Because we were only in Half Moon Bay for one weekend and we were with other people, we spent one day at the beach and one day exploring the nearby coast. Our plans were to visit the Pigeon Point Lighthouse to the south and the Point Montara Lighthouse to the north, but on the way we spied a stunning rock arch on a giant stretch of sandy beach and couldn’t resist a stop.
Pescadero State Beach in San Mateo County has a mile-long shoreline with sandy coves, rocky cliffs, tide pools, fishing spots, picnic areas, and an awesome rock arch you can walk through during low tide.
The beach boasts one of the most extensive dune systems and coastal strand plant communities north of Año Nuevo Point and south of the Golden Gate. Across the highway is Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a popular spot for bird watchers, hikers, and other naturalists. The Preserve is a refuge for blue heron, kites, deer, raccoons, foxes and skunks.
Two Main Sections Of Beach
Pescadero State Beach has two distinct beach areas that are divided by the creek mouth:
- The North Beach is a wide, long, sandy beach perfect for family beach days.
- The South Beach is a series of small circular rocky coves with sandy bottoms.
When we visited Pescadero State Beach, we actually visited what’s commonly referred to as the Central Beach area. While there are two main sections of beach, North and South, there are three parking areas:
- The northern parking lot with a parking fee of $8.00.
- A free central parking lot at the southern end of the Highway One bridge.
- The free southern parking lot at Pescadero Creek Road.
Visiting Pescadero State Beach
While driving south on Highway One, we all were commenting on the gorgeous stretch of sandy beach (and sort of wishing we had our sand toys). Because we were on our way to Pigeon Point Light Station, we weren’t going to stop, but then I saw the rock arch at the edge of the water and it was decided. We had to check out that arch!
We parked at the central parking area atop the bluffs and first walked down to the beach to explore the arch up close. During low tide, you can actually walk through the arch. We were tempted to walk through the water to try it, but passed because:
- We didn’t bring a change a clothes if case we got tumbled by the waves.
- The storm on Friday night brought in TONS of jellyfish! There were hundreds on the beach and lots clear jellies floating in the surf, which made us a bit nervous!
When we were done exploring the rock arch, the beach, and some driftwood structures, we hiked back up to the parking area to check out the trail atop the bluffs. The trail took us back to the rock arch, but this time we were standing on top of it! From here we could see the shoreline to the south. It is protected from the ocean waves by offshore rocks with numerous tide pools and areas of open water and we could see sea lions and seals sunning themselves on the rocks and swimming in the surf.
Know Before You Go
There are 3 parking lots on the western side of Highway 1 with beach access.
- Northern Pescadero Beach Access Parking Lot: There is an $8 parking fee which is payable daily upon entry to the park and the sandy beach is accessible from two locations in the parking lot. There is a single vault restroom and no running water.
- Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve and Central Pescadero Beach Access Parking Lot:
- Southern Pescadero Beach Access Parking Lot: Located at the intersection of Highway One and Pescadero Creek Road, the rocky beach is accessible from the northern end of the free parking lot by stairs. There are two vault restrooms and two picnic tables, but no running water and no barbecue pits.
The rocky beach is accessible at the southern end of the free parking lot by the way of a narrow stairway. There is a wooden stair case on the eastern side of the parking lot which will take you a pedestrian walkway along the Highway One Bridge. Once you walk across the Highway One bridge, access the marsh by walking under the bridge from the beach. There is a single vault restroom with no running water.