The second day of our little central coast trip was spent exploring the region south of Half Moon Bay. Twenty minutes south of Half Moon Bay is Pescadero State Beach. Twenty minutes that is if you take Highway 1 along the coast which ia a beautiful drive, passing bright green fields of artichokes and brussels sprouts and the blue Pacific coastline itself. For a little rustic variety you can hit the Stage Road cut off just north of San Gregorio State Beach. San Gregorio is a pleasant sandy beach surrounded by bluffs which ward off some of the coastal breezes. An adjoining estuary is home to birds and small wildlife.
If nature is your thing then you can get really close to nature at the private clothing optional beach that you can access off a little road between Stage Road and the state beach. There’s a fee for parking. It’s a long sandy stretch of beach that has high bluffs on the land side. Legend has it that this beach, opened in 1967, was the first nude beach in America.
Allow me to digress for a moment while I reminisce.
Denise was the first love of my life. We met in Spanish class at the local College of San Mateo. On warm summer days we would often go to the beach. At some point we heard rumors about this nude beach about 15 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. Being young and inquisitive we figured, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, let’s check it out.” Well we thought that this nude beach thing was the greatest invention since the wheel so the beach became our hang out that we never dared to tell our parents about-particularly hers. I still shudder to think about her conservative, born and raised in the south dad’s reaction if he found out we were not only baring all in front of each other but in front of God and everyone.
The first time we went out there Denise was a little careless with the sunscreen and burned her bottom- badly. We got home and her mom gave her a playful slap on the rear making Denise stifle a scream and leading us to wonder if her mom had some sort of clairvoyance, “She couldn’t possibly know could she?” For about a week, Denise wore the loosest pants she could find.
Denise and I were on track to get married until the day when she took me aside and said, “We have to break up because I’m a lesbian.” Well surprise, surprise, surprise. Over the many years I’ve made countless vows and resolutions and like many people I’ve managed not to keep most of them. It was about then that I figured that getting into a romantic relationship with a lesbian wouldn’t have much of a future so then and there I resolved never to do that again. I’ve managed to keep that resolution.
You know that whole small world thing? I guess that it was about 9 years after we broke up that I happened to see Denise at the corner of Mission and Fourth Streets in San Francisco. We talked for a few minutes and set up a date to meet for dinner. We got together at Hamburger Mary’s, talked over old times and caught up on the intervening years. After dinner we went our separate ways. I’ve not seen or heard from her since. I hope she’s well and regret we never kept in touch.
Back to Stage Road.
The drive along Stage Road is winding and narrow over rolling hills and Cora, true to nature, wasn’t happy about it. Despite her nervousness she allowed that the scenery was picturesque. Heading south, Stage Road dips and curves and then arrives at the little burg of San Gregorio, which consists of a small handful of buildings and some local farms. On the right just before the intersection with La Honda Road is the San Gregorio General Store.
The San Gregorio General Store is a trip back in time when a small general merchandise emporium would provide a variety of necessities for the local residents. If merchandise isn’t what you’re looking for, then go in to warm up at the pot bellied stove or have a sandwich and a drink at the bar, or on weekends listen to some live music. The best description comes from the San Gregorio General website. Saloon, lanterns, seeds, no television, U.S. Post Office, cast iron cookware, aspirin, advice, wines fine to rot gut, western and work clothing, groceries, hardware, bullshit, toys, cowtechnician hats, international beers, beeswax, cheesecloth, piano in-tune, books (literature, poetry, gender and environmental politics), homemade sandwiches, diapers, crockery, weather analysis, coal hods, raccoon traps, tequila (18 flavors), posters, cards, tee shirts, buttons, candles, rain gear, organic garlic, apples and butternut squash in season, live music (Irish R&B, bluegrass, original everything else).
At the corner of La Honda Road and Stage Road is the deteriorating stage stop which in the 19th century was a busy saloon and inn for people taking the stagecoach south from San Francisco. Standing there before this old building you wonder what it was like in its heyday when travelers would alight from the stagecoach, brush off the dust and go inside for a drink and a bite while outside horses whinnied, their rigging jangled and the teamsters and wranglers shouted and cursed as they went about their business. At one time it must have been an important junction, now it’s just a ramshackle old wooden relic from another time – a curiosity that most people along this route might give a nod and a glance at as they continue on their way.
The drive along Stage Road continues for about 20 minutes until the road dead ends at the little town of Pescadero at Pescadero Creek Road.
The two main attractions in town are the Arcangeli Grocery Company, a small food store and deli that dates back to 1929 and Duarte’s Tavern, established in 1894 as a saloon and barbershop.
Aracangeli Grocery is known for its sandwiches and its herb and artichoke breads. We took home a take and bake loaf. If you can’t get to the store you can buy online at the Arcangeli website.
At Duarte’s the barbershop is gone but the old timey saloon is still there adjoining the small dining room which serves good food from locally sourced purveyors. Cora and I stopped for a tasty lunch at this James Beard Award winner. I had their cream of artichoke soup and a calamari steak sandwich. Cora had an appetizer order of fried calamari and a bowl of gumbo. Check out Duarte’s website for more information.
Below: Views of the quiet Pescadero farmlands.
Heading west on Pescadero Creek Road you run into two jewels of nature, Pescadero State Beach and Pescadero Marsh Preserve.
On occasion dad would suggest a trip to Pescadero Beach. Mom fried the chicken and packed some side dishes and we took the drive south to picnic. After lunch mom would lay out in the sun and dad and I would clamor over the rocks to check out the tide pools. Occasionally we would walk over to chat with some of the fishermen casting out into the ocean. I don’t know that we ever met a fisherman who’d caught something fishing from those wave swept rocks.
On our trip we stopped to observe the shore birds, including the hundreds of pelicans on the offshore rocks. Early the following day I ventured out at sunrise to take pictures of the birds and hike one of the trails of the marsh.
Pescadero Marsh Preserve which lies on the eastern side of Highway 1 has four hiking trails that wind along the waterways and through the brilliant red pickleweed. Sixty species of birds nest in the preserve. Other species include garter snakes, the California red-legged frog, tidewater goby, steelhead trout and Coho salmon.
The trails are short and mostly flat and can be easily explored in an afternoon. Docent led hikes are available on weekends.
Six miles south of Pescadero Beach on Highway 1 is the Pigeon Point Light Station. At 115 feet tall, the lighthouse, first lit in 1872 is one of the tallest in America. It sits on a point of land that was originally called La Punta de la Ballena (Whale Point). The name was changed to Pigeon Point after the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon got lost in the fog and ran aground nearby.
At the lightstation there is a boardwalk that leads to an overlook where visitors can view birds, the crashing waves and elephant seals. If you happen to be there during the months of January through April you might be able to spot Gray Whales on their migration.
If you want to stay overnight at the point, there is a hostel where you can stay in a dorm style environment or in a private room.
Just north and south of the light station are beaches that are accessible to the public.
After sunset Cora and I headed back to our motel in Half Moon Bay. She had a steaming bowl of soup from a small Mexican restaurant nearby while I went north to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company to get a fresh from the tap growler of one of their many beers that you can find listed on their website. Click the link for Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.
The next morning it was breakfast and home.
Above and below – Sunset at Pigeon Point