Just because the weather is colder doesn’t mean we can’t get out and enjoy hikes! Here are 5 stunning coastal hikes along the San Mateo coast!
- Varies, but around 2.5 miles
- Difficulty: moderate
- 436 feet elevation gain
- Kid-friendly, but lots of bluffs with steep drops
- Dog Friendly
- Free Parking
- Location: Mori Point Rd, Pacifica, CA 94044
Mori Point Loop
Mori Point is a popular hiking area so definitely go early, especially on the weekend or a warm day. There is a very small parking area at the trailhead on Mori Point Road, but there is ample street parking in the neighborhood.
This hiking area has a lot of trails that crisscross all over so I recommend using an app like Alltrails to find a route and follow using the GPS to make sure you follow your intended path.
We like to hike Mori Point Road straight to the Beach. There is a flat path that goes to the North along the beach toward the pier. We have never gone this way, but this could be a good option for younger kids. The trail ends at a tree by the beach with a fairy garden and a bench “swing” looking out to the ocean. It’s usually a popular spot, but we had it all to ourselves on an overcast day.
From the tree head south (left) up Bootleggers Steps to The Bluff Trail.
From the top of Bootleggers Steps looking back towards Sharp Park Beach. You can also see the flat trail that runs along the beach.
Then we head out to The Point which has unbelievable views! We were last there the day of a high surf advisory and the waves were enormous! We sat watching them crash into the rocks for quite some time.
Then head south along The Bluff Trail. This part of the trail runs right along the edge of the bluff with some precarious drop-offs. Be sure to keep young kids close and don’t let them run off ahead. Below you can see people out at The Point.
After about a half a mile the trail forks. To the right, the trail continues along the bluff.
To the left, it heads up a steep craggy hillside.
Once you reach the top of the hill, there are a lot of options. You can continue south along the bluff and then loop back around. We usually head inland and wind our way up to The Peak via the The Bluff Trail. There are 360 degree views at The Peak! There is also a rock labyrinth that was pretty faded the last time we were there, but maybe someone will rebuild it.
From the Peak, head back down via the Coastal Trail or the Timigtac Trail. The latter adds some more elevation gains & losses and was fairly muddy at the end.
The views on this hike will keep me coming back time & time again. It can be a little confusing to stay on your planned path with all the crisscrossing trails, but the space is very open so it’s hard to get lost. We have taken some wrong turns which have just helped us explore more! The more we hike here the more familiar we become and the less we need our GPS to guide us!
Our kids generally like this one because it’s not too long and the views keep them engaged. Their one complaint is that there’s a lot of uphill!
- 2.6 miles out-and-back (a half mile longer if you hike up to the bunker)
- Difficulty: easy
- 436 feet elevation gain
- Kid & stroller friendly
- Dog, Bike & Equestrian Friendly
- Free Parking
- Location: 5929-5981 California Coastal Trail, Pacifica, CA 94044
Devil’s Slide Trail in Pacifica is unique in that it has been converted from an old segment of Highway 1. It’s a wide paved trail (2.6 miles out-and-back) that allows dogs, bikes, and equestrians. There are quite a few overlooks along the way as well as signage describing the history, geology, and wildlife.
Parking can be tough as there is a relatively small lot at either end of the trail. The southern lot is slightly larger and starting here means you’ll start uphill and finish downhill (usually our preference!). Having said that, we typically start from the northern lot and the uphill really isn’t that bad on the way back.
Our kids like this hike because it’s another short one! We also love the views and it’s really fun to walk down this old highway and think what it was like to drive down this crazy windy road right on the edge! We also like to talk about why the road was relocated slightly inland through a new tunnel going through Montara mountain (this part of the mountain is unstable and slowly moving into the Pacific below). It’s a great geology lesson!
- 7 miles out-and-back
- Difficulty: easy
- 400 feet elevation gain
- Kid, stroller & bike friendly
- No dogs
- Free Parking (limited) at both the north & south trailhead with overflow parking on Highway 1.
- NOTE: This trail is only open on weekends & holidays (8am – sunset)
- Location: Cowell Ranch Beach Access Parking/Highway 1, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
This is a really well maintained trail with ocean views the entire time. The great thing about this trail (vs some of the others) is that even though it hugs the bluff, the trail is set back enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re right on the edge. It also feels a lot safer for younger kids & bikers.
It’s a half mile hike from the Cowell Beach parking lot to the trailhead. This trail is easy to follow because it’s a straight shot (no taking a wrong turn!).
We loved hiking along and enjoying all the ocean views on one side and farmland on the other.
About two miles into the hike, the trail narrows, becomes dirt and dips down into a little valley. As we started coming back up the other side, we saw a bunch of banana slugs along the trail! We turned around just past this point, but next time we’ll keep going all the way to the end.
We loved crossing all the bridges along the way.
Cowell Beach is a great place to stop after the hike for lunch or just to relax. Because it’s a half mile walk from the parking lot, this beach is not as crowded as some others!
I hiked here only with my 10-year-old who enjoys hiking more than the older two! He would have been fine to hike the entire 7 miles, but we were racing against the sun! He really liked this hike because of the views, the bridges, and the banana slugs. His only complaint was that it’s not dog friendly. Any hike that doesn’t allow dogs is automatically knocked down a few ranking points in his book.
Pillar Point/ Mavericks
- ~2-2.5 miles
- Difficulty: easy
- 173 feet elevation gain
- Kid, bike & dog friendly
- Free Parking (small lot at trailhead, but plenty of street parking on Airport Street)
- Location: Airport Street, Moss Beach, CA 94038
We’ve done this hike a few times and my first piece of advice is to park in the lot by the trailhead on Airport Street, not the one on W. Point Ave. Neither lot is big, but there is plenty of street parking along Airport Street. Plus the first time we parked at W. Point Ave we went the wrong way out towards Maverick’s Beach and had to turn around. This added about a mile to our hike which immediately gave the kids something to complain about!
Jean Lauer Trail
From the trailhead on Airport Street, take Pillar Point Bluff trail heading north – you’ll be walking parallel to the Half Moon Bay Airport runway. After about a half a mile, the trail bears left and heads up a little hill where you’ll get your first glimpses of the ocean. Connect to the Jean Lauer Trail and head south along the bluff.
We most recently did this hike in December 2020 and it was a spectacular day! It was during King Tides so the tide was extra low exposing a lot of rock. We had previously hiked on a warm sunny summer day, but I much preferred the cooler winter weather and the moody colors.
This is another hike where I feel the need to capture the views every few steps. Needless to say, I move very slowly.
The famous “golf ball” that sits atop Pillar Point Bluff is an iconic part of the coastline but hasn’t always been there. The hard shell that protects radar equipment was first installed in 2006 and is a part of a U. S. Air Force Station that has been in place since WWII. On a clear day, it’s visible from many miles away! We could see it from our hikes at Cowell-Purisima (above) and Rancho Corral de Tierra (below).
We continue on the Jean Lauer Trail all the way to Ross’ Cove near the “golf ball”. This adds about a mile to the hike. I love that so many of the hikes in this area provide informational signs about the ecosystem and history of the area. This area is part of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. It’s always a bonus to learn something while we hike!
We have never gone all the way to Ross’ Cove below. While this hike is dog friendly, the beach is not. So this is as far as we can get.
After the cove, we head back north on the Jean Lauer trail to the Pillar Point Bluff Trail back to the parking lot making a big loop.
This is a great hike that packs in a ton of views with short mileage. All of these hikes would be great for spotting whales….we keep looking but have yet to find one this year! Our kids like this hike because it’s near Maverick’s and they like the idea of seeing big waves (we saw bigger waves at Mori Point!). After this hike, we’ve stopped at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for lunch. There are quite a few other cute restaurants along Capistrano Road (Barbara’s Fishtrap, Old Princeton Landing Public House & Grill, and Ketch).
Rancho Corral de Tierra
- 4 miles
- Difficulty: moderate
- 1515 feet elevation gain
- Kid & dog friendly
- Free Parking along the shoulder at the intersection of Etheldore St. and Ranch Rd.
- Location: Etheldore St & Ranch Rd, Moss Beach, CA 94038
This hike isn’t right along the coast like the others, but it has some great coastal views that you have to work for! Getting to the trailhead requires a bit of work too! The parking area is on the side of the road at the corner of Etheldore St and Ranch Rd. Then you have to walk up Ranch Road for about a mile. You pass the Ember Ridge Equestrian Center on your right and then the road dead ends into a ranch/farm (you may need to walk through a gate if it’s closed). Then we veered right through the farm. There were some people working so we asked them if we were headed the right way (we were) and they pointed us to the start of the trail. It was a little odd walking through what felt like private property, but they seemed used to it! I highly recommend reading more about getting here and using a GPS for this one!
Once on the trail, it’s easy to navigate as we just stayed on Spine Trail. The first part is all uphill through a eucalyptus grove and then it opens up to an exposed trail.
On a foggy day, this trail will take you above the fog. We were there on a clear and sunny day with expansive views.
As we came to the peak, we found a tree swing to the side of the trail. Truth be told, up until this point our 13 and 10-year-old were doing a fair amount of complaining about all the uphill, but when they saw this swing it turned into the best hike ever! We spent almost as much time on this swing as we did hiking! The best part was, we didn’t see anyone else on the trail the entire time we were there – so they had the swing as long as they wanted! If you look closely, you can see Pillar Point off in the distance.
This area was slotted for the development of large estates until POST (Peninsula Open Space Trust) bought the land and sold almost 4,000 acres to the National Park Service.
I liked this hike because it provides coastal views from a different perspective. I think the only reason the kids would ask to do this hike again is because of the swing – and who knows if it will even be there next time? It was definitely a good workout and fun to see a new side of Half Moon Bay/ Moss Beach. After the hike, stop at Moss Beach Distillery across Highway 1. It’s right on the coast with a dog-friendly patio, firepits, and has an interesting history as a popular speakeasy and home to a famous ghost.
More Favorite Bay Area Hikes
Still looking for more hikes? Here are some more of our favorites from Daly City to Los Altos. Land’s End in San Francisco and Tennessee Valley in Marin are two more of our favorite coastal hikes a little farther north.
What great hikes am I missing on this list? Tell me in the comments so we can check them out!