What: beach and coast hike
Where: Monterey Bay from Santa Cruz to Point Pinos
When: February 3-5, 2011 (3 days)
Distance: about 55 miles
Highlights: easy enjoyable coastal walking, easy public transit access, great birds, sea otters.
The California Coastal Trail website has useful information and maps.
Transit and Trails is a good resource for public transit backpackers.
Why we went
We enjoy coastal walking and have taken long coastal backpacking trips in eight different countries. We had previously enjoyed a 4 day hike along the California coast from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Looking at maps, it appeared that continuing south from Santa Cruz to Pacific Grove would be a nice walk. California was in a drought so finding a stretch of good walking weather in February was not a problem.
In the prior 18 months we had taken three public transit backpacking trips, and we were looking for more ways to take pubic transit to visit areas we had not previously hiked. It proved to be easy and efficient to use CalTrain and express buses for this trip. It’s emotionally gratifying to go backpacking without using a car and the San Francisco Bay Area provides some great options.
I love coastal backpacking, and it was great fun to walk another stretch of coast near home. The transit connections were straight-forward, the walking was easy, the surf was crashing, there were birds, otters, seals, sea lions, surfers and a few fishermen. The weather was glorious, sunny and calm, classic winter between storm weather: about 60F during the day and about 40-45F at night. It was all good fun.
This was a rewarding and easy walk. Walking long distances on beaches is soothing and a fine way to relax. Not having to deal with a car made this trip even better. Anyone who is willing to stealth camp can do this.
Notes for Potential Hikers
We took CalTrain to the San Jose Diridon station and connected with VTA’s Highway 17 Express bus.
After we reached Point Pinos we waked back to the Monterey Transit Plaza where we caught MST’s #55 Monterey – San Jose Express bus to San Jose Diridon station. Then we jumped on CalTrain to get home.
We spent two nights stealth camping in the dunes. Although Highway 1 is often less than two miles away, the beach is functionally quite isolated. Finding private places to set up camp was not an issue. Except in the vicinity of Pajaro Dunes, we saw very few people on the 24 miles of beach between La Selva Beach and Sand City.
The first eight miles is in Santa Cruz and Capitola on a mix of beaches and residential streets. From the Santa Cruz Transit Center, walk a few blocks to the San Lorenzo Riverway, a mixed-use path that follows the river to the beach. You can follow the beach south before you have to walk around the Santa Cruz boat harbor. From that point, pick your own combination of sand and streets to continue south. At the eastern edge of Capitola, acquire the Monterey Bay shoreline and follow the beach almost all the way to Monterey. To make the trip a little shorter, a hiker could take a city bus from Santa Cruz to Capitola or Aptos and eliminate some of the town walking.
Walk along about 38 miles of beach to downtown Monterey. There are three obstacles.
- Parajo River mouth just south of the Pajaro Dunes development. Unless there has been recent substantial rain, this should not be a problem to wade.
- Elkhorn Slough empties into the Pacific at Moss Landing. Unless you can find someone to ferry you across or have a pack raft, you will have to walk inland and cross the Highway 1 bridge.
- About four miles south of Moss Landing the Salinas River reaches the ocean. There may be a sandbar across the river mouth and even when there is no sandbar the water may be low enough to wade. If the water is too deep, as it was on our hike, walk inland along the riverbank, making use of farm tracks as appropriate, and cross on the Highway 1 bridge. A riverside path leads back to the beach.
At the south end of Monterey Bay you reach the small city of Monterey. There is a nice coastal walk that extends the trip another 5 miles to Point Pinos in Pacific Grove. Many seabirds and occasional whales can be seen from Point Pinos. While in Monterey, it is well worth visiting the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium.