Cowell Ranch Beach

Managed by: California State Parks

Location: South of Half Moon Bay off Highway 1

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset.

Access: The trail to the beach is open daily from 8:00 am to sunset. This trail connects with the northern end of the Cowell-Purisima Trail, which is open weekends and holidays. Please check the trail page for additional holiday access.

Fees: None

Trail Difficulty: Easy 1-mile roundtrip to scenic overlook and back. Brief but strenuous climb up stairs from beach back to overlook. Connects with northern end of Cowell-Purisima Trail, a 3-mile segment of the California Coastal Trail.

Things to See and Do: You'd never guess this gem of a coastal landscape exists so near the rush of traffic along Highway 1. A half-mile walk from a small parking lot along a broad trail leads to jaw-dropping vistas of towering cliffs, curving coastline and surging waves. Honey-colored sands beckon from the foot of Cowell Steps connecting the cliff-top overlook to the beach. Tides and winter storms make this cliff face highly erodable, often causing sand slides to close the steep staircase.

This 1,270-acre property was protected from development in 1987 when POST acquired it with generous gifts from donors. Partnering with the California Coastal Conservancy, POST transferred the beach to California State Parks and sold the agricultural portions to local farming families with protective easements in place. In July 2011, the ocean overlook became the northern trailhead of the 3-mile-long Cowell-Purisima Trail, another joint project between POST and the Coastal Conservancy.

Keep Your Eyes Open For: Coyote brush, dock, wild radish and mustard. Pelicans and, February through May, harbor seals in the restricted beach area immediately to the south.

Directions: From I-280, take Highway 92 west toward Half Moon Bay. Turn left onto Highway 1 and head south for approximately 3 miles. Turn right at the Cowell Ranch Beach sign to reach the parking lot.