Easy Coastal 7 Mile Half Moon Bay Hike (free parking!)

Cowell Ranch Beach Access in Half Moon Bay California

There are tons of hiking trails along the California coast. Some hug the coastline while others have access to a nice secluded beach. But some of those paths are less than paved, and somewhat dangerous while some of the paths are nicely paved. Those that have nice paved paths generally have private parking lots that charge a fee to park, likely to help cover the costs of maintaining beach.

But I recently found Cowell Ranch Beach Access that not only has a maintained dirt parking lot right off of Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) without a parking fee, but also bathrooms and easy access to the beach. The beach is probably less than 0.5 mile from the parking lot along an easy to walk dirt trail. The path that leads to the beach is a set of wooden staircases. If you want to do a hike, you can hike along the coast for a 7 mile back and forth trip and only 400 ft of elevation change via the Cowell-Purisma Coastal Trail. Do note that the beach access is only accessible from the Cowell Beach Ranch access side of the trail.

The Cowell-Purisma trail is only open on the weekdays and no dogs or drones are allowed on the beach or the trail. The "hike" is more like a casual stroll, given there is only 400 ft elevation change. More information can be found at https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/cowell-purisima-trail--2. The views from the hike are amazing. One one side of the Pacific Ocean and the other side of the Cowell Ranch. As you walk, you're likely to see birds gliding along the coast and if you go at the right time, you'll see many wildflowers.

The Cowell Ranch Beach Access also does not allow pets and is much smaller than many other beaches in the area. The sides are blocked off by cliffs, but there is still plenty of space to lounge. The staircase leading down the cliff to the beach makes it easy to bring small half tents for shade.

From both the beach and the trail, expect great views. Because you are by the coast, winds can pick up depending on your luck of the draw. There also isn't much tree for shade, so bring plenty of sunscreen. 

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