Gray Whale Cove

A wind-sheltered beach and inland trail just off Highway 1.

Do you wish you had your own secret beach in San Francisco? Now you do. Just south of the abandoned military structure at Devil's Slide, this beach has a parking lot on the east side of Highway 1, which means it's easy to breeze past at first. Going from the parking lot to the beach proper also requires waiting for a break in highway traffic, so tread carefully!

Entering the beach is like peering into someone's backyard. A set of stairs will bring you to the bottom, so prepare to carry children or step carefully down this steep entry. Once on the beach, dogs are off-leash (though the official website strenuously declares that dogs aren’t welcome there at all) and families play in the sun. It's a beautiful and quiet beach that has all of the Northern California classics: beautiful trees, colorful ground cover and cliffs that tower over the soft hot sand.

The beach proper is relatively small; it takes less than 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other. Each side of the beach is bordered by curving cliff faces that protect this spot from wind, adding to the private effect of the beach. All the way to the northern side, the more protective angles of the landscape can hide the occasional nudist from first sight. The typical San Francisco etiquette is to live and let live, which will serve you well if you happen to come on a good tanning day.

Good For: Day trips to sunbathe, out-of-town family visitors, hikers who prefer the view to the workout.

The Authorities Frown On:Dogs on the beach! Also beach fires, littering and running across the freeway willy-nilly.

If You're Lucky You'll: See one of the albino unicorns, or just a whale.

Your Mother Would Tell You To: Bring lots of water in summer months; almost all the trails are exposed and the park has no running water.

—Juliette Spirson

Gray Whale Cove State Beach, Hwy 1, Montara, CA. 650.726.8819. Learn more at the official Gray Whale Cove State Beach website.

Directions: From San Francisco, enjoy the winding drive 20 miles south down Highway 1. Head through Pacifica and the tunnels outside town, then keep your eyes peeled for the military ruins at Devil’s Slide. The parking lot is to the left, across from the beach. View a Google Map of Fabulous State Park.

From Santa Cruz, follow Highway 1 north for 58 miles. Ten miles north of Half Moon Bay you’ll find the parking lot to the right, across from the beach.

View the Google map of Gray Whale Cove State Beach.

Gray Whale Cove Trail
3 miles; 1 hour; cum. elev. gain: 259 ft; easy
This easy inland hike overlooking the Pacific becomes more scenic with every step.

Devil’s Slide
McNee Ranch
Montara State Beach