Bean Hollow SB

About 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay, Bean Hollow State Beach has the best of both worlds: unspoiled stretches of sand and pristine rocky coastline adorned with otherworldly tafoni rock formations.

There exists a state beach north of Santa Cruz up Highway 1 that is dog-friendly (a true rarity), has free parking and restrooms, offers extensive tidepooling along close to a mile of rocky shore, features a short self-guided nature trail and allows fishing.

Yes, Bean Hollow State Beach packs quite a lot of fun into its small stretch of coastline, which includes two parking lots/beach areas and about a mile of scenic coastal trail linking them. The southernmost parking lot is just above a small, kidney bean-shaped beach dotted with families picnicking with leashed dogs surrounded by piles of beach toys.

The nature trail begins at the parking lot and meanders north along the cliffs, every so often dipping down to the sand and tide pools via steep wooden steps. Although this hike is only 1.8 miles round trip, leave ample time for tide pool exploration. Anemones, crabs, small fish, sea urchins and other marine invertebrates hide in the many still pools.

Up above the tide pools, the single-track trail hugs the coastline and winds through a well-established native coastal strand plant community: leather leaf fern, lizard tail, coast buckwheat, beach primrose, and seaside daisy all thrive here. Interpretive signs describe how these plants have adapted to survive the harsh, windy conditions of their environment.

Soap plant, or soaproot, also grows here and according to one of the signs, parts of the plant can be used to make glue as well as shampoo. Sounds like the perfect product for instant dreadlocks ... The native Ohlone people also used the bulb’s toxic juices to stun fish, making soaproot one highly useful piece of vegetation.

A group of adult harbor seals and their pups regularly bask on one of the large rocks just offshore about halfway along the trail. Their large, dark eyes watch hikers with open curiosity and little apprehension. Birds like Brandt’s cormorants and brown pelicans also use the rocks as a safe perch to dry their wings and cover the rock with streaks of guano (a.k.a. bird poop).

At the end of the trail is a large outcropping of a cool geologic formation called tafoni. Over time, salt spray erodes away the mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone, but it’s the soft sandstone that results in the most dramatic effects. The honeycomb weathering creates a strange moonscape. Some of the sandstone undulates in bulbous formations along the coast like the bodies of basking seals, while other parts of the rock have become a fragile latticework of stone reminiscent of a Gaudi art piece.

After getting your fill of tafoni, head across the second, northernmost, parking lot (found at the end of the nature trail) and down onto Pebble Beach. Also known as Bean Hollow State Beach North, Pebble Beach is covered in smooth, multi-color pebbles roughly the size of watermelon seeds. These polished rocks are the remains of deep sea sediments dating as far back as 100 million years. Run the cool, slick stones through your fingers but please, don’t let the little pretties make their way into your pocket. You know the drill: “Take only photos, leave only footsteps.”

If your timing is right, you’ll be retracing your steps down the nature trail right around sunset. The late afternoon light casts dramatic shadows on the tafoni, and the harbor seals slip off into the surf as the sky turns pink and the air takes on a bracing chill. The show is so captivating, though, you’ll watch until your ears sting and you can’t move your fingers. Warm up once the sun slips beneath the waves at Highway 1 Brewing, located only a couple miles south.

AMENITIES: Primitive restrooms at both parking lots, free parking. No fire pits or BBQs.

SAFETY FIRST: People swim at the southern beach, but use caution if you do, as the shape of the beach (and very steep dropoffs close to shore) create dangerous undercurrents that can easily sweep even strong swimmers out to sea. People do surf here, but only if they’re really experienced. Even then, do so at your own risk. There is no lifeguard on duty.

COME HERE FOR: Tidepooling, picnicking, hiking, fishing, and quality time with the dog.

—Molly Lautamo

Bean Hollow State Beach, Pescadero, CA. (650) 726-8819. Learn more on the official Bean Hollow State Beach website.

DIRECTIONS: From Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 north about 30 miles. From Half Moon Bay, travel 17.5 miles south on Highway 1; the beach is three miles south of the turnoff to Pescadero. If the parking lots are full, park along Highway 1. Both entrances are well-marked with state park signs.

View the Google map of the Bean Hollow State Beach area.

Pescadero State Beach
Año Nuevo State Park
Butano State Park