If you didn’t know it was there, you might just drive right on by it. But for those who make the 0.5-mile walk (or bike ride) to the wooden stairway leading to Cowell Ranch State Beach, the reward is sinking your toes into one of the best beaches in Northern California—with plenty of room to roam, and relax.
From the trailhead follow the primarily flat and wide Cowell-Purisima Trail. Quiet farmland and a sea breeze surround you as you make your way towards the beach, guided by the sound of crashing waves and the scent of salty air. You’ll come upon enormous coastal views at the (marked) overlook.
On the north side of the overlook is a long wooden stairway to Cowell Ranch State Beach. While a lot of hidden beaches can feel like a bit of a tight squeeze on a busy day, the quarter mile of crescent sandy cove at Cowell Ranch means even on a crowded day you’ll be able to toss down your blanket and stretch out—no knocking elbows with strangers here! Sunny afternoons cast beautiful mauve tones over the Pacific, and the hulking cliffs backing the beach get sun-kissed too.
The water here can be reasonable to swim in, but mercurial waves on unsettled days should be avoided, and heed undertow warnings (common sense and caution should prevail). This is a beach for lollygagging or tossing a Frisbee or strolling hand in hand, sinking your feet into the soft sand.
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The Cowell Ranch Beach access trail is 3 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Hwy 1. It’s only open on the weekend. No dogs.