Pillar Whales

What's needed for great whale-watching from shore? Land that pokes out into the ocean and a high vantage…

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What’s needed for great whale-watching from shore? Land that pokes out into the ocean and a high vantage point. Find both at the Pillar Point Bluffs, just north of Half Moon Bay. While its claim to fame is the annual Mavericks surf contest, the bluffs just north of the Air Force Station are a prime whale-watching spot. From 150 feet above the ocean, scan the waters for flukes and spouts. Bring the binoculars for a close-up. There’s no official trail leading to this point, just a network of informal dirt paths. Standing atop the craggy cliffs offers unobstructed views of Half Moon Bay to the south and Point Montara to the north. Below are the protected waters of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a tide-pool treasure trove. Just off shore, the grays may be passing by… or not; patience, a keen eye, and a little luck all are helpful. The trail ends after about 1 mile but there’s the option to continue through a residential neighborhood to historic Moss Beach Distillery. Grab a seat next to a fire pit on the outdoor heated patio and toast the day’s wanderings. Return the way you came.

Drive 25 miles down Hwy 1, south of San Francisco. Turn right on Capistrano Rd. in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Turn left onto Prospect Way and right onto Broadway. Make an immediate left onto Harvard and follow it through the industrial area. Turn right onto West Point Ave. and continue to the Pillar Point dirt parking lot on the left. Begin the hike by going through the yellow gate across from the parking lot. Follow the paved road uphill toward the antenna. Follow a dirt trail on the left when the road curves right. This is the beginning of the bluff trail. The trail ends at Ocean Blvd.; continue walking a few blocks to the distillery. Both the trail and the distillery are dog-friendly!

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