Every winter two groups reliably make the pilgrimage to Año Nuevo State Park: hordes of elephant seals, and people! But go in the next few weeks and have this coastal destination to yourself, especially by heading inland to a little known area called the Chalks. After driving a couple of miles on an unsigned dirt road you’ll reach the Whitehouse Ridge trailhead, a 1.5-mile (one-way) path up a fern-filled redwood forest. Be warned—the hike is all uphill, but the view from upper vista bench is wondrous: Three major points jut out from the San Mateo coast—Pigeon, Año Nuevo, and Franklin (named for the Sir John Franklin shipwreck of 1865). Those hankering for more views can press on a few minutes to a clear ridge—the official Chalks. Return the way you came. Chalk it up to Año Nuevo.
Año Nuevo State Park is 28 miles south of Half Moon Bay. To reach the Whitehouse Ridge trail, turn left (east) from Highway 1 onto the dirt and unsigned Whitehouse Canyon Rd. about 300 feet south of Rossi Rd. (which is also the entrance to Costanoa). Drive 2.4 miles. Park when you reach the sign that says “no public access beyond this point.” The trailhead is on the right. There is no sign that says no dogs.