Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Beaches of San Mateo County 
Trip Date: November 20, 2005
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: November 21, 2005

Six camera club members and a member’s son came out on Sunday, November 20 to breath the fresh Pacific air on this most beautiful of fall mornings on the San Mateo Coast. I didn’t expect such a large response and was quite pleased to see all of you show up. Although we had no particular attractions in mind we managed to find numerous things to capture with our cameras. Listed below are some of the places we visited on this full day of shooting.

Bean Hollow State Beach: Our first stop was at Bean Hollow State Beach, where we ventured down to the rocky point to look into the tide pools and photograph the crashing waves and flocks of seabirds perched out on the point. Bean Hollow has a nice, sandy, crescent-shaped beach protected by tawny, ice plant-covered cliffs. Although we encountered nothing spectacular, there was ample subject matter, including wildlife, seascapes and a lot of interesting little seashells and fragments of plants and sea creatures strewn on the beach. This beach proved to have quite a lot of bio-litter—suitable subject matter for the macro photographer.
Bean Hollow is 17-1/2 miles south of Half Moon Bay and a few miles north of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Pebble Beach: Pebble Beach is a very small, yet interesting beach located between Bean Hollow and Pigeon Point. The beach sign is obscured to northbound traffic on Highway One, so we had to make a corrective u-turn up by the Pescadero Road and come back before we noticed the turnoff. It was well worth the extra gyrations we had to make because this unique beach is covered by minute, multi-colored, polished stones. The waves mixing the smaller-than-pea-sized gravel around makes a characteristic sound. I found the sound of sluicing gravel to be quite relaxing and also discovered that one’s large, heavy posterior seems to naturally and comfortably settle into the particulate matrix of the beach. Of all the beaches we visited this beautiful morning, this one offered the most visually interesting eroded sandstone formations—much of the beach rock shelves appeared to be “drilled” with thousands of holes and made for interesting interplay between light and shadow. This beach would probably be ideal at sunset, but the morning light gave us plenty of potential angles to work with.

Pigeon Point Light House: By mid-morning we drove down to a point just south of the oft-photographed landmark of the San Mateo County coast. The clouds were perfect, as though dry-brushed on the blue canvas of the sky and we captured numerous, albeit stereotypical, images of this nearly perfect scene.

The names of other beaches and attractions in this beautiful stretch of the California coastline includes San Gregorio State Beach, Pomponio State Beach, Pescadero State Beach, Martin’s Beach (private)  and Año Nuevo State Park, to name just a few. 

A warning to those who wish to take my recommendations and visit these beaches: Keep a sharp eye on the surf because large, rogue waves have been known to sweep beach-goers off the rocks and drown them in the strong, turbulent undercurrents. (This stretch of coast is where you find the world-famous waves known to surfers as “Mavericks.”) Only a damn fool or an experienced surfer would even consider venturing out into the waters off the San Mateo Coast.

Our beach-hopping routine was momentarily interrupted by lunch at Duarte’s in the town of Pescadero. Duarte’s is well known to locals and habitués of the Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay area. We first discovered this restaurant and bar combo last winter when we visited Año Nuevo to see the elephant seals. The bar is very well stocked; the wine cellar is remarkable; and the food ranges somewhere between very good and excellent (although a bit pricey for some of our more threadbare members). In spite of the cost, I splurged on the Ahi Tuna Sandwich with a side of the Cream of Artichoke soup (a house specialty). The tuna was great and the soup, served with an abundance of hot sour dough bread, attained its usual delicious mark. Dave had the Linguica Sandwich and rightfully enjoyed it (not a surprise since the owner is of Portuguese distraction). 

Wilder Ranch State Park: With our bellies filled, we headed southward to Santa Cruz where we visited the Wilder Ranch State Park. Of all our stops, I was most enchanted by the renovated ranch buildings of this nineteenth-century, coast-side farm and dairy operation. The ranch compound included the old house, a fancy horse barn, a large dairy barn, a newly relocated second house (under construction) and the numerous sheds and out-buildings required to keep a large farm in operation. Perhaps most interesting to me was the carpentry and blacksmith shop exhibit. The Wilder family was on the cutting edge of nineteenth century mechanical technology and used a series of water reservoirs to operate water wheels that ran several automated shop tools. They also used an early electrical generator (the senior project of one of the Wilder boys at Stanford University back when it was an aggie college). The generator made the lights of the ranch the brightest after-dark landmark south of Pigeon Point from the 1880s up through the electrification of the town of Santa Cruz. 

Had the Wilder family sold their huge tract of land to the developers of Santa Cruz in the early 1970s, we would have been walking the streets of the northern half of a much different, much larger city. The family refused years of  cash come-ons and kept their land for several generations eventually coming to the realization that the dairy farm business was no longer lucrative in the California strip-mall  and seaside resort economy of Santa Cruz. The remaining family members donated the land to the state for the benefit of the public trust. Many thanks to them for not succumbing to greed and allowing packs of short-sighted developers ruin yet another stretch of our beautiful California coastline.

Nestled on the northern city limits of Santa Cruz Wilder Ranch covers about 5,000 acres, which stretches from the surf of Wilder Beach up the mountain slopes to abut the western borders of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Probably the best way to see this huge park is from the saddle of a bicycle. Its close proximity to Santa Cruz and its numerous paved trails and roads makes Wilder Ranch an ideal place for hillside cycling as well as hiking. 
State park rangers and docents in costume are present to give tours and provide interesting interpretative information on this restored, operating farm exhibit.  If you have a bunch of bored kids (or adults for that matter) and a free day, you should take the tribe to visit this very interesting state park. The six-dollar parking fee is well worth the visit to this beautiful and interesting place. 

The photographic possibilities are wide-ranging from rusted old farm machinery and the weathered wood of the buildings to seascapes and mountainside forested landscapes.

All in all, for a relatively ambiguous field trip itinerary, we managed to experience quite a beautiful and pleasant outing. Thanks for your participation and continued support!

© 2005 S.R. Hinrichs