Cold Day Coastside? Break out the Flannel and Chill at the Moss Beach Bluffs, Beach and Tide Pools

If you enjoy Coastside sand and surf but a water temperature of 55 degrees is not on your “to do” list, then consider visiting the beaches, bluffs and tide pools of the James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach.

Face it, Coastside beaches are not about sun-worshipping or splashing in the waves in your bikini or jams. (And that’s OK with us, since we are well past our beach-prancing days.) The sun doesn’t shine most days, the temperatures rarely rise above the mid-60s and a bracing offshore wind is common by mid-afternoon. There are exceptions, but we encourage guests to prepare for “perpetual autumn,” without all these pesky leaves.

Surfer at Montara beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking
Surfer at Montara State Beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

So why bother? The sporting crowd comes to surf, kayak and paddle board. They cope nicely by wearing a wet suit. We’re partial to flannel while exploring the bluffs and beaches on foot. And we count wave-watching and sunsets as spectator sports. The grandsons, Thing 1 and Thing 2, are comfortable playing in the sand in a hoodie. And a kite can transform that afternoon breeze from a liability into an asset.

Sound fun?

Then come on down to Fitzgerald. It’s easy to spend an hour or a day at the 32-acre natural resource area. If you’re feeling scholarly, begin with the interpretive center to learn a bit about the local flora and fauna. The center also has a handful of picnic tables and plenty of parking for early arrivals. When you’ve had enough interpretation and are ready for the experience, then head to the beach and tide pools.

Tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine reserve in Moss Beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Time your visit to Moss Beach Reef for low tide. Check conditions here. The Geek is comfortable walking the craggy intertidal reefs in flip-flops while M-Man, whose mother never let him go barefoot as a child, prefers a sturdy pair of sneakers. Both work. Look for colors, textures and movement in the pools. Nothing moving? Stare for a while. Sure, our moms told us not to stare, but the hermit crabs won’t mind. Or look west and stare at the ocean. You might spot a whale, seal or dolphin.

Be cognizant of whether the tide is coming in or going out. The reef is not conducive to surfing or other water sports popular off Surfers Beach to the south, so you likely won’t find anyone offshore who can rescue you if you get stranded on a rock at high tide. And you won’t have fun waiting for the next low tide or stumbling through surging waves back the beach. You’re sure to get very wet. And very cold.

If you are slacker who fails to check the app for low tide and arrives when the reef is awash, no worries. Begin by exploring the coastal bluff above the reefs, which aside from spectacular ocean views includes a rambling grove of Monterey Cypress planted roughly 85 years ago as a wind break. The stairways to the beach are long and steep, but the trails on the bluffs are easy walking.

Staring at the bare and gnarled limbs beneath the canopy of needle-like Cypress leaves is kind of like looking at clouds. You may see a ship or a pony or the face of your favorite uncle outlined by the branches. Again, it’s OK to stare. Be sure to return at sunset to enjoy the light and colors of the western sky streaming through the tangle of branches. Yup, more staring!

Still not low tide, then take a short walk south through the quiet streets of Moss Beach and walk Pillar Point Ridge toward the Air Force Station. More trails. More views. More beaches. And you’ll record lots of steps on your smart phone.

Your Coastside Slackers, however, would be more inclined to grab a drink and bite at The Moss Beach Distillery, the former prohibition-era speakeasy on the south end of the Moss Beach Bluff. The deck and even some of the parking spaces have great ocean views, and the building’s historic stained glass windows and dining room fresco are well worth a look. Watch out for The Blue Lady, who haunts the beach below. Spooky!

Not your idea of a day at the beach? You’re from out of town and really had your heart set on reclining in the sand in your bikini? Just do it. You’ll definitely be in the minority, but you won’t be alone. Though in this instance staring is not polite.

Most trips to the beach we spot a group or two rocking their swimsuits on the sand, or a lightly dressed couple walking hand in hand and daring each other to dash into the chilly surf. Twice we’ve seen a bikini-clad woman step from her car at Montara Beach to the north, walk boldly into the waves, then turn with a flip of her hair and saunter back up the beach to the parking lot. Bracing indeed.

Cold waters of Montara beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking
Cold waters of Montara State Beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

This is the Bay Area. You do you. Own it. Enjoy it.

A few parting thoughts. Stay on the trails. When visiting the tide pools, look but don’t touch. If you bring it to the beach, pack it out. (Check out our recent post on Earth Day cleanup at the beach to read about the stuff inconsiderate visitors leave behind.) Finally, remember that Moss Beach is a residential neighborhood. Respect the beach curfew and Reserve rules, don’t block roads or driveways, and please keep the noise down.

Thanks for respecting the Coastside. Our community and other guests thank you, too!

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