Waterfall at Garrapata State Beach. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Visit the Beach and Bluffs at Garrapata; With a Name Like “Tick State Park,” it’s Gotta be Good

The Coastside founding fathers stumbled upon a sweet brand when they came up with “Half Moon Bay.” Who can resist, right? But 100 miles to the south, the bureaucrats who named Garrapata State Park and Beach missed the mark badly if they were trying to evoke seaside romance.

Garrapata — that’s “tick” in Spanish, as in the eight-legged blood-suckers — deserves better.

Big Sur-IMG_4502MontaraManDan and the Geek stopped to experience Garrapata’s beach and bluffs on the way home from checking out Big Sur north of the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge collapse on Highway 1. (Find that story and pics here.) No, we didn’t stop to celebrate “The Year of the Tick.” Garrapata simply offered the first stretch of open coastline coming up from Big Sur. The mountainsides and canyons of Garrapata east of Highway 1 remain closed due to fire and flood damage.

Weather, water and terrain define beach experiences up and down the California coast between San Francisco and Big Sur. Coastside, we love Montara State Beach for the big waves that bring out some of the best surfers on The Peninsula. (Check out the Geek’s surfer pics on the Coastside Slacking Instagram feed here.) The comparative calm of Surfers Beach at Half Moon Bay attracts casual surfers along with local families and visitors who want to dip their toes in the frigid Pacific Ocean. Further down the shoreline at windswept Waddell Beach, just above Santa Cruz, conditions are perfect for kite surfers who jockey for waves and hang time.

Located several miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Garrapata’s beach and bluffs offer a sharp contrast to the intentionally calm and quaint resort community. The shoreline felt wild and untamed. Plus, you can visit Garrapata for free. Try finding a worthy freebie at Carmel.

At the beach, the clouds hung low and the surf, hurried ashore by 12- to 15-foot waves, ran hard and randomly against, over and around the sea stacks in the shallows and rocky shoreline. Shrouded in mist, numerous driftwood huts fashioned by creative tourists took on the aura of a mini Stonehenge by the sea. We could almost imagine a new land creature flopping from the surf and take its first breath.

Stairs provide access to the beach but spray from the brutal waves can be felt even on the cliffs. We saw two youngsters nearly swamped by a particularly big wave while wading under the supervision of an adult who apparently missed the signs advising against surf play. Only after nearly being washed away were the children called back from water’s edge. Oy.

Up top on the bluffs, we particularly enjoyed the trails and overlooks on the north end of the park. The bluffs were thick with coyote brush, California sagebrush, sticky monkeyflower and dozens of other varieties of coastal plants that offered the Geek a colorful tapestry of detail to photograph. When your done gawking at the magnificent vistas, don’t forget to lean in and enjoy the detail. We also enjoyed visiting with the smattering of out-of-town tourists wandering the coastal scrub, feeling undeservedly wise and local by freely sharing our observations about Big Sur access to the south. We let a solo painter work undisturbed.

If ticks are what you’re seeking, you might find them here. The online brochure also warns of rattle snakes and poison oak. We experienced none of the above. But then we stayed on the trail. Imagine that? And we can always count on the Geek’s keen poison oak radar to keep us clear of toxicodendron diversilobum. Perhaps those hazards reside primarily on the other side of the highway.

Big Sur-IMG_4778
Painter celebrating Garrapata State Beach’s lack of poison oak.

With Highway 1 closed 18 miles to the south of Garrapata, now is a fine time for a visit. Beach and bluff foot traffic was light on the weekday we visited. Besides, you can amuse your Facebook friends by checking in to “Tick State Park and Beach.” Expect a flurry of “like,” “wow” and “haha” emoji in response. And perhaps a “sad,” “angry” or “pride” emoji from Fred, the Facebook friend who loves to participate but doesn’t quite understand social media.

Black Oystercatcher, which is common along the Pacific Coast.
Fred’s profile picture that he uploaded accidentally. Just kidding, this is a Black Oystercatcher, which is common in Northern California.

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