Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, California. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

What’s so Special About Martins Beach? We Crash the Gate and Sashay Past a Cop to Find Out

If the landowner had never blocked access to Martins Beach, we probably never would have heard of this controversial stretch of sand south of Half Moon Bay, much less visited. So, what’s so special about Martins? We decided to crash the gate and find out.

Remember, we’re relatively new to the Coastside. We learned about the long-simmering access issue only last week when the San Francisco 1st District Court of Appeals upheld an order to open the gate that blocks the road to Martins Beach.

According to news reports, public access was blocked in 2010, two years after a Silicon Valley venture capitalist purchased a 53-acre coastal parcel that included the road and the beach for $32.5 million. Lawsuits, protests, arrests, acquittals, rulings, appeals, legislation and much angst too exhausting to enumerate here has ensued. Read the Surfrider Foundation timeline for additional detail.

Our mission last Sunday? To find out what we’ve been missing. Frankly, most of the news coverage offered few details about what lies at the end of Martins Beach Road. Just how amazing is this beach?

Parking at Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay, California. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
We arrived early in the afternoon and found about 10 cars parked perpendicular to Highway 1 in a patch of dirt just outside the gate, with room for plenty more. The motorized gate was indeed closed, but it was easy to walk around, through or over. No big whoop.


Gate at Martins Beach near Half Moon Bay, California. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking
The bigger challenge, we feared, might be the San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputy parked on the other side. Nope. He gave us a big smile as we strolled by with passable bravado: “You’re welcome to go down there,” he called out. “It’s a beautiful place.”

A tad disappointed at missing our chance to be outlaws, we strolled the half mile descent to the beach unmolested.

We were surprised to find an enclave of about 50 alternately fun and funky beach homes in various states of repair lining several streets terraced into the hillside above the water. Most appeared occupied. One report said that the leases on the homes expire in 2021 and plans for the property past that date are unclear. But for now, all the residents presumably have a pass code to the gate. We loved the mural near the bottom of the hill.

The beach and the end of the road extend several hundred feet to the left, stretching to the foot of an impressive bluff. To the right, the beach drifts out of sight behind a shorter bluff. We went right, picking our way across rotting seaweed infested with sand flies – it wasn’t very pleasant – before rounding a corner to a cleaner crescent of sand fronting a cove. Better. Much better!

The cove is protected by a “shark tooth” rock with a keyhole just off shore. Very unique, though we fear it also looks a bit like the Pile of Poo emoji. (Go ahead, click on the link.) We also spotted tide pools at the north end of the harbor along a larger bluff. Regulars told us that caves in the ocean-facing side are accessible at low tide.

Pelicans, gulls and other sea birds alternately perched on the rocks offshore, circled or dove for food. Dozens of seals bobbed in the water with only their eyes visible above the waterline, peering at the beachgoers like a colony of Kilroys. A trio of surfers plied baby waves near the shark tooth. A fisherman said the perch were biting. A couple and their dog enjoyed a picnic beneath a breezy makeshift shelter crafted from an uprooted cypress tree and sticks of driftwood. Slacker paradise, indeed.

While the Geek made liberal use of her Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens (the one with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time), MontaraManDan made friends with a chatty group of young professionals and artists, an all-Millenial recasting of “Friends.” No one could explain the mystery of the highly engineered “Will You Marry Me” sign perched atop the bluff as if it were the Hollywood Hills.

What a charming place. Sand, surf, tide pools, caves, sea birds, seals and a shark tooth rock, not to mention three bars of data on our phones. You might wander 20 miles of coastline to find all of these special features, and we found them all at one lovely little crescent of sand. AND a marriage proposal, though we wondered whether the sign spawns as many awkward misunderstandings as special moments.

I suppose you could understand why someone might want to keep a place like Martins Beach to himself. Fortunately, the California Coastal Act of 1976 mandates public access to all California beaches up to the high tide line.

So come on down. The courts don’t mind. The sheriff doesn’t mind. But with rights come responsibilities. There are no services at the beach, so plan ahead. If you bring it in, pack it out. (See what we found on our beach during an Earth Day cleanup here.) Respect the neighborhood. Treat the beach like it belongs to you … because it sorta does.

Postscript: We made a second visit to Martins Beach on Aug. 16 to enjoy a rare sunny afternoon. They don’t call it “Fogust” for nothing. Some of the photos from the second visit are included above. The gate was still closed. 

10 thoughts on “What’s so Special About Martins Beach? We Crash the Gate and Sashay Past a Cop to Find Out

  1. I just read your post and Thank You. I recently moved here from the Adirondack Mountains and have enjoyed going to the various beaches, but have been looking for an out-of-way place that isn’t overloaded with people. Your pictures are great and thanks again. If you ever venture back east and want an out-of-way place to visit that is quaint, friendly and beautiful send me a post and I’ll give your directions. I’ve driven it more than once in my life. In subject line put going to the Adirondacks and I definitely won’t delete it.

    1. MontaraManDan here … my family spent a week at Tupper Lake on the way home from Expo 67 when I was 9. I still recall the beauty of the Adirondacks. We’ve been on the Coastside only a couple of years and enjoy exploring!

  2. Thank you….what makes Martin’s Beach, so special, are the footprints in the sand, that you cannot see, unless you grew up there , unless you walked the beach with your Grandpa. Picked up special shells to take back to the cabin,carefully cleaned and put in special glass pitchers…the memories are countless.

    1. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. We are curious where you saw the post? The viewership had been petering out and suddenly we had 80 new views overnight driven by Facebook. Someone or a site must have shared but we can’t figure out who or what? A happy morning mystery. 🙂 Thanks again!

  3. Started 2018 on Martins Beach and enjoyed your blog while seeking information on who created the “WILL YIU MARRY ME” sign on top of the bluff – can’t find the answer and hope someone will add that to your great piece

    1. Thanks, Marcia. Others have asked as well. Early last month the sign was visible from Highway 1 as we drove north from Big Sur.

  4. Can someone please tell me where to find the “Will you marry me sign?” Like specific instructions on how to view it from the beach? Please? Thank you!!

    1. Thanks for your note! The post you are referencing is from 2017. It’s quite possible the “will you marry me sign” is gone by now. The sign was located on the hillside behind the beach. It was pretty visible.

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