Winter brings the strongest ocean swells of the year, and there's no place more famed for big, gnarly surf than Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, home to the annual Mavericks competition. But you don't have to wait for the event to enjoy this prime ocean-side landscape. Just beyond sight of the legendary Mavericks break, the bluffs north of Pillar Point offer one of the nicest ocean-watching walks on the coast. The trail we like is 150 feet above the ocean alongside rugged cliffs that descend to a protected beach, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Walking along the continent's crust, you'll have unobstructed views of Half Moon Bay to the south and Point Montara to the north. The trail ends after about a mile, but you can continue a bit farther through a residential neighborhood to the historic Moss Beach Distillery; enjoy a hot toddy, then head back the way you came.
Moss Beach Distillery, 140 Beach Way, Moss Beach; 650-728-5595. The food at Moss Beach Distillery is pricey (overpriced, in our opinion); bring your own snacks if you're watching your budget. To reach the trailhead: Drive 25 miles down Hwy 1, south of San Francisco. Turn right on Capistrano Rd. in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Turn left onto Prospect Way and right onto Broadway. Make an immediate left onto Harvard and follow it through the industrial area. Turn right on West Point Ave. and continue to the Pillar Point dirt parking lot on the left. Begin the hike by going through the yellow gate across from the parking lot. Follow the paved road uphill toward the antenna. Follow a dirt trail on the left when the road curves right. This is the beginning of the bluff trail. The trail ends at Ocean Blvd.; continue walking a few blocks to the distillery. Both the trail and the distillery are dog-friendly!