More Cowell-bell!

Hike to Cowell Ranch State Beach on the San Mateo Coast

If you didn’t know it was there, you might just drive right on by it. But for those who make the 0.5-mile walk (or bike ride) to the wooden stairway leading to Cowell Ranch State Beach, the reward is sinking your toes into one of the best beaches in Northern California—with plenty of room to roam, and relax. This beach is open only on weekends and federal holidays.

From the trailhead follow the primarily flat and wide Cowell-Purisima Trail. Quiet farmland and a sea breeze surround you as you make your way towards the beach, guided by the sound of crashing waves and the scent of salty air. You’ll come upon enormous coastal views at the (marked) overlook.

On the north side of the overlook is a long wooden stairway to Cowell Ranch State Beach. While a lot of hidden beaches can feel like a bit of a tight squeeze on a busy day, the quarter mile of crescent sandy cove at Cowell Ranch means even on a crowded day you’ll be able to toss down your blanket and stretch out—no knocking elbows with strangers here! Sunny afternoons cast beautiful mauve tones over the Pacific, and the hulking cliffs backing the beach get sun-kissed too.

The water here can be reasonable to swim in, but mercurial waves on unsettled days should be avoided, and heed undertow warnings (common sense and caution should prevail). This is a beach for lollygagging or tossing a Frisbee or strolling hand in hand, sinking your feet into the soft sand.

The Cowell Ranch Beach access trail is 3 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Hwy 1. It's only open on the weekend and federal holidays. No dogs. 

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

    View
  2. Cross It Off Your Bucket List

    Crosstown Trail San Francisco may be one of the most beautiful city walks in America, passing through less-visited nooks and crannies while also taking in greatest hits, including mosaic stairways.

    View
  3. Kirby Your Enthusiasm

    Just west of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin is one of the Bay's most-accessible secluded beaches. Kirby Cove is accessed by hiking or biking a 1-mile fire road down to the beach, where the reward is an all-time classic Golden Gate view.

    View
  4. Napa's Wild Side

    It’s wine country’s Amazon. Cutting 50 miles through the famous Napa Valley and emptying into San Pablo Bay, the gentle Napa River is an ecological—and recreational—delight. And Napa Valley Paddle helps you enjoy it.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Weekend Sherpa Podcast: Take it Outside

    Adventure for your earbuds. What's new in the world of the outdoors? Listen to Weekend Sherpa co-founders discuss local hikes, beaches, bike rides, camping spots and all kinds of travel and adventure in California and beyond!

    View
  2. Secret Trail at Torrey Pines

    Find cliff climbs, sandy strolls, and secret hikes throughout “America’s finest sandy stretch" at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego County.

    View
  3. Secluded Royale

    Panoramic coastal views and a killer leg workout combine on this 2.7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike to secluded Coast Royale Beach in Orange County

    View
  4. Border Field State Park

    Border Field State Park is the southernmost point in California as well as one of the last beautiful undeveloped coastlines in the state. Visit this natural refuge for a 4.5-mile hike featuring important history and wildlife habitats, plus stunning SoCal beach scenery.

    View