Fitzgerald Marine Reserve,
San Mateo County Parks,
San Mateo County

In brief:
This 1.2 mile loop is an easy excursion along a bluff, then dropping to a beach with very good tidepooling.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.2 mile loop hike is easy. There is minimal elevation change in this narrow park which is comprised of shoreline and bluff. However, be cautious on steep, erosive paths leading down to the ocean, and on the slippery rocks of the tidal reef.

A few pockets of shade, otherwise completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trail and rocky coastline.

Hiking time:
1 hour or less.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 1 in Moss Beach (San Mateo County), turn west onto California Avenue (on the north side of town). Drive west on California to the end of the road, about 0.2 mile. Turn right onto Lake and almost immediately, turn right into the parking lot.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3731'26.93"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, gas, stores, and restaurants back in Moss Beach. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Paved lot with parking for about 38 vehicles. Restrooms on site. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not wheelchair accessible. SamTrans bus #17 stops within walking distance of the trailhead.

Reserve hours vary seasonally, but in general it is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. No dogs or bikes.

The Official Story:
SMCP's Fitzgerald page
Park office 650-728-3584

Map Choices/More Info:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) is a great guide (available from Pease Press).
Map from SMCP and this one as well
Half Moon Bay Tide Table
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order this book from
• 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann Marie Brown (order this book from has a simple map and featured hike.
Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

View photos from this hike
(old; trail improvements aren't shown here)

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Fitzgerald Marine ReserveTrailhead  boasts some of the best tidepools in the bay area. You won't get much of a hike here (even though trudging through sand can be exhausting), but there's a path along the bluff and, combined with a stroll on the beach, you can create a mile long loop, with out and back extensions through the sand to the north or south. Families will probably want to stick to the sandy beach and rocky reefs, where tide pools emerge twice a day at low tides. If you visit when the tide is high, the pools are not accessible, but this is still a pretty and quiet beach, and armed with binoculars you might see harbor seals and even whales. Bring sport sandals if you plan on exploring the tide pools, and remember that collecting is prohibited in the reserve.bridge
      From the trailhead (parking lot), walk on Lake back toward California. Just past California, on the right side of the road near a no parking sign, look for the signed trail. Turn right, cross the creek on a lovely bridge (there used to be a plank), and you'll arrive on the fringes of a cypress forest. (There are quite a few paths throughout this small hunk of land, so you can explore without fear of getting lost, but keep an eye on younger children, for there are steep, unfenced dropoffs further up the bluff.) Bear right at a signed split, and the path heads toward the ocean. When the path splits again, bear left. The trail down to the ocean is visible to the right, across San Vicente Creek. After ascending a few feet, bear right and walk along a fenced stretch of trailtrailThere are sweeping views past the crumbling edge of the bluff to the ocean,and sometimes all the way north to Mount Tam. Although the shaded cypress grove permits few understory plants, you should be able to pick out shrubs of coyote brush and lupine thriving downslope to the west. The rusty orange stuff that covers many cypress trees along the bluff is trentepohlia, an algae. The narrow trail creeps along the bluff's edge, heading south. As the path draws close to the cypress grove again, you'll have the option to walk through the trees, or stay near the edge of the bluff. Regardless, keep walking roughly south and eventually the trail drops downhill a few feet, bisects a grove of willows, and approaches the preserve boundary near Cypress and Beach Streets. Look to the right for a steep steps that accesses the beach. Turn right and descend.View from the bluff
      You can walk south on the beach all the way to Pillar Point, or turn right and walk through the sand north. During low tide, rocky reefs appear, and you might see a variety of sea creatures, including small fish, anemones, starfish, goose barnacles, tiny crabs, limpets, urchins, abalone, and kelps. Be sure to keep an eye on the waves as you explore, and remember the cardinal rule of tide pooling: never turn your back on the ocean. On my visits I've seen lots of sea life in this large reef, and the stretch of beach was nearly deserted (although the place is packed on low-tide weekends). It's fun to sit and watch the seagulls pick through the tidepools, but look further out on the reefs for harbor seals, who are commonly spotted during low tide. TidepoolsIf you're walking on the beach when the tide is in, you may not be able to creep past the point and continue the loop. Even when the tide is low, you'll make slow progress through a rocky area. Once you're past the point the beach broadens and there's a gap in the reef. This beach is the reserve's main drag, and you'll likely see lots of excited kids swinging strips of bull kelp and splashing about at the water's edge. There's another smaller reef opposite the obvious path that heads back to the trailhead. When you're ready, hop across the creek, walk uphill, and follow the path back to the reserve gate, with the parking lot just across the street.

Total distance: about 1.20 miles, or more
Last hiked: Friday, September 30, 2001