Pillar Point,
San Mateo County Harbor District,
San Mateo County
In brief:
1.2 mile out and back walk from the outskirts of Princeton harbor to the beach.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.2 mile out and back walk is very easy, on a completely flat trail. You can supplement the excursion with a climb to a bluff with ocean views, and scramble down a hillside for a walk on the beach.

Completely exposed.

Trail traffic:

Trail surfaces:
Dirt fire road and sandy beach.

Walking time:
Under an hour.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From CA 1 in San Mateo County (about 3 miles north of the CA 92 junction in Half Moon Bay), turn west at a traffic light onto Capistrano. Drive about 0.3 mile on Capistrano, then turn left onto Prospect. Drive 0.1 mile, then turn left onto Broadway. Almost immediately, turn right onto Princeton. Drive about 0.4 mile, then turn right onto West Point Avenue. Drive about 0.6 mile, to the parking lot on the left at the end of the road, before the entrance to the Air Force station.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead
Latitude 3730'5.94"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Several restaurants line Capistrano Road on the way to the trailhead. More extensive services, with stores, gas, and pay phones, are available in nearby Half Moon Bay, El Granada, and Moss Beach. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Dirt parking lot. No parking or entrance fees. There are portable toilets, but no drinking water or maps. There is a designated handicapped parking spot, and the trail is well-suited to wheelchairs (except in wet weather). SamTrans bus #17 stops within walking distance of the trailhead. Visit the Transit Info website for details.

Parking lot is open from sunrise to sunset. Dogs are permitted on leash only, on the trail to the point. Dogs and horses are not permitted on the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve's beaches. Equestrians don't frequent the area.

The Official Story:
San Mateo County Harbor District's Pillar Point page
SMCP's Fitzgerald page
Pillar Point Harbor 650-726-5727

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from SMCP
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) has a good map of the area, and is helpful in getting there (available from Pease Press).
• Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, Frances Spangle, and Betsy Crowder (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and a brief description of the trail to Pillar Point.

Pillar Point in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured walk.

View photos from the walk.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Although the Parking lot trail out to Pillar Point is short, mellow, and quiet, the trailhead parking lot is commonly full with cars and trucks toting surfboards. In addition to the 1.2 mile out-and-back walk to Pillar Point, the trailhead also is a staging area for surfers riding the waves at Mavericks, a famously challenging stretch of Pacific Ocean slightly to the north of Pillar Point. Rock formations and churning surf are visible from the point, but surfers are out of view, and access from the point to their beach is blocked by a rocky bluff. You can watch the surfers in action on a separate walk starting from the parking lot. Cross the paved road and hop over the yellow gate, then ascend a paved fire road. Look for one of several unsigned dirt paths on the left. After a short walk through pretty coastal scrub, you'll arrive at the edge of a bluff. From here on clear days surfers are visible, although you may want to get a better view with binoculars. Trail to Pillar PointIf you'd like to walk along the beach, you can scramble downhill via a network of steep paths. The entire coastline from Pillar Point to Moss Beach is part of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, and is a publicly-accessible beach.
     For an out-and-back walk to the point, start from the parking lot on a wide, flat dirt trail. A fence on the left guards the sensitive habitat of Pillar Point Marsh (part of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve). In the beginning stages of the walk fennel, sea fig, coyote brush, lizardtail, and pampas grass are common. The trail approaches two benches and a cluster of cypress, and bends right. There are sweeping views left,across the harbor to fishing piers, with the forested slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains ascending to the east. View of Pillar Point Harbor from the trail Steep cliffs rising up on the right are topped by the Pillar Point Air Force Tracking Station. The station is closed to the public, and you might notice severe fences on the hilltop, preventing access from the surrounding area. As the trail follows the curving shoreline, the soothing sounds of little waves fill the air. Hampered by the breakwater, water movement in the harbor is curtailed, but a tidal influence still exists, and a few common seaside plants like New Zealand spinach and sea rocket thrive in the coastline environment. California coffeeberry, buckwheat, sagebrush, wild radish, mustard, blackberry, bush lupine, and monkeyflower tangle on the right side of the trail. At 0.45 mile, the trail ends at the point. The beach at Pillar Point A breakwater stretches out into the ocean, but heed warning signs and stay off of the structure. Instead, turn right and walk along the beach. Birds, pelicans, and ducks commonly fly, swim, and scamper along the coastline, and seals can often be spotted, their heads bobbing just above the water about 50 feet off the shore. The prominent cluster of big rocks is Sail Rock. At 0.63 mile the beach ends -- further access north is blocked by the base of the rocky bluff. Turn around and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 1.26 miles
Last visit: Tuesday, October 22, 2002