Redwoods Hike and South Coast Tour
The best part of my job is being able to share this amazing place that I call home with our visitors! This tour started on a sunny Saturday morning at the Ritz Carlton of Half Moon Bay. Our guests were a lovely couple visiting from Pennsylvania. Luckily they were happy to heed our advice of starting this one early, as parking at the nearby redwoods park fills up fast!
We arrived at the coastal redwoods in less than ten minutes after leaving the Ritz.
"The redwoods are so close by!" commented the wife as we claimed the best parking spot. The early morning sun cast a golden hue on the flora still sparkling with morning dew. Purisima Creek sounded almost like a river rushing by the car; this is the end of a record rainfall winter, after all. The three of us took a moment to take in the tranquility of the place before setting out on our hike. We were struck with a profound sense of solitude, being the first to arrive at the park that morning. Away from the sounds of traffic and voices, we had been transported to another world.
From the road we could see a few redwood trees, but the true scale of these amazing centuries-old organisms does not become apparent until you actually stand right next to the tree trunk. Once again I reveled in the joy of showing these trees to somebody who's never seen them before.
This is an excellent photo opportunity. A photo of yourself standing miniaturized next to the biggest trees on earth is the best way to share their size with friends and family. We stopped at the first trees for several minutes taking photos before moving on.
“So, what kinds of animals live here?” asked the husband. I mentioned the shy animals that are hard to spot, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and the occasional black bear.
“We probably won’t see any of those up here. Banana slugs, however, are almost a guaranteed sighting!” I answered.
“What’s a banana slug?” asked the wife. She had never heard of these animals before.
Standing in the redwoods on a wet morning, I was sure I could show her right away. I looked off the side of the trail, saw a telltale yellow band, and pointed at it.
“There. That’s a banana slug.”
The slug was a small adult, about 3 inches long and still brightly yellow colored. After spotting the first, we looked around and realized we were completely surrounded by the animals. With all the rain, they’d had an enormously successful reproductive cycle. Baby slugs and adults mingled all around us. The visitors observed the animals with the usual curious combination of wonder and disgust.
The redwood forest is a place of absolutes, home to the biggest trees on Earth, the (cousins of) the biggest slugs alive today, and featuring some of the oldest species found on our planet. And on this quiet morning, with the golden sun turning green as it filtered through the redwood canopy, we all felt as if we were in the most beautiful place on Earth.
This group was interested in checking out the south coast as well, the area south of Half Moon Bay closer to the historic community of Pescadero. However, they had not decided what to do yet. We gave them some options and left it up to them. I absolutely LOVE flexible tours like this. The freedom to follow whims makes the tour just that much more personal.
During our redwoods hike, we discussed options. The couple had been disappointed when they went looking for marine mammals at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to no avail. I told them about Año Nuevo, the marine mammal pupping site that provides a similar almost-guarantee of spotting the animals in question.
“It’s a bit of a hike,” I warned. That was no problem for them. We opted to head south towards Año Nuevo. On our way out of the redwoods, the crowds had arrived. The laughter of children running and the chatter of friends on vacation permeated the once-tranquil parking lot. We surrendered our spot and headed south.
The drive from Half Moon Bay past Pescadero to Año Nuevo along highway 1 is an amazing one. The sheer cliffs of San Gregorio State Beach behind the artichoke fields provide vista unique to our section of coastline.
We arrived to Año Nuevo and hiked out. We learned the elephant seals were molting, meaning they were shedding their winter layers of skin. This looks kind of like the animals are suffering some sort of horrible skin disorder. The docents informed us that this is perfectly normal and healthy.
Elephant seals are very big, impressively so. We did not see any adult males, the very biggest of the species. They do not molt with the females and juveniles. Still, we were not disappointed. The beach was littered with mothers and pups, lounging about and throwing sand over themselves.
By the time we got back to the car, we were quite hungry. We headed to downtown Pescadero for a quick lunch.
We stopped at Arcangeli, a bakery and deli on the main strip in Pescadero. The downtown was packed. We struggled to find parking and encountered a huge line at the deli. I had never seen the town so crowded, but so it goes on this coastside. It seems we have more and more visitors every month. And it’s a good thing! These communities rely heavily on tourism for their livelihood.
We grabbed some sandwiches and some fresh-baked chocolate chip scones and chowed down. With no patience for waiting, hunger gnawing at our bellies, we stood outside the deli and ate. The food, especially the fresh baked goods, was awesome (as usual).
We had a lot of fun on this tour, and I really appreciate groups like this that are flexible and just want to have a good time. I feel so lucky to be able to share my beautiful home with wonderful people like this.
Thanks for reading!
-Michael Klear, HMB Coastside Tours Guide & Blogger