Slightly off the beaten path in the coastal town of Moss Beach, one will come across Pillar Point Bluff, a 220-acre county park with gorgeous ocean views, welcoming of hikers, cyclists and dog walkers. A short hike with a relatively steep incline will bring you to the top of a mostly flat bluff offering panoramic views of Pillar Point Harbor, the world famous Mavericks surf break and working farmlands. Visitors may feel like they have wings as they walk or ride along soaring songbirds and feel the cool ocean breeze on their face.
The Jean Lauer Trail, an ADA accessible dirt-packed path, traces the top of the bluff. It can be accessed from the parking lot and is open to all including dogs on leash. Be sure to clean up after your dog — small bags and disposal receptacles are conveniently provided at the base of the trail.
And as for the giant “golf ball” looming in the background, often shrouded in fog, that is the Pillar Point Air Force Station. It’s mission is to track missiles fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc. The large radome encloses a 44 foot telemetry dish that receives signals from vehicles in flight.
The hike atop Pillar Point Bluff offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. The beach below the bluff is called Ross’ Cove and is part of the Montara State Marine Reserve- dogs are not allowed here. It is designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which means no injury, damage, take or possession of living, geologic, or cultural marine resources is allowed. Visitors may sometimes spot marine mammals such as harbor seals and California sea lions sunbathing on the rocks or beaches below the bluffs.
The park’s sensitive wetlands and coastal scrub provide habitat for threatened and endangered species like the California red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake. Pillar Point Bluff is also a wonderful spot to watch for birds, so keep an eye out for songbirds, cormorants, hawks, pelicans and egrets. Due to the park’s sensitive habitat and ongoing erosion of the bluffs, it is important to stay on designated trails and use caution- both on the bluff and on the beach below.
At one point, Pillar Point Bluff was slated for commercial development, but this idea came to an end in 2004 when the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) purchased this windswept outlook. Along the blufftop, POST added a segment of the 1,200 mile California Coastal Trail. In 2011, POST transferred the property to San Mateo County Parks to be added to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The Jean Lauer Trail is named in memory of a POST staffer who loved the coast.