Location: Beaches skirting the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary; Santa Cruz, Capitola, Moss Landing, Monterey (California)
Type: Seaside, mostly beaches
Distance: 40 miles; 7.5 to 12 miles daily
Duration: Five days, four nights
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous; soft sand and terrain can be strenuous on Monterey County beaches
Highlights: Incredible beaches and dunes, both populated and remote; inns, great food and drink (s'mores on the beach)
I’ve taken countless strolls on the beaches in the twenty plus years I’ve lived in Santa Cruz County, but I did not appreciate nor truly understand the Monterey Bay until I walked inn to inn along 40 miles of its beaches from Santa Cruz to Monterey.
This is a walk, timed for low tides, that transports you from bluff to dune, from surfer’s paradise and the screams of the boardwalk to the solitude of nothing but the surf and your feet upon miles of untracked sands. Flip off your phone and you are practically alone in this universe, save for your companions and a perch fisherman or two.
I’ve taken countless strolls on the beaches in the twenty plus years I’ve lived in Santa Cruz County, but I did not appreciate nor truly understand the Monterey Bay until I walked the 40 miles of its beaches from Santa Cruz to Monterey.
This is a walk, timed for low tides, that transports you from bluff to dune, from surfer’s paradise and the screams of the Boardwalk to the solitude of nothing but the surf and your feet upon miles of untracked sands. You have choices: turn on your 3G phone and you are in constant touch with the world, flip it off and you are practically alone in this universe, save for your companions and a perch fisherman or two.
You can walk this trip inn to inn on your own, but I booked with Slow Adventure to go the pampered route, complete with bag lunches, mapped out routes, and luggage transport. After years of experience leading walks in the area, Margaret Leonard has put together a self-guided tour with detailed route maps, historic notes and tips about the marine mammals, birds and flora you may encounter.
All of the accommodations are excellent; with Santa Cruz’s Dream Inn setting a standard with meals and a restful bed that match its view of the wharf, Boardwalk and beaches. We had a delightful fire pit on the beach, complete with s’mores at Seascape Beach Resort. The Captain’s Inn features a 1906-vintage main house and views of the marsh and dunes at Moss Landing, a charming fishing village. Full spa services are available at the Sanctuary Beach Resort.
Walkers have to negotiate crossing the mouths of the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers. Slow Adventure takes the potential danger and discomfort out of these traverses. The depth of the rivers at the ocean can vary wildly depending on tide, winds, rainfall and water district diversions. Slow Adventure provides an auto shuttle if these crossings are too deep or treacherous.
A bit of pampering is deserved, as the further south you go, the more challenging the walking becomes. The stroll is easy where the sand is packed, (and so people are packed on these beaches) but as you walk with dunes skirting your route, the soft sand forms rolling terrain that requires significant legwork. My group collected some blisters and aches along with pocketfuls of polished beach glass. One the final leg of the trip, Slow Adventure gives you some paved options if you need relief from the sand.
But it is what I saw on the trip that was a revelation:
· Killer whales off Seacliff State Beach
· Nearly 40 species of birds
· Sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and river otters
· Beached fishing floats from China, Norway, Korea and Japan (the gyre collects and deposits flotsam and jetsam)
· Traversing more than a dozen California State Beaches
Making this trek on consecutive days gives a sense of immersion that you can’t get any other way. The experience has a way of revealing little secrets, about one’s self and of this beautiful swath of golden sand along the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.