Cowell Ranch has been farmed since the mid-1800s, first by a 16-year-old immigrant from Germany, but later by Henry Cowell who acquired the property due to foreclosure.
When the Cowell Foundation decided to sell the ranch in 1986, it was purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a nonprofit land trust serving San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. To assure permanent protection for this land, POST sold conservation easements—permanent deed restrictions, which include the development rights on the property—to the California State Coastal Conservancy. POST also donated beach access to the State of California, providing a unique agricultural view trail to the new Cowell Beach. After protecting the land and assuring recreational opportunities, POST sold the ranch to local farmers.
California State Parks opened access to the beach in 1995.