I had recently been appointed on the CSPA board of directors, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to not only familiarize myself with the parks but also enjoy an “Amazing Race” style challenge with my family. Everyone agreed (they had no choice!) and we headed out in the late morning for our adventure. The team consisted of my wife Tena, my youngest son Ward, his girlfriend Coco and myself.

The most efficient route for us was to start at Gray Whale Cove State Beach to the north and continue to visit all the other parks as we made our way south to Año Nuevo. The trip started by descending the 147 stairs to the scenic gem of Gray Whale Cove beach. Lingering only long enough to dip our toes in the icy Pacific and take a group photo, we all high-fived to mark the beginning of a memorable day. After Gray Whale, a decision needed to be made. We couldn’t hike in every park as there wouldn't be enough time in the day. So, to hit them all, we needed to keep our visits to a few of the parks very short! At the next three parks: McNee Ranch/Montara Mountain, Montara State Beach, and Half Moon Bay State Beach, we simply entered the parks, took a group photo at the sign, and continued on our way. Time was ticking!

Our next stop was Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park where we walked the level one-mile long path, crossed the arched stone bridge over Mills Creek, and visited the fascinating Mills Barn which dates from the late 1800s. 


The Italian stone mason-built bridge at Mills Barn in Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park.
Picnic benches at Butano State Park.
The interpretative signage along the trail that connects Pebble Beach with Bean Hollow State Beach.

Our tour continued with a beautiful drive down Highway 1 making stops at Cowell Ranch, San Gregorio, Pomponio, and Pescadero State Beaches followed by a short walk to view the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve — the most extensive wetland along the coast of the San Francisco peninsula. 

We now had 10 park visits under our belts and had built up an appetite. So, being in Pescadero, we stopped at the famous Arcangeli Deli for lunch. The next stop was the picnic benches at Butano State Park where we ate our sandwiches surrounded by coast redwoods and mixed evergreens. Recharged and back on the coast, we enjoyed the incredible beach and bluff views along short coastal trail that connects Pebble Beach with Bean Hollow State Beach, learning about the area from the interpretative signage along the way. 

Despite some trepidation from my family before we started our “15 parks-in-a-day” challenge, the cooperative weather, clear landscapes and salty air reinforced our connection to the beautiful coastal area we call home. 

Brushing the sand from our feet as we got back in the car at the Bean Hollow parking lot, we had only two parks left: Pigeon Point Light Station and Año Nuevo State Park. These are the crown jewels of the Coastside State Park system. Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is a coastal treasure drawing sightseers from around the world, and it was rewarding to introduce it to Coco who was a first-time visitor. We discussed the upcoming tower restorations, awed at the first-order Fresnel lens on display in the fog signal building and searched for whales from scenic observation deck. Last, but certainly not least, we reached our southern-most destination, Año Nuevo State Park. We didn't have time to take a self-guided elephant seal viewing walk, so we decided to take the Cove Beach Trail and watch the surfers and shorebirds at Cove Beach instead.

With our mission complete, we drove home exhausted but buzzing with our accomplishment. After visiting 15 parks in a day, I’m not sure I would recommend this approach to everyone, simply because there is so much to explore, and you’ll want time to savor the unique beauty of each site. Maybe visiting two or three park visits together in a single day is a better idea (and less exhausting!). A walk through the redwoods followed by a picnic lunch on a stunning beach? Tide pool explorations combined with a lighthouse visit? Whichever combination you choose, you’ll find extraordinary beauty and return home with a new appreciation of our Coastside State Parks. Don’t forget to tag us in your social media posts so we can share your experience. #CSPA

And happy Father’s Day!

Article written by Erik Watts, Coastside State Parks Association Board Member