McNee Ranch, part of Montara State Beach, is located on the west face of Montara Mountain, north of Half Moon Bay and south of Pacifica. The mountain is a northern spur of the Santa Cruz Mountains and features the only undisturbed coastal mountain habitat found on over 100 miles of coastline. It is an ecological island of natural biological diversity. Its steep slopes have minimized human impact, making it home to plant and animal communities found nowhere else in the world.

The park is open to hiking, biking, horseback riding, and walking dogs on leash. Please use courtesy on the trails, travel at a safe speed, and announce yourself when approaching others.

The trails are moderate to rigorous, offering spectacular views of the coast. Park trails lead to North Peak (1,898 feet) where, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific, San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes, and Mount Diablo. Be prepared for the weather to change quickly with incoming fog and wind or simply from elevation changes. Wear sturdy shoes with good traction, as the steep trails can get very slippery.

A few cars can park at the Martini Creek entrance, located on the east side of Highway 1 just north of the town of Montara, and across from Montara State Beach. Cars can also park in the Montara Beach lots or in the Gray Whale Cove Beach parking lot. The Gray Whale Cove lot is the trailhead for the Gray Whale Cove Trail into McNee Ranch.

Sign at Martini Creek entrance. (Photo: CSPA archive)


Montara Mountain, whose slopes are in McNee Ranch and San Pedro Valley County Park, is a veritable ecological island surrounded by development. The plant communities found there include coastal scrub and coastal chaparral (the only location on the San Mateo coast). Small riparian corridors can be found in gulches, and spring wildflowers like checkerbloom and Douglas iris can be found gracing the ocean bluffs and blooming in profusion on the hills of McNee Ranch.

Montara Mountain is granitic, a rare feature along this stretch of coast. This unique soil composition—along with the variety of other soil types, exposures, and elevations—is probably the reason for the plant diversity found here, including some rare and endangered plants.

McNee Ranch is also a great place for birding. Keep your eyes open for California quail, ravens, flickers, hummingbirds, wrentits, and other species. The number of hawks jumps in fall as they migrate south along the Pacific flyway.

Look for tracks of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals. Mountain lions live in the area, but are rarely sighted.

Trails are combination of pathways and former roadbeds. (Photo: © Avis Boutell)
Lupine in flower. (Photo: © Avis Boutell)
The McNee Ranch picnic area is on the flanks of the mountain. (Photo: CSPA archive)


Duncan McNee was an early California land baron, and the McNee Ranch was a small portion of his 800,000-acre holdings. Born in Canada in 1849, he came to San Francisco in 1864, where he first worked as a clerk in the U. S. Land Office, and then started a dredging business. Later he invested in mines, oil fields, and timber throughout the West, and is said to have owned mineral rights to 14,000 acres in California.

A portion of what is now McNee Ranch was part of the Rancho San Pedro Mexican land grant, which was deeded to Francisco Sanchez. His home, the Sanchez Adobe, still stands in Pacifica. The land that comprises McNee Ranch was used for cattle grazing from Spanish times until fairly recently. American ranchers also grew grain and hay on the slopes. In the 1950s, it was part of a dairy ranch.

The military commandeered the ranch during World War II, building bunkers that can still be seen above Gray Whale Cove Overlook, as well as atop the promontories above Devil’s Slide and Gray Whale Cove. Locals were warned not to trespass, and with good reason. The ranch became a commando-training center where live ammunition was used.

The State of California purchased the 625-acre ranch in the late 1970s and officially opened it as part of the State Park in 1984.