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Why You Should Relax at Cowell Ranch Beach

June 17, 2015 by Mill Rose Inn

cowell ranch beach

Photo Credit: Miguel Vieira / Flickr

Cowell Ranch Beach is just a few miles south of Half Moon Bay and is characterized, much like other beaches in the area, by its oceanside bluffs that offer sweeping views of the Pacific and its coastline, as well as wonderful places for hiking and biking. Whether you are simply looking for a remote beach on which to relax and enjoy the area’s natural surroundings, or rather a place to get a good walk in, Cowell Ranch Beach is a great and very accessible option. You can count not only the gorgeous panoramas, but also that you’ll see some rare seasonal wildlife.

How to Get There

Cowell Ranch Beach is about three miles south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1, making it a straight shot. You’ll see a parking lot on the side of the road that is connected to a trailhead, which will take you about a half mile down the bluffs to the beach below. Open from 8 am to sunset every day, the walk down to the beach is quick and easy, with the trudge back being, while still short, quite steep but equipped with safe stairs so you can take as much time as you need.

Cowell Ranch Beach History

Once an actual working Ranch, the beach is now owned by the state parks system having been recovered and donated by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in 1987. However, a century before in the 1880s it belonged to Henry Doebbel, a German immigrant who made a fortune with San Francisco’s first waffle shop and then established a prosperous farm three miles south of where the beach is today. When economic hardships hit he was forced to mortgage his farm to Henry Cowell who foreclosed on it in 1890 with the property eventually falling into complete disrepair.

Things to See and Do

When the 1,270 acre area was acquired by POST, they began to work with the Coastal Conservancy to develop the Cowell-Purisima Trail, a 3.6 mile segment of the California Coastal Trail, that is open on weekends and holidays. The trail is easy with a brief steep section and offers breathtaking views of the ocean and Santa Cruz Mountains. Aside from three bridge crossings you will also walk past fertile farm fields and along the Purisima Creek. After a hike, unwind on the beach with a picnic and keep your eyes peeled southward toward Seal Beach where you are sure to see harbor seals sunning on the rocks on swimming in he water. If you are here in early spring you may even witness the mamas giving birth to teeny pups. Pelicans, hawks, and wildflowers are other coveted sites for this conserved area.


Half Moon Bay is a lovely destination whose coastline is scattered with beaches that are wonderful for both lounging as well as surfing, boating and fishing. If you have yet to explore this pocket of Northern California glory, start planning your trip now! If you’re curious about other things to do in the area, check out this free Half Moon Bay vacation guide full of great ideas.