The Ocean Side of Devil’s Slide Trail – Montara to Pacifica, CA

Pacifica to Montara on Devil’s Slide Trail

“We can park on either side of the tunnels,” I say to my husband as we drive north on HWY 1 to Devil’s Slide Trail.

“But I want to park on the ocean side,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say, “either side will do.” I glance over at him, he grips the steering wheel at ten and two. There’s a contemplative stare behind his sunglasses. Still, I see, he’s not picturing it.

Devil’s Slide is the link between Pacifica, CA at the north and Montara, CA at the south of San Pedro Mountain. Highway 1 used to snake around the mountain ledge with rocky ocean surging below and loose rocks sluffing down the hillside above. As of 2013, motorists now drive through the mountain via the Tom Lantros Tunnels, circumventing coastal erosion related hazards. The old highway was transformed into Devil’s Slide Trail for pedestrians and bike riders to enjoy.

Tom Lantros Tunnels from Montara

I look out for roadside signs to guide us as we rapidly approach the mountain from Montara. Fortunately, a traffic light was installed at the Devil’s Slide Trail parking area, making it easy to get across the opposite lane of traffic without holding cars up behind us. We are definitely on the ocean side. The mountain and tunnel entrance sight lines give way to coastal bluffs overlooking the seemingly indefinite Pacific.

We drive around two small connected lots a few times waiting for someone to leave. I mention again there’s a parking lot on the Pacifica side, but my husband ignores the suggestion. I know he feels he’s holding out for the ocean view – even though both sides are on the same trail. We successfully stalk a family, wait for them to pack up their SUV, and swoop into their vacated parking spot.

The first thing we do after winning our parking spot is take in the unobstructed ocean view. A cooling wind hits our skin; the sun warms us from overhead; the ocean water bobs below. We walk to the trailhead leaving the cars blasting their horns in the tunnels behind.

Cliff Side Tree

I think my husband is amazed he can walk on the road his family used to drive when he was growing up in Pacifica. You can pick up so much more detail walking the 1.3 miles than you would zooming by in a car. Yes, the rocks are still sliding down the mountain. Fencing restrains the rubble, but it’s a good idea to keep some distance. A tenacious tree grows within a cliff-side crevice resulting in a lone pine wedged into a rock. Colorful wildflowers and grasses brighten the earthy hillsides. The smell of old, salty, fish waft up to the trail. I assume birds toss their catch onto the cliffs, trying to split open shells against the rocks.

The trail’s easy to moderate incline begins about a third to halfway in. I am glad to tackle the climb first so that our return is easier. We stop at a lookout area with plenty of bench seating. The ocean and sky are blue; the sun is still out. Back on the trail, we make it to the Pacifica side parking lot. True we did take a turn away from the ocean through brown dirt-exposed hillsides for a few yards. My husband and I take a turn around the Pacifica parking lot. He shoots photos of the horse ranch below.

“So, this is the other parking lot,” I say. We turn around to start back on our ocean side walk.

What’s your favorite coast side trail, and what makes it special?

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Crabbing at Pacifica Pier, Pacifica CA

Pacifica Pier

When my husband and I visit his hometown, Pacifica CA for a day at the beach, he usually incorporates a little reminiscing, whether that’s driving by one of the homes he used to live in or telling tales about the adventures he had with his gang of friends. These friends, four teenage boys, roamed free atop their bicycles and later inside a 1975 AMC Matador. Bike or car these guys grabbed up their crab nets, slung them over a shoulder or inside the trunk, and ditched their suburban tract homes for a day out on the pier over the Pacific Ocean. I’ve heard tales of the guys dragging up six Dungeness crabs in one day, and bringing the feast home to share with their families.

John Getting Crab Net Ready

I grew up further away from the ocean in the San Francisco East Bay. My family would visit the coast, but we never tossed nets in the water to see if anything would crawl in to be our dinner. It never occurred to me until recently that I can give crabbing a try myself. It doesn’t just have to be something my husband did growing up; it could be something we do together…now.

John Casting the Net

The crab season opened in early November giving us the opportunity to get out over the water with a net and lots of hope of catching delicious Dungeness on my husband’s birthday. Before hitting the pier, we stopped by New Coastside Bait & Tackle to get geared up for crabbing. The store clerk sold us everything we needed to get started, brand new crab net, a gauge to make sure any crabs we caught were big enough to take and attractive bait – frozen blocks of squid and sardines, yum. Other things we brought with us out on the pier were protective gloves for handling sea life, a cooler to store bait and anything we would catch and an always handy pocket knife – used for exposing bait guts.

Me and My Parents, Robin and Phil

My parents and one of my husband’s friends from his carefree Pacifica teenage days, Scott joined us for the birthday crabbing expedition. John and I arrived first to stake our spot on the pier. We passed fishermen lining both sides of the wood-planked cement-walled pier. They expertly cast their fishing pole lines yards out into the ocean below, grooved to boom boxes blasting music and teased each other with no concern for political correctness as they waited for something in the depths to take their bait. John picked a spot between fishermen who’d been out there for hours already, near the end of the pier where the structure takes a right turn as our home base.

He took out a few thawing squid and sardines, roughed them up with slits to their bellies, and stuffed them inside the bait cage attached to the inside of the crab net. He tied the end of the crab net’s rope line to a lamp post. We unfurled the full length of the rope, and he tossed the basket over the side of the pier like it a giant Frisbee. When the net landed in the water, it settled directly below us. Then the waiting for a crab to walk into the net began.

Inspecting a Catch of Ocean Critters

Our guests arrived shortly after we put the net in the water. John hauled the net up a few times to find nothing in. We messed around with the bait a little to see if we could make it stink more to attract a crab. The hard thing is, we don’t know when a crab is walking through the net. If we leave it down there for lengths of time, a crab could walk up, eat all the bait and get off the net before we pull it up. After a few hours we got some activity, a cluster of muscles rolled into the net and a small fish but no crab. We put all these back into the ocean. The next time we pulled up the net there was a crab in it but it was too small to keep, and it was a female. I made John bring it up to the pier so I could take a picture and document that we were somewhat successful.

A Small Crab

After this, John felt like we might be on a roll and closer to catching a crab big enough to take home. Scott told us a story of how John made him stay on the beach for hours when they were teenagers because John was so excited that he might catch something. Crabbing is like gambling, you may catch a jackpot, but you have to keep spending time to win, at some point you need to pack it up and go home.

We didn’t catch a Dungeness crab dinner, but we did stop by the grocery store and bought a few crabs in honor of John’s birthday!

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