“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.
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.
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?