Red-legged frog at Laguna Salada
Red-legged frog 2
Red-legged frog 3
Not too far south of San Francisco on the Coast Highway, you come to Pacifica. A sleepy little town of 38,000 (well, it seems sleepy to big-city dwellers), it has three main beaches along its 2-1/4 mile coastline. If you start at the Pacifica Pier, you can walk south along Sharp Park Beach (bordering Sharp Park golf course), to the site of Mori Point Inn, built by Stefano Mori, an Italian immigrant farmer in the 1870s. The roadhouse was taken over by his son Jack, who turned it into a speakeasy during Prohibition of the ’20s, smuggling in boot-legged Canadian whiskey from offshore. The feds caught up with Jack in 1923, confiscating 24,000 cases of liquor and closing down the establishment.
A steep flight of wooden stairs (now known as Bootlegger’s Steps) leads directly up to a high bluff overlooking the ocean, where you can walk along the coast toward Half Moon Bay. The uninterrupted view of the Pacific is breathtaking.
If you don’t climb the steps, and instead turn left at Mori Point, you can walk along a restored wetland area at the end of the lake (Laguna Salada) that is the habitiat of the endangered California red-legged frog. I had ventured here a few times, but never saw a frog until I met some locals, who told me exactly where to look. The walk also encounters crows, gulls, unabashed squirrels, lizards, and lots of other wildlife.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Just 20 miles south of San Francisco in the town of Moss Beach, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve sits placidly on the fog-dappled coast. Renowned for its rugged beaches, tidepools, sea lions, the occasional sea otter, pelicans and other sea birds, the reserve has been identified by marine biologists as “one of the most biodiverse intertidal zones in California.” It is also a vantage point for whale watchers. Humpback, blue, and gray whales can been seen periodically from a high promontory, and a look downward reveals a beach full of harbor seal moms and their pups, who are protected by the park.
You can descend a long stairway to see them at beach level, but visitors are cautioned to stay 300 feet away so as not to interfere with seal family business. Along the trail at the top of the cliff, you walk through carefully planted rows of aging pines on the grounds of what was once the expansive Smith-Doelger residence in the early 20th century. Farther down, you walk on parts of the foundations, faced by massive palm trees that once graced an elegant entrance.
Walking south from the reserve, the road winds alongside residences perched on the cliff, with beautiful gardens and huge plate-glass windows facing the ocean.
You can walk right up to the Moss Beach Distillery, a historic restaurant where liquor was smuggled in from offshore during Prohibition in the 30s, and where the fabled phantom “Blue Lady” is still seen occasionally by visitors. You can read more about her and the Moss Beach Distillery by clicking here.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, this is one of those “so close, yet so far away” types of day trips. It is well worth the hike to feel that you’re at the end of the earth–in another world and another time. If you’re visiting California, this is an opportunity to experience the best of what the coast has to offer: diverse marine life, natural beauty, and a bit of California history.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in the present-day city of San Luis Obispo, California. It was the fifth of 21 Spanish missions built by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church between 1769 and 1823 in what was known as Alta California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the 14th century Bishop of Toulouse (France), the mission gave its name to both the city and the county of San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast.
King Carlos III of Spain saw the missions as a means to expand and protect Spain’s interests in Alta (upper) California (especially against the Russians who were making inroads southward from Alaska along California’s coast), while the Franciscans saw them as a means to expand the influence of the Catholic Church and to “civilize” the many tribes of indigenous peoples who inhabited the various regions of California.
Along with the Catholic faith, the missionaries brought disease and cultural decimation. A thriving tribe of over 15,000 Chumash Indians inhabiting the area were considered “souls to be saved.” The Spanish settlers forbade them to speak their native tongue or practice their accustomed dances and rituals, forcing them to build the mission, while imposing their language and faith upon them.
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