Cowell Ranch Beach
Located 3.3 miles south of Half Moon Bay, Cowell Ranch State Beach consists of two secluded pocket beaches approached from a parking lot on Highway 1. A half-mile trail leads to bluffs overlooking the beaches. Seal Beach, south of the overlook, is a harbor seal protection area and closed to the public. You may glimpse newborn seal pups on the beach in early spring. A steep staircase provides access to the northern beach, a quarter-mile-long sandy cove on the north side of the overlook.
The trail crosses the site of the former rail bed of the Ocean Shore Railroad. The Ritz Carlton Hotel can be seen on a cliff north of the trail.
Dogs are prohibited at all times.
Look for the harbor seals, either in the water or basking on the rocks off Seal Beach. Harbor seals spend equal time in the sea and on land, hauling themselves onto the rocks to rest, give birth, and shed their fur in an annual molt.
The Cowell Ranch has been farmed since the mid 1800s. In 1852 Henry Doebbel, a 16-year-old immigrant from Germany, arrived in San Francisco and opened the first waffle restaurant. His earnings helped him establish a prosperous farm near the town of Purissima, three miles south of the present Cowell Ranch Beach. His new two-story mansion featured a ballroom, running water, and an innovation—gaslight produced from manure. Financial failures caused Doebbel to mortgage his farm to Henry Cowell, who foreclosed in 1890. The town of Purissima gradually declined and in 1930 the last remains of the 17-room mansion were torn down. Only a group of cypress trees and a small cemetery mark the spot where it stood