Gray Whale Cove State Beach is located just a few miles up Highway 1 from the town of Montera. (N. of Half Moon Bay) There is a good sized parking lot on the east side of the road (away from the ocean) and a safe but steep trail down to the beach. Actually the trail drops down about 50 feet from the road and then there are stairs the last 80 or so vertical feet to the beach.
Looking out at the ocean, to the left (south) is a fairly large expanse of sand nestled in a cove with steep vertical rock cliffs. Surfers and families like this section and it is usually free of litter and over crowding.
Heading north around a series of rocks jutting out into the surf (calm or violent depending on the time of year) is a much smaller beach. This beach historically has been a nude beach and the sheltering rocks and high cliffs on this end make it a good place to come on the days when the wind is blowing but the sun is still out.
On the days that I have visited both beaches – there were very few people. This is probably due to the somewhat strenuous walk down and up the steps and the trail to the parking lot. The nude section attracts about an equal percentage of males and females. The people that I have seen seem to be a mellow nature lovers just looking for a place to get an all-over tan.
Also, I have seen nude people on the south beach but that is not too common. There are more people there (and families) and the south beach can be seen from the road above in a few places.
The water is far too cold to swim in. The waves even on a calm day make it extremely dangerous for a swimmer without a wet suit. Also, dog are not allowed on either beach.
If you are looking for a couple of pocket beaches for a quick stop (and a vigorous walk and climb) or to spend the entire day in (or out of) a swimsuit, this is one of the best beaches in Northern California.
* Portable restrooms at the top of the stairs but not near the beach
* Seems to be no fee for the parking lot
* The parking lot is not guarded and not marked
* The ocean is so loud that you cannot hear the traffic on Highway 1 above
* Pack out your litter!
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