Just 20 miles south of San Francisco on Highway 1, past the bustling seaside town of Pacifica and the dramatic coastal curves of Devil's Slide, is the tiny coastal burg of Moss Beach (population 400.) Known for its haunted historic roadhouse, the Moss Beach Distillery, the town has for decades drawn seashore lovers to its gemlike collection of tidepools at the JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Follow California Street for less than a mile from Highway One to the small parking lot for the 32-acre reserve, where you can park, pack a picnic and walk down a short path to a bluff overlooking Frenchman's Reef, the intertidal home to myriad sea creatures such as anemones, urchins, and hermit crabs.
From here you can access a three-mile stretch of beach, tidepool habitat, marsh, corroding bluffs, clifftop trail, and cypress and eucalyptus forests. The reserve's tidepool habitat has long been prized by visitors and researchers as one of the best intertidal habitats in northern California. It has been identified by the State of California as one of 34 such coastal habitats having “special biological significance” and is managed by San Mateo County as a county park and nature preserve. It lies within the Montara State Marine Reserve, which extends offshore from Montara, just north of Pillar Point, and is part of the extensive Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Like an underwater park, this marine protected area helps conserve our ocean wildlife and marine ecosystems.
Originally settled by Native Americans approximately 5,800 years ago, the site was designated as a state reserve in 1969 to protect the its flora and fauna. It was named after James V. Fitzgerald, former mayor of San Bruno.
At the north of the reserve, tiny San Vicente Creek empties into the Pacific Ocean and provides a diverse riparian habitat supporting red willow and other tree species. Along the bluff trail above the beach are rewarding views of the reef, crashing Pacific swells and wide views of the San Mateo Coast.
On the rocky outcrops offshore, you can often see California sea lions, harbor seals, snowy egrets, great blue heron, cormorant and a variety of terns, murres, gulls and other shorebirds. The drainages along San Vicente Creek and another coastal salt marsh habitat in the reserve are important nesting and feeding areas for many bird species including rails, migrating warblers and other seabirds.
With its spectacular scenery and ample tidepooling opportunities (check the tide charts before you go), the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a not-to-be-missed sight along the richly rewarding coastline between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.