Please step away from the car


Posted by on Tue, July 19, 2005

I’ve been trying to find the time to walk around more on the Coastside. Every time I do, I’m delighted with what I find. I know that most of us are intimately familiar with parts of this place, but I suspect that we could all spend more time of out of our cars and walking around.

Every time I get out of the machine and walk around or ride my bike, it’s a revelation. The difference between traveling 40 miles an hour shrouded in metal and glass and two miles an hour is all the difference in the world.  For a long time, I didn’t understand why Marshall McLuhan considered the automobile to be a medium.  But experiencing the Coastside from your car is like watching it on TV.

  • I didn’t really understand how huge and wild Wavecrest is until I biked across it, even though I’d driven past it hundreds of times by then.


  • A few weeks ago, I walked out toward the quarry in Pacifica and was stunned—Highway 1 and its noise disappeared as I dropped below the grade, and I could see the hills, but not the houses to the east. 

  • Last year, I wrote a story about what it was like to walk across Pilarcitos Creek alongside Highway 1 (it’s horrible)

  • And just a few weeks ago, I walked along the Pilarcitos Creek Trail for the first time. Even though it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s a vast improvement over the alternatives and is quieter and more natural than you might expect. And a surprisingly large large number of people were using it, too.

Unlike other Bay Area communities, there are very few parts of our community that aren’t walkable, or can’t be cycled. Last week, I found myself walking in Colma and was stunned by how many streets were inaccessible to pedestrians, and most of those that I could use were frightening and unpleasant. Of course, most of Colma’s residents are dead.

I’ve wanted to write about why we need to get out of our cars and walk around for a while. I was finally inspired to this piece when I heard an essay in Living on Earth on KQED, from a guy calling himself The Reactionary Pedestrian.

I found out there is no bridge anywhere in the state of Louisiana that you can walk across the Mississippi River. It is prohibited. It is becoming illegal to get across this country on foot. I can’t believe anybody building a bridge across a river for four lanes of automobiles and not even considering pedestrians and bicycles. Anyway. Waiting on a bus to get across the river. I don’t have the energy to get across any other way right now.

You’ve got to be out there, breathing exhaust fumes every day. You’ve got to walk down the road at night and step on a lump and not know whether it’s a piece of blown-out tire or another dead owl. That’s how you get to be a fanatic reactionary pedestrian. You can read all you want about the paving of America, about urban sprawl and smog and vanishing habitat and on and on, but that’s just theory. It’s awful out there by the side of the road! It gets worse every day!

The text of the essay is available online, but I recommend listening to the audio version, so you can hear his voice and the highway humming ominously in the background.

There are dozens of places on the Coastside that I know I have driven past heedlessly and want to discover.

What are your favorite places to walk on the Coastside?  What things are we missing by not getting out of our cars?  What are the hidden delights about this place?  How does your perspective change when you get out of your car?

I’ve done a lot of hiking and backpacking around the US and abroad over the years. Once it dawned on me that silence has become extinct on the planet earth. Silence being the absence of human generated noises. Even in the remotest backcountry area’s you are bound to hear airplanes, motor bikes, ATV’s or some internal combustion intrusion on the senses. One of my favorite places on the coast is the old San Pedro Mountain road that used to be the motor route between Pacifica and Montara before highway 1. I bike over to 2nd street in Montara and hang a left at Farallone. At the bottom of the street there is a trail that runs parallel to 1 and then hits San Pedro Mountain road. There are many other ways to get there as well. The old road gradually climbs up to about 1000 feet to a saddle of Montara Mountain. There is a beautiful view from this point to Pacifica and San Francisco. However, the trip up to the saddle excites me a lot because there are silence patches every so often shielded from the noises of highway 1. I stop at these power spots and just listen to and enjoy the silence. The silence of wind passing thru trees and brush, the silence of a hawk soaring, or deer feeding, or water trickling out of rocks.
A good place to refresh the spirit.

jack sutton

I agree Jack, Montara Mountain is an incredibly beautiful place. The views are breathtaking (literally, it’s quite a hike to the +1000ft peak). On a good day you can see from Mavericks to the Golden Gate Bridge.

As you walk this beautiful coastline, please take a plastic bag with you to pick up any trash you find, every little helps. If every hiker did this we would have an almost litter-free environment. You would not believe what trash people ignorantly drop along our coast. Go check out the beach/parking lot/ road area at Princeton Harbor, it’s a disgusting mess. You would not beleive it that many people gave up their own time to clean up other peoples mess after the July 4th holiday at a Surfrider clean up, it’s been trashed again.

Enjoy walking the coast it’s an amazing, special place.

And these days, wear full-body armour to keep the poison okay off.

oops… That should read “poison oak”.

The country roads around here should be walked—we really do live in the country!

1.Higgins Canyon Rd at the south end of Main Street and Hwy 1 runs east through a beautiful canyon and is popular with joggers, bikers, and some walkers. About 1 and 1/2 miles up Higgins on the left is Burleigh Murry State Park with a miniscule parking lot (unpaved), and a walkable dirt road paralleling a scenic creek and unspoiled hills.

2.Continuing up Higgins another mile the road splits. I like to park there and walk up the left side road over the hill and down to Purisima Open Space Preserve (two miles) and back (four total). Gorgeous views!

3.I mentioned Purisima Open Space, which gets you into numerous trails fanning into the Santa Cruz Mountains (there are trail maps there). Any direction works. Lots of Redwoods, Western Maples, Douglas Firs and Tanoaks.

4.If you can find Lobitos Canyon Rd, hike it! There is an 8-mile walk if you take the loop from Lobitos to Tunitas Creek to Lobitos Cutoff and back to Lobitos. California at its best.

5.The Coastal Trail running along the HMB bluffs is accessible from the south beginning at Poplar Ave. and almost any street north of there up to Princeton. The paved part is an 8 mile round trip.