A Central Coast COVID-19 safe road trip
–A pandemic does not dim our desire to get out on the road and living on the Central Coast of California it’s easy for us to satisfy that travel bug with a local road trip. No matter what direction you choose there are places to go and enjoy the spectacular nature available without the chance of harm. So, pack your camera, your mask, and a picnic lunch from your favorite eatery in Morro Bay and head off up Highway One.
Just a few miles north is the last of the great beach towns, Cayucos. With its long pier jutting out into the Pacific, it is a great place to stroll and lean over the railing to watch the surfers riding the waves. At low tide, it’s fun to walk the edge of the water to a rocky area where tiny tide pools are waiting to be explored. Captured there are green anemones some open and some with puckered closed-up lips waiting for the next inflow of the sea. Hermit crabs move slowly about searching for food and many-colored ochre sea stars grace the sides of rocks.
On the road again you pass ranchlands with grazing cattle and come to the tiny town of Harmony that boasts only 18 residents. Some shops are open and you can visit Harmony Cellars up on the hillside; a great place to enjoy your picnic at an outdoor table. It’s best ahead of time to make a reservation and order a nice bottle of Harmony Valley wine to go with lunch. Tables on a small rise give a view of the entire valley where cows are lazing in the midday sun.
Harmony is an early settlement that came about with the Italian-Swiss farmers who settled in the area during the 1800s and raised dairy cattle. Harmony was the location of the processing plant for milk brought in from the farms. Dairy products like butter and cheese were then shipped to far distant ports via sailing boats that docked at the wharf in Cayucos. As you eat lunch and enjoy the wine, think about that time long ago.
Back on the road to Cambria, a popular tourist spot with art galleries and restaurants. The pandemic will not stop you from browsing through shops now that restrictions are easing. Leaving town cross Highway One to Moonstone Beach Drive and head out to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, where miles of trails feature a dramatic coastline, seasonal wetlands, and majestic pine and oak woodlands. Views of migrating Grey whales, Humpback whales, sea otters, and harbor seals as well as flocks of brown pelicans gliding overhead are what you will enjoy here.
On Moonstone Beach Drive you can do an easy walk along the one-mile boardwalk on the cliff edge to watch the waves crashing against the rocks. The parking lot at Leffingwell Landing State Park is open and picnic tables are located there. This is still a popular place for outdoor weddings despite the pandemic. There is access to the small beach below the Landing where you can search for moonstones of chalcedony, not the usual feldspar, but just as lovely, maybe even more so, and great collectibles.
Next stop is the turn-off to Hearst Castle, but pass that up and turn left into William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach. If you have binoculars with you take them and walk out on San Simeon pier and search the ocean for that tell-tale spout indicating whales are present. You might also spot sea otters in the kelp.
Not too far north on Highway One is the Elephant Seal Beach with the main rookery site at the first turn-off to parking. If concern over crowds is still on your mind since it can be crowded here, drive a short distance more and park in the north lot. Don your mask and grab your camera. The boardwalk here is built along the bluff and brings you to a secluded beach where many seals rest. You can also hike up a trail north of the parking lot to get a view of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
Time to head back to Morro Bay for dinner on the Embarcadero to enjoy some local seafood. Dining indoors is now possible with social distancing in place.
Your great one-day Central Coast COVID-19 road trip is over.
By Ruth Ann Angus