As we mentioned in our previous posts, our yearly sojourn out to California is mainly about three things: wine, food, and scenic hikes. We taste all the wines and eat all the foods we want (well, all that we can afford, anyhow!), and we temper that by pursuing at least one physically taxing hike each day.
One such hike we undertook was the Ontario Ridge Trail — a somewhat steep (and currently, somewhat controversial) trail near Avila Beach. While we do most of our hiking shortly after sunrise in order to beat the heat, the view here can often be overcome by ocean fog early in the day, so we opted for a sunset hike.
We began our trek at the parking area for Pirates Cove, which is on Cave Landing Rd. This is the view from the parking area. Note — there are two trails here. One leads toward the tony Shell Beach Bluffs, which is where you’ll want to head. The other trail leads down to Pirates Cove…which is a clothing-optional beach. To recap: if you’re walking and you see rich people, you’re on the right path. If you’re walking and you see naked rich people, you’re on the wrong path. (Probably — I obviously don’t know what’s in your heart.)
It can be a little tricky to find the true start of the Ontario Ridge Trail. That’s because the place you need to go is chained off and looks otherwise forbidden. This is all tied up with this one property owner who wants to shut off access to the trail (and who has illegally attempted to do so in the past) — but don’t be fooled. This chain has no legal power and is merely something to be stepped over.
Of course, once you finally get a look at the climb you’re about to undertake, you might be wondering whether you should have just said, “We can’t go, honey, it’s chained off,” and gone people-watching down at Pirates Cove instead.
One nice feature of this trail is that it’s dog-friendly — as in, you’ll probably meet some friendly dogs! Here’s one fellow we met who was on his way down as we went up. (Note: if you bring your furry family member, please clean up its poop! Not everyone does, and it’s really not awesome to have to be on landmine-alert while trudging up a steep hill.)
While the climb is steep, there are a number of places to pause for a photo op, such as this little crest. (Fox is wearing a shirt we got earlier in the week at Holus Bolus in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Ain’t she cute?)
You’re closer still when you start to cross paths with a bunch of cellular communications equipment. It’s kind of neat how it’s all been disguised as trees and brush in order to give it more aesthetic appeal from the ground. As you pass it, it’s sort of like you’re being let in on a secret.
There is, of course, a price to be paid for all this beauty — and that price is the descent back to the parking area. I would actually call the descent the hardest part of the hike; it’s much shorter, but MUCH steeper than the climb. Your quads will probably not be happy with you, but them’s the breaks.
The trip down the hill will be slow, on account of the looseness of the terrain and the potential for slippage (I’d recommend hiking boots or shoes with a ton of tread). The silver lining is that you’ll have an excuse to stop and take some more beautiful, colorful views.
The easiest way to get down this hill, we found, was to gingerly crab walk sideways. It takes a while, but the extra time is worth the whole “not falling” thing. (We did see someone pass us who was literally running at a high-step down the brush beside the trail. While we can’t recommend it, necessarily, it did seem to work very well for him.)
The entire hike is a little under three miles with about 750 feet of net elevation — perfect for working up a healthy appetite that will at least sort of justify the half-dozen or so small plates you’ll try at dinner! If you make it out to the San Luis Obispo area, be sure to add this trail to your list…before moneyed interests manage to take it away!