McNee Ranch south of Pacifica is part of the same park and across Highway 1 from Montara State Beach. Its 625 acres of coastal scrub and chaparral cloak the southwest flank of Montara Mountain. It’s often foggy here, but that means likely to be cool when it's hot inland, and to have some green in the driest season.
The 2.4 mile loop out San Pedro Mountain Road and back down North Peak Access Road crosses windy meadows and passes under shade of cypress and pine, is cut into sparkly brown granite outcrops, emerging to reveal unexpected views down to the beach and out over the ocean. Quail and flickers retreat into thickets of manzanita, sagebrush, poison oak, and coffeeberry, on slopes where a recent heroic campaign has reclaimed whole hillsides from invasive pampas grass. You could climb to the ridgetop, four miles and 1,800 feet above the trailhead, where views stretch from Mount Tamalpais to Mount Diablo. Or use public transit for a five-mile one-way hike from Montara Beach over the mountain's western shoulder to San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica.
From the highway, a log barrier and a series of steps lead to Gray Whale Cove Trail, which is by all accounts a lovely single-track path along the steep hillside above and parallel to the highway.
North Peak Access Road starts here also. The first 0.2 mile serves as a well graded asphalt and gravel driveway for the park ranger's residence. Before the house, San Pedro Mountain Road swings left, and within a few hundred feet comes to a lonely portable toilet. An "accessible" one! if not ideally situated to use with a wheelchair, at least, when we were there, comparatively clean. A gentle climb and another 0.1 mile or so, brings you to a pleasant picnic ground; 6 or 8 weathered picnic tables strewn across a grassy dell which I understand was once a quarry. No access modifications here, and not much shade, either, but it’s an inviting spot out of the strongest ocean winds.
If, however, what you want is grand ocean views, this is not the place to stop. A little further still, a spur trail to the left leads up a rise to a nice spot for whale watching, with a wide view to the west over the sea and south to Montara Beach and houses along the highway. There’s a bench where this path goes sharply downhill and links to Grey Whale Cove Trail.
But stay on San Pablo Mountain Road to climb the steep hillside in gentle switchbacks on what must have originally been a one-lane asphalt road intended for cars,. The pavement has decayed and been patched with gravel; where it runs through groves of cypress and pine, roots and erosion create obstacles. But this is a very enjoyable trail with a wonderful mix of wildflowers, bird life, grand views and interesting topography. After about 1.5 mile North Peak Access Road rejoins it from the right, and may be used to return to the trailhead (but it is very steep!).
Details: No admission fee; leashed dogs and bikes okay; a picnic area along the trail has a portable toilet nearby. Trailhead is about 4 miles south of the last signal in Pacifica, a small pullout on the left with no designated parking and space for only a few cars. More parking is a few hundred feet further south, on the right. SamTrans bus #294 stops in Montara.