Disclaimer: I have probably done this hike over 50 times, which means that the pictures I have will be from various hikes, and also that many of the times I have been there I didn’t even take pictures. For example, I did this hike this past week, and I didn’t take a single photo, which I’m regretting now, because the fog created a cool effect over the ocean that I now don’t have a photo of. But I do have a million other photos that span over various years, so get excited.
The Ridge is a gorgeous hike and I think perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the Central Coast. You have panoramic views of the ocean for over half of the trail, and there are some fun and interesting caves/beaches you can explore at one point as well. You also have views of the grape and agricultural fields at various parts of the trail. It’s a respectable 3 1/2-ish mile trail which makes it perfect if you don’t have a ton of time but want to get some nature in. I’ve also had friends who have stopped here and hiked it with me while they were driving North on the 101 because it’s right off the freeway.
Sorry, I know some of these photos aren’t up to par but I’m fairly confident that last photo was taken on the first cell phone I even owned just to give you an idea of how long I have been doing this hike.
To get to the trailhead, you actually need to be in Shell Beach. You turn onto El Portal and Drive down that street until it runs into a fence. To the left of the fence there is a driveway and to the right of the fence there is the trailhead. Drive down the driveway and park your car in the lot. It’s really small, so if there’s no spots you can also park on the street across from the trailhead.
The trailhead starts you on a flat trail with your back to the ocean that basically walks below and next to the “ridge” mountain that you are later going to climb up and then back down. Right before you hit the 101, you start up a very steep trail. I know it sounds like it would suck to do a hike right next to a freeway, but once you’re past that initial climb, you can’t see it at all. And while you climb, you can see the ocean and the hills of the other side of the 101 so it’s never been a deal breaker for me.
Once you make it to the top of the ridge, you go through a series of up and downs as you traverse the trail. The rule with this trail is if you think you’ve gone up the last hill before you start walking down, you have one more. But fear not, the views along the way of the ocean and the houses in Shell and the agricultural fields means that you don’t really notice the incline all the much. Like seriously, the views are amazing.
After all that spread out uphill, you now get to do a very tricky and fairly dangerous thing: walk all the uphill back down in a very short amount of space. This part of the trail is essentially straight down. Make sure your shoes have some tread folks because you will be sliding a bit.
Side note: I’ve actually slid down this hill on pieces of cardboard in the middle of the night and had the cops called on us because our gleeful screams were confused for an injured hiker. The cop literally ran up this hill and we were all very impressed with his fitness level. We all thought we were going to get in trouble but the cop was pretty amused when we told him what we were doing and just told us to keep the noise down.
After that lovely downhill, it’s pretty much flat from here. If you go to your right there is a beach (that you have to climb down to) and some pretty sweet caves to explore. If you go to your left you are in the parking lot of Pirate’s Cove Beach. Fun fact: Pirate’s Cove is not a public beach, so if you wanna get naked/participate in some illicit activities (if you are of age of course) this is the beach to go to on the Central Coast.
After you’re done exploring, the trail takes you past the gate on an old fire road that is no longer in use that goes on the bluffs above Pirate’s Cove beach. You don’t get much a view, because you’re surrounded by tall fennel, artichoke, and yucca plants, but the purple flowers from the artichoke and white blooming Yucca are pretty, and the fennel makes the whole part of this trail smell like black licorice.
After you get to the end of the fire trail, you actually walk down Bluff Drive/Trail, which is a sidewalk trail with the ocean on one side and giant McMansions on the other. I am a fan of ignoring the signs that say pedestrians must walk on the sidewalk and like to walk on the street because 1) the sidewalk has inclines and declines and the road does not and 2) the road offers you a better view of all the giant mansions and I like to look at them. Pretty much this entire street is #housegoals.
The end of Bluff trail is where your car is parked if you’re parked in the lot. If you’re on the street you’re going to have to walk out of the lot and then you’re there. If you’re ever visiting or even just driving through the Central Coast I would highly recommend this hike. It has varied scenery, it’s quick, it’s not too easy or too hard, and people at many different fitness levels are able to complete it.
Some other notes about the trail: a lot of people actually do it in the reverse direction. I’ve done it that way once before but I didn’t like it because it’s really not fun to walk up that monster hill and then after that you might as well go sit back down because the rest of it is essentially downhill. I also like facing the ocean on my way up most of the hike and then down that monster hill as opposed to having it at my back for that first part of the hike and then a significant portion of the rest of the hike. It’s also very pretty to do this hike at sunset, but there are a few unmarked turn-offs and it’s hard to walk down that steep hill in the dark, so I wouldn’t recommend that if you’ve never done this hike before. All in all, this is a great hike that everyone who loves the ocean and enjoys creeping on rich people’s houses will definitely enjoy.
Until next time! 🙂