The last time I visited Point Sal, one of California’s most off the beaten track state parks, I drove to within a few yards of the beach. Admittedly, the road wasn’t great at the time, perhaps seventeen or eighteen years ago, with drifts of sand that made my wheels slip on the narrow, winding road. The road washed out in 1998, and now the only way to get there is on foot.
Fast forward to 2013. I remember the incredible look of the place and was obsessed with seeing it again. This is probably the only place on the California Coast where the shoreline makes a 90 degree turn and runs straight out for several miles before bending north again. Also, the point juts almost straight up for at least 1,200 feet to the top of the ridge.
Between pure curiosity and the need to update my travel book, I drove down Highway One past the town of Guadalupe to Brown Road and turned right. After three miles, the road ended at a gate with a sign indicating the Point Sal trail. The trail, in this case, is what’s left of the old road, which actually doesn’t look much worse than it did in the mid-1990s. Making sure I had plenty of water—none being available along the trail—I started out under a mix of blue and foggy skies.
The road climbs slightly until the first big curve, where it doubles back on itself and starts a fairly steep, two mile climb to the ridge top. For a good part of the way, I could look down at my car, looking smaller and smaller with each look.
Interestingly enough, on this hiking trip, I encountered quite a few others, while when I could still drive it, I was always on the road and beach totally alone.
All along the way, side trails branched off, each with a sign saying “Private property. No trespassing.” The signs also said that violators would be cited, so I resisted the urge to explore off trail. Apparently, all the land along the route is either private or part of Vandenberg AFB, and only a small piece of the point is actually state land.
The terrain is mostly steep, grass-covered hills, with occasional stands of trees, except down in the gullies where small streams produce a green riparian corridor.
After doubling back where I could look down on the parking area, the road curved upward toward the ridge and the line of fog over the ocean. After a couple miles of climbing, the road crossed over an old, and now filled in, cattle grate. At that point, the top of the hill was just ahead.
Then the road drops again, turns to the right and climbs slightly along the side of the hill, and at one point there’s a bit of an ocean view, and just ahead is a tall gate.
The gate is at the highest point on the trail. It’s the entrance to Vandenberg AFB, with a sign that also warns that dog teams patrol the area. From that point until reaching the beach, the hiker is walking on the base.
While I wasn’t particularly interested on hiking all the way down to the beach, I did envision hiking out along the ridge to...