Pillar Point juts into the Pacific Ocean about 25 miles south of San Francisco. The nearest town is tiny Princeton, but the geographically casual say its in Half Moon Bay. Pillar Point is remarkable for many reasons.

Pillar Point has a harbor near the point, and that is remarkable because there are few harbors on the California coast. There are commercial fishing vessels operating from the harbor, and fish markets that sell the catch, and restaurants to serve up the fish, and folks who come over the hills from populous places to buy the fish from the markets and eat at the restaurants. Nearby farms provide flowers and produce.

Pillar Point is special in part because it manages to be so different from the cities of the San Francisco Bay area, and yet so close. Twisty roads through the hills keep it off the beaten path, and the hills mark a change in local climate. A hot summer day in the Santa Clara valley will often become a cool foggy day over the hills to Half Moon Bay.

For a quiet place, there are some incongruously grand features. A huge radar antenna is poised atop the hills of Pillar Point. It stands out for miles. The radar facility is keep secure, but the antenna seems always pointed straight up. What could they be watching up there?

There is a little airport near the Point. Except the airport is not quite so little as it seems. Long runways were built for coastal defense during World War II, and for decades after the war the airport served as an alternate for fogged-in San Francisco International. There are no terminal buildings on the scale of the runways, so passengers bound for San Francisco must have been perplexed when they landed in farm country. The airport is now popular with new pilots; a little Cessna can land and take off two or three times in one run down the strip.

The surf is the grandest incongruity. After winter storms, Pillar Point provides the biggest surfing waves in the world. The waves are far from the highway, so even frequent visitors would not guess the spectacle. If you watch for a while, you get the sense that the waves are out of proportion, too big to be so far away. The coast is treacherous, so only the most expert big wave surfers need to know about it. Experts travel from round the world for this ultimate challenge. Serious surfers know this is where Mark Foo died.

copyright Roy Latham 1996-1999, rlatham@cgsd.com
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