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Destination: Half Moon Bay,

The Coastside's Colorful History

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Half Moon Bay


Año Nuevo

Purisima Creek Redwoods


Sam McDonald



- By June Morrall

Farmer Dante Dianda was a rugged individualist. The "Artichoke King" wasn't happy about the Ocean Shore Railroad's plans to bring picnickers on the train from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay at the turn of the century. Nor was he happy about the railroad's grandiose plan of turning the Coastside into a Coney Island West with hotels, bathhouses, and resorts ringing the beautiful bay. The main showplace was to be in El Granada, where Dante Dianda grew fields of artichokes. So when the railroad started pouring cement sidewalks where his artichokes had once flourished, he did what any reasonable Coastside farmer would have done at the time. He started plowing up the cement sidewalks until the authorities ordered him to stop.

Today the sidewalks are here to stay, but Coastside farmers haven't changed. They still grow a variety of vegetables and flowers on land originally inhabited by the Costanoan Indians. Some Indians were food gatherers who used the Coastside as temporary living quarters. When the Spanish came and pushed out the Indians, the land was parcelled out as huge ranchos, where horses and cattle were raised and festive rodeos lifted spirits. There were so many Spanish-speaking people that when the first Americans arrived after the Gold Rush, they dubbed Half Moon Bay "Spanishtown." James Johnston numbered among the first Americans, and the house he built on a knoll still stands at the southern edge of Half Moon Bay. Along with Johnston, loggers, whalers, and farmers arrived to make a living in this isolated place, surrounded by mountains and cut off from the rest of the world.

There was a stagecoach that came west over Hwy. 92 and into Half Moon Bay to deliver both the mail and passengers who stayed at the Occidental Hotel. The more adventurous continued south over Stage Coach Road to the San Gregorio House or to the Swanson House in the resort town of Pescadero. A day in Pescadero wouldn't be perfect without visiting famous Pebble Beach and walking away with a box of colorful, glittering pebbles.

But a dispute hung a cloud over the town when the Pebble Beach War erupted. All the residents of the farming community became embroiled in the battle with a rich and ruthless landowner named Loren Coburn who bought Pebble Beach and tried to charge locals an entrance fee. This was unheard of, as the locals considered Pebble Beach their birthright. They fought Coburn in the courts for years, giving reams of testimony. Finally the town prevailed!

Further south at Año Nuevo, the Steele family kept busy running Cascade Dairy. Guests who visited the ranch would hear about the remarkable two-ton cheese they had produced, this after many settlers had ridiculed their plan to set up a dairy in that location.

But until the turn of the century, it seemed as if the Coastside might forever be cut off from the rest of the world. Only two roads led into the place, both of them narrow and winding. Then the Ocean Shore Railroad announced plans for a train which would run between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Overnight, beach towns which once had been a part of the great ranchos sprouted up beside attractive train stations -- Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton-by-the-Sea, and Miramar. Some of the train stations, today disguised as private homes and businesses, are still standing.

The train ride was exciting, at one point rolling across Devil's Slide above the roaring Pacific Ocean. Roadhouses were built to accommodate the throngs of picnickers, and sales people awaited them with great deals on seaside lots. But alas, it was not to be. The train tracks were never built farther south than Tunitas Creek. Geographical obstacles sapped funds, but the biggest financial blow occurred during the 1906 earthquake, when thousands of dollars in equipment plummeted over Devil's Slide and into the ocean.

The railroad disappeared from the landscape in the early 1920's, but in its place, roadhouses, rum runners, bootleggers, and red-haired maidens appeared to take advantage of Prohibition. The isolated beaches made it an ideal location to unload illegal booze, and the coastside thrived with its newly found illicit business. Today, many of the 1920's era roadhouses are still standing, bringing back memories of a bygone era. And much more of the coastside's colorful history survives in its people, businesses, and buildings only to be rediscovered.

Introduction ... Directions ... Lodging ... Restaurants Recreation ... Events/Activities
Weddings ... Nurseries/Wineries ... Half Moon Bay/ Pescadero/ Princeton
Museums/Galleries ... Año Nuevo ... Purisima Creek Redwoods ... Beaches
Sam McDonald ... Parks ... Lighthouses

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