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Morning walks: Ontario Ridge hike is worth missing a couple of extra zzz's

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Getting out into the world in the early hours for a hike isn’t something I normally do, especially with the recent chilly mornings pushing me deeper under my covers. But I got up early enough to catch the beginnings of a gloomy morning on Dec. 4 in Avila Beach to take a hike and clear my mind.

FAR OUT:  The ocean stretches west from the top of Ontario Ridge, with a view of the Avila Beach Pier to the right. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • FAR OUT: The ocean stretches west from the top of Ontario Ridge, with a view of the Avila Beach Pier to the right.

I think I also subconsciously wanted to create my own version of following in the footsteps of Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) following in the footsteps of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild—the book version not the movie version. Too many Gilmore Girls references? You can thank Netflix and the Gilmore Girls revival for that.

So here I am, not on the Pacific Crest Trail but on the Ontario Ridge Trail, also known as the Shell Beach Bluff Trail. It’s a brisk morning; the sun isn’t quite up yet, which makes for a perfect start. My friend Sara is accompanying me on the trail with her music playlist that not only sparks great conversation with every tune but also usually complements the scenic views we encounter. 

There are two starting points to this loop trail. I like to use the entrance from the Pirate’s Cove dirt parking lot since the hill leading up to the path is so steep we’re basically climbing our way up, and I can’t imagine myself somehow walking back down this hill without slipping. As we start our journey we’re embarrassingly reminded of how much exercise we’ve skipped as we make our way up. Sara and I help each other up, carefully differentiating loose rocks from sturdy dirt to balance on. We take a brief moment to catch our breath and take in the ocean view, noticing a tiny Avila Beach below.

After the climb is over, the rest is much easier to tackle. To the left, between trees we can see Highway 101.

SWINGING:  Sara Deleon takes a moment to soak in the views while swinging her troubles away. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • SWINGING: Sara Deleon takes a moment to soak in the views while swinging her troubles away.

To the right, the cluster of trees opens up to the best scenic view of the ocean. Also on the right is a wooden swing tied to a tree with the carved initials of what can only be Central Coast sweethearts.

We take turns on the swing and snap a few photos and we continue on our walk as the sun is starting to warm us with its harsh rays. We come across many people walking their dogs and taking their morning runs, but they always take a minute to say good morning or hello, which is a nice change from the quiet smiles we exchange with strangers when walking around downtown San Luis Obispo. 

As we come to the end of the path on the top of the hill, we descend to the Shell Beach bluffs. We walk alongside the beautiful beach homes, picking specific details of the houses we like and dislike for our future homes while Laura Marling’s “Sophia” plays in the background. 

“All I have been wondering where I have been pondering, where I’ve been lately is no concern of yours … ” and as Marling plays her guitar, Sara and I talk about where we’ll hopefully find ourselves in the future 

HIKING :  The Ontario Ridge Trail, about 3 miles, is a loop between Avila and Shell Beach. It can be accessed from the Pirate’s Cove parking lot or the Shell Beach Drive Trailhead.
  • HIKING : The Ontario Ridge Trail, about 3 miles, is a loop between Avila and Shell Beach. It can be accessed from the Pirate’s Cove parking lot or the Shell Beach Drive Trailhead.

Our about 3 mile hike is coming to an end as we walk up the last hill that loops us back to the Pirate’s Cove parking lot. While I didn’t have my Lorelai Gilmore aha moment, I did enjoy the soothing views that Shell Beach and Avila Beach have to offer. 

Staff writer Karen Garcia is dusting the dirt from her sneakers at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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