No herds, no hordes

Gazos Creek offers a peaceful beach escape

January isn't the most obvious month to hit the beach ― but, of course, that's exactly why it's the perfect time of year to go. Gazos Creek ― about 60 miles south of San Francisco, and just north of the 4,000-acre Año Nuevo State Reserve ― is one of the wildest stretches of sand and sea along State 1. You might spot a 5,000-pound elephant seal straggler, separated from the herd (and the hordes of field-trippers and tourists) currently at the nearby preserve, or, if you're really lucky, a California gray whale on its migration north. Otherwise, you can peacefully walk the half-mile beach and watch the beacon at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse blinking in the distance and the cold, clear waters of the creek rushing into the Pacific. Bundle up with a blanket in the grassy dunes to ward off the wind, uncork a bottle of wine from the General Store at Costanoa Lodge (a mile south), and toast the new year ― in an entirely new way.

INFO:  Año Nuevo State Reserve; park in the Gazos Creek Coastal Access lot on the west side of State 1 (8 a.m.-sunset; free; 650/879-2025). Costanoa Lodge General Store (7 a.m.-10 p.m.; 2001 Rossi Rd., Pescadero; 877/262-7848).

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