Riding California's Central Coast
|A Pebble Beach local|
Riding in the private community of Pebble Beach is an unusual combination of pastoral and urbane. Though you'll cross roads and see architectural landmarks, when you're riding in silence deep in the woods, there is a real sense of getting away from it all. For us, the feeling of seclusion set in as soon as we turned our horses away from the stables and headed off across the adjoining meadow. The barely visible path cut through an abundant growth of grass and wildflowers, leading to what seemed to be a heavily wooded mountain track.
That mountain turned out to be a sand dune. In short order, we climbed more than 500 feet into the cypress and redwood forest, through a dense ground cover of iris, ferns, and other low-growth plants. The trees thinned out and the view changed as we neared the top of the hill, however. It was an unexpected, albeit genteel, return to civilization, as we caught sight of the world-class Cypress Point Golf Course through the trees and got our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean from the trail. Once we crested the hill, the trees were gone, except for an occasional wind-sculpted cypress, looking like giant bonsai. The broad expanse of the Pacific, from Cypress Point to Point Joe, filled the horizon a breathtaking sight.
Black-tailed deer abound in the dunes area. They have no natural predators in Pebble Beach, and little fear of people. We were able to bring our horses to within a dozen feet of a mature buck with a full rack of antlers. In the distance, we saw several herds of a dozen or more, grazing on the golf courses' manicured greens. Individual deer leaped out of our way as we ambled along the trail sometimes all we'd see was a flash of white tail as they disappeared into ravines or behind dunes. My horse's hooves sank deeply into the sand, causing her to move with a soothing, rocking gait unlike any I'd experienced. It reminded me of the gentle bounce of a small boat in calm water. The mare was feisty and curious, regularly turning her attention toward the deer, or the shouts of golfers in the distance. She had plenty of energy, and seemed eager to pick up the pace, but this was a walking-only ride--the better to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings.
Pebble Beach is renowned for its spectacular houses, and we passed a handful of mansions, most of them discreetly nestled in the dunes. One was a Frank Lloyd Wright design, known as the"clamshell" house, its gleaming glass facade taking full advantage of the Pacific view. We crossed 17-Mile Drive, with cars stopping to give us the right of way. People on horseback usually elicit a friendly reaction from nonriders, and this time was no exception; drivers leaned out of their cars to wave and compliment us on having chosen such a beautiful day for riding. We rode along the shore for close to a mile. The water was very rough that day, we occasionally felt the spray from the huge breakers. We got a look at some seals sunning themselves on rocks in the distance. This area usually has an abundance of otters, though none were in sight that day, perhaps due to rough seas.
I was sorry when it was time to cross the road and head back to the barn. Our return trip took us across the Spyglass Hill Golf Course. We found golf balls on trail, and hoped we were visible to the foursome playing nearby. Before reaching the woods, we passed a few more interesting buildings, including one known as the "gingerbread house." Built about 50 years ago, it has the whimsical charm of something out of a fairy tale. While the ride lasted only an hour and 20 minutes, it felt like we covered a lot of ground. The many natural and man-made wonders along the trail made it an enjoyable ride.
Essentials : Pebble Beach, California, is about 70 miles south of San Francisco. (If you plan on taking Route 1 to Pebble Beach from either north or south, be sure to allow extra time; this two-lane coastal highway is wonderfully scenic, and you'll most likely want to take your time and enjoy the view.) Turn off on 17-Mile Drive for the private community of Pebble Beach. It is a toll road, but the guard waived the fee when we told him we had an appointment to ride at the stables there.
The Pebble Beach Equestrian Center (tel. 831-624-2756) is on Portola Road and Alva Lane. Riders must be at least 12 years old. Group trail rides are scheduled four times daily. They're 80 minutes long and cost $45; private rides start at $60. Allow time to fill out a detailed questionnaire regarding your health and riding experience. On the form, you can indicate if you prefer a calm, average, or spirited horse. The stable has loaner helmets for those who wish to wear them. Don't expect to trot or canter, this is strictly a walking ride, due to insurance requirements. Take a camera, sunblock, and a jacket; it's chilly near the water, year-round.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication