Taking a socially distanced break

On Labor Day weekend my family and I decided to take a little trip to escape the valley smoke and triple-digit temperatures. We decided on a day trip, someplace within a 2-hour drive. But where to go while still maintaining social distancing protocols?

(9/6/20) A couple plays volleyball at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

We had been to Half Moon Bay a few times before and enjoyed our stays there. Unlike other Bay Area beaches like Ocean Beach in San Francisco or Stinson Beach in Marin County, both of which reported crowded conditions that weekend, Half Moon Bay tends to be overlooked by many. It was forecasted to be in the mid-80s so that would satisfy out need for cooler weather. As for the smoke, it was rated at moderate.

(9/6/20) A fisherman prepares to fish in the surf at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

My wife Susan, son Christopher, our dog Maisie and I left on the Sunday morning before the holiday. We got a bit of a late start but still hoped to get to Half Moon Bay around noon. We were making good time until we got to Highway 92. An accident had turned the road into a parking lot. Even when we got past the blockage traffic still moved along at a turtle’s pace through the winding 2-lane road through the coastal mountains. The slow down roughly doubled our time, turning it into a 4-hour drive.

(9/6/20) A footprint in the sand at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The heat and the smoke stayed with us right up until we were almost on top of the coast, then both dissipated rapidly. A nice off shore breeze blew in the cool 80-degree air and, while still smoky, it was much clearer than what we had just driven through.

(9/6/20) A cyclist rides buy during sunset on the bluffs above Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Being a holiday weekend, the crowds were more than our previous experiences. We couldn’t find a space in the small parking lot at Poplar Beach which is a dog-friendly venue. We were able to find a another lot near some little league fields near the coast about a mile away. It even had a dog park for Maisie to romp around in before getting to the beach.

(9/6/20) A couple looks out onto the ocean from the bluffs over Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

We had to hike about a mile or so to get to the beach access but the trail to there meandered along 40-50 ft-tall bluffs which provided great views of the ocean. Even though we were masked, there weren’t that many people on the trail and we didn’t have to try hard to avoid getting to close to anyone.

(9/6/20) Hundreds of people gather on Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The access point was a series of stairs carved into the bluffs. The were about 300 to 400 people on the beach. Had they been spread out over the entirety of the beach it wouldn’t have been much of a problem. But most of the people were congregated near the bottom of the stairs. Farther down the beach in both directions it was much less populated. We secured our masks and wound our way around groups of beachgoers, trying to stay at least 6 feet away from them. After about 200 yards or so we able to find a spot that was about 20 feet away from anyone else.

(9/6/20) A person sits on a blanket and looks out onto the ocean at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Arriving late due actually worked to our advantage, photographically speaking. Instead of getting there at about noon when the sun is directly overhead and not at its optimal for picture taking, we arrived around 2:30 p.m. The light was a little better then and as the day worn on, it only got better.

(9/6/20) Clifford Oto’s dog Maisie takes in the sunset at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay.. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

It was Maisie’s first time at the beach. She loves water but the ocean and its waves were a new experience. It took a little while but she romped in the surf like she was born to it.

(9/6/20) A fisherman prepares to fish in the surf at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Other than that, we took in the cool sea breeze, wiggled our toes in the sand and just relaxed in the sun. It doesn’t sound like we did much, but the time seemed to pass quickly. Soon enough the sun began to sink towards the horizon. There was enough wildfire smoke to turn the sun and sky to a deep orange.

(9/6/20) A fishing boat trolls the waters of the coast of Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

While it was only a few hours, it was nice to take a short, socially-distanced trip to rest, relax and recharge our batteries.

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