Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
200 Nevada Ave Moss Beach, CA 94038 - (650)728-3584
This rocky seashore hosts a living community of marine life that is of great interest to visitor and naturalist alike. A variety of seaweed, crabs, sponges, seastars, mollusks, and fish make their homes in the inter-tidal; that area between low and high tide. The Reserve is set aside to protect this complex but fragile community for us and future generations. The Reserve is popular with school and community groups for its educational value.
The shoreline and bluffs of the Reserve were first visited and settled by Native Americans, as evidenced by the four remaining cultural resource sites, one of which has been dated at about 5,800 years. In the mid-18th Century, Portola and his expedition were fed by Native Americans near Pillar Point. The landscaping at the Smith-Dolger home site, dating back to the early 1900s, remains as the only documented historical site within the Reserve.
The shoreline and reefs within the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve have been of interest for many years to marine biologists, preservationists and collectors. At least since 1908, when the Ocean Shore Railroad was extended into the area, Moss Beach had been used extensively as a resort and by people gathering food from the reef. It has long been known to biologists and teachers as one of the best places for collecting inter-tidal invertebrates. As early as 1911, Dr. S. F. Light brought his zoology classes from the University of California. Due to its popularity, the resource was being depleted, and in the 1960s, San Mateo County proposed that the State of California acquire the area as a state reserve.
The Ecological Reserve is a State of California designation authorized by the Marine Resources Protection Act of 1990 (California Fish and Game Code, Article 4, Section 1580-1584). Ecological reserves are intended to protect natural areas and use can be restricted to scientific research relating to the management and enhancement of marine resources. Except as authorized in conjunction with scientific research approved by the California Department of Fish and Game and the San Mateo County Department of Parks, no disturbance or taking of marine life, archaeological resources or geological formations is allowed, and no fishing or collecting is permitted. Public entry into an ecological reserve may be restricted to protect resources.
Pillar Point Marsh was dammed by farmers in the earlier part of the century, in order to prevent salt water from moving into upland farming areas, and to provide a means by which farm equipment could cross the marsh for access to the slopes above the marsh for farming. In the late 1920s, the US Air Force built West Point Avenue as an access road across the dam to reach the military installation on the bluff above Pillar Point. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the breakwater around Pillar Point Harbor in 1962, to create a safe refuge for small vessels.
Trails at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve traverse the length of the bluff and offer views of the Pacific Ocean. One of these is the California Coastal Trail which is accessible, and open to bicycles and horses, and connects to Pillar Point Bluff farther south along the coast.
Learn more about about Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Trails.
Observe all trail signs and posted speed limits. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed off designated paved areas. Please respect your fellow trail users and follow the trail etiquette guidelines for safe and courteous trail use.
Facilities within the reserve include a picnic area, parking and restrooms. The picnic area includes three picnic tables located at the Moss Beach entrance only.
Uses within the Reserve include activities related to education and interpretation of natural resources, including the ecological systems of the inter-tidal reef, and the beach, uplands and marsh/wetlands complex, and recreational activities, such as walking, nature study and picnicking (restricted to Moss Beach Entrance), that are compatible with protection of natural resources. Educational and interpretive activities will include (but not be limited to) tours led by Reserve staff, docent naturalists and trained volunteers; workshops, seminars and classes; and training for docent naturalists, volunteers, and tour leaders. Weddings are not permitted at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Days and Hours of Operation
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve opens at 8:00 AM every day throughout the year (holidays included). The closing time varies by time of year. The park's closing times are:
- December - February 5:00 P.M.
- March 6:00 P.M. (before Daylight Savings Time starts)
- March 7:00 P.M. (after Daylight Savings Time starts)
- April - August 8:00 P.M.
- September 8:00 P.M. (through Labor Day)
- September 7:00 P.M. (beginning the day after Labor Day)
- October 7:00 P.M. (first week[s] of October)
- October 6:00 P.M. (last three weeks of October)
- November 6:00 P.M. (before Daylight Saving Time ends)
- November 5:00 P.M. (after Daylight Saving Time ends)
The majority of the Reserve is comprised of nonnative vegetation including monterey cypress grove(s), invasive non-native species (i.e., german ivy, pampas grass), weedy species, ornamental plantings, and garden escapes. However, three sensitive plant communities are also present: northern coastal bluff scrub, central coast arroyo willow riparian forest, and freshwater marsh. The adjacent coastal bluffs are devoid of vegetation due to soil erosion.
The San Mateo Coast has offshore up-welling of nutrient-rich water during the spring and summer, complex geology with offshore rocks, sea level reefs and pocket beaches, and a generally mild and relatively constant marine-dominated climate. These conditions favor abundant and diverse marine life. It is not surprising, therefore, that the inter-tidal and marine resources within the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve are renown for their richness and diversity. The rocky reefs, habitat of the marine life that is the Reserve's main attraction and source of learning, can be recognized as ten distinct areas along the 3-mile Reserve shoreline (Smith 1993).
Prepare for a safe and enjoyable visit to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and other San Mateo County Parks by being aware of your natural environment.
Directions to the Park
Take Highway 1 to California Street in Moss Beach, turn west. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is at the end of the street.
SamTrans buses provide service to key destinations throughout San Mateo County and San Francisco, such as work, schools, malls, civic centers and parks. Please visit SamTrans website to find out how you can take one of their buses to this park.
Map to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on mapquest.com
New Reservation Policy: Effective July 1, 2004 all reservations for Fitzgerald Marine Reserve will be made through the county parks reservation line (650) 363-4021.
Advance reservations are required for all groups of 10 persons or more who visit the Fitzgerald V. Marine Reserve. There is a reservation fee. Reservations must be made by the 1st of the month prior to your reservation date. Reservations for school groups are accepted for grades 3rd and up. A recent study has shown a progressive decline in the marine plants and animals within the reserve. The capacity of persons on the Fitzgerald V. Marine Reserve is 100 persons at any one time. Advance reservations will limit the numbers of persons on the reef at any one time and protect and preserve the marine resources for future generations.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve conducts a volunteer program organized and led by a volunteer organization founded in 1972 known as The Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Sponsored by this organization, volunteers are able to participate in a variety of activities to preserve and protect this beautiful natural site, promote educational and research programs there, and support educational services for schools and the general public.
If you are an individual or an organization interested in the Volunteer Program, please contact Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Park or the San Mateo County Parks Volunteer Program.
We encourage visitors to familiarize themselves with the following guidelines to preserve the marine reserve for the enjoyment of the whole community.
Watch your step! Walk carefully around the tidepools for your own safety and to spare the marine life underfoot. Avoid stepping on beds of barnacles, anenmones, mussels, and other tidepool life.
Do not remove shells, vegetation, rocks or marine life. Shells and rocks are a natural part of the intertidal zone, and serve as future homes for critters such as hermit crabs.
Please observe marine life by looking only. Please do not touch or handle marine life.
Do not pull sea stars, mussels, limpets, and other tidepool life off rocks. Gulls will flip them over and tear out thier stomachs or soft bodies before the animals have a chance to re-grip.
Do not place marine life in containers for a closer look, even for a few minutes. This is often how animals are inadvertently moved from one inter-tidal zone to another, and they usually don't survive.
Dogs are NOT allowed. Do not bring your dogs or other pets to the tidepools.
Do not play loud radios or amplified music near or around the tidepools.
Do not disturb marine mammals, such as harbor seals in their rookery. Many seek this habitat as a refuge for birthing and raising their young. Stay at least 300 feet from any marine mammal.
New fishing regulations went into effect at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on May 1, 2010.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve falls within the Montara State Marine Reserve:
North boundary: 37° 32.7'N (Montara State Beach)
South boundary: 37° 30'N
West boundary: state waters line
East boundary: mean high tide line.
The take of all living marine resources is prohibited. No fishing is allowed within the Reserve. The take of shells, rocks, and drift wood is also prohibited. The new Marine Protected Areas have been designed to protect and sustain marine life, habitats, and ecosystems. Reserves provide an opportunity to learn from and enjoy intact ecosystems. New protection for ecological hot spots like Fitzgerald Marine Reserve will be a boon for the marine food web, foraging seabirds, and marine mammals.
- Picking or removing wildflowers or other natural material is prohibited.
- No fires or BBQs are allowed.
- Cutting and gathering of wood is prohibited.
- Dogs and other pets are not allowed.
- Motor vehicles and bicycles are permitted only on paved roadways and in established parking areas.
- Firearms and other weapons are prohibited.
- Loud radios and the playing of amplified musical instruments are not permited.
- Beer and wine only are allowed in certain areas, no hard liquor.
- Smoking is NOT permitted.
- Feeding of wildlife is prohibited.
- Leaving designated trails is prohibited
- Hunting is not permitted per California State Fish and Game Regulations.
- Buckets or any kind of container may not be used to collect any marine life form in the Reserve.
- No part of any protected marine plant or animal may be removed from the Reserve, including shells.
- Rocks of drift seaweeds may not be removed from the Reserve.
- Weddings are not permitted.