Make Way to Monterey Bay

Moss Landing is home to more wonders than residents.


Published:

Adorable otters.

Matthew Craggs

Too often relegated to a series of blurred images outside car windows zooming along Highway 1 between Monterey and Santa Cruz, Moss Landing perches on Monterey Bay’s easternmost tip. This overlooked fishing village—population: 200—is a gateway to the bay’s wondrous diversity, sporting more adorable otters than Monterey’s famous aquarium and a stronger connection to the land than all of Santa Cruz’s trustafarians combined. For the otters, head to Moss Landing State Beach (www.Parks.CA.gov). To connect with the land, simply look around.

Early-morning coffee at Moss Landing Cafe (www.MossLandingCafe.com), alongside a classic plate of eggs and bacon, fuels a trek through Elkhorn Slough. The 7-mile-long estuary and tidal slough is accessible via kayaks or Elkhorn Slough Safari’s (www.ElkhornSlough.com) guided boat tours, but the best way to explore this cacophony of ecosystems is to get out in the field. Along 5 miles of trails crisscrossing 1,700-acre Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (www.ElkhornSlough.org/esnerr), you might stumble across remnants of the 1922 Elkhorn Farm Dairy or discarded crab shells beneath a bird’s nest. At high tide in the South Marsh, bat rays and 5-foot leopard sharks skim the shallow waters below a boardwalk. Low tide sees shorebirds fill the Five Fingers and Parsons Slough; more than 350 migratory bird species—including egrets, herons, and terns—call it home.

Though watering holes for humans are scarce here, locals migrate toward the trusty Moss Landing Inn dive bar, where Martini-sipping suits mingle with whiskey-waving cowboys. Stickers and signed dollar bills plaster every surface of the dark bar, while construction helmets—the Moss Landing Power Plant’s towering smokestacks are visible from Elkhorn Slough, Monterey, and Santa Cruz—hang from the ceiling beside a stripper pole. Next door, The Whole Enchilada (www.WEnchilada.com) touts fresh fish tacos; try some stuffed with grilled red snapper delivered the same day. The nearby Whole Enchilada Marketplace offers snacks and local produce: strawberries, apricots, artichokes, and garlic. Around here, “local” literally means right down the road.

While residents fish the waters and harvest the crops, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (www.MBARI.org) in Moss Landing offers free open houses fostering a different kind of love and respect for local resources. Tourism and development ebb and flow in more postcard-worthy cities, but Moss Landing is rooted in the riches of land and sea through wonder, necessity, and knowledge.

Those things never fade. You just might have to slow down to notice them.

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