Shelter in place forced them to explore close to home — now Dawn and Dan Page share their favorite hiking trails in a blog.

Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail offers an easy and accessible bluff trail above the Pacific Ocean that begins at Cowell Ranch State Beach, a few miles south of Half Moon Bay. (Photo by Dawn Page)

Dan and Dawn Page know now that they’ll likely never be considered true locals in the eyes of fellow Montarans. Having lived in the community of Montara for only five years, they’re relative newcomers to the bucolic Coastside, which some residents have called home for generations.

But that hasn’t stopped them from developing and sharing their own experiences of their new hometown with the public.

The couple, married for almost 40 years, represents the author and photographer behind Coastside Slacking, a blog all about the trails, history and scenery they discover on their hikes together both locally and abroad.

Established in 2016, the project started out as a lifestyle blog for Dawn, a former programmer who was looking for some way to structure her newfound time in retirement. The initiative gave her a project and an outlet for hobbies like photography and cooking.

“You go into retirement and there’s a huge identity change you have to make,” she said in an interview. “You don’t introduce yourself in the way you used to.”

Dan and Dawn Page on a hiking trip at the Nebraska National Forest in Halsey, Nebraska, in October 2019. They are the author and photographer behind the local blog Coastside Slacking. Courtesy Dan and Dawn Page.

The project pivoted about six months later when her husband Dan retired. Dan was a former journalist, and they decided to make the blog a joint effort built around hiking, one of their few shared hobbies. From that point, Dan took on most of the writing while Dawn took most of the photos.

The blog, Dan explained, provided a way for the couple to “continue to be creative, stay healthy and enjoy beautiful area” while building something together.

And while a number of the posts they’ve written share their experiences hiking around the world, including in Chile, many others — especially over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic — have highlighted trails closer to home.

“When COVID struck, we weren’t supposed to go more than 5 miles from the house. Our challenge was to go out and find those places where we could … get away from the stress and enjoy nature,” Dawn said.

During the pandemic, the duo developed a habit of going out for weekly hikes, enjoying their proximity to the rugged beauty of the coast and its abundant open spaces.

As retired locals, they added, they enjoy the full benefits of the Coastside’s trails on weekdays. On weekends, they tend to leave the trails for the tourists and out-of-towners — also, the traffic makes it hard to get around. But they’re OK with the trade-off.

“It’s a favorite thing, to complain about traffic on the weekends,” Dawn added. “Every beach town complains about this.”

“We feel lucky we can go out during the week, when people are at work or school,” Dan said.

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, a California State Parks property in the foothills east of Half Moon Bay, features an easy trail and a 19th-century English Lake District “bank barn.” Courtesy Dawn Page.

They said that they find most of the trails they eventually write about on the trail app AllTrails, and have figured out that their sweet spot is between 5 and 8 miles at a medium to hard difficulty. And while they enjoy connecting with and inspiring others to hit the trails too, their blog is not trying to become another AllTrails, they explained.

They’re more interested in sharing their experiences, specifically positive ones. If they have a bad experience on a trail, they’d rather not write about it than pan it. But they’ll make an exception for funny-bad anecdotes that add to the stories they tell, Dawn explained.

Writing about hiking trails, they’re always looking for funny or interesting angles for their posts. While there is a lot of biodiversity in the region, there’s still a finite number of tree species and microclimates to identify, Dan explained. They use nicknames — Dan is “Montara Man Dan” and Dawn is “The Geek” — and include running jokes to make the posts more personal.

At the Heritage Grove at Sam McDonald Park near La Honda. Sam McDonald, who was born in Louisiana and descended from slaves, acquired much of the land during a 51-year career with Stanford and willed it to the university, who sold it to San Mateo County, according to Coastside Slacking blogger Dan Page. Courtesy Dawn Page.

They also add interest by describing some of the local history of the places they visit.

For instance, in researching the history of the Cowell-Purisima Trail south of Half Moon Bay, Dan said he learned that in the second half of the 1800s, there was a town called Purissima that was at one point bigger than Half Moon Bay.

Situated south of Half Moon Bay along Purisima Creek, it was once home to the large 17-room mansion of San Francisco waffle tycoon Henry Dobbel. Dobbel built many of the buildings in Purissima, but became overextended when logging declined and crops failed, Dan wrote. Dobbel sold the estate to Henry Cowell, an industrialist, in 1890. And that’s likely how the Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail wasn’t named after Dobbel instead, he added.

Some of their favorite recent trails and areas are the Farmer’s Daughter Trail in Moss Beach, and trails in Big Basin, which they explored before the CZU August Lightning Fire shut the beloved state park down for the foreseeable future.

They said they are sympathetic to concerns of some of the folks in town who might rather they keep their discoveries to themselves to keep the tourists at bay, and haven’t written about all of their local favorite spots.

At the same time, they noted, there are also some underutilized public parks on the Coastside that they have chosen to feature in their blog. For instance, Burleigh H. Murray Ranch is a state park with an easy walking trail featuring a large barn, and Purisima Creek Redwoods offers plenty of redwoods without the crowds of a more popular destination like Muir Woods, they noted.

Farmer’s Daughter Trail at Moss Beach is part of the Rancho Corral de Tierra acreage managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and offers an easy to moderate trail through the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills east of Half Moon Bay Airport. Courtesy Dawn Page.

Dan noted that the community has changed a lot in the past 30 years, and that “it’s important to respect the people who have been here a long time.”

Even so, he added, the Pages have come to love their retirement hometown. “It’s been everything we hoped it would be.”

Access the Coastside Slacking blog at coastsideslacking.com.

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting.

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