By the third morning, I stop looking at my watch. Between the area known as Moss Landing and the city of Marina, our only company is a variety of shorebirds. Sanderlings scoot with their windup-toy-like legs away from the waves, around us and then back to the receding tide line. Marbled godwits and long-billed curlews join them on the beach, while black surf scoters bob in rafts just beyond the waves.

Ahead of us is the Salinas River, which doesn’t often connect to the ocean. But it’s early spring after a big rainstorm, and the mouth looks too deep for us to be able to wade across. A quick cellphone call to ­Margaret solves the problem. She shows up in her car to drive us around the river, and we’re on our way again.

Maggie Li
A short distance south, I stumble upon a gigantic rusty bucket from a dredge. In the 1950s, six mining operations harvested sand from the mouth of the Salinas River and the surf zone to produce concrete. After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued regulations in the 1970s to cease shoreline mining because of erosion concerns, all but one factory stopped production.

We scout for our lodging, the Sanctuary Beach Resort, hidden up in the dunes. I rarely encounter other guests, which makes it easy to sit undisturbed on a patio lounge chair, watching the birds in the grasses and listening to the wind and surf. Just off Highway 1, Kula Ranch Island Steakhouse fits the beach theme of our long walk along the coast, and I celebrate the near end of our trek with a mai tai. There are still about 10 miles to go tomorrow.
On the last day, we walk between the water and the Marina Dunes Preserve’s mountainous sand dunes — some of the highest on the Central Coast. I spot footprints on the beach but never catch up to the person they belong to. At Fort Ord Dunes State Park, we head inland, stumbling upon a former firing range and storage bunkers from the park’s days as a military base.

Monterey slowly comes into focus: the waterfront, the piers and the hotels. After seeing nobody all morning, we see the landscape ahead dotted with people, like a pointillistic painting. But as I near Fisherman’s Wharf, a place that once lured me with its shiny souvenirs, soft-serve ice cream and constant noise, all I want to do is turn around and retreat toward the quiet moments I’d encountered back on the wild coast.

Jill K. Robinson is a freelance journalist who lives in the tiny California beach town of El Granada. Even though she loves the peace of the coast, she won’t rule out a ride on the Big Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or a game of beach volleyball.