Only in the Bay Area could the hunt for a Christmas tree be satisfying on so many levels, fulfilling a peculiar regional craving to do good, exercise, discover a completely new ravishing ocean view, save money and, oh, yeah, cop a "free-range" organic tree -- all at the same time.
The only pitfall to "shopping" for a tree Sunday in Pacifica's Pedro Point Headlands? You had to work for it.
As in hike. Uphill. A lot.
Three-year-old Leif Guillotel was one of more than 100 people to grab a saw (in his case, plastic) and join in the one-day-only endeavor.
"Let's hike, mom," he said at the outset, ready, in his little red rubber boots and miniature green flannel shirt, to yell "Timber."
By the end of the mile-or-so hike, he was dragging. But in between, the young family picked up two trees (one for Leif's room) they easily felled, for about $20.
The day-long event was also a win-win for its co-sponsors, the nonprofit Pacifica Land Trust and the Pedro Point neighborhood association.
They need to remove the Monterey pines anyway to prevent them from encroaching on the wildflower-rich, coastal ecosystem. This way, they raise about $800 in donations in return for the trees and draw attention to the headlands restoration effort.
Getting to the tree-cutting area is both exhilarating and exhausting. But the reward for the steep climb through the fog on a trail studded with poison oak and full of ticks makes it all worth it. At the apex are stunning views of jagged rock outcroppings and crescent beaches vaguely reminiscent of the island of Capri, though the water is greener.
For many years, the headlands were a haven for motorcycling, and the many spinning tires created deep erosion gullies, destroying much of the habitat. Restoration involves directing trails along more sustainable slopes, collecting and growing seeds to plant in eroded slopes, slowing runoff whenever possible to improve water quality, and managing invasive species like Monterey pines.
Large pine groves were marked with red ribbons, a sign they were to be left intact. The public was invited to cut down the outliers. The selection isn't as quite as good as three years ago when the organizations first sponsored the "Charlie Brown Tree" program. It's named after the forlorn little fir tree in the famed Charles Schulz cartoon strip that Charlie Brown's friends wind up joining together to beautify in the true spirit of Christmas.
"The trees up here aren't perfect," coordinator Lynn Adams said. "I call them free-range trees. They're, like, natural."
The Masselots live down the street but had no idea of the epic views from the headlands of the Big Sur-like coast.
"It's amazing for us," said Alex Masselot, a software engineer from Switzerland who with his wife and daughter bagged a 10-foot tree. "We discover the trail, the view, they get the trees removed, we get the tree and everyone is happy."
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.
The "Charlie Brown Tree" program is a one-day, once-a-year event, and the headlands are difficult to reach now because there is extremely limited parking and a dangerous turnoff from Highway 1. But once Caltrans opens the Devils Slide tunnels early next year, the swath of Highway 1 that goes by the headlands will be closed to cars, and the area will be easy to reach on foot. To contact the Pacifica Land Trust, go to www.pacifica-land-trust.org or call 650-359-7191.