Hiding in the shadows of toppling coastal cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco is this dreamy little town called Half Moon Bay. Named after the crescent-shaped harbor just north of downtown, this city is one of the oldest settlements in San Mateo county. Below is the ultimate guide of what to do in Half Moon Bay if you are lucky enough to spend a night in this coastal fantasyland.
When To Go To Half Moon Bay:
There really is no bad time to visit Half Moon Bay, however, I will say that each season has its perks:
- SprIng: During spring, the winter storms have mostly passed, leaving for clear and perfect days on the coast. You can watch the wildflowers bloom or enjoy a smooth kayak ride on the ocean. There are less tourists during this time, leaving for plenty of private experiences and lower hotel rates.
- Summer: Summer happens to be the busiest time for tourists. However, it tends to be extremely foggy, especially during the morning and evenings. During the afternoon, the fog will normally clear up, giving you a bright and beautiful, sunny day on the coast. This is the warmest time in Half Moon Bay
- Fall: Time for the Annual Art & Pumpkin Festival! For over 50 years, Half Moon Bay has come to life with all sorts of displays, entertainment, crafts and drinks during the fall. The summer fog has mostly disappeared, leaving room for spectacular sunrises and sunsets during this time.
- Winter: In the winter, there are greater chances of high winds and storms coming in on the ocean, as well as lower temperatures. This brings the international big-wave surfers, as well as grey and humpback whales into town.
1. Watch The Sunrise in Pillar Point Harbor
Pillar Point Harbor is where you’ll find the pier and all of the boats that come with it. This is a magical place to watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean, that is, if the fog doesn’t beat you to it. If you’d rather sleep in, Pillar Point Harbor is also a fun place for outdoor adventures like kayaking, fishing or doing whale-watching tours, as well as a great spot for purchasing seafood (like crabs straight from the fishermen)!
2. Grab Breakfast At Half Moon Bay Bakery
Half Moon Bay Bakery is a long-time local favorite. Start your day off right with a strong coffee and a mouth-watering pastry. From sweet pumpkin pies to savory artichoke focaccia, there are plenty of options for everyone to choose from.
If you’re in town for more than one day, Moonside Bakery is also a wonderful stop with toppling omelettes, wood-fired pizzas and the classic croissants.
If you are staying the night, check out Half Moon Bay Lodge. There is complimentary breakfast in the morning and they serve fresh artisanal pastries from Half Moon Bay Bakery! You can check out a bike and ride downtown to shop around afterward. Use code ‘LNL15’ when checking out on Half Moon Bay Lodge for 15% off your stay.
3. Shop in the Historical Downtown Half Moon Bay
If you don’t have much of an appetite for breakfast, take your coffee to go and stroll down Main Street in Half Moon Bay. From shiny antique stores to trendy fashion, there will be plenty of places that catch your eye along the way. If you’re looking for more of a historical stop, both the Johnston House and Half Moon Bay Jail are located downtown.
4. Grab Lunch From The Garden Deli Cafe
The Garden Deli Cafe located inside of San Benito House is a great place to grab a freshly made sandwich to-go and bring it along with you for a picnic on the beach! Besides sandwiches, there are also salads, a few sides and even dessert to complete your exploring. Check out their menu here.
5. Take a Hike At Moss Beach
I truly felt like I was walking through a spa when I entered Moss Beach. I had the trails to myself as I made my way up through the towering, mossy trees and cut through the mist to a panoramic ocean view. If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot a few seals basking on the beach. After your hike, walk down to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve without even having to move your car.
6. Search For Exotic Creatures In The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is well-known for their tide pools. When the tide is high, all sorts of creatures zoom into the crevices of the rocks. When the tide is low, you can then see what sorts of marine life came in with the waves and easily spot them resting in the tide pools. It’s for this reason that you will want to make sure you arrive when the tide is low for best viewing. You can find tons of different species–urchins, starfish, etc.– right at the doorstep of Half Moon Bay.
7. Stop At Harley Farms
Okay, so Harley Farms may not technically be located in Half Moon Bay. However, the small town of Pescadero is a mere 10 minute drive down the coast. Harley Farms is fun for all ages! You can take a tour of the farm or simply check out the bleating goats right from the parking lot. Inside, you’ll be amazed by how many products await you. You’ll find everything from fresh-squeezed lemonade to salamis and every type of cheese you could ever dream of. Pair these with a sleeve of crackers and you’ve got a wonderful addition to your afternoon picnic! If you’d rather stick with your deli items, try the goat milk bath and body products to have a mini spa retreat back at your hotel.
8. Grab A Pint At Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has been open since 2000 and seems to be getting busier every year. Located right on the coast, you’ll have a gorgeous view accompanied by an ice cold beer. If you’re visiting during the annual pumpkin fest, get in the spirit with their Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Maybe beer isn’t your thing after all. Don’t worry, there are plenty of specialty cocktails to choose from, as well.
9. Have a dinner for the Books
I wish I could give you the best of the best, die for, premium choice for dinner, but…you guys, there are way too many good ones. So, instead, I am going to share a few of my favorite places. Keep in mind that, since this is a smaller town, places may close up a bit earlier for dinner.
- For The Seafood Lovers: Sam’s Chowder House (Known for their lobster rolls)
- For The Picky Eaters: Ketch Joanne Restaurant (Has a little bit of everything)
- For The Last-Minute Planners: It’s Italia (Cozy, Italian spot- No reservation needed for bar seating)
- For The Fine Diners: Pasta Moon (Michelin)
10. Watch the Sunset at Gray Whale Cove State Beach
Gray Whale Cove State Beach has been described by many as the best sunset of their lives. I wish I could say I was one of these people, however, the weather was not on my side during my visit to Half Moon Bay. Regardless of this, Gray Whale Cove State Beach is still a wonderful stop. If you’re looking for an awesome photo opportunity, head left toward the Cypress trees when you enter the bluff. There is a tree swing here overlooking the cove!
No matter where your adventures in Half Moon Bay lead you or when they begin, I know you will have a fantastic time exploring this hidden gem on the coast. If you are road tripping a larger portion of the Pacific Coast Highway, check out this 14 Day West Coast Road Trip Mobile Itinerary. It includes daily stops with driving distances in between, recommended nightly accommodation in California, Oregon and Washington, as well as a bonus guide to dining in Half Moon Bay. Happy road trippin’!