Half Moon Bay, California
best things to see & do along the coast
See the tips below on the very best things to do (see map) in historic little towns and on fabulous sea coast trails (see trails map) near Half Moon Bay. They are fabulous!
Map Montara Moss-Beach Pillar-Point Princeton El-Granada
Half-Moon-Bay Ritz-Carlton Pescadero Santa-Cruz Tips
To further research your sightseeing trip you might also check out:
* Detailed Map – precise locations of top things to see & do near HMB
* Trails & beaches – writeup and map showing the best beaches, views, and trails
* Pictures – a visual hint of what to expect on your adventure
Half Moon Bay, Ca, the oldest settlement in San Mateo County, was called Spanishtown in the 1840s. There is not much to do here but enjoy the small town atmosphere, stroll around, and have a tasty snack. This is an excellent way to spend a relaxed Sunday morning. Get there fairly early though to avoid traffic coming over Hwy 92.
“On” Main Street
The shops and restaurants in Main St’s historic business district only cover a few blocks so just walk around and check out what looks interesting to you. We usually park near Main St/Mill St. You’ll find a good variety of small local shops including book stores, restaurants, a music store, bakeries, a big feed store, local grocery store. One block west of Main St is an old one-room jailhouse and one of the oldest churches around. It’s a far more interesting place to just wander around than some sterile modern shopping mall.
For an outstanding pastrami sandwich (it’s the fresh bread :) check out San Benito Deli, 356 Main St. You’ll have to sit outside at the picnic tables adjacent the street or try the more secluded tables on the patios further back. We often enjoy coffee and pastry at the pleasant patio of Moonside Bakery & Cafe, 604 Main St. The oldest bakery in town, Half Moon Bay Bakery at 514 Main St., has big & good chocolate chip cookies for $2.
For higher-end meals consider Pasta Moon, 315 Main St, or Cetrellas, 845 Main St. Flying Fish Grill, 211 San Mateo Rd (Hwy 92) just west of Main St., has decent food (try the seafood cioppino for $14.75) but the atmosphere is definitely lacking since they moved from their cute little previous location.
In the big old shopping center at the northeast corner of Hwy 92 & Hwy 1 are a couple of local favorites. One is the hidden Peets Coffee shop. Another is the Happy Taco Taqueria, 184 San Mateo Rd (Hwy 92) which is one of our personal favorites. Decor is minimal (quite authentic, however, and most of the patrons are Mexican) but the food is very tasty. An excellent Italian Deli (originally in North Beach) with a few sit-down tables.
On Highway 1 just south of Highway 92 is another nifty hidden gem: Dad’s Luncheonette. They serve tasty burgers made by a 3 star Michelin Chef (it’s true) out of a historic railroad car (also true). Another hidden local treat just north of Highway 92 is Granola’s Coffee House.
“Off” Main Street
From Moonside Bakery head east on Miramontes St, past the Methodist church (chapel built 1862 and now the oldest operating church in San Mateo County) on Johnston St, and then the creek , about 3 blocks to see the interesting old (1857) Graveyard Hill cemetery on your right. The cemetery is not well taken care of but is still beautiful and full of history.
We’ll often walk back north along Johnston St, from the Community United Methodist church at Miramontes St/Johnston St, to check out local homes. On the way see the tiny historic (1911) 2-cell jailhouse, 505 Johnston St.
Plants thrive in this area due to Pacific Ocean weather which is usually mild all year and foggy summer mornings. In fact, flower farming for garden plants and the area’s top industry is cut flowers.
Very big, beautiful plants are why we enjoy the local residential landscaping all along the Half Moon Bay coast. One of the most gorgeous displays of cultivated plant life I’ve ever seen is springtime at the Victorian English country gardens surrounding Mill Rose Inn, 615 Mill St/Church St.
Fall & Halloween in Half Moon Bay
Fall has some of the clearest, mildest weather along the Half Moon Bay coast and is exceptionally beautiful. However, Halloween is definitely the busiest and most crowded time of year.
We, and most local residents, avoid the crowds by going several weekends earlier and then hiding out from all the traffic during the Pumpkin Festival and Halloween weekend.
During the HMB Pumpkin Festival every October farmers compete in the World Championship Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Weigh Off. The winner in 2012 was a 1,775 lb pumpkin that broke the California State record.
Around Halloween is when all the families bring their kids to buy pumpkins (note: pumpkins can be much less expensive at Safeway’s but, of course, you don’t get the ambiance) and to enjoy kiddie train & pony rides at Lemos Farm on Hwy 92 just west of town. At this time of year Lemos Farm is packed and traffic is at its worst, backing up most weekend days for miles.
There are several pumpkin stands up and down the coastal highway and many have fun things to do like animals, haystacks to climb on, and cornfield mazes. One of the best is Arata’s Farm (about 6 miles south of Half Moon Bay). We also like Bob’s Pumpkin Patch & Vegetable Stand about 5 miles south of town on Highway 1. You can go out in the actual field where the pumpkins are grown to collect them yourself. Bob’s has less frills but is more true-to-life and they do have hay bales and farm animals.
The beautiful little harbor town of Princeton-by-the-Sea has been a SF tourist destination since the early 1900s for good reason. Pillar Point Harbor is still used by working fisherman and there are several local restaurants, small shops, and beach walks nearby. See Princeton-by-the-Sea, El Granada, and the Princeton Harbor map for entertaining things to do.
There is usually plenty of parking near the harbor. Other facilities include a public boat ramp, kayak rentals, surfing beaches, sport fishing & whale sighting tours.
Here are some good local walks:
- Fishing pier area, 1 Johnson Pier off Capistrano Rd It is fun to walk out along the pier and check out various fishing operations. You can often buy freshly caught fish right off the boats. In the parking lot are a few older restaurants and small shops, including Mavericks Surfing shop and places that give fishing or whale sight seeing tours.
- New shopping & lodging, Capistrano Rd In the last ten years new tourist lodging and shopping has been built near the fishing pier, e.g., Oceano Hotel & Spa and the Harbor Village Shops. Caffe Mezza Luna, 240 Capistrano Rd in front of Harbor Village, is a very cute little place for gelato, pastries, snacks, and coffee.
- Beach walk east This pleasant walk goes east along the shoreline from the fishing pier. As you walk you’ll pass by the boat launching pad and then see Sam’s Chowder House on the bluff to your left. There’s a little nice beach to walk on immediately southwest of here. Continue a little further past the RV Park on your left and on to the El Granada Surfer’s Beach. Because of the nice waves influenced by the harbor’s breakwater this is an excellent place to learn how to surf. The many surfers you’ll see usually park just across Cabrillo Hwy.
- Mirada Surf West walk You can continue walking southeast either via Surfers Beach or Mirada Surf West Walk on the bluffs above the beach to Mirada Rd/Magellan Ave. A couple of blocks further on Mirada Rd, just southeast of Mirada Rd/Cortez Ave is Ebb Tide Cafe, 311 Mirada Rd. This is a little coffee shop with a good outside deck to enjoy the ocean from, the best coffee shop view we’ve seen; however, it is only open weekends. The bluff walk then continues further southeast via the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail along some beautiful dune terrain.
In Princeton-by-the-Sea our favorite restaurants are as follow:
- Mezza Luna, 459 Prospect Way Southern Italian style, excellent food, nice service, fair prices.
- Sam’s Chowder House outdoor bar, 4210 N. Cabrillo Hwy Great view (see live webcam), good drinks from outside bar open weekends. Better food service outside than inside. Too bad it has become so popular that you often can’t find parking, especially weekends.
- Cafe Gibralter, 425 Ave Alhambra, El Granada This fine Mediterranean style restaurant is located in El Granada, across Cabrillo Highway from Princeton. It has very nice decor and service but is pricey. Interesting cuisine including a tasty buffalo dish and a squid & calamari appetizer. Open for dinner only and usually requires reservations.
Other popular eating places we visit less often:
- Barbara’s Fish Trap, 281 Capistrano Rd It is old and novel so we will sometimes take Midwestern visitors there for the experience. However, on weekends lines can be long and the food is good but not great. They do serve excellent calamari which we will usually buy at the outside window and then eat at sidewalk tables nearby. (Note: Prices just went dramatically up. Looks like more tourists have found it.)
- Half Moon Bay Brewery, 390 Capistrano Rd Decent food, specialty beer, and a small dance floor. Also, it has a big outdoor patio but not a good ocean view. This restaurant is popular and provides a little action at night but feels a little like a chain restaurant.
- 3-Zero Cafe, 9850 Cabrillo Hwy N, Half Moon Bay Airport A basic local airport cafe with friendly service.
If you fly your own small airplane the Half Moon Bay Airport is a good destination for breakfast or for a visit to Princeton Harbor. There is a rear gate to the the airport at the southeast end which goes to the Mezza Luna Restaurant parking lot. If you are a military veteran looking for inexpensive drinks & talk check out the American Legion Coastside Post 474’s nice old bar, 470 Capistrano Rd, 650-728-9224, just across the street from Mezza Luna.
We found that shortcut into the airport when going to the Pacific Coast Dream Machines show held the last Sunday in April every year. The various old planes, cars, and other machines at the show are great fun.
El Granada is a sleepy little residential town immediately inland from Princeton-by-the-Sea. Its big beautiful parks, initially developed for San Francisco tourists in the 1920s, are an unexpected find.
This pleasing natural area is located immediately west of Princeton-by-the-Sea and southwest of the Half Moon Bay Airport. Once you get into Princeton Harbor work your way west along the coast, on Princeton Ave through a small industrial area, until you get to West Point Ave. The Pillar Point Marsh parking lot is at the west end of West Point Ave.
- Pillar Point Marsh This is a tiny preserve where a fresh water marsh and brackish salt water marsh come together. Birds and bird watchers love it here and spotted over 151 species of birds. You can walk along the marsh’s beach front easterly back to Princeton Harbor.
- Pillar Point Beach Take a pleasant half mile walk south along the wide dirt trail under the bluffs to Pillar Point. When the tide is low you can walk much further out on to the ocean floor; however, it is slick and rough this is not particularly recommended.
- Pillar Point Bluffs Mavericks, one of the most famous and deadly big wave breaks in the U.S., is about a half mile off shore and a little too far north to see from Pillar Point Beach. However, you can see its location from Pillar Point Bluffs. From the parking lot cross West Point Ave, climb up the fire road, and bear left to get to the top of the steep bluffs. They overlook Mavericks and several beaches below which are part of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. If you continue walking northwest over pretty bluff trails you can get to the town of Moss Beach.
- Mavericks Surf Contest Only a few times each year, between November-March when the weather far off shore is just right, waves at Mavericks get up to 50 feet high (in 2007 one was said to have been 100 feet high but typically they run at 15-40 feet). We never go during the Mavericks big wave surfing contest because of the crowds. It’s better to follow the contest action via the Internet where you can see the contest up close.
The Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, 200 Nevada Ave, is headquartered here. At low tide this regular looking beach becomes a tide pool wonderland of sea critters and plants. See tide information for best times to come. You can also call the fishfone, 650-726-8724, at Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton for recorded information on the day’s tides.
A local landmark is the Moss Beach Distillery, 140 Beach Way, which is “haunted” by its own Blue Lady ghost. It started as a prohibition speakeasy in 1927 and the foggy beach below provided cover for boats bringing in bootleg liquor for San Francisco. The view here is excellent if it is not foggy. On a nice warm day we definitely enjoy the dog-friendly outdoor deck with its fire pits and pub grill.
The Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton, 1 Miramontes Point Rd, is a beautiful five star hotel & golf facility. It provides a world-class experience as indicated by it’s ranking as one of Tennis Magazine’s “Top 50 U.S. Tennis Resorts” and #18 in the 2009 Golf Digest “Top Resort” list.
- California Coastal Trail 25 parking places are reserved for free public use. Just ask at the entry gate and hope that these spaces are not already full. This public trail up and down this part of the coastline is also used as a golf cart path.
- Manhattan Beach The beach below the bluffs is one of the very most beautiful beaches along the coast and it is rarely crowded (though free coastal trail parking can be). Access is via stairs located about 3/4 mile south of the hotel. You get there by walking the nice golf cart path.
- Five star hotel Great views, fire pits outside on individual patios, five star service. Also a 16,000 sf spa, a swimming pool, tennis courts and two 18-hole championship golf courses. Conde Nast Traveler has named it one of the “World’s Best Places to Stay” (if you have got the big bucks).
- Outdoor patio and inside bar Fantastic views in an elegant setting. For the price of a somewhat expensive coffee, tea, or drink you can enjoy. Bagpipes and hot chocolate bar at sunset make the patio a romantic destination.
- Mullins Bar & Grill A very comfortable upscale bar & grill adjacent the Ritz-Carlton pro shop. Has a view, full bar, plenty of TVs for watching sports, and an outside patio. Open Mon-Sun 6:30am-9pm.
- Championship golfing Golf is available at the 18 hole Old Course, originally designed by Arnold Palmer, and at the 18 hole Ocean Course, designed by famous golf architect Arthur Hills.
We love the drive south from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero Beach. The beauty of the landscape + the sea + fog often make it almost magical even on bad weather days. We usually head to Pescadero, a small town two miles east of Pescadero Beach and the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. See map.
This historic little town est. 1856 is one of our favorites even though there is often really not much happening. It’s just very relaxing and very nice! Here are some things to do on the main street of town:
- Duarte’s Tavern (est 1894), 202 Stage Rd. Try the artichoke soup and olallieberry pie. It can get crowded, especially weekends, since it is highly regarded by locals.
- Mercada & Tacqueria de Amigos, 1999 Pescadero Creek Rd. Located inside a gas station you’ll find the decor is nil; but the burritos are inexpensive and tasty and there is a small park in the back where you can eat.
- Made in Pescadero, 216 Stage Rd. Georgous wood furniture hand-made by local craftsmen. Some of the nicest in the SF Bay area but not inexpensive.
- Downtown Local Coffee Shop, 213 Stage Road. Nifty little gourmet coffee shop featuring coffee by Sightglass, a great San Francisco artisan roaster. The people and setting are very nice.
- Sante Arcangeli Wine Tasting Room, 216-A Stage Rd. They are open weekends 12-5 pm and feature local wines made near Pescadero.
- Fruit & Vegetable Stand Excellent local produce and honey, at good prices too. Open some weekends.
- Pescadero Country Store, 251 Stage Rd. Features BBQ food and music outside on weekends.
- Arcangeli Country Bakery & Grocery Co (founded 1929), 287 Stage Rd. This is our favorite place in town, mainly because I like the fresh baked goods. We usually hang out on the front bench and enjoy the town’s peaceful vibrations while eating their great homemade cheese pastries. Or, we may join the many weekend bicyclists who make this their destination and sit at the picnic tables in back by the creek. Arcangeli’s is famous for their fresh “half” baked artichoke bread which you take home to finish baking yourself.
- First Congregational Church of Pescadero, 363 Stage Road. Built May 1867, this is the oldest church building on its original site in San Mateo-Santa Clara County.
Here are several more attractions near Pescadero:
Harley Farms Goat Dairy, 205 North St Buy some good goat cheese at the source. Check out the goats.
- Phipps Country Store & Farm, 2700 Pescadero Rd. A little store the kids will enjoy. We like the wide variety of beans they sell. There is an area in back ($3 charge) with several farm animals and exotic birds. You can also go into the fields or picnic at tables.
- Stage Road Drive north via Stage Rd back to a former stagecoach stop located in San Gregorio, across Hwy 84 from the San Gregorio General Store, Hwy 84/Stage Rd. There is often live music at the General Store on Sunday afternoons. By the way, Stage Road is a fantastic bike ride with few cars on it even on Sundays.
- Don’t miss the Beaches south of Pescadero. See Half Moon Bay State Beaches. We think Bean Hollow Beach, just 3 miles south of Pescadero on Hwy 1, is one of the very best on the coast. Definitely check out the outstanding Bean Hollow Nature Trail leading north from here to Pebble Beach which has pebbles rather than sand.
- The 243-acre Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a part of Pescadero State Beach, is also interesting.
- Cloverdale Road For another nice Sunday drive head south via Cloverdale Drive to Butano State Park. There you can enjoy picnicking or hiking on 40 miles of trails within its 2d-growth redwood forests.
We will often head east back to the San Francisco Peninsula area via Pescadero Creek Road to Hwy 84 to Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35). If you are a little more adventurous take Pescadero Creek Rd to Alpine Rd to Page Mill Rd. By the way, the latter trip is a good twisting low-traffic way to bike back to Palo Alto.
Here are some of the outstanding local bicycle routes in the area. Because they are old and twisty these routes have less traffic and are more beautiful than more modern alternate routes, for bike and car alike:
- Get dropped off at Alpine Rd/Skyline Blvd. and then bike down Alpine Rd & Pescadero Creek Rd towards the ocean where you meet your car ride either at Pescadero or Pescadero Beach.
- Ride a local loop using Hwy 1/Pescadero Creek Rd/Stage Rd/Hwy 84/Hwy1. I recommend planning your bicycle trip to travel in the wind’s direction (usually south) when you are on Hwy 1.
- Ride a 50+ mile loop from Woodside to La Honda via Old La Honda Rd, to Pescadero via Pescadero Rd, to San Gregoria via Stage Rd, continue north via Stage Rd & Hwy 1 to Tunitas Creek Rd, Tunitas Creek Rd east to Hwy 35 (Skyline), Skyline to Woodside via Kings Mt Rd.
The drive from Pescadero to Santa Cruz is not as magical in our humble opinion, but still very pleasing. Though mainly scenery here are few special places to check out along the way:
- Pigeon Point Lighthouse (first lit 1872), 25 miles north of Santa Cruz. Classic lighthouse look. Worth a very quick stop to look at the grounds if you’ve never been there before. Good hostel.
- Ano Nuevo Breeding Elephant Seal Tours, These are the world’s largest mainland breeding grounds for northern elephant seals. Access is only by guided tour reservation during breeding season 12/15-3/31. No reservations are required 4/1-11/30. Closed to public during pre-breeding season 12/1-12/14.
- Wilder Ranch State Park Located just west of Hwy 1 immediately before you get into Santa Cruz. Has historical ranch buildings and nice beach walks. This is also a good place to go for a bike ride. You’ll get a real feel for historical coastside ranching.
- UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, 1156 High St, take Bay St north off Hwy 1 right after you get into Santa Cruz A very nice arboretum with several plant areas including one featuring hummingbirds.
Montara, CA montara area map top
This 3000 person community looks & feels like what you would expect from a small, beautiful, remote coastal town. Yet, it is only a short 20 mile commute south of San Francisco. Now that the new Devil’s Slide tunnel is completed Montara is much more convenient, especially to the City. Montara also has exceptional weather, quite unlike foggy Pacifica nearby.
- Just strolling the streets on the Montara town hill west of Cabrillo Hwy is a treat! This residental neighborhood is quiet and homey with natural landscaping and beautiful but unobtrusive ocean views. Taking a Sunday walk is a great way to relax with your spouse and dog :).
On the north side of town near Faralone View Elementary School, 1100 LeConte Ave/3d St, are some interesting things to do. At the north end of LeConte Ave is a trailhead entering the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and McNee State Park further north. Immediately on the south side of the school is a nice little trail heading towards the ocean used primarily by neighbors to walk their dogs. Across LeConte Ave, east of the school, is a surprise treat Alpacas By The Sea, 1162 Tamarind St/Kanoff St. A total of 65 alpacas live here at a small ranch and these cute little critters are close and friendly. They much smaller than llamas and have been domesticated in the Andes thousands of years for their fine “wool.””
- Point Montara Light House, 16th St/Cabrillo Hwy To the south of town is a stunning little old lighthouse and beach. This rugged, dramatic, secluded setting is now being used as a hostel. You can walk around the historic lighthouse grounds, established in 1875 after more than 90 vessels had run aground, and investigate the small hidden beach cove below with its interesting rocks pools. Just sitting on the bluff bench overlooking the ocean is an experience to remember. During the right times of year, December-May, you may even see the gray whales offshore migrating from the Artic to Baja and back. In late March we were sitting by the lighthouse and saw several 5-10′ fountains of water (presumably whales spouting) a mile off shore … but not any breaching activity.
- Montara State Beach, 2d St/Cabrillo Hwy Just to the north of town is a lovely state beach. Dogs are allowed on leash. At the south end of the beach you can climb up a steep narrow path to a nifty little promontory surrounded by astonishing natural beauty.
- Whale Cove State Beach About a mile further north of Montara is this beautiful, more secluded little beaches which is popular with nude sunbathers on warm days.
- Gray Whale Cove Trail Across the highway from the state beach is one of the best short hikes on the coast. This is also a good vantage point for whale watching. You can start at the parking lot here to take the spectacular 8-mile round trip Montara Mountain Hike to the summit as well.
- Local restaurants, There is only one gas station/mart in town and 2-3 small eating places which are nothing special. However, we do much enjoy the rustic enclosed patio with an ocean view at Here Comes The Sun coffee shop, 8455 N Cabrillo Hwy/9th St. Since it caters to locals this shop closes at 4 pm and is also closed on Sundays.
Again, see Montara Area Map for exact locations of the sights above.
The Pacific coast is best seen by walking or biking down the extensive coastside trails near Half Moon Bay. See Half Moon Bay beach trails for details.
- The times you drive are critical. Start early on weekends. If you go to Half Moon Bay via Hwy 92 after 10 am on weekends you may well get stuck in stop & go traffic. Also, keep in mind that all this traffic heads back in the late afternoon. We can usually avoid most such problems by hitting Hwy 92 before 10 am and heading back before 3 pm.
- Weekdays involve many fewer cars. However, there is some commuter traffic coming from Half Moon Bay and heading back home during commuter hours.
- Avoid going on hot weekend days if at all possible. Even if it is foggy on the coast the roads will be packed. On such days local Half Moon Bay residents usually stay at home or take off early for someplace inland.
- We also avoid Half Moon Bay around Halloween pumpkin season (we go a few weeks earlier) and we avoid Pillar Point during the Mavericks Surf Contest.
- The Pacific Coast is often foggy in the mornings, especially summers. The good news is that the fog often burns off and, even when foggy, the weather is usually mild and the coast very beautiful.
- Pacifica and Moss Beach are the foggiest towns along this coast. Montara is almost always clearer & warmer.
- The Half Moon Bay area, in general, is much less foggy than it was 30 years ago.
Here are some good routes to take if you are driving between the Half Moon Bay coastline and the San Francisco Bay area. Stop and enjoy whereever appropriate.
- Route 1: From Hwy 280/Hwy 92: Drive to Half Moon Bay via Hwy 92 and then head north on Hwy 1 towards Princeton and Montara. From there we keep driving north on Hwy 1 to Hwy 280. If you are headed back to the Peninsula we take a shortcut west in Pacifica via Sharp Park Rd to Hwy 35 then south to Hwy 280.
- Route 2: Go via Hwy 1 from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero. Then take Stage Coach Road back to Hwy 84. Go west up Hwy 84 to Skyline Blvd and north back to Hwy 92. Stop at Alice’s Restaurant, Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35)/La Honda Rd (Hwy 84), for a burger with the local motorcycle crowd on your way back.
- Route 3: From Half Moon Bay go south to Santa Cruz via scenic Hwy 1. For a faster route back that avoids the traffic return via Hwy 17 and Hwy 280.
Take your time and enjoy the many great things to see & do along the Half Moon Bay California coast. It is very close, provides an world class vacation experience, and can give you many days of relaxing pleasure.
- Half Moon Bay Area Map – Exact locations of the best attractions near Half Moon Bay.
- Half Moon Bay Trails & Beaches and Map – Expands on the many walking adventures nearby.
- Princeton-by-the-Sea, El Granada and Map – Historic towns along one of the most interesting parts of the coast.
- Montara Map and Pacifica Map of things to do
- Half Moon Bay Pictures – Some pictures taken near Half Moon Bay.
- Local Calendar of music & other activities on the Coast
- Back from Half Moon Bay, CA, to Best Towns Near SF
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