Day Trip Destination: California's Half Moon Bay

Explore the idyllic coastal town located less than 30 miles south of San Francisco.

Less than 30 miles south of San Francisco, between forested mountain ridges and the Pacific Ocean, lies the coastal town of Half Moon Bay. Marked by miles of ocean bluffs overlooking sandy beaches, it draws city-dwellers looking to escape the fog belt for a day in the sun. A beautiful place to bike, walk or watch whales, birds and seals, this coastal enclave is also a world-class surfing destination. The nearby Mavericks attracts the world’s best big wave surfers for an annual competition.

Greenhouses in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay’s mild temperatures paired with the fertile valley soil make it a prime growing region known for its abundant crops, particularly artichokes, pumpkins and Christmas trees. Flowers grow year-round in the fields and in greenhouses and nurseries, a number of which are private but open their doors to the public for tours in July for the annual Tour des Fleurs.

Morning

Devil's Slide Coastal Trail

On your way down from San Francisco, stop for a brisk morning walk at the new Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail. A notoriously dangerous segment of Highway 1 that curved along a mountainous stretch of coastline was closed and converted into this 1.3-mile path for hikers and cyclists in 2014. Accessible by bike or a weekend shuttle from the nearby town of Pacifica, the cliff-top trail has sweeping ocean and mountain views. After your jaunt, continue to Half Moon Bay, stopping at its Main Street to peruse shops like the delightful Oddyssea, an interactive store that stocks terrarium supplies along with science and nature oddities and games for curious minds of all ages. 

Afternoon

Fire pits at Sam's Chowder House

Break for lunch at Sam’s Chowder House. You’ll likely have to wait for a table at the East Coast-style, oceanfront seafood spot. Crowds descend on the dog-friendly patio, fireplace-heated dining room and adjacent bar for fresh seafood. (The lobster roll was named one of the five best sandwiches in America by the “Today Show.”) After lunch, head outside again for an afternoon of horseback riding, golfing, tide pooling or biking.

Tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

If you have equestrian ambitions, Sea Horse Ranch leads guided horseback rides along the beach. Golfers will want to play a round on one of two 18-hole championship courses at the breathtaking Half Moon Bay Golf Links at the Ritz-Carlton, surrounded by dramatic ocean bluffs, cypresses and sea breezes. Anyone with a curiosity for wildlife should consider continuing north to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to view the complex collection of tide pool creatures: anemones, mollusks, barnacles, sponges, mussels starfish, crabs, sea urchins and more. Harbor seals also frequent the park. The six-mile paved Coastside Trail, running parallel to the beach from Pillar Point Harbor to Poplar Avenue, makes for a gentle yet scenic bike ride or hike.

Evening

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

When you’re ready for dinner, stop at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, a California surf shack overlooking the Marina at Pillar Point Harbor. Its dog-friendly Mavericks Beer Garden, complete with fire pits and live music, is meant for summer nights. Award-winning beers and ales are handcrafted in an onsite brewery and pumped straight to the bar. Try the fried local artichokes battered in Mavericks Amber Ale, the 2012 World Beer Cup winner. If a rustic-chic California-Italian feast sounds more appealing, make your way back downtown for dinner at Pasta Moon. The setting might be sleek, but the food is all creative comfort at this restaurant from chef/owner Kim Levin, a farm-to-table pioneer firmly entrenched in the local agricultural, fishing and gourmet artisan communities.

Montara State Beach

After dinner, take a sunset walk on Half Moon Bay State Beach, a broad and picturesque four-mile stretch of sand, or stroll along dramatic sandstone cliffs at Montara State Beach

Rachel Ward
About the author

Rachel serves as the San Francisco editor fo...