Things to Do in Half Moon Bay CA

Written by Mary Charlebois

October 13, 2021
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All year round, there are plenty of things to do in Half Moon Bay Coastside, especially for outdoor lovers. From seashore to forests to farmland, nature is loud here, and there is plenty to embrace.

No matter which season you choose to visit, you’ll find things to do in Half Moon Bay Coastside, California. With an average annual temperature of 62° F, you are unlikely to experience snow, frost, or triple-digit heat. Half Moon Bay Coastside is close to San Francisco. This coastal area and its beautiful harbor are ideal for taking a slow-paced break. After all, San Francisco is nearby if you need a city fix. Here are some things to do in Half Moon Bay Coastside, which is filled with grand outdoor adventures no matter which time of year you visit.

Where is Half Moon Bay Coastside?

Sheltered between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific, Coastside has four distinct areas—North Coast, Half Moon Bay, South Coast, and the Redwoods. Thirty miles from San Francisco and 22 miles from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Half Moon Bay Coastside (HMBC) is a world away from the buzz and bustle of the city by the bay. Beaches, coastal trails, redwood forests, wetlands, villages, hook-to-mouth seafood, farm- and ranch-to-table produce, and the Pacific Ocean offer respite in soul-soothing nature.

There are lots of things to do in Half Moon Bay Coastside. Walk, bike, kayak, fish, beach comb, forest bathe, eat, drink, explore art galleries and shops. Best of all, watch the sunset on the Pacific.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

The Santa Cruz Mountains at Sunrise. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Beaches Offer a Variety of Things to Do in Half Moon Bay

When thinking about what to do in Half Moon Bay, the first thought is the beaches. When you check out one of the area’s beaches, there are so many things to do. HMBC has beaches for all seasons and all beach-goer interests. Sandy beaches, bluffs, headlands, and wildlife preserves dot the shoreline, attracting everything from surfers to seals.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Harbor Beach. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Sunbathe, Surf, Fish, Picnic

Of course, many people come to Half Moon Bay to surf. Some great day beaches welcome those who want to surf, fish from the shores, sunbathe, and picnic. One must-see is the 4-mile-long Half Moon Bay State Beach. The California State Park covers 181 acres. It includes Dunes, Francis, Roosevelt, and Venice Beaches. Half Moon State Beach joined the state park system in 1956.

Throughout the park, you’ll find parking, restrooms, and water. Camping for tents and RVs is available at Francis Beach Campground. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park but not on the beach.

Build Driftwood Sculptures and Observe Snowy Plovers

If you want a unique experience, consider bird-watching and building driftwood sculptures. San Gregorio State Beach is a highly protected beach and estuary where the Western Snowy Plover nests. The Plover is a small shorebird that builds its nest on the open beach. Plovers are a Threatened Bird Species, partially due to loss of habitat.

You’ll see lots of driftwood on the beach. While you can’t take it with you, you can use it to create driftwood sculptures you leave behind. The compositions never last long, so take a photo before it falls and floats out on the tide. The wood will be reclaimed by wind and water, then recycled through sea and shore to be used by another builder for a new structure.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Build driftwood sculptures at San Gregorio State Beach. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Parking, water, and restrooms are available. Dogs are not allowed in the park. No camping is offered at this day-use park.

Take Your Horse and Fido to Poplar Beach

If you’re looking for the more unusual things to do in Half Moon Bay, how about a horseback ride on the beach? While not all beaches welcome animals, you can take your horse or let your pups run on the sand at Poplar Beach. Managed by the city of Half Moon Bay, Poplar Beach is accessible via a steep trail from the parking lot. This beach is also called Blufftop Coastal Park.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

You can take your horses—or dogs—to Poplar Beach. Photo by risamay via iStock by Getty Images

Horses and leashed dogs are welcome here. Parking, restrooms, and water are available.

Go Tide Pooling

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a rocky shoreline filled with marine life, is included in the Montara State Marine Protected Area. Sealife includes fish, crabs, sea stars, shellfish, and sponges.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Abalone in a tide pool at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Tidepooling is best at low tide. Check the tide table for low tide time of day during your visit. Wear rubber boots or rubber-soled shoes. The rocks are slippery! This area is for observation only. Do not touch or collect anything. All creatures and rocks are protected.

Parking, restrooms, picnicking, and water are available. Dogs are not allowed in this area, and camping is not available at the day-use park.

Explore Beach and Bluffs

Pomponio State Beach has sandy beaches at the base of 190-foot bluffs. Walk the shoreline, lounge in the sand, fish, windsurf, picnic, view wildlife, or enjoy the magnificent view from the bluffs.

The state beach was named to honor Pomponio, a Native American who fought against the mission system. His hideout was at the Pomponio Creek headwaters.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Waves from the Pacific Ocean wash up on the sandy shore of Pomponio State Beach, found along US Highway 1 in California, USA. Photo by Kevin Lipiec via iStock by Getty Images

Parking, restrooms, and a picnic area with grills are offered. Dogs are not allowed on the beach. However, leashed dogs are welcome in the parking lot and picnic area.

Paddle with Wildlife

Whether paddle boarding or kayaking, one of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay is to get into the water. There, you’ll commune with birds and seals. Bring your own gear or rent what you need from an outfitter. You’ll find many of them in Pillar Point Harbor and HWY 1.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Kayaks in the harbor. Photo by Mary Charlebois

One of my favorites in the harbor is Half Moon Bay Kayak Company. Rent or purchase kayaks, paddleboards, surfboards, and bicycles. The outfitter provides instruction in all the water sports they outfit. Guided tours via kayak or paddleboard include the harbor and open water. Tours provide everything except sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat.

Pedal the Coast When You Visit Half Moon Bay

California Coastal Trail borders Half Moon Bay Coastside. This maintained path is accessible to all wheels and abilities. The coastal trail hugs beaches and bluffs. Along the way, there is easy access to food and libations when you need a break, drink, or snack.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Bridge on the coastal trail near Half Moon Bay, California. Photo y Sundry Photography via iStock by Getty Images

Rent bicycles at Half Moon Bay Kayak Company in Pillar Point Harbor.

Wildlife Hikes in Half Moon Bay

One of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay is a hike or leisurely walk. No matter where you hike, walk, or bike Coastside, you will encounter wildlife. The variety of terrain, wildlife, and ability levels is among the most diverse. Explore the HMBC Trail Guide to find a walking or cycling track that complements your interest.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Encounter wildlife when you walk or bike Coastside. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Explore Farm & Ranch Country

Half Moon Bay has more than beaches and marine life to offer. It’s also agricultural country. This region has some of the finest meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables. You’ll find Half Moon Bay Coastside’s produce in some of Northern California’s best restaurants and local eateries.

Pop-up farmstands can be found along Hwy 1 most of the year. However, fall in Half Moon Bay and throughout San Mateo County brings an abundance of roadside markets and ‘pick your own pumpkin’ fields.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Pumpkin patches are abundant in the area each fall, including those at Farmer John’s Pumpkins. Photo by Edna Takeda Geller courtesy San Mateo County Silicon Valley

Some farms and ranches offer tours, and others have on-site markets selling fresh produce, dairy, meat, and homemade products.

My absolute favorite is Harley Farms Goat Dairy. The goat dairy, creamery, and farm offer tours that explain the holistic practices used for animals and the land. In addition, their tempting store sells magnificent cheese, jams, jellies, preserves, sandwiches, and picnic supplies.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Photo by Mary Charlebois

This is a multi-generational destination. After a tour, stop at the farm store and take your goodies to one of the picnic tables in the meadow. From there, you can watch the goats and donkeys going about their daily routines.

Things to Do in Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor

Pillar Point Harbor is the most protected harbor on the California coast and one of the safest harbors in the US. During full and new moons, the harbor protects commercial and sport fishing vessels from storm surges and King Tides.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Pillar Point Harbor Marina. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Birding is One of the Best Things to Do in Half Moon Bay Coastside

The Half Moon Bay area has 20% of all North American bird species either in full-time residence or temporary migrating residents. Pescadero Marsh and Pillar Point Marsh are known for their many winged occupants.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Pelicans at Pillar Point Harbor. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Both locations are bird sanctuaries. You can spot up to 200 species Coastside. Some of the most common include Great Blue Heron, Hawks, Loons, Marsh Wrens, Northern Harriers, Pelicans, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Sandpipers, Seagulls, Snowy Egrets, and Snowy Plovers.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Keep your eye out for the Snowy Plover Shorebird. Photo by Jeff Huth via iStock by Getty Images

Spend a Day in Pescadero

If you’re looking for more things to do in Half Moon Bay, I recommend heading to Pescadero for the day, about 15 minutes south of Pillar Point Harbor. It’s an inviting place to spend a day exploring eateries, shops, and farm markets. In the fall, pumpkins are everywhere. You can walk into a field and select your perfect jack-o-lantern or future pie.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Pick your own pumpkin in Pescadero. Photo by Mary Charlebois

To explore Pescadero, I suggest leaving your car at one end of Stage Road (Main Street) and wandering down the street. Then, at the end of Main, cross the street and stroll back to your car.

Stop into places that captivate you. Made in Pescadero is a treasure trove of hand-crafted furniture, home décor, art, jewelry, and more by local artisans.

Another ‘don’t miss’ is Arcangeli Grocery Company, a bakery, food store, picnic supply hub, and a source of local wine, beer, and spirits. The Arcangeli family began operation in 1929. Arcangeli is well known for its “better get there early before it’s all gone” Garlic Herb Artichoke Bread. This is the perfect place to stock your lodging fridge.

Where to Eat in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay Coastside is the epicenter of farm-fresh and just-caught eats. It’s almost impossible to go wrong whether you sit, grab-and-go, or picnic on the beach.

Below are my favorites, but there are many more on the Visit Half Moon Bay website.

  • Sam’s Chowder House: Indoor and deck seating serving California and New England-style seafood.
  • Barbara’s Fishtrap: An iconic, harborside fish shack serving customers since 1971. The fresh tuna sandwich is heavenly. Try it with the daily $2.50 beer special.
  • Half Moon Bay Brewing Company: Serving craft beer in the harbor since 2000. Sample their Kölsch, Saison, Amber Ale, IPA, Coffee Milk Stout, and Belgian Blonde. The patio is a ‘sip the sun down’ headquarters.
  • Café Mezzaluna: Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, specializing in Italian and American dishes. It serves the best omelet I’ve had anywhere.
  • It’s Italia: Braised beef short ribs and polenta are out of this world. It’s Italia is in downtown Half Moon Bay.
  • Duarte’s Tavern: Located in Pescadero, Duarte’s Tavern was built in 1894 by Frank Duarte. The family has operated the tavern and restaurant since then. You can enjoy traditional tavern food and California Casual fare. Ingredients come from the kitchen garden out back or farms within a 10-mile radius.
things to do in Half Moon Bay

Barbara’s Fish Trap. Photo by Mary Charlebois

Where to Sleep in Half Moon Bay

One of the best things to do when traveling should be your lodging. You’ll be spoiled by choice while at HMBC. Hotels, motels, B&Bs, resorts, vacation rentals, RV parks, and campgrounds line the coast and CA HWY 1. In addition, you may choose from oceanfront, redwood, or inland agriculture environments. You’ll be able to find accommodations for all needs and budgets.

My favorite hotel is the Oceano Hotel and Spa. Its many attributes include location, location, location. Walking into the harbor-front lobby, there is a sense of cool and calm.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

Oceano Hotel Lobby in Half Moon Bay. Photo courtesy Oceano Hotel & Spa

It is one of the most prominent places to stay on the Coastside. Stay for one night or a week. Try a hotel room, suite, or apartment. There is a restaurant, bar, and secure parking. The harborfront property is steps from the coastal trail, eateries, a brewery, galleries, and shops.

For a luxurious splurge, book Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. This legendary resort is outstanding in every way. The property, service, amenities, and view are among the finest you can experience anywhere.

things to do in Half Moon Bay

The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay offers an extraordinary coastal stay. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

More Articles About Exploring the California Coast

More Things to Do in Half Moon Bay Coastside

I recommend that you spend a couple of days exploring the area. These are more fun things to do in Half Moon Bay Coastside:

  • Charter a boat for fishing, whale watching, and sunsetting.
  • Walk the piers and wharf to discover informative panels illuminating the harbor’s history and conservation practices in use today.
  • Sample seafood, seafood, and more seafood! You’ll find plenty of it in eateries ranging in style from seafood shack to upscale dining.
  • Enjoy an outdoor meal in one of the many picnic areas with grills and tables.
  • Arrange to go during one of the many events and festivals like the Mavericks Surfing Competition.
  • Arrange with an outfitter to set you up for a day of fishing or water sports.
  • Wander out on a fishing pier to fish or contemplate the Pacific Ocean.
  • Get retail therapy at Harbor Village, a mall only steps from the harbor and Johnson Pier.

When You Go to Half Moon Bay Coastside

Half Moon Bay Coastside is an all-season destination for outdoor lovers. A mild Mediterranean climate prevails year-round. Seashore, forests, wetlands, and farmland offer a variety of environments. Nature is loud here, and there is plenty to embrace. To learn more about what to do at Half Moon Bay Coastside, visit Half Moon Bay Coastside California. Be sure to check out Wander for more stories about exploring California.

Written by Mary Charlebois

Mary Charlebois recalled that her mom called her Mary Go. One had only to mention 'going' and she would be waiting at the door. Today, her life as a travel writer/photographer suits her well. Her favorite travel destinations are 'off the beaten path', 'not well-known', and 'in the shadow of' locations. There she delves into art, music, food, libations, architecture, museums, parks, well-curated tours, history, agriculture, and the unexpected in micro-towns and big cities, domestically and internationally. Mary has been a photographer since the age of nine when she received a Brownie camera for her birthday. Photography is one of the biggest reasons she travels. She has begun tackling video the last few years—something describes as the perfect skill for an OCD person such as herself.

1 Comment

  1. Joseph Scanlon

    I can’t wait to explore Half Moon Bay. Living on the Mendocino Coast is wonderful, but it’s time to explore more I the California Coast I have yet to see.
    Thank you for the inspiration!