Once a quaint agricultural area and a hotbed of rum smuggling during the Prohibition, Half Moon Bay is today known for its diverse artist community, spectacular beaches, and lovely historical downtown. Located on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay is surrounded by magnificent nature and hiking trails that offer breathtaking views. Here are the best things to do in Half Moon Bay, California.
1. Burleigh H. Murray Ranch
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Located in a hidden valley on the San Mateo Coast about a mile from the intersection of Highways 1 and 92, Burleigh H. Murray Ranch is a park surrounding the historical ranch that belonged to Burleigh H. Murray, a Vermont farmer who settled on the property in 1857.
The State of California bought it in 1983 and is keeping the Mills Barn and other ranch outbuildings in ‘arrested decay’ as an example of an English Lake District Bank Barn. The park is covered with mature groves of eucalyptus trees and rich wildlife. There are numerous hiking and horseback riding trails through the park as well as several picnic areas.
Higgins Canyon Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-726-8819
2. Crystal Springs Reservoir
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Crystal Springs Reservoir consists of two artificial lakes located in the rift valley developed by the San Andreas Fault in the northern Santa Cruz mountains near the city of San Mateo. They are part of the San Mateo Creek watershed. The whole area is very beautiful and covered with diverse habitats, from old growth Douglas fir forests to wetlands and chaparrals.
There is a trail that follows the ridge of the Coastal Range along the eastern side of the Crystal Springs and San Andreas reservoirs. Surrounded by oaks and madrones, the area is home to more than 180 kinds of birds as well as deer, bobcats, squirrels, and coyotes. The watershed area around the trail has been declared a biosphere reserve and is protected.
3. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
© Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
About 3 miles of rocky seashore, bluffs, and reefs near Moss Beach provide home to a unique community of marine life. A variety of crabs, seaweed, sponges, mollusks, sea stars, and fish live in the shallow, warm areas between the low and high tide lines. The area was declared a reserve in order to protect this fragile and complex plant and animal community.
Visiting tidal pools is a popular activity for school kids and community groups. Most of plants in the reserve are non-native species such as the Monterey cypress, pampas grass, and German ivy as well as many ornamental garden escapees. Also present are the native coastal bluff scrub, freshwater marsh, and central coast arroyo willow forest. The reserve is fun to explore on your own, but there are also guided tours.
200 Nevada Ave, Moss Beach, CA 94038, Phone: 650-728-3584
4. Francis Beach
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Francis Beach, one of four Half Moon Bay state beaches, is located at the end of Kelly Avenue. This lovely, wide sandy beach also has a nice grassy park with picnic tables and barbecues perched on the bluff overlooking the ocean.
The beach is very popular for sunbathing and long walks on the sand, but is dangerous for swimming because of strong rip currents and cold water. The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail passes through parts of the park and you can join it from either direction. There is a campground with spots for RVs and tents. The beach tends to get crowded on weekends and holidays.
Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 800-444-7275
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5. Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail
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There are literally hundreds of picturesque trails above Half Moon Bay, and most of them are part of the famous California Coastal Trail. All of them provide spectacular views and vigorous exercise and often a lot to see along the coast. The official Half Moon Bay State Park consists of four beaches – 3 miles of lovely sandy shoreline paralleled by a paved Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail. These four beaches are not famous for the high bluffs and rough rocks commonly seen to the south or north, but they are very popular with families and those who like an easy hike.
They all have easy access, parking, and restrooms. They are safe for swimming as the sea is not as rough as further along the bay, but the water is still cold and there is the possibility of rip tides. The beaches are great for sunbathing on the broad expanse of fine sand. The trail is paved and easy and it runs for about 5 miles along the ocean-side railroad tracks, making it easy for biking as well.
Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
6. Half Moon Bay Distillery
© Half Moon Bay Distillery
Half Moon Bay Distillery is a small distillery brewing craft vodka, whiskey, and fruit brandy located in scenic Half Moon Bay. It is the only distillery on the San Mateo coast, an area which was known as a hotbed of rum smuggling during the Prohibition.
Half Moon Bay Distillery produces ultra-premium hand-crafted highest-quality spirits in small batches to people who are able to tell the difference. The distillery offers 45-minute tours of the production facility, explaining the distilling process and the equipment and offering samples of their products – Purissima Vodka and Harvard Avenue Gin.
103 Harvard Ave #4, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-728-7226
7. Half Moon Bay Brewing
© Half Moon Bay Brewing
After opening its doors in 2000, it did not take long for Half Moon Bay Brewing to leave its mark on the local social scene. Located just a short walk from the hot surfing spot Mavericks, it is considered one of the best coastal breweries in the States, producing a variety of styles and using the best possible ingredients to make their famous brews that are on tap all year around at their spacious tap room and restaurant.
The tap room and restaurant have become the in-place to hang out, with fun local bands on weekends and excellent pub grub to enjoy with the brews. Their outdoor terrace with fire pit overlooking the sea is spectacular and is packed on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.
390 Capistrano Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-728-2739
8. Half Moon Bay Kayak Company Day Tours
© Half Moon Bay Kayak Company Day Tours
Discovering the diverse and unique ecosystems of Half Moon Bay on a sea kayak, paddleboard, or bike ensures a unique and highly personal experience. Paddle through the protected waters of Pillar Point Harbor or the wild Pacific waters near Half Moon Bay and enjoy close encounters with seals, birds, turtles, and other marine life.
The folks at the Half Moon Bay Kayak Company offer a number of guided kayaking or paddleboarding trips around the bay, or you can explore on your own by renting one of their single, double, or triple kayaks. They also offer lessons in sea kayaking and paddleboarding and organize fishing and crabbing trips in kayaks. They provide first-class equipment, waterproof jackets, and wetsuits. Places to visit in California
2 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
9. Half Moon Bay State Beach
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About half a mile west of Highway 1 near Half Moon Bay is a 4-mile stretch of wide, sandy beaches that are perfect for sunbathing, hiking, fishing, and picnicking. There is a campground for those who want to stay longer. The Half Moon Bay State Beach Visitor Center provides information about the nature and history of Half Moon Bay, is free of charge, and is open Saturdays and Sundays. Francis Beach has a well-equipped campground and Venice Beach has showers and toilets.
The paved Coastside Trail winds for about 3 miles along the beaches and keeps going to Pillar Point Harbor. A horse trail runs parallel to the Coastside Trail between Roosevelt Beach and Francis Beach. No fires are allowed on the beach and caution is advised when swimming because of the cold ocean waters.
Kelly Avenue, Half Moon Bay, CA, Phone: 916-653-6995
10. Mavericks PaddleSports
© Mavericks PaddleSports
Just around the corner from the famous Mavericks Surf Shop on the coast of Pillar Point Harbor is Mavericks PaddleSports, owned by Mavericks Surf Company and surfing pioneer Jeff Clark. The shop’s location ensures easy access to the protected waters of Pillar Point Harbor, with the restless Pacific ocean just beyond the walls of the jetty, making it ideal for all paddleboarding skill levels.
Their fleet of rental paddleboards ranges from high performance surf boards and race boards to cruisers, beginner boards, and downwind boards. Many of the boards are also for sale. They also offer a full range of gear, paddles, wetsuits, clothing, and accessories. The shop is located at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club, providing paddleboarders with all the comforts, including hot showers.
214 Princeton Ave, Princeton-By-The-Sea, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019-4037, Phone: 650-563-4251
11. Miramar Beach
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Miramar Beach runs through the Miramar neighborhood in Half Moon Bay along the Mirada Road. Both the road and the beach are eroding away and during high tides the sand is covered with water. There is a rock barrier that was built to protect the road above the beach. Further north, the beach has already fallen into the ocean and all that is left is an open park area and a shoreline.
This park, known locally as Mirada Surf West, includes a part of the California Coastal Trail on its way north. The beach is popular with surfers and sun bathers, but is too cold for swimming. The trail that runs along the ridge above the beach offers spectacular views of the ocean and local fauna.
12. Montara Mountain
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Montara Mountain is located between the towns of Montara and Pacifica, forming a spur of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is a range running along the San Francisco Peninsula separating San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Its highest point is at 1,898 feet. The Montara Mountain Trail begins in a fragrant blue gum eucalyptus forest, offering tantalizing glimpses of Pacifica and the sea beyond.
The trail continues through lush coastal scrub and groves of manzanita, intersecting at one point with the Brooks Creek Trail. The trail keeps winding towards a hilltop with a magnificent view of the western part of the ridge of Montara Mountain. Each different elevation offers unique plant communities and rock formations, while the rare and endemic Montara manzanita only grows in this area.
13. Oceanic Society - Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watching
© Oceanic Society - Half Moon Bay Gray Whale Watching
The annual migration of gray whales is one of nature’s most spectacular events. Their path passes very close to the coast of California, making the observation of this event accessible to all who are interested in these majestic animals. Each year, thousands of gray whales travel from their Alaskan summer feeding grounds to the seas around Baja California in Mexico, where they breed and have their young.
In the spring, when the calves are big enough, the whales return north to their summer feeding grounds. From December to the end of April, the Oceanic Society organizes gray whale watching from Half Moon Bay, California. Their 56-foot Coast Guard-certified vessel, the Salty Lady, departs from Pillar Point Yacht Harbor in Half Moon Bay almost every Saturday and Sunday and takes visitors on a 3-hour cruise around the bay in search of the whales. The naturalist on board shares information about the whales’ biology and migration patterns.
1 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 415-474-3385
14. Pescadero Beach
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Pescadero State Beach is located on Highway 1, about 14.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The beach is almost a mile-long, with a rugged shoreline featuring rocky cliffs, sandy coves, fishing spots, tide pools, and several picnic facilities. The shoreline towards the center is fairly protected from the waves by offshore rocks, creating many tide pools and areas of calm, open water.
This habitat is a favorite of Steller sea lions and harbor seals, who love to sprawl on the offshore rocks and sun themselves, occasionally sliding back into the water to hunt. The area is full of common Northern California offshore birds such as the black oystercatcher and is also popular with fishermen and people searching for mussels. Just across the highway is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, a refuge for kites, blue heron, deer, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, which is a popular spot for bird watchers and naturalists.
15. Pillar Point Surf School
© Pillar Point Surf School
Watching surfers ride the waves on the ocean off Pillar Point is so tempting, and if surfing is one of the things you’ve always wanted to try, then why not join Pillar Point Surf School, which operates from Half Moon Bay and surrounding areas.
Their experienced and professional staff are very familiar with the coast and will make sure that you have a safe, fun, and exciting experience and are standing up in no time. They offer lessons for beginners as well as for more experienced surfers who want to bring their skills to the next level. The lessons are offered 7 days a week throughout the year, are suitable for all ages and skill levels, and last between 1.5 and 2 hours.
531 Obispo Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-722-0022
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16. Poplar Beach
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Located within the city limits and run by the city, Poplar Beach is a popular family beach with a flat, wide expanse of fine sand, although dog owners and horseback riders also come here often. The access to the beach is steep and requires quite a trek in good shoes from the parking lot on top of the bluff down to the beach.
If you are bringing lot of stuff with you, keep in mind that you have to hike back up. From the access, the beach runs in both directions and is great for hiking or long leisurely walks. You can join the paved Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, which runs in both directions from the parking lot above the beach, and have a nice bike ride, hike, or run.
152 Poplar St, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
17. Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
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The Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve was established to protect the last remaining redwoods in the canyon. There used to be seven working mills along the canyon banks, milling redwoods for the booming city of San Francisco. By 1900 all only a few trees were left standing, those that were not considered useful.
The 4,711-acre preserve overlooks Half Moon Bay, stretching along the western sides of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Purisima Creek Canyon is at the heart of the preserve, with its creek, magnificent redwoods, and dense understory of berries, ferns, and wildflowers. From the northern end of the preserve the views of Half Moon Bay are magnificent. There are several wonderful hiking trails through the preserve, with varying levels of difficulty.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, USA, Phone: 650-691-1200
18. Alvaro's Adventures Birding & Nature Tours
© Alvaro's Adventures Birding & Nature Tours
Alvaro’s Adventures is an international birding tour company based in Half Moon Bay, California, and is world-renowned for its boat trips that go out to observe pelagic birds – birds that live in oceanic areas. The tours, which take in islands belonging to Argentina and Chile as well as the Galapagos Islands, combine exploration, observation, and bird photography with other aspects of local culture such as food, wine, and folklore.
One of the most popular local trips is Inn to Inn Birding in Half Moon Bay, which is a walking trip from one inn to another, with a field lunch and a dinner and lodging in one of the participating inns. The trips take place in September, during peak bird migration season, and offer great opportunities to observe bird species such as the rare wandering tattler, marbled murrelet, black oystercatcher, elegant tern, western gull, and Heermann's gull.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-504-7779
19. Sea, Surf & Fun
© Sea, Surf & Fun
Sea, Surf and Fun is the first French surf school in California, although you do not have to take the course in French. The school operates from a calm, safe spot off Princeton Jetty, not far from the famous Maverick’s, in Half Moon Bay. Classes are offered all year around, and besides regular surfing classes you can opt for girls sessions, which combine yoga and surf, team building, or summer surf camps. The camps are sponsored by Quiksilver & Roxy.
The lessons last two hours, and in the case of surf and yoga, the yoga portion is half an hour and the rest is surfing. The courses can be group, semi-private, or private. Boards and wetsuits are provided. Surf camps can last a day or a week.
531 Obispo Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 415-410-1102
20. Gray Whale Cove State Beach
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Located between the towns of Pacifica and Montara on Highway 1, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, also called Devil’s Slide by locals, is a small beach in a picturesque sheltered cove surrounded by towering, almost vertical, cliffs.
The only access to the beach is a steep stairway from the bluff above, which has a small picnic area that is great for watching gray whales when they migrate close to the shore. The most popular, and in fact the only, activity on the beach is sunbathing. The beach has a clothing-optional area to the right of the stairs. A strange-looking structure on the bluff is an old WWII bunker, which used to guard the area from sea invasions.
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-726-8819
21. Venice State Beach
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Venice Beach is one of five beaches that together form Half Moon Bay State Beach. Access is from the west end of Venice Boulevard off Highway 1, just north of downtown Half Moon Bay. There is a daily fee for beach access. From the parking lot, you can take one of several trails down to the beach. This nice sandy beach is snuggled between Pilarcitos and Frenchmans creeks, which sometimes flow over the beach into the ocean.
There are many birds taking advantage of the freshwater of Pilarcitos Creek. The paved Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail runs in both directions from Venice Beach to the other state beaches and is popular with hikers, bikers, and runners. There is also a horseback riding trail, but horses are not allowed on the beach itself. The beach is known for dangerous rip currents and cold water, so swimming is not recommended.
22. Lemos Farm
© Lemos Farm
Lemos Farm aims to inspire and entertain its visitors while helping to cultivate family values through unique and enjoyable experiences. The farm is open year-round and offers a ton of activities to enjoy such as their petting zoo, pony rides, hay and train rides, goat yoga (you heard us right!), and even a bounce house. Although there’s something fun to do no matter what time of the year, the best time to visit is during the fall months, particularly October. It’s during this time that the Pumpkin Patch is ripe for picking. The farm also comes alive during this month, with various Halloween-themed festivals taking place and live bands coming to add additional entertainment.
12320 San Mateo Road, Half Moon Bay, California, Phone: 650-726-2342
23. Half Moon Bay Art Glass
© Half Moon Bay Art Glass
The Half Moon Bay Art Glass studio delights visitors and locals with its colorful pumpkins and other useful and decorative objects made of blown glass. The owner and artist-in-residence Doug Brown specializes in sculpted and blown natural forms, and his pumpkins, in all colors of the rainbow, are always a hit.
Not only does he sell his own artwork in his gallery, he is also happy to share his art and skills with interested students. As a result, you might end up with your own glass pumpkin or anything else your imagination conjures up. Doug offers his glass making classes every weekend and for about 2 hours the students learn the secret of turning hot molten glass into objects of their imagination.
12341 San Mateo Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-283-5626
24. The Conservatory
© The Conservatory
The Conservatory is an elegant upscale lounge and restaurant on the ground floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. With magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows, it offers spectacular views of the ocean lawn and the Pacific.
Light American fare is served throughout the day, featuring freshly prepared meals using organic and locally grown fresh ingredients that combine rich flavors and colors in an artful presentation, whether it is a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Conservatory’s bar is known for its homegrown cocktails prepared using herbs and plants from the Conservatory’s live growing wall.
1 Miramontes Point Rd, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, Phone: 650-712-7000