All the Best Beaches in Half Moon Bay, California

Half Moon Bay, California Beaches.

I’m lucky to have grown up going to Half Moon Bay on sunny days all year. I grew up in Burlingame, just a quick 30-minute drive from some of Half Moon Bay’s best beaches. I’m fortunate to have grown up spending lazy sunny days on these sandy beaches, having bonfires in high school, and more recently, enjoying a foggy stroll watching the surfers try to catch a wave. 

Whenever I have an out-of-town visitor, I make sure we spend at least one day in this charming coastal town, checking out the beaches and other fun things to do in Half Moon Bay.

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Where is Half Moon Bay, CA?

Half Moon Bay is located on the San Mateo County coast section of the Pacific Coast Highway, nestled between Pacifica and Pescadero (other great Northern California coastal towns you should check out!) 

Since its location is just a short distance from the city or the tech-savvy area around Menlo Park and Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay is a popular day trip destination for locals seeking a break. 

Depending on where you’re visiting from the drive, it should take about 45 minutes. There are only two ways to get there. If you’re driving from San Francisco, you’ll take Highway 1 through Pacifica and enjoy the dramatic views of the coast. If you’re driving from the Peninsula, you’ll likely take Highway 92 “over the hill.” 

Since there are two main ways to get to Half Moon Bay, each being two-lane highways, and it’s such a popular destination on sunny days, you will likely encounter traffic. 

Start your day early to avoid this traffic, and stay in Half Moon Bay later to avoid it on the way back. 

Alternatively, you can plan your visit for a weekday or cloudy day to skip the gridlock!

Here are the estimated drive times from popular Bay Area locations:

  • San Francisco: 45 minutes (30 miles)
  • San Mateo: 30 minutes (15 miles)
  • Palo Alto: 40 minutes (25 miles)
  • San Jose: 1 hour (50 miles)
  • Oakland: 1 hour (40 miles) + bridge toll

The Best Time of Year to Visit Half Moon Bay

The beauty of California is that there is no bad time of the year to be on the coast. However, if you’re expecting Southern California’s hot, sunny beaches, let me manage those expectations for you.

This area of the California coast, while rugged and beautiful, can be pretty cold and foggy. Growing up here, I have an affinity for a bundled-up beach walk on a drizzly day, especially as I burn very quickly in the sun!

The weather in Half Moon Bay is mild throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from mid-50s to mid-60s. There will be the odd 70 or 80-degree day every year, but they’re rare.

Many days in Half Moon Bay start with a foggy marine layer that burns off, leading to gorgeous sunny afternoons. On other days, the fog hangs out for the day.

The summer months tend to see the most foggy days.

In the spring, bright wildflowers bloom on the cliffs, making the landscape even more colorful and beautiful.

The fall is an excellent time of the year to visit as the fog usually stays away, and the coast sees warmer days. However, the coast gets very busy during the fall as people head to pick their pumpkins from the pumpkin patches or participate in the annual pumpkin festival. 

The winter months bring fewer crowds, the biggest waves, and maybe even a sunny day or two!

Gray Whale Cove Beach at Sunset

What to Bring to Half Moon Bay Beaches

One thing I love about the beaches in Half Moon Bay is that there aren’t many facilities, so it feels like you’re escaping the noise and crowds.

Most of the beaches have toilets, but other than that, you’ll need to bring everything with you that you’ll need for a fun day at the Beach.

The city of Half Moon Bay has fantastic restaurants, most of which do to go, so you can always order something on your way to bring with you for a beach picnic (as long as it’s not too windy).

As I mentioned above, the beaches here are on the colder side. The water is also icy so you won’t need a swimsuit. If you decide to brave the cold water, make sure you have something warm and cozy to change into. 

Here are a few Half Moon Bay beach essentials:

  • Layers: Jeans or leggings are usually an excellent option for the Beach. I also recommend a fleece or warmer jacket as the evenings get cold. 
  • Wetsuit: If you’re planning to surf, a wetsuit is necessary for the chilly water.
  • Towels/Blankets: I recently purchased this towel for a trip to Maui, and it’s an amazing beach blanket. The sand falls right off and is small enough to put in a backpack or keep in your car. It’s not great to dry off, so bring a secondary towel to dry your feet off if you dip your toes in.
  • Beach Chairs: Beach chairs are optional. I usually don’t bring one, opting to lay on a blanket, but they can make your beach day more comfortable.
  • Sunscreen: Even on a foggy day, wear your sunscreen. I can’t tell you how many sunburns I’ve gotten on sunny days. Protect your skin! I love SunBum sunscreen.
  • Water: Most of the beaches mentioned in this post do not have fresh drinking water. Please bring your own!
Gray Whale Cove Trail in Half Moon Bay

Tips for Enjoying the Beach Responsibly

Don’t forget to enjoy these beautiful beaches responsibly and follow leave-no-trace principles.

  • Pack In & Pack Out: Anything you bring to the Beach should go home with you. I even recommend bringing trash from food home instead of using the trash cans at the beaches. If these get overfull, the trash blows away, defeating the purpose.
  • Leave What You Find: Many Half Moon Beaches have tide pools, unique pebbles, and seashells. While it’s fun to look for these, please don’t take them home.
  • Respect Wildlife: At Half Moon Bay beaches, you’ll likely encounter snow plovers, other birds, and marine mammals. Please don’t feed them or get close to them.
  • Respect Dog Rules: Some beaches allow dogs on leashes, while others don’t. Please adhere to these rules as they protect marine life.

The Best Beaches in Half Moon Bay, CA

Now, let’s get into some of the best beaches in Half Moon Bay. I’ll start with the northernmost Beach as if you were entering Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 from Pacifica. Then we’ll move through beaches near the city of Half Moon Bay and south! A little beach crawl, if you will. 

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Gray Whale Cove State Beach is the very first accessible beach you’ll pass after you exit the Devil’s Slide Tunnel. There is a free parking lot for the beach across the highway. 

Once you park, carefully cross to the other side of the highway. The corners are blind, and cars speed around them. Once you cross, there is a small walking trail on the other side of the guardrail.

Follow the short road down the hill. It will join a trail to the right and a steep staircase to the beach!

This cove beach has a wide stretch of sand with plenty of space to find a relaxing spot. The waves are a bit wild here, so I don’t recommend swimming.

However, you may see some sea life! Just last night, I sat on this beach for about an hour and saw a dolphin swimming by, so keep your eyes on the horizon, and you just might see one!

Unfortunately, no dogs are allowed on this beach.

There are porta potties up the hill from the parking lot and trash cans in the parking lot.

While in this area, check out one of my favorite hikes in Half Moon Bay, the Gray Whale Cove Trail. This is a mostly flat (despite the brief incline at the beginning) 2-mile out-and-back trail that hugs the cliff above Highway 1 and connects Gray Whale Cove Beach to Montara State Beach.

Gray Whale Cove Beach at sunset.
Steps to Gray Whale Cove Beach at sunset.

Montara State Beach

Speaking of Montara State Beach, this is one of my favorite beaches in Half Moon Bay. 

Montara is a beautiful white sand beach popular for fishing, surfing, and simply enjoying the area’s beauty. 

The bluffs above the beach burst into pink as wildflowers bloom in the spring.

To access the beach, there are two free parking lots, one on the north and one on the south. There are restrooms available at the northern parking lot. There are also picnic tables dotted around the bluff near this parking lot.

If you’ve got a pup, it’s welcome at this beach as long as it’s on a leash!

Montara State Beach, Half Moon Bay, CA.
Wildflowers blooming at Montara State Beach in Half Moon Bay, California.

Maverick’s Beach

Located in El Granada just outside of Pillar Point Harbor is the small Mavericks Beach, a favorite among locals to walk their dogs. 

Maverick’s Beach is where huge waves break in the winter, bringing surfers from all over the world to this charming coastal town. While the waves themselves break offshore, you can often see them from the bluffs of Pillar Point. However, in recent years, when the surfing competition is on, they’ve blocked spectator access on the bluffs.

At low tide, you can walk quite far out to explore the many tide pools.

To access this beach, park in the small parking lot for Pillar Point Marsh. Follow the flat, sandy trail along the harbor to the jetty. There are benches here that overlook the harbor if you’d like to sit for a while.

After you pass the benches, you’ll turn the corner around the cliff and find the sandy Maverick’s Beach.

Ross’ Cove Beach

On the other side of Maverick’s Beach is the hidden gem, Ross’ Cove Beach. Ross’ Cove is a part of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.

As this beach is difficult to access, you’ll likely have it to yourself.

Park in the same parking lot for Maverick’s Beach, but walk up the paved road instead of heading towards the Marsh. There will be trails leading into Pillar Point Bluff Park to the right, and it is a very steep climb down to the Beach.

Pillar Point Harbor Beach

Are you interested in kayaking or paddleboarding in calm waters? Head to Pillar Point Harbor Beach, which is found inside the jetty of Pillar Point Harbor. 

If you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard, you can rent one from Half Moon Bay Kayak Company or Mavericks Paddlesports.

If you have your own, I recommend launching from the sand in front of the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club.

If you’re not interested in getting on the water, no worries. This is a peaceful slice of Half Moon Bay for a stroll. 

Out in the harbor, there is a boat dock that’s been reclaimed by boisterous sea lions. Watching them play from the bench in front of the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club is fun.

Surfers Beach/El Granada Beach

The popular Surfers Beach is on the other side of the Pillar Point Harbor jetty. The waves that roll in here are calm enough, making it the perfect place for beginner surfers to practice their craft.

In fact, on the weekends, this stretch of Highway 1 will be packed with cars parked alongside the road and surfers running across the highway to catch a wave. Be careful driving through here.

The waves often crash on the rocks below the highway at high tide, erasing the sand. However, at low tide, there is a nice bit of sand exposed.

Above the beach, you’ll find the multi-use California Coastal Trail, a paved trail for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. The coastal trail extends all the way to The Ritz Carlton, south of Half Moon Bay, so it passes by many of the beaches mentioned in this post!

To access Surfer’s Beach, you can find a spot on the side of the Highway. Just make sure you’re parked completely off the road. Alternatively, you can park in the parking lot next to the Pillar Point RV Park and walk the coastal trail to the beach.

Miramar Beach

Following Highway 1 south, you’ll find one of my favorite beaches, Miramar Beach. This is my favorite Beach to throw down a towel on a sunny day and catch some Vitamin D. This is a broad and long stretch of beach that extends from Surfer’s Beach to Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Accessing this beach can be difficult. There is no designated beach parking lot, although I usually have success parking on Mirada  Road near the footbridge. 

You can walk north across the footbridge if you’d like to have lunch or dinner at Miramar Beach restaurant. However, I prefer walking south along the coastal trail until I find a suitable path to the sand. 

The route to the sand may be pretty steep, so take caution and wear good shoes.

Once you get to the sand, you can walk for miles, surf, or simply relax.

Half Moon Bay State Beach Park

Continuing south, you’ll enter the 4 miles of broad sandy beaches that make up Half Moon Bay State Beach. Half Moon Bay State Beach is a state park made up of Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, Francis Beach, and Roosevelt Beach.

As these beaches are a part of the state park, you must pay to park in their parking lots. The fee is typically $10/day. 

Three miles of the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail pass through each beach if you want to check them all out on a bike ride.

Dunes Beach

Continuing south is the beach I used to go to with my family growing up, Dunes Beach. 

To access the large parking lot (with a fee), turn onto Young Avenue from Highway 1. There are restrooms with running water (!!) in the parking lot.

Once you park your car, there are several short sandy trails leading to the beach. Alternatively, use one of the picnic benches on the bluffs for a sunset picnic.

Roosevelt Beach

You’ll also find Roosevelt Beach (aka Naples Beach) at the end of Young Ave. They share the Dunes Beach Parking lot, but you’ll walk north from the parking lot to find this usually uncrowded beach.

Venice Beach

Up next is Venice Beach! Don’t confuse this with the Venice Beach of Los Angeles. They are two very different beaches with very different weather and vibes.

Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay is located at the end of Venice Boulevard. There is a large parking lot with picnic tables and restrooms with running water and outside showers!

Some stairs lead down to the Beach. However, two creeks are north and south of Venice Beach (Frenchman’s Creek and Pilarcitos Creek, respectively). These creeks sometimes flow into the ocean or create shallow “pools.” You may have to navigate through or around them to get to the beach. 

Francis Beach

Francis Beach is considered the main beach in the Half Moon Bay State Beach system. Here, you’ll find the Half Moon Bay State Beach Visitor Center, which is open on the weekends. This free visitor center provides information about the marine life found on the coast.

Francis Beach is located off Kelly Avenue, so it’s sometimes referred to as Kelly Beach. There are ample parking spaces and a picnic area. There are also barbeques and restrooms with running water.

There is a wheelchair-accessible ramp leading to the sand.

Francis Beach is also where you can camp, whether in a tent or an RV. You can reserve a campsite through ReserveCalifornia.

Poplar Beach

Poplar Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Half Moon Bay. It’s also incredibly popular among animal lovers as this is the only Beach in Half Moon Bay where you can go horseback riding right on the Beach! 

You’ll find a parking lot at the end of Poplar Street. While Poplar Beach is not part of the Half Moon Bay State Beach, there is still a parking fee. You’ll pay at the meters. It costs $2/hour and is checked, so don’t risk it! 

After you park, a steep sandy trail leads down to the beach from the bluff. Bring good shoes for the climb. 

Once you reach the sand, you can go for a long walk or find a spot to sit and relax. 

Cowell Ranch State Beach

The remote Cowell Ranch Beach is on the other side of the Ritz Carlton. If you’re visiting Half Moon Bay on a sunny, busy weekend, I’d bring some lunch and head to this Beach for the biggest chance at fewer crowds.

A tiny parking lot also serves the Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail. Once you park, it’s about a ½ mile walk down a flat trail to a steep staircase that leads to the Beach. 

The beach is cove-style, and you may see newborn seal pups. Seal Beach to the south is a harbor seal protection area. If you do encounter any wildlife, keep your distance. Dogs are not allowed at this beach. 

Day Trip from Half Moon Bay

If you’re spending a long weekend in Half Moon Bay and interested in a day trip, head south to one of my favorite coastal towns, Pescadero. Pescadero is one of many picturesque coastal villages on the San Mateo County Coastside. There are many things to do in Pescadero, including a visit to more gorgeous beaches!

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach is two miles of sandy Beach with high cliffs and rugged rock formations. Pescadero State Beach is where the Western Snowy Plovers nest in the winter. If you see these adorable little birds, please give them space. 

As this is quite a long beach, there are three parking lots to access the Beach. The northern parking lot is the best place to park for beach access. The central parking lot provides access to the beach and the marsh trail. If you want to explore the tide pools, park in the southern parking lot. 

Journaling on the beach
Things to do in Pescadero

Bean Hollow State Beach

Bean Hollow State Beach is a one-mile beach that includes Pebble Beach and Bean Hollow Beach (with parking at each location). 

Pebble Beach is named after the colorful pebbles that wash up on shore. Please do not take any pebbles home with you. 

Bean Hollow Beach is a cove beach with tide pools and unique sandstone formations. 

The Arroyo de los Frijoles Trail is a one-mile interpretive trail that connects the two beaches. 

Where to Stay in Half Moon Bay

If you’d like to extend your stay in Half Moon Bay beyond a day trip, there are plenty of great places to stay, from bed and breakfasts to higher-end accommodations like the Ritz Carlton or Oceano Hotel and Spa. Some charming hotels are located in the heart of Half Moon Bay, near the shops and restaurants on Main Street. Or, if you’d prefer, there are also cute bungalows overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Budget-Friendly Places to Stay in Half Moon Bay

If you don’t want to break the bank on your accommodation in Half Moon Bay, here are a few excellent places to stay that are budget-friendly:

Aristocrat Hotel: Located just outside town, this Best Western property includes breakfast and an onsite pub (Daniel Radcliff did his legendary YouTube rap performance at this pub). 

Check rates and availability here.

Mill Rose Inn: This Victorian bed and breakfast is a beautiful place for a romantic getaway. It is just a 2-minute walk to Main Street.

Check rates and availability here.

Bougie Places to Stay in Half Moon Bay

If you want to treat yourself to a lovely weekend getaway, there are a few luxurious places to stay in Half Moon Bay!

Cypress Inn: The Cypress Inn on Miramar Beach is located on the coastal trail, and many rooms have ocean views!

Check rates and availability here.

Half Moon Bay Inn: Half Moon Bay Inn is located on Main Street in the heart of Half Moon Bay.

Check rates and availability here.

Check here for a complete list of Half Moon Bay Hotels.

I hope you enjoy exploring these beautiful beaches in Half Moon Bay. This is an exceptional part of California, and I’m glad you’re getting to experience it! 

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