15 Fun Things to Do in Half Moon Bay, California

Gray Whale Cove Trail in Half Moon Bay

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, about a 20-minute drive from the beautiful Half Moon Bay. I’ve spent most of my life heading “over the hill” on a sunny day to relax on the sandy beaches, eat deliciously fresh seafood, and even attend my brother’s wedding! Needless to say, it is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area, and I will share with you all the fun things to do in Half Moon Bay! From pumpkin festivals to hidden gems, this post will help you plan an epic Half Moon Bay itinerary. I hope you’re ready to explore Half Moon Bay from a “locals” perspective.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a tiny bit of income if you decide to make a purchase or booking.

Where is Half Moon Bay, California

Half Moon Bay is a charming coastal town in San Mateo County. It is located on the famous Highway 1, just a 40-minute drive south of San Francisco and a 25-minute drive from the San Francisco airport. 

Although buses serve the area, a trip from San Francisco or the airport would take at least 1.5 hours with multiple switches, so it’s best to drive to Half Moon Bay.

Since the pandemic, Half Moon Bay has seen a surge in traffic as people head to the coast, and Highway 1 is one lane in some places. Main St. also gets very busy. To avoid traffic, I recommend visiting during the week or starting your day there early on the weekends.

The Best Time of Year to Visit Half Moon Bay

Any time of the year is an excellent time to visit Half Moon Bay. Much like the rest of the Peninsula, weather is relatively the same throughout the year, with some fluctuations. Fog is expected in the mornings but usually burns off by the afternoon. Even if it doesn’t, I love a foggy day at the beach!

Aside from the weather, there are some events at specific times of the year to consider!

Winter in Half Moon Bay

Winter in Half Moon Bay is the perfect time of year to catch gray whales migrating along the coast, explore tide pools, or see Mavericks surf competition (depending on conditions. Temperatures are the coolest of the year, ranging from the mid-40s to low 60s Fahrenheit.

Spring in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay blooms into color in the Spring as wildflowers bloom along the cliffs. Spring is a beautiful time of year to go hiking through the wildflower fields or for a morning kayak in Pillar Point Harbor. Temperatures rise in the spring, ranging from the mid-50s to mid-60s Fahrenheit.

Summer in Half Moon Bay

Summer in Half Moon Bay is when you can expect clearer skies and pleasant weather. Head to the beach to relax or learn how to surf. Check out Summer’s End Music Festival on Main Street at the end of the summer to see local artists perform. Summer is the warmest time of the year, with temperatures ranging from mid-50s to mid-70s Fahrenheit.

Fall in Half Moon Bay

Fall is the season for harvest in Half Moon Bay, especially with the famous Pumpkin Festival, where you can check out giant pumpkins from local farmers. Fall is a great time to do your Pacific Coast Highway road trip or go for a horseback ride. The weather begins to cool off in the fall, with temperatures ranging from mid-40s to mid-60s Fahrenheit.

Overlooking Pillar Point Bluff in Half Moon Bay
Walking the trails in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.

What to Wear in Half Moon Bay

One thing to know about Northern California coastal towns is that they’re quite chillier than Southern California beaches. There are rare occasions when the weather dictates that a swimsuit can come out, but most of the time, I’m chillin’ (literally) at the beach in a puffy jacket and beanie!

As such, you’ll want to pack or wear layers for your trip to Half Moon Bay, even if it’s just for the day. Your favorite cozy sweatshirt or puffy jacket is great for cool mornings and evenings, while a lighter top works well during the day. 

Half Moon Bay is also a very casual town. Even when eating at a nice restaurant, you can usually get away with wearing nice jeans!

Here are some essential items for your trip to Half Moon Bay:

  • Hat/Beanie
  • Short/Long Sleeve shirt
  • Jacket/Sweater
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Comfortable Shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Beach Blanket
  • Camera

Fun Things to Do in Half Moon Bay

Now that you know some of the details about planning your trip to Half Moon Bay, here are some of my favorite things to do to add to your itinerary!

Hike the Gray Whale Cove Trail

The Gray Whale Cove Trail is an easy hike in Half Moon Bay with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. The trail is about 2 miles out and back and mostly flat. You can combine it with the Montara Mountain hike for a more significant incline and mileage. But if you’re looking for a quick hike to stretch your legs on your road trip or something after work, this is the one!

Park in the Gray Whale Cove trailhead parking lot off Highway 1. The trailhead is well-marked and maintained, so you’ll easily find it. There is also a bench for the best sunset views!

Gray whale cove trail at sunset in Half Moon Bay
Lookout point on Gray Whale Cove Trail in Half Moon Bay, CA

Bike the California Coastal Trail

The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail is part of the much larger (and still in progress) California Coastal Trail. This 11-mile out-and-back trail, starting at Pillar Point Harbor and ending at the Ritz Carlton, is perfect for a long bike ride. It also passes Miramar Beach, Half Moon Bay State Beach, and Poplar Beach. 

There are plenty of restaurants along the way if you want to stop mid-bike ride for a snack. Or you can grab a sandwich from the deli at Spangler’s Market for a picnic at one of the benches overlooking the coast. 

Biking Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

Relax on the Beach

There are many beautiful beaches in Half Moon Bay. Most are free to enter, but there is a parking fee at state beaches, like Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Half Moon Bay State Beach is a four-mile stretch of sandy beach, including Francis Beach, Venice Beach, Dunes Beach, and Roosevelt Beach. At Francis Beach, you can tent or RV camp and the sand is easily accessible via a paved ramp. 

It does cost $10 to park there.

If you don’t want to pay to park to access the beach, a few of my favorites are free! However, these beaches require climbing down the cliffs to reach the sand.

  • Miramar Beach is one of my favorite places in Half Moon Bay. It’s a quiet stretch of sand that is lovely on a sunny day.
  • Montara State Beach is lovely and great for intermediate and advanced surfers. It’s also the place to see wildflowers bloom in the spring.
  • Gray Whale Cove Beach is across Highway 1 from Gray Whale Cove Trail. Park at the trailhead and use extreme caution crossing the highway. There is a staircase that leads down to this small beach cove.

Go Horse Back Riding

Have you ever wanted to go horseback riding on the beach? Half Moon Bay has just the place for you! Check out Sea Horse Ranch or their 1.5-hour ride. This ride takes horseback riders onto the bluffs overlooking the ocean and then down to Poplar Beach. This is a fun family activity in Half Moon Bay. 

Explore Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is another one of my favorite places in Half Moon Bay and is a hidden gem. Located at the end of a residential street in the Moss Beach neighborhood, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve protects a wide variety of marine life that makes their home in the tide pools, which you can explore at low tide.

The reserve includes walking trails through a Monterey Cypress Grove, including unique Cyprus tunnels. You can often see harbor seals from the cliffs resting on Seal Cove beach below. However, in recent visits, the access to Seal Cove beach has been closed to protect the seals.

When visiting these beautiful places, remember to follow leave-no-trace principles. Don’t touch any of the marine life, keep your distance from seals, and don’t take anything with you or leave anything behind. 

Cypress Tunnel in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Half Moon Bay, CA

Go on a Whale-Watching Tour

Many people go to Monterey for whale-watching tours, but you can also do them here in Half Moon Bay. 

Gray Whales migrate south to Baja from January to March to mate and nurse their young. They make the return journey with their young from March to April. 

As these large whales migrate close to shore, you can often see them from land. A few great viewing points are at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Montara, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Look for their spouts of water!

If you’d like to get out on the water for a closer look at whales and dolphins, Riptide Charters offers whale-watching tours from Pillar Point Harbor for $65 per person for a 3-hour tour. You’ll need to email them for availability.

Alternatively, you can book a whale-watching tour with the Oceanic Society. It costs $300 and lasts 7.5 hours. The tour takes you from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands, a haven for humpback whales and other marine wildlife. You have a very high likelihood of seeing whales on this tour!

Go Kayaking or Stand-Up Paddleboarding in Pillar Point Harbor

To get on the water without facing the waves, consider kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding in Pillar Point Harbor. You can check out all the boats and watch the seals fight for space on the dock given to them. Or make your way across the harbor to check out Mavericks Beach.

If you have your own kayak or paddleboard, my favorite place to launch is the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. Alternatively, you can rent either one from Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.

Take Surfing Lessons

The best beach to learn how to surf in Half Moon Bay is the appropriately named Surfer’s Beach. Just south of Pillar Point Harbor, this stretch of beach has calmer and smaller waves than other beaches in Half Moon Bay.

On weekends, the parking along Highway 1 fills fast, and the waves are crowded with beginner surfers. If possible, I recommend doing this during the week. You can also take a private surf lesson with Tommy Tsunami Surf School.

Wander Downtown Half Moon Bay

Downtown Half Moon Bay has unique shops, art galleries, street art, and fantastic restaurants. Stroll down Main Street and pop into any shop that looks interesting. 

A few spots I recommend checking out are:

You can find the small jail built in 1911 just a block from Main Street. It was reopened in 2023 as the Half Moon Bay Coastside History Museum. It is only open on weekends from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Go Wine Tasting at La Nebbia Winery

La Nebbia is a boutique winery on Highway 92 as you enter Hal Moon Bay. Their garden is open from Thursday to Sunday, where you can do a tasting flight (weekends only) or enjoy a nice bottle of wine with a charcuterie plate. There are also a couple of bocce ball courts for some fun while you sip!

Catch a show at Old Princeton Landing Public House and Grill

The Old Princeton Landing is a restaurant, bar, and live music venue near the harbor. It has featured acts like Afroman and Warren G and local artists.

A few doors down is the grill, which has an excellent poke bowl!

Catch a comedy show at Hop Dogma Brewing Co.

On the second Thursday of every month, Hop Dogma Brewing Co. hosts a comedy night. I had a date take me to one and it was entertaining! Local comics take the stage while you sip locally brewed IPAs! There is no food at the Brewery, but you can bring it in from one of the local restaurants. 

Pick out a Pumpkin at the Pumpkin Patch

Fall is a fun time of year in Half Moon Bay as pumpkin patches welcome you to find the perfect pumpkin!  There are several pumpkin patches in Half Moon Bay and the surrounding area. Andreotti Family Farms and Farmer’s Daughter (simple farm stand) are two of my favorites. 

If you have kids, head to  Lemos Farm, where kid-friendly activities include a petting zoo and pony rides. Across Highway 92 from Lemos is another classic pumpkin patch, Pastorino Farms.

If you’re heading to Half Moon Bay to pick up your fall pumpkin, it gets swamped, especially on the weekends. Plan your trip during the weekday or go early to avoid traffic jams.

Attend the Annual Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival

One of the most popular festivals in Half Moon Bay is the Pumpkin Festival. This festival begins with weighing the giant pumpkins grown by local farmers to see who takes home the crown. 

The rest of the weekend is filled with art (like handblown glass pumpkins), food, and live music. 

In the spirit of the season, there will also be pie-eating contests, costume contests, and pumpkin-carving contests!

Take a Day Trip to Pescadero

If you want to explore more charming Northern California coastal towns, take a day trip from Half Moon Bay to Pescadero. Pescadero is much smaller than Half Moon Bay, but a 40-ish minute drive along the coast will bring you to a cute town with great food, unique shops, and more beaches!

A few unique things to do in Pescadero include visiting Harley Goats Farm to see the goats, buy fresh cheese, and wander their garden. You can eat at Duarte’s or buy amazing garlic-artichoke bread from Arcangeli in town.

A bit further down the road, check out Pigeon Point Lighthouse for a chance to see whales, or head to Año Nuevo State Park to see elephant seals!

Me at Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Walking at Cove Beach in Año Nuevo State Park

Where to Eat in Half Moon Bay

There are so many good places to eat in Half Moon Bay, and you can get just about any cuisine there. However, seafood is a must when you’re in Half Moon Bay. Here are a few of my favorite places.

The Best Breakfast in Half Moon Bay

  • The Press: The Press has a solid breakfast (prosciutto and poached eggs are excellent). Snag a table outside if you can!
  • Johnny’s Half Moon Bay: My sister-in-law (who grew up in Half Moon Bay) highly recommends Johnny’s for breakfast.
  • Dawn Patrol Coffee: Looking for a quick breakfast and coffee? Dawn Patrol makes a fantastic matcha latte and offers bagels, toasts, etc. 

The Best Lunch/Dinner in Half Moon Bay

  • Sam’s Chowder House: Sam’s is a popular restaurant with ocean views that many people like to visit for special occasions. However, Sam’s is ALWAYS busy. 
  • Moss Beach Distillery: I prefer Moss Beach Distillery for a “special occasion” meal. I love the fire pit out on the patio; the food is excellent, and there is a story of it being haunted!
  • Half Moon Bay Brewing Company: If you’re not into seafood, HMB Brewing Co. is a solid spot for lunch or dinner. The menu offers a wide variety of options. Sit outside on a nice day for views of the harbor.
  • Breakwater Barbecue: Breakwater has excellent pulled pork and brisket. Plus, the sides are amazing!

Where to Stay in Half Moon Bay

There are many places to stay in Half Moon Bay, from bed and breakfasts to higher-end accommodations like the Ritz Carlton or Oceano Hotel and Spa.

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 on the budget end of the spectrum.

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!

I’m lucky to have grown up in Burlingame with Half Moon Bay as my “backyard.” I hope this post has inspired you to check out what makes Half Moon Bay so unique and that you enjoy your trip!

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15 Best Things to Do in Half Moon Bay, CA
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