Things to do in Half Moon Bay, California

By Kay S
Last Updated

For the common surfer and beach goer, Half Moon Bay has all the flavors and excitement of a California beach town without the hectic nature of some of the state’s larger cities. 

Come here to listen to the intense crash of the Maverick waves as you sip local wine and feel the Pacific winds dancing through strands in your hair. Unbeatable. Don’t forget to sample awesome seafood while you’re relaxing on the beaches.

Conveniently located just south of San Francisco on the central coast of California, the city of Half Moon Bay is easy to reach no matter where your journey begins. It is the ideal destination for anyone that wants to see a classic California beach town without too many crowds, expenses, or chaos. 

Things to do in Half Moon Bay

Like any beach town, you can expect the sand and the surf to be the most popular attractions in Half Moon Bay. The city has lovely oceanfront views, more than five beaches, excellent restaurants for dining in and eating out, great hikes, and even some pretty galleries and historical landmarks. 

For thrill-seekers, try your luck at surfing the Maverick waves. For the faint of heart, just take up a spot on the beach under a shady umbrella and enjoy the laid back vibe. Half Moon Bay has a variety of activities to offer people of all interests and walks of life. But, if you want a more detailed list of activities, take a look at our recommended activities below before you pack your bags.

Historic Main Street

Like a lot of small-town America, Half Moon Bay’s cultural heart can be found on its Historic Mainstreet. The street bisects almost the entire downtown area of the city and is famous for its boutiques, galleries, restaurants, antique stores, and book stores. 

Take a stop at Cunha’s Country Store for all your grocery needs, and to buy a Half Moon sweater. Other great spots for souvenirs are Token’s (a local gift shop) and Cottage Industries (a handcrafted furniture store). For eating try Moonside Bakery & Cafe for some good American breakfast, or Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen to sample a local microbrew along with a hearty California meal. 

Finally, visit Coastside Land Trust to know the local coastal conservation efforts or Coastal Repertory Theatre to experience the local art and culture. Keep in mind these are just some of the things that Mainstreet has to offer. Half the fun is in exploring it yourself to learn about the various attractions and feel the local vibe.

Pillar Point Harbor

Just north of Half Moon Bay is a fantastic marina where you can see fishing boats and pleasure crafts go in and out of the Pacific. Pillar Point Harbor somehow always reminds us of coastal New England with its quaint boutiques, small shacks and eateries, and lots of boats. 

At the Pillar Point Harbor, you can charter a boat and take a tour of the coast or just walk along the pier and take pictures at sunset. When you finish for the day make sure to try some of the great seafood options they have there including Princeton Seafood Co. and Barbara’s Fishtrap. 

Half Moon Bay Coastside History Museum

In this fun little encapsulation of time, you can experience life on the old frontier. The half Moon Bay Coastside History Museum is divided into two sections: the old city jail and the Johnston Barn. 

The Jail Museum is a very small building but holds a lot of historical exhibits and artifacts. The building was built in 1911 and has just a couple of small cells. It was mainly used to hold disruptive saloon patrons. You can visit the former cells and see the small museum. 

The Johnston Farm is located right behind the Old Jail. This building is currently being converted into a larger museum. Inside, you will be able to take a look at more artifacts from that era. The museum is open only on the weekends from 10 am to 4 pm. 

Sam’s Chowder House

Are you familiar with chowder? This chunky, creamy soup is famous in the United States for its hearty taste and delicious flavor. While chowder is primarily a New England specialty, teh Pacific Coast has mastered its own version of this coastal delicacy. 

While in Half Moon Bay, take a trip over to Sam’s Chowder House to try some of the best chowder money can buy along the West Coast. Specializing in seafood, Sam’s has received multiple awards including “Best Seafood in the Bay Area,” “Top Three Outdoor Dining Spots in the Bay Area,” and “Best Sandwiches in America.” 

Along with the chowder soup, this eatery is also popular for other seafood dishes. Their lobster rolls were even featured on an episode of NBC’s The Today Show. Couple that with a high rating on many food review sites and this is one of the most decorated restaurants in all of Half Moon Bay.

Bay Art Glass

Ever wonder how glassblowers get their art to take such intricate and beautiful shapes? Are you a fan of blown glass and want to see what California has to offer in this field? Well, Bay Art Glass is the perfect place for the connoisseur and the curious participant to enjoy this mesmerizing medium of art. 

The Bay Art Class has both an art gallery and classes. So, if your trip is a little bit longer then feel free to sign up for a class and learn how to blow glass from experts. Or, take a look at the gallery and purchase an awesome souvenir from hand blown glass. 

Half Moon Bay Distillery

Need a little liquor to lighten the mood? This awesome local distillery makes some of the finest vodka and gin that central California has to offer. With a location just a block away from the beach, the distillery makes a great place to stop by before or after dinner. The Distillery offers tastings as well as commercial sales, so you can sample anything you like before you decide to buy. 

Half Moon Bay State Beach

This four miles of sandy beach encompasses the main coastal area in Half Moon Bay. The beaches, Francis, Venice, and Miramar all have the golden sand and cloud-swept skies affiliated with this region. However, the beaches also offer a number of activities including surfing, fishing, and sunbathing. There are multiple hiking trails that go through the park including the Coastside trail which straddles the eastern boundary of the beaches and extends for almost three miles. On Francis beach, you can find a campground with 52 original sites and Venice is where the toilets and showers are located. You can also visit Friendly Acres Ranch for a horseback ride along the sand. 

Surfing at Mavericks Beach

Are you an experienced surfer looking for a challenge? Or maybe you’re just curious about the sport and want to see it done competitively? Well, just north of Half Moon Bay, Maverick’s Beach is one of the most exciting and popular surfing spots in California, where you can either surf or observe others.

The beach has unusual underwater rock formations which result in exceptionally large swells just off Pillar Point. After winter storms, the waves here average about 25 ft high and can reach as high as 60 feet. If you really want to see the giant waves, then you must visit in the wintertime. 

The beach has an interesting story and is named after Maverick, a dog who loved the big waves – you can read the entire story here. A popular annual invitation-only big wave surfing competition called Mavericks used to be held here until it was canceled. But even today, you can visit the area to see surfers in action. 

Half Moon Bay Golf Courses

At just 25 minutes from SFO airport, Half Moon Bay Golf Links is the perfect place to stop for a few strokes on your vacation. Swing your club, but don’t be too distracted by the scenery around you. 

The ocean course – named for its proximity to the Pacific – has extravagant views of the coast and the blue water and four of the most scenic holes of any golf course in the world. Take a pit stop at the Ocean Grill between holes 9 and 10 for some refreshments during your game to keep you sharp. 

The best views start on hole 16 where on one side you can see sprawling fields of local grasses and wildflowers and on the other, the endless Pacific Ocean.

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

What would a cozy coastal California town be without its own lighthouse? The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is 115 ft tall and has helped sailors navigate the point since the year 1871. It is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast and one of the best places to visit near Half Moon Bay. 

While the original Fresnel lens is no longer there, the current lens at the top of the light tower, weighing over 2000 pounds, is equally fascinating to see. The light is open almost every day from 8 a.m to sunset with the Park Store and visitor center operating from 10 a.m to 4 p.m Monday through Thursday. 

Beyond the lighthouse, the park also has restrooms, picnic tables, a small public beach, and hiking trails. The ocean surrounding the park also has a lot of marine life. It serves as a home to both seals and whales. The lighthouse tower is great for whale watching during winter. 

California Coastal Trail

This 1200 miles connection between public hiking trails stretches the entire length of the California coast. It has been in operation since the early 2000s and can take over a month to complete. 

The section that runs through Half Moon Bay is about 4.7 miles long and spans from Miramar to Poplar beach. It runs parallel to what used to be the Ocean Shore Railroad. This part of the trail is known for its bird watching. You can see red-tailed hawks, blue herons, and red-winged blackbirds. 

Gray Whale Cove Trail

Located near Half Moon Bay, the Gray Whale Cove Trail is a 2.2 miles hiking trail that is good for all skill levels. The trail is heavily trafficked and quite popular among visitors and locals alike. Make sure you arrive early for the hike as the parking lot has been known to fill before 9:30 a.m. 

Originally Gray Whale Cove Trail was called “Half Moon Bay Colma Road,” and was designed for horse wagon and bicycle traffic. Now it is open to foot traffic only. The trail features lots of scenic views of the coastline and is filled with many different species of wildflowers in spring. The trail leads down to the beach known as Gray Whale Cove or Devil’s Slide. 

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve

Known for being a lot more lush and beautiful than the neighboring woods of Palo Alto and Woodside, Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve consists of bare coastal hills and red-wood filled valleys. These gargantuan trees are one of the main draws of Northern California but few visitors know that they can enjoy the trees locally near Half Moon Bay. 

While the trees at Purisima Creeks might not be as old or as tall as those in the more famous locations of Sequoia National Park or Yosemite, visitors can still admire the immense height, earthy smell, and beautiful mahogany color of the redwoods at the preserve. 

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach

Have you ever heard of tide pooling? When the ocean levels are high the waves reach farther up the beach and leave behind tiny pools of water when the tide recedes. These pools are home to abundant sea life such as fingered limpet, barnacles, hermit crabs, and sea snails. 

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is where you can experience this fun-filled biological past time near Half Moon Bay. The reserve is located on Moss Beach about 12 minutes north of downtown. The facility offers tours, brochure guides to the pools, and even brief marine biology lessons for kids. 

Ano Nuevo State Park

A little over thirty minutes from Half Moon Bay is a very unique state park. Ano Nuevo is home to the special local animals, the elephant seals. These are one of the biggest seals on earth and are so-called for their flaccid snout which protrudes over the mouth, similar to the trunk of an elephant. 

The Ano Nuevo State Park is a native habitat for the elephant seals along California’s central coast. On a visit to the beach, you can see over 10,000 of these animals. The numbers are large, especially during their mating season. You can also spot baby calves splashing in the water.

Beyond the seals, the park also has a number of coastal trails and beach areas. Also, stop by the visitor center to get a map of the park and learn more about the fascinating creatures. 

Dinosaurs of Spanish Town

Right next to downtown Half Moon Bay on Highway 92, you will find a unique dinosaur attraction. The Dinosaurs of Spanish Town are a collection of giant metal orange-colored sculptures. There’s a Triceratops, a T-Rex, and even a wooly mammoth! The statues have amazing, intricate details and they photograph really well. 

The rest of the area is as charming as this prehistoric sculptures. Spanish Town is an artist community and amazing to explore. It features an art gallery where you can buy handcrafted artwork, pottery, figurines, mixed media art, sculptures, and other unique items.

Pescadero Day Trip

Outside of Half Moon Bay is the lovely little agricultural community of Pescadero. On a trip, you can enjoy the scenic California countryside as your car climbs and descends rolling hills and farms laden with local produce. You can spot fresh artichokes, lettuce, green beans, and other produce growing all around you. 

The Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is also good to visit. This is a saltwater marsh and has many tide pools full of life. Pescadero also has a beach that is certain to be less crowded than the ones in Half Moon Bay and is said to be a “quiet beach with unspoiled natural scenery.”

Lemos Farms

Lemos Farms is a tiny amusement park located outside of Half Moon Bay. Since 1942, it has served fun and excitement to tourists and locals. The park is mostly for small children, but prices are very cheap and even adults enjoy a day spent here.

It has many farm-themed activities such as pony rides, train rides, and hayrides, a petting zoo, bouncing houses, and a fun activity called goat yoga  – literally just yoga but with goats roaming around! 

Harley Farms

Also in Pescadero is the Harley Farms Goat Dairy where you can go to pet goats and purchase some local feta. The cheese here is award-winning, but the shop also features artisanal packages, specialty foods, bath and body works, and even clothing. 

This is a great place to come and sample some famous local California produce while also giving your kids something to do. So drop the kids at the petting zoo and go get you some goat dairy!

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops

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