About 30 miles south of San Francisco, tucked between a craggy coastline and a lofty redwood forest, you’ll find Half Moon Bay. Riddled with farmland, this coastal paradise benefits from a rural simplicity and small-town feel. Add in Mavericks, the world-famous big wave surfing point, and the town’s close proximity to cities in the Bay Area, and this lazy beach town is easily established as a tourist destination.
Curious visitors saunter in year round, rotating through the best-known viewpoints and eateries, or wedging into a spot on the most notorious beaches. And we get it—it’s great gazing out over Mavericks with a Lobster Roll from Sam’s. But it’s time to revamp your coastal experience with this off the beaten path guide to Half Moon Bay (although we won’t blame you for grabbing another lobster roll).
1. Hop Dogma (30 Avenue Portola, El Granada) is a neighborhood microbrewery just a block from the beach. Sounds hard to beat? Try mixing in an $8 beer sampler, decidedly attentive bartenders and pet-friendly atmosphere. There’s no kitchen or food menu, but the bar calls in local food trucks to put those late night munchies to rest.
One of Hop Dogma’s frequent visitors, Shark Bite Food Truck has a sustainably minded rotating menu, with everything from killer fish tacos to bacon sliders. Besides tempting coastal grub, Shark Bite hand selects ingredients from around San Mateo County, including fish from Pillar Point Harbor and grass-fed beef from Pescadero. The truck also tows a television with DirecTV to optimize the experience, so follow them (quick!) on twitter to hunt them down.
2. The essential Half Moon Bay java shop, the Ebb Tide Café (311 Mirada Road, Half Moon Bay) will make you feel like a local, but be warned, the doors to the cozy, bookshelf-lined coffee den are only open on the weekends. The oceanfront location is amped up with an outdoor patio and lazy jazz, plus plush couches indoors if the seagulls start getting frisky.
3. Open Wednesday through Sunday for stop-in visits, Harley Farms Goat Dairy (205 North Street, Pescadero) offers a window into the bucolic inner workings of a goat dairy farm. Stop in to check out the process from goat to cheese (or milk, or paint, or lotion!) and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. While you can’t lure a goat home, you can purchase the farm’s award-winning products at the inviting barnyard shop. Visit the Harley Farms website to set up a full tour, or hold out for one of the neighborly farm dinners, during which the farm hosts a charming five-course meal in a Victorian hayloft.
4. Experience the seaside with an eco-cycling tour from Coastal Elegance. A caring staff ensures a unique and personalized journey through pockets of hidden beauty along the Central Coast, with a “leave no footprint behind” mentality. Whether biking, hiking or gourmet picnicking, let Coastal Elegance guide you through a relaxing afternoon of Half Moon Bay’s natural charm.
5. Wait for low tide, and then head to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to catch a glimpse of native sea life such as urchins, sea stars, and mollusks in the vibrant tide pools. A patient eye might spot a seal, or even the elusive octopus– in any case, between the peaceful lapping of the waves and diverse selection of ocean life, patience comes easy.
6. The second largest mainland breeding zone for the northern elephant seal, the Año Nuevo State Park is a great place to spot these hefty hunks of blubber. Depending on the season, you may share the park with molting pups or towering males fighting for mates—either way, getting up close and personal with these ocean dwelling mammals makes for an impressive pit-stop.
7. Pay your dues to iconic pop culture at the Museum of Pez Memorabilia (214 California Drive) in Burlingame. Just a short trip inland, this not-so-typical museum will delight your inner child. Unveil the world of PEZ, seeing dispensers you never knew existed during a personal walking tour with the museum owner. Grab a photo-op with the 7’10 PEZ snowman before revamping your own PEZ collection at the museum gift shop. Visit the Classic Toy and Banned Toy branches of the museum for an extra dose of nostalgia.
8. Ditch the crowds and venture down to Cowell Ranch Beach, a picturesque expanse of sandy, white Central California coastline with a certain tint of serenity unknown to the more popular beaches. Sheltered and secluded, the beach’s rugged beauty requires a half-mile jaunt down to the sand. Make sure to pack a jacket to ward off the likely sea breeze, and keep an eye out for bobbing seals, as they wander over toward a protected cove nearby. To get there, drive (or bike) 0.5 miles south of Miramonte Point Road, then make a right turn into the park.
9. Get a little TLC from Mother Nature at the eco-minded Costanoa Lodge (2001 Rossi Road, Pescadero), where the comfort stations—complete with fireplace, sauna, and heated floors—convert the campgrounds and cabins into a luxury sojourn. On-site activities include mountain bikes and horseback adventures, plus a robust event calendar that keeps weekends busy with anything from live music to star tours (not the Hollywood kind). Kids in tow? Send them off for a couple of hours of tide pool exploration and ice cream making at Costanoa’s Kids Camp.
For more things to do and places to stay—from the budget-friendly downtown historic San Benito House to the affordable luxury of Seal Cove Inn, tucked away above the sea—head to visithalfmoonbay.org. You can also download Half Moon Bay’s free app iCoastside or call 650.726.8380.
Directions: Consult oM’s transit guide to Half Moon Bay.
Photos: Images by John ‘K’, author, respective properties