The Getaway
Explore the Natural Wonders of Half Moon Bay

On California's Northern Coast, the seaside community of Half Moon Bay bears witness to over 250 square miles of beautiful landscapes. From the legendary surf zone off of the north coast to the stunning redwood forest hiking trails and the picturesque downtown quarter, you'll find plenty of things to experience and do in Half Moon Bay. Horseback ride or mountain bike a waterfront trail, and taste farm-fresh foods and local wines at postcard-perfect eateries. Observe countless species of coastal creatures, and enjoy a gorgeous sunset from the balcony of a historic bed and breakfast.

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01 Stroll Down Picturesque Main Street

Half Moon Bay's Downtown District is a lovely complement to the wild and free-spirited nature of its beaches. In addition to charming shops and galleries, Main Street has access to an eclectic array of eateries, wineries, and cafés. The Farmer's Market at Shoreline Station on Saturday mornings is a great place to mingle with local artists, growers, and restaurateurs. Visit in October for the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. The celebrated two-day event brings live music, entertainment, and local vendors to Main Street. Stay for the climactic World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off, where the winning gourd earns a massive cash prize.

The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival draws tourists every year. Robert_Ford / Getty Images

02 Dive into Half Moon Bay's History

As San Mateo County's First town, Half Moon Bay has a rich legacy on display. Head for Higgins Canyon Road to see the James Johnston House, a 19th century New England-style saltbox home. The house is open every third Saturday of the month, but the idyllic scenery is always free to enjoy. Next, stop at the intersection of Johnston and Miramontes Streets to admire the 1872 Gothic Revival-style Methodist church with its stained elegant glass windows. Pick up a pocket guidebook at the Historic Zaballa House, which also doubles as a quaint bed and breakfast.

Half Moon Bay is home to several historic buildings. John Elk / Getty Images

03 Sunbathe on Half Moon Bay's State Park Beaches

If you're passing through Half Moon Bay and only have time to visit one beach, head for the Half Moon Bay State Beaches. This four-mile-long stretch of spacious, sandy beaches is a favorite of travelers for its well-maintained campgrounds, scenic picnic areas, and access to surfing and fishing. Francis Beach hosts visitors on a stunning bluff overlooking the ocean, while Venice and Dunes Beaches are equally as gorgeous with fewer crowds and better parking conditions. Roosevelt Beach is the least-accessible, so you're more likely to enjoy peaceful solitude with your breathtaking views.

Half Moon Bay's State Beaches are a popular camping destination. Andrei Stanescu / Getty Images

04 Navigate the California Coastal Trail

The California Coastal Trail is a statewide network of continuous public walkways along the entire 1,200 miles between Mexico and Oregon. Half Moon Bay's segment of this trail follows the old railroad line along the coast, accommodating pedestrians, wheelchairs, bikers, and horseback riders. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery along paved roads, keeping an eye out for brown pelicans or migrating grey whales during the season. Bike rentals are also available at a couple of sporting shops in town. Ride to Miramar Beach and witness one of the most beautiful sunsets in California.

The California Coastal Trail provides stunning vistas along the Half Moon Bay Coastline. PamelaJoeMcFarlane / Getty Images

05 Watch World-Class Surfers Brave the Waves

Every winter, surfers from all over the globe come to Half Moon Bay for the massive waves known as the Mavericks. When they're at their strongest, these crests travel at over 50 mph and swell 50 to 100 feet high. Only the most daring and experienced wave riders take the Maverick Challenge. It doesn't happen every year, so check online for more information. Grab a blanket and relax at Maverick's Beach to watch the action or head for Surfer's Beach for tamer waters. Conditions inside the jetty are perfect for paddleboarding, boogie boarding, and beginner surfers.

Mavericks is a world-renowned surfing location in Half Moon Bay. Andrei Stanescu / Getty Images

06 Bird-watch at the Wavecrest Open Space

Nature lovers and bird-watchers should pack a lunch and head for Wavecrest Open Space. This protected oceanside preserve has several hiking trails, wooded areas, and flowered meadows to explore. Walking paths eventually lead to towering bluffs overlooking the ocean, where you can capture some amazing sunset photos. Perpendicular to the coastline, you'll come upon Bird Trail, where you can spot a wide range of bird species. See the Brown Pelicans diving for dinner, and angle your eyes upward for a glimpse of a hawk or raptors nesting for the winter. Feel free to bring your pooch on a leash to enjoy the hike.

Bird-watchers will spot a wide variety of birds at Half Moon Bay. jeremyborkat / Getty Images

07 Savor Half Moon Bay's Coastal Flavors

Half Moon Bay's appeal goes beyond stunning vistas and watersports culture. The town is first and foremost an agricultural community, as evidenced by the acres of charming family farms, nurseries, and bustling farmer's markets. The city also claims a thriving food culture, with a broad selection of dining experiences for every budget. Visit the Half Moon Bay Bakery on Main Street for fresh-baked bread from the original 1929 ovens, and then have a lobster roll at Sam's Chowder House near the Pillar Point Harbor. End the night with a tasting at a winery on Main Street, or have a few beers at a brewery overlooking the harbor.

End a long day of exploring at Half Moon Bay's breweries. subman / Getty Images

08 Spend an Afternoon at Pillar Point Harbor

Pillar Point Harbor is a prime destination with a New England vibe perfect for families and groups in need of a hangout. Stretch your legs on scenic trails through salt marshes and along the coastal bluffs, then walk along the old wooden pier to relish uninterrupted ocean views. Stroll the narrow lanes along the densely-packed docks, snapping a few selfies with the open sea at your back. Once you've worked up an appetite, choose from a variety of beachfront eateries serving up the fresh catch of the day, or stop at the Half Moon Bay Brewery for some killer brews and views.

Half Moon Bay's colorful docks are an Instagram-worthy spot. yhelfman / Getty Images

09 Observe Marine Life Up Close at the Tide Pools

The Half Moon Bay coastline is a combination of rocky shoreline and sandy beaches, resulting in many biodiverse communities of flora and fauna. The Bay Area tide pools are particularly fascinating for the thousands of exotic species on display during low tide. The best tide pool locations include Cowell Ranch, Redondo and Seal Cove Beaches, Pillar Point, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The latter is one of the most beautiful and accessible natural wonders on the coast, and admission is free of charge. Remember to respect the fragile environment by taking only pictures and leaving only footprints.

The tide pools along Half Moon Bay's coast are thriving with exotic life. Spondylolithesis / Getty Images

10 Drive Through the Majestic Redwoods

The majestic California redwoods are a treasured part of Northern California's stunning landscapes. Visit with these noble trees on a scenic drive beginning from Main Street in Downtown. Head northeast on Highway 92 past beautiful farmland to the Upper Crystal Springs Vista Point. Enjoy the views for a moment before turning onto Highway 35, or Skyline Blvd, and cruising through the groves of Purisima Creek Canyon. Walk the trails at El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve, and don't forget to stop at the Methuselah Tree, the largest redwood on the North Penisula rumored to be almost 2,000 years old. Finally, drive southwest on Highway 84 through the rolling hills until it reconnects with the Pacific Coast Highway.

Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve near Half Moon Bay is home to redwood groves. yhelfman / Getty Images
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