Half Moon Bay State Beaches
The Half Moon Bay coastline is made up of multiple state beaches. The entire area encompasses several miles of wide, sandy beaches including Surfers’ Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach. Tourists should keep in mind that the weather is often quite cold and windy, even during summertime when thick fog often blocks the sun. During September through early November is the best time for sunbathing and wading. Also, the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay is too cold to enter without a wetsuit, and the riptides can be dangerous. Instead of swimming, visitors come here to appreciate the natural beauty and to breathe in the refreshing sea air. Many visitors also enjoy fishing and picnicking at the Half Moon Bay Beaches. A campground above the beaches offers overnight accommodations; campsite reservations must be made in advance.
Mavericks Surfing Competition
Legendary among surfers, Mavericks is one of the biggest surfing waves in the world. This enormous wave breaks a half-mile from Pillar Point Harbor. When the conditions are right, professional surfers take on this big wave for the famous Mavericks Surfing Competition. Surfers come from all over the world at only 48 hours notice. For safety reasons, the public is not allowed to watch the competition from the beach.
Pillar Point Harbor and Coastside Trail
Visitors can enjoy magnificent views of the dramatic Pacific coastline while taking an invigorating walk along the Coastside Trail. This scenic oceanfront trail extends from the Pillar Point Harbor to the south of Half Moon Bay. The Pillar Point Harbor fishing pier is in the neighboring community of Princeton-by-the-Sea. This harbor is also the departure point for whale-watching tours during whale migration season. Visitors will also find several excellent seafood restaurants in this area.
The historic downtown of Half Moon Bay has many old-fashioned small hotels, quaint bed & breakfasts, small cafés, and restaurants. A popular spot is Pasta Moon, a farm-to-table restaurant that has been in business for more than 20 years. Just off Main Street on a quiet side street is the Mill Rose Inn, a charming luxury bed & breakfast with a delightful English country-style garden. The B&B owner takes advantage of Half Moon Bay’s cool, misty climate, which allows an abundance of colorful roses and other flowers to thrive in the garden. For dining and shopping, Main Street is the place to go. Take a leisurely stroll down this main drag and enjoy the town’s relaxing, slow pace. Browse the clothing boutiques, bookstores, home decor shops, and other locally owned specialty shops. A visitors center on Main Street has excellent resources about the local beaches and hikes.
Pescadero’s Farms and Coastal Delights
On the way from Half Moon Bay to the quaint rural community of Pescadero, about 17 miles to the south, travelers drive past rolling coastal hills and a patchwork of artichoke, lettuce, and green bean farms. With its saltwater ponds and flowing creeks, the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve reveals diverse sea life in the tide pools. The preserve is also a sanctuary for migratory birds including great blue herons, great egrets, and snowy egrets. The Pescadero State Beach is a small, quiet beach with unspoiled natural scenery. The town of Pescadero lies two miles east of Highway One on Pescadero Road. Foodies can visit the Harley Farms Goat Dairy to sample their award-winning cheese or to attend one of the Farm Dinners, special candlelit meals held in the restored Victorian barn.
Gray Whale Cove Trail
For a breathtaking coastal walk, head to the community of Montara (seven miles north of Half Moon Bay) to the Gray Whale Cove Trail. This gentle one-mile trail begins about 1.5 miles from the Chart House Restaurant, a worthwhile stop in itself for dining with an ocean view. After a slight incline from the parking lot, the trail is completely flat and is more of a scenic walk than a hike. With the San Pedro and Montara mountains in the background and the Pacific Ocean crashing against granite outcrops, the setting is truly inspiring. The trail is lined with typical California coastal vegetation such as sagebrush and coyote bush. Watch out for poison oak with its three-pronged reddish-green leaves. During springtime, this trail is a lovely place to spot colorful wildflowers, including blue Douglas irises, vibrant pink hollyhocks, and bright yellow buttercups. Gray Whale Cove also has a sheltered sandy beach.
Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park
About 27 miles south of Half Moon Bay, the Año Nuevo State Park is a nature reserve featuring wetland marshes, dune fields, coastal scrub, and beaches. Every winter, an incredible event occurs here: Thousands of enormous elephant seals arrive on the shores for breeding season, from December to April. As many as 10,000 seals come to the dunes and beaches of Año Nuevo State Park to breed and give birth to their pups. Año Nuevo is the world’s largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant seal.
Ano Nuevo State Reserve is only open for special guided tours. Visitors will be surprised by the size of the bull elephant seals, stretching to 16 feet and weighing 3 tons. The bull seals guard the harem of female seals and their babies. Sometimes visitors may even see a mother seal giving birth. Visitors can also observe “molting” season from April to August. During this time, the seals shed the outer layer of their skin and fur in a four- to six-week process as they rest on the beaches.