Blake Walsh

22 Best Things to Do in Half Moon Bay, CA

  • Published 2023/03/27

The name Half Moon Bay has an aura of magical mystery attached to it.

One of California’s maritime cities, the place perfectly fits the state’s sunny reputation.

But Half Moon Bay does not only have golden beaches; it consists of all sorts of geographical features, such as rugged cliffs, mountains, and tropical trails that provide a much-needed respite from the bustle of modern life.

There are also tidal pools and protected areas that create a safe place for marine animals.

Even though Half Moon Bay is considered to be a neighbor of San Francisco, the vibe it exudes is quite different.

Half Moon Bay is not pretentious; rather, it gives the feel of the country with its farms, barns, rural community of Pescadero, rolling slopes, flower nurseries, and scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.

The beaches are always buzzing with several sports activities, such as surfing, paddling, and kayak tours, which give the tourists an opportunity to explore the area and bask in the beauty of the place.

Half Moon Bay lives up to the reputation of gifting tourists with the best travel experience, along with the most spectacular sunsets.

If you’re interested in making this charming city your next destination, check out this list of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay, California:

Hike along the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail

Daytime view of Half moon bay Coastside Trail

Runner1928, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Running parallel to the Pacific Ocean, the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail is five miles long and begins its journey from Seymour Bridge and ends at Pillar Point Harbor.

The trail provides a scenic view of the oceanfront and has some spectacular beaches.

At least four beaches are present in the area, which offers the visitors solace.

The beaches have hiking routes that are easy to tackle.

The Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail is asphalt-paved, making it ideal for walkers, joggers, skaters, cyclists, and people who require the help of a wheelchair.

The coastlines and beaches contain peculiar trees, creeks, wetlands, enigmatic flowers, and grasslands that enhance the beauty of the place.

Whale-watching tours are conducted here during the migration season.

Bask in the Beauty of Crystal Springs Reservoir

The waters of Crystal Springs Reservoir

Basheer Tome, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The city of Half Moon Bay recognizes the importance of nature; hence they have built two artificial lakes in the area of the Rift Valley, called Crystal Springs Reservoir.

The lakes are shrouded by various sorts of trees ranging from high canopies to trim trees and shrubs such as madrones and oak, which creates a serene ambiance for people who walk the trail on the eastern side of Crystal Springs Reservoir.

More than 180 species of birds inhabit the space, along with various types of wildlife such as deer, squirrels, coyotes, and bobcats.

Besides this, the area of Crystal Springs Reservoir also has wetlands, a centuries-old Douglas fir forest, and a watershed area that is well protected and was declared a biosphere reserve.

Visit the Historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pretty flowers near Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Margaretha Maryk /

Pigeon Point Lighthouse was constructed in the year 1871 to solve the crisis of shipwrecks due to the dense layer of fog.

The lighthouse stands 115 feet tall and is the tallest in the United States.

The classic white structure is located at the edge of a rugged cliff where the only sound that can be heard is the roar of the waves crashing against the rocks, creating an ambiance of delight.

A light at Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Sundry Photography /

After decades of service, the foghorn has been turned off, and the lighthouse is now automated.

The surrounding area of the lighthouse does not have any attractive beaches, but it is rich in wildlife and different species of plants.

There is also a specific spot that opens from December to May for viewing marine wildlife, especially seals.

Even though the ancient lighthouse cannot be entered and viewed closely, a tour of the grounds is conducted and provides historical insight.

Aerial view of Pigeon Point Lighthouse

TravelEatShoot /

Play Some Golf at Half Moon Bay’s Famous Golf Courses

Golf course in Half moon bay

Lynn Yeh /

Half Moon Bay houses the two most prominent golf courses, which have been used a number of times for the US Open qualifiers.

The Old Course dates back to 1973 and was designed by the renowned Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane.

It features the classic 18 holes in the style of Parkland link design.

The golf course also provides a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, which appeals to a lot of tourists.

Golfing at the Ritz-Carlton resort

1000Photography /

The newer of the two golf courses is called the Ocean Course and was designed by landscape artist Arthur Hills in 1997.

The 18-hole Ocean Course is built in the style of Scottish links, and to honor the Scottish tradition, bagpipes are played on the weekends.

Perched on a cliff, this course gives a spectacular view of the ocean.

Both Old Course and the Ocean Course are part of the Ritz-Carlton Resort.

Aerial view of half moon bay's golf course

Hakan Ozturk /

Explore the City’s Exciting Downtown Area

Half Moon Bay’s Downtown gives a glimpse of the past, as old but quaint cafes, restaurants, hotels, and old-fashioned bed and breakfasts are still intact.

This center is a prominent place to collect souvenirs since it is home to a plethora of different types of shops.

Gears for beach activities and hiking are also sold here.

Pasta Moon is another spot in downtown Half Moon Bay, as it is a farm-to-table restaurant that serves only the best of the Italian Cuisine.

An English country-style bed and breakfast called Mill Rose Inn is a highly sought-after tourist attraction because of its serene ambiance and splendid rose garden, which adds to its beauty.

Join a Kayaking Tour of Half Moon Bay

Kayaks in Half Moon Bay

Alisa_Ch /

Half Moon Bay is a maritime city through and through, as it offers a range of activities for tourists to try out.

Half Moon Bay Kayak Company aids tourists’ desires by conducting tours on sea kayaks, paddleboats, and bikes.

Kayaking on Pillar Point Harbor

Lu Yang /

This gives visitors an opportunity to be in close proximity to wild animals, such as turtles, seals, birds, and more.

Explore the protected areas of Pillar Point Harbor and the wild waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The company provides fishing as well as crabbing tours on the kayaks.

Empty kayaks on half moon bay's water

Chokchai Chuyplod /

Go Sunbathing on Francis Beach

People enjoying the sun at Francis Beach

Rep07, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

California is known for its sunny weather.

If sunbathing is something high up on the list of things you would like to do in Half Moon Bay, Francis Beach is the place to go.

Francis Beach is situated on Kelly Avenue and is one of Half Moon Bay’s most renowned beaches.

The sands of Francis Beach

Tomwsulcer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Along with a vast expanse of golden sand, the beach consists of a green grassy park that has several picnic tables and barbecue spots with a scenic view of the tumultuous ocean.

Even though swimming is not allowed in this area, it is the best spot for long leisurely walks, romantic outings, family picnics, and sunbathing.

Learn to Ride the Waves with Pillar Point Surf School

Surfing at Half Moon Bay

Jeff Smith – Perspectives /

Apart from its sunny weather, California is famous for being a top surfing destination.

To honor the traditional sport, Pillar Point Surf School was opened to take the activity forward.

Surfers riding the big waves of Pillar Point

Sundry Photography /

Tourists can gain basic training from highly professional surfers who pay heed to their safety and enjoyment.

There are classes for beginners and professionals as well.

Regardless of their skill level, those interested may avail of two-hour surfing lessons, which are conducted throughout the year.

Walk the Scenic Gray Whale Cove Trail

View of the waters from Gray Whale Cove Trail

AJ9 /

Half Moon Bay is filled with a plethora of scenic trails that offer spectacular views of the ocean, and the Gray Whale Cove Trail is one of them.

The 1.5-mile-long trail has a picture-perfect setting, with roaring waves crashing against the Montara and San Pedro mountains.

The trail has a gradual slope, and the path is lined with several shrubs such as sagebrushes, coyote bushes, and many more.

During the spring season, the paths get decorated with wildflowers, which add to the glamour of the place.

Experience Half Moon Bay’s Pumpkin Season Festivities

Pumpkin Patch in Half Moon Bay

bteimages /

The most exciting and awaited season in Half Moon Bay is pumpkin season, which usually happens in the month of October.

People from the neighboring areas visit the “World Pumpkin Capital” to participate in the festivities.

Rows and rows of fields are shrouded with this orange fruit, and visitors have the opportunity to go to the farms and choose their desired Halloween pumpkin.

People harvesting pumpkins during Pumpkin Festival

DreamArt123 /

During this time of year, Half Moon Bay’s farms and barns are decorated according to specific themes and with scarecrows, which brings the spirit of the season to life.

The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is the main pumpkin season event and lures the attention of tourists and locals alike.

It is also during this season that Main Street exhibits a series of art, parades, costumes, crafts, and live music performances, all of which bring life to the party.

Several competitions are conducted, such as Jack-o-lanterns carving contests and hunting for the most gigantic pumpkins.

Pumpkin festival at half moon bay

DreamArt123 /

Unlock a Rush of Excitement at Lemos Farm

Pumpkin decorated Lemos Farm

James Kirkikis /

Lemos Farm is colorful, fun, and highly kid-friendly, which is wonderful for parents looking for family activities on the Central Coast of California.

They have enough fun stuff for your little ones and not-so-little ones, both indoors and outdoors.

Lemos Farm has a petting zoo for pint-sized pirates and pony rides for princesses who want to feel like a royal for the day.

This amusement park even has a haunted house perfect for anyone with the heart of a warrior.

If you and your family are looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of an active lifestyle, you can hop aboard their favorite train ride or get cozy next to one of their friendly farm animals.

One thing you’d particularly enjoy about Lemos Farm is that their prices are very reasonable, especially when you consider the park’s magnificence.

Take a Peaceful Stroll along Burleigh H. Murray Ranch

A barn along Burleigh H. Murray Ranch

Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Burleigh H. Murray Ranch is a state park property in the heart of California that’s under the management of California State Parks.

The organization has various sites throughout the area where people can come to and enjoy everything from hiking to fishing and even horseback riding.

Located in San Mateo County, it was once a valley ranch but now holds beautiful vegetation, wildlife, clear skies, and deep blue waters.

The ranch was established over 100 years ago, and it’s a 1,325-acre state park today.

A wooden barn along Burleigh H. Murray Ranch

Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1983, the state bought the ranch for protection just outside Half Moon Bay.

There are many areas of this trail that are worth exploring.

One area recommended for all ages is near the Mills Barn and Water Tanks along Mills Creek.

You’ll begin the trail by walking along an old ranch road, which will lead you over a mile to an adorable 1930s park residence bungalow.

As you continue on towards the center of the valley, there will be two steep mountains on either side of you with lush green hills in between.

Get a Taste of Purissima Vodka

Half Moon Bay Distillery takes pride in the exceptionally smooth, silky taste of their Purissima Vodka.

They carefully select only the finest grains from local farmers and blend them to create an ultra-premium vodka that is sure to be a favorite for years to come.

You’ll find this small craft distillery in the picturesque coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California.

Another award-winning product from this distillery is their Purissima Lavender Vodka.

The lavenders in this vodka are amazing.

Not only does it have that distinct bouquet, but the flavor is so perfectly nuanced as if the distiller is like a modern-day savant.

How else could he get everything exactly right time after time?

Play Bocce After a Taste of Wine at La Nebbia Winery

Signage of La Nebbia Winery

jejim /

La Nebbia Winery, started in the 70s, is the perfect example of the barrel-to-bottle tradition.

This winery is less than 2 miles from the well-known sandy beaches of the city.

Its location shines a spotlight on the city’s temperate climate.

This winery offers wine tastings and a wide array of à la carte charcuterie-style dishes.

It also has two bocce ball courts you can play on while you savor your local wine choice.

Attend its annual Barrel to Bottle Days if you’ve got the time, too!

La Nebbia Winery is on San Mateo Road.

Enjoy the Secluded Cliffs at Cowell Ranch State Beach

Aerial view of Cowell Ranch State Beach

Michael Vi /

Farmed in the 1800s, Cowell Ranch State Beach has now transformed into a public beach known for its seclusion.

The beach is not as crowded as most Half Moon Bay beaches.

This makes it an ideal beach for those who prefer privacy over popularity.

One of its highlighted points is its surrounding high bluff walls.

The spot is an iconic site for native birds and harbor seals, too.

Spend your afternoon beachcombing on the shores of this beach.

But be careful of rip currents which are common within these parts of the waters.

You can get to Cowell Ranch State Beach via South Cabrillo Highway.

Traverse Through Coastal Scrub Habitats at Cowell-Purisima Trail

View of the sunset from Cowell-Purisima Trail

Alina Darkhovsky /

If you’re an avid explorer of unique natural habitats, Cowell-Purisima Trail is the place for you.

This hiking trail explores farmlands within the coastal city of Half Moon Bay.

It extends to over 3 miles of gently graded pathways.

Along the way, find yourself surrounded by both coastal and beach scrub environments.

Trees at Cowell-Purisima Trail

Alina Darkhovsky /

Wildlife may also greet you, including the likes of pelicans and harbor seals.

And be sure to keep your eyes open for wildflowers along the trail.

As the trail passes over Purisima Creek, you might have to hike up steep terrain, so gear yourself with the appropriate hiking boots.

Cowell-Purisima Trail’s access point is on South Cabrillo Highway.

Cowell-Purisima Trail lined with wildflowers

Thomas Kloc /

Play with Your Pets at Poplar Beach

Sunny day at Poplar Beach

SawBear /

Poplar Beach celebrates freedom and Half Moon Bay’s natural charm.

In fact, this beach is the most dog-friendly beach in the city.

Horses are welcome, too.

So, with your beloved pet, trek along the shoreline and feel the waves crash against your ankles.

Aerial view of Poplar Beach

SawBear /

Some of the most common activities you can do while at this beach include sunbathing and fishing.

Bring snacks in a dainty basket and host your picnic parties on the beach’s grainy sand.

There’s a steep trail that leads to a bluff that you can traverse as well.

Poplar Beach is on Poplar Street.

Go on an Art Exploration at Mirada ART on Main Street

Prepare for an art exploration of your dreams at Mirada ART on Main Street.

This art gallery once went by the name 337 Mirada ART.

Unlike most galleries, this one is an artist-run facility, so it’s a creative space just as it is a selling place.

You can also find artists in their zone, creating art and explaining their creative process to visiting groups.

From paintings to jewelry, you can find art inspiration everywhere in this building.

Will you be adding Mirada ART on Main Street to your list of to-visit spots?

Other Things to Do Nearby

Spend a Day at Pescadero State Beach

The waters of Pescadero Beach

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

Situated on Highway 1, Pescadero State Beach can be reached by traveling 14.5 miles south of the main center of Half Moon Bay.

Rocks, precipitous shorelines, jagged cliffs, coves, and natural caves add to the beauty of the place and make it perfect for romantic outings, family picnics, and leisurely walks.

The offshore rocks not only make it perfect for photography but also protect the main shoreline from aggressive waves, making the spot suitable for fishing and swimming.

Arch rock formation at Pescadero State Beach

yhelfman /

The offshore rocks are also a resting place for sea lions before they dive underwater to resume their hunting expeditions.

Visitors can get a glimpse of them while visiting the beach, making it worth their time and effort.

Various species of birds that are common in Northern California also frequent the place.

On the opposite side of Pescadero State Beach, a natural reserve called Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve provides a suitable habitat for foxes, kites, deer, skunks, blue herons, raccoons, and more.

Gorgeous sunset over Pescadero State Beach

Gayla Worrell /

Witness Stunning Aquatic Life at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Lu Yang /

Located 15 minutes away from Half Moon Bay in Moss Beach, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a safe haven for marine animals.

The area covers at least three miles and resides between the low and high lines of the tide.

Since the area is rich in unique marine animals, it was declared a reserve so that its uniqueness could be protected and maintained.

A starfish at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

SvetlanaSF /

During the low tide, the tidal pools get filled with different types of fauna, such as purple shore crabs, hermit crabs, and starfish, often attracting students from the community colleges.

Apart from these creatures, a variety of seaweeds, sponges, and mollusks are usually spotted here.

The reserve is also home to a plethora of plant species, including German ivy, Monterey pine, and pampas grass.

Daytime view of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Iv-olga /

Catch a Glimpse of the Country Life in the Nearby Town of Pescadero

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve

Jeffrey Abate /

Cultivating and handpicking vegetables and fruits have a pleasure of their own.

There is a rural hamlet in Pescadero, a few miles away from the main center of Half Moon Bay, which has large areas designed to cultivate lettuce, green beans, and artichoke.

View of Pescadero's main street

Daniel J. Leivick, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors have the opportunity to enter the farms and handpick the items they desire.

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve has creeks and saltwater and tidal pools, where a variety of marine animals are often sighted.

Pescadero State Beach is another of the town’s attractions, with its picturesque beaches.

Shops at Pescadero

Daniel J. Leivick, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet the Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park


Año Nuevo State Park has several geographical features such as dune fields, beaches, marshes, and coastal shrubs that enhance the beauty of the place.

It is located approximately 27 miles away from Half Moon Bay

Each and every year, humongous elephant seals come to the shore for their breeding season from December to April.

This is known to be the largest breeding colony for elephant seals, as it encounters more than 10,000 seals sunbathing on the warm golden sand.

People walking towards Año Nuevo State Park

Margaret.Wiktor /

Visitors are only allowed when joining a guided tour, as the main priority is the safety of the seals.

The tourist can even get a glimpse of female elephant seals giving birth.

Another interesting event happens from April to August, known as the molting season.

During this time, the elephant seals shed their skin’s outer layer, which is fascinating to watch and lasts around six weeks.

A female elephant seal at Año Nuevo State Park

yhelfman /

Final Thoughts

Not everyone goes to Half Moon Bay for its pristine shores, gorgeous beaches, and crystal clear waters.

Some go here because of the mellow vibe and almost guaranteed lack of traffic jams.

Everyone seems to be chasing the relaxed lifestyle these days, and you’ll find that people in Half Moon Bay tend to take their time getting where they want to go.

It’s a great place to unwind after a long stint spent on the move in busy San Francisco.

When you next decide to visit the Bay Area, include this city in your itinerary.

You will soon find yourself refreshed and ready to rejuvenate further.

Each of these locations has something special to offer, so be sure to remember them and plan an itinerary that’s perfectly tailored for you.

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