Not far south of San Francisco lies a quiet coastal community where seagulls soar over sandy beaches, farmers tend their local produce, and quirky town stores sell handmade crafts and cards. Welcome to Half Moon Bay, an 80-mile coastline that’s bursting with natural wonders. This area has some of the richest marine reserves in all of California, making it an outstanding place to enjoy fishing, crabbing, clamming, and beachcombing. And with its array of small working farms, you’ll find plenty of fresh local produce to round out your BBQ or evening meal of wild salmon and albacore tuna.
This section of California’s coast is famous for its wildlife. Just to the south lies the whale watching-center of Monterey, while to the north are the giant redwood forests. Right in Half Moon Bay, you can head to Pillar Point Harbor for a day of fishing at the National Marine Sanctuary. Watch the fishermen unload their day’s catch of squid, crabs, salmon, rockfish, tuna, and halibut and learn about how they bait their traps and mend their gear. In the afternoon, take a kayak class, head out on a whale watching adventure, or spend your time fishing in the quiet surf.
Bird watchers can head to the Princeton Marsh and Seashore or the Pescadero Marsh Bird Refuge. More than 200 species flock to this area every year to hunt and nest in these marshy grasslands. If hiking and mountain biking is what you’re after, pay a visit to the Coastside Trails, a system of trails that links Roosevelt, Dunes, Venice, and Francis beaches. You’ll find stunning views of the coast from the bluffs and lowlands of the trail system.
Kids will love going tide-pooling at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. You can watch for tiny crabs and sea anemones, see hermit crabs go scuttling along with their shells on their backs, or watch tiny fish hide themselves under rocks. In January and March, look for whales along the Grey Whale Cove Trail at McNee Ranch State Park off Highway 1. The miles of trails lead to amazing and surprising views of the beach.
For a bit of history, try a visit to the Moss Beach Distillery, a hotspot for bootlegging and rum running during the Prohibition. “Frank’s Place,” a 1928 speakeasy on the cliffs at Moss Beach was a popular hangout for silent film stars and San Francisco politicians. Rum runners from Canada delivered their goods under the cover of night. Their whiskey was run up the beach and loaded into vehicles that would carry it into San Francisco. Today, Frank’s is the home of a resident ghost called the Blue Lady.
Half Moon Bay is famous for its annual harvest festival. In late October of every year, head that way for the great Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. You and the kids can tromp into the pumpkin patch, enjoying treats like pony rides, train rides, hay rides, petting zoos, haunted houses, and super slides. While the festival just lasts one weekend, the pumpkin fields are usually open until the day after Halloween. The festival includes a juried art show as well as hearty stews made from locally grown produce like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and of course pumpkins! All of the food and beverages at the festival are sold by local nonprofits, so the proceeds go to a good cause.