Half Moon Bay Bucket List: 30 Things to Do Along California’s Coastside
The Half Moon Bay Coastside is just an hour and a half from my hometown and stretches along Northern California’s Highway 1 (from Montara to Pescadero) and inland, for a total of 280 breathtaking square miles. It includes a handful of cute coastal towns and, of course, the city of Half Moon Bay itself. This picturesque (and fun!) area is also a part of the classic Pacific Coast Highway road trip that gets you from San Francisco to Orange County’s Dana Point.
From chowder houses to a glass blowing studio to a stunning bicycle ride along the waters edge—you will find some of the best things to do along the Half Moon Bay Coastside. And here are my top 30 bucket list picks.
Half Moon Bay Bucket List: 30 Fun Things to Do Along California’s Coastside
1. ✧ Buy Fresh Fish at Pillar Point Harbor
Fish and seafood are part of the local culture in the Half Moon Bay Coastside and at Pillar Point Harbor fresh fish and crab are brought in daily by commercial fishermen. The best part is that you can go there to buy some straight off the boat! They have a Fish Phone (650-726-8724) that you call to find out what will be for sale.
Or get the Fishline App for your phone to quickly browse today’s catch and purchase seafood. You can use this useful application to get in touch with fishermen, inquire what’s on the “menu” for the day, and reserve your desired seafood. After securing your favorite fish or crab, take it home to clean and cook yourself or pop by Princeton Seafood Market, right next to Pillar Point Harbor, to have it skillfully cracked and cleaned for you.
2. ✧ Learn to Surf
3. ✦ Bicycle (or Walk) the California Coastal Trail
Cycling along the California Coastal Trail, which starts next to Pillar Point Harbor and ends at the Ritz Carlton, is one of the top things to do in Half Moon Bay, and for good reason. The Coastal Trail abounds with amazing views, which include the Pacific and its coastline, secluded beaches, trees in strange shapes, creeks, wetlands, and grasslands among other scenery. Maybe you will spot whales if you hit a migrating season, but various bird species (owls, hawks, and herons, for example) won’t miss your eye either way. *If you happen to be there in winter, don’t miss to watch surfers riding up to 80-feet high waves on Half Moon Bay State Beach (home of Mavericks big-wave surf competition).
To bike your way from one end of this 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) stretch to another, you would need up to an hour if you don’t take breaks, which you will inevitably do.
There’s plenty of parking at Pillar Point Harbor to start your ride, or if you prefer to start at the Ritz Carlton instead, they have 25 complimentary parking spaces specifically dedicated to the Coastal Trail visitors.
4. ✧ Catch the Sunset at Ritz Carlton
There’s nothing quite as romantic as seeing a gorgeous orange sunset across the Pacific ocean from a luxury resort-like The Ritz Carlton. Either watch it indoors from the Ocean Terrace Bar while sipping a glass of wine or if the weather permits head outdoors and sit on one of the benches along the California Coastal Trail.
5. ✧ Shop for Plants at Pastorino Farms
6. ✦ Eat the Lobster Roll at Sam’s Chowder House
First off, let me start by saying that Sam’s famous lobster roll was picked by the food editor of NBC-TV’s The Today Show as one of the five best sandwiches in America! So, it is definitely a must-try on the Half Moon Bay bucket list.
You can get them two ways: Dressed or Naked. The latter (and most popular) of the two isn’t dressed with wagonloads of mayo and such. Instead, it is large chunks of warmed lobster meat lightly tossed with butter on a toasted bun. The fish is the star of the show!
7. ✧ Attend the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival
8. ✦ Learn to Blow Glass
Learning to blow glass was my favorite thing to do in Half Moon Bay, a big check off my bucket list. Plus, Bay Art Glass is conveniently located right next door to the wine tasting at La Nebbia Winery (I recommend blowing glass before drinking!)
After a short briefing, you are set to create your personal showpiece with the aid of a personal artist (Emily expertly assisted me in making my masterpiece!). Though there are many shapes to choose from (like sea urchins, jellyfish and flowers), Half Moon Bay is well-known for pumpkins and their annual festival related to them, so making one would be an appropriate souvenir. That’s what I did!
If you ever wanted to know how to blow a glass pumpkin here’s a video of my instructor doing it:
9. ✧ Horseback Ride on the Beach at Sea Horse Ranch
10. ✦ Take a Goat Tour at Harley Farms
At Harley Farms in Pescadero you can book a fun dairy dinner in a hayloft (sold out months in advance!), get a taste of some delicious dairy products, purchase bath goods, and above all book a goat tour to see some of the approximately 200 goats at pasture, in the barn and milking parlor.
If you’re lucky, you may even be able to hold a baby one.
Note: Make sure to go on the weekend when the small shop is open and you can buy products made from their goat’s milk, beehives and berries.
11. ✧ See the Tide Pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
12. ✦ Check Out the Surfboards at Princeton Landing
It is rumored that surfers, who want to catch a giant wave at Mavericks Beach, store their surfboards on the ceiling at Old Princeton Landing. It’s fun to get a drink with the locals and ogle the collection.
13. ✧ Attend Mavericks Surfing Competition
14. ✦ Get Warm Artichoke Bread at Arcangeli Grocery
Arcangeli Grocery (also known as Norms Market) is not only a cute little market in Pescadero, it is famous for their warm artichoke bread. We are not talking like little specks of minced artichokes mixed in, we are talking about huge chunks throughout the bread. It costs just $6.49 and worth every penny.
Grab a loaf (or two) and some other goodies to take to the outdoor picnic are at La Nebbia Winery for an afternoon of food, wine and bocce ball.
15. ✧ Go Bird Watching at Pescadero Marsh
16. ✦ Kayak in Search of Seals
Renting a kayak and taking it for a spin through the harbor and beyond is an easy thing to do. Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. is located right at Pillar Point Harbor and you can get one by the hour or sign up for a tour. The seals hang out near the launching point, so the chances of you seeing a few are really high.
Not a kayaker or want more adventures? They also have paddleboards and bicycles for rent.
17. ✦ Take a Distillery Tour in Half Moon Bay Distillery
The Half Moon Bay Distillery is a grassroots operation, just a couple rooms, but if you have any interest in the distilling process their 45-minute tour explains it well. And, of course, you will have an opportunity to taste craft spirits of this famous distillery, both the Gin and Vodka. The insightful guided tour and tasting is free for guests, but there’s an opportunity to purchase some bottles as the perfect Half Moon Bay souvenir.
NOTE: In a few months Half Moon Bay Distillery will be moving to a new and improved location just down the street.
18. ✧ Go Whale Watching
19. ✦ Take a Selfie with a Dinosaur at Spanish Town
The dinosaurs of Spanish Town are right off Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay, and definitely the perfect chance for a cheesy photo op. The rusty life-size statues line the street in front of a little shopping village and countless people visit them daily for the perfect selfie (myself included!).
Beyond the dinosaurs, stroll through the courtyard to shop for all your outdoor statue and fountain needs.
20. ✦ Get a Glass of Vino at the Wine Room in Moss Beach
21. ✦ Get the Smoked Monster Burger (& a beer) at Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
From the moment the server at Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. places it on the table you will understand why it’s called the monster burger—it is ginormous! With further inspection you will see the layers of flavors staring with a smoked chipotle-garlic aioli, followed by a 1/2 pound Harris ranch patty, crispy fried pickles, one sunny side up egg smoked applewood bacon and Gouda. It’s a hard one to tackle, I recommend using the fork and knife method.
Also, try a cup of their New England clam chowder—it was selected by The Food Network as one of the best clam chowders outside of New England.
Did I forget to mention beer? It’s brewed in house and with so many choices you’re bound to fall in love with at least one. My favorite was the Full Swing IPA.
22. ✧ Eat Like the Locals at Duarte’s Tavern
At Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero they are well known for both their Cream of Artichoke and the Cream of Green Chile soup. It’s not on the menu, but do as the locals do and order a bowl of half & half. The combination of the two flavors is delicious!
23. ✧ Golf overlooking the Pacific
24. ✧ Get a Quirky Souvenir at San Gregorio Country Store
San Gregorio Country Store is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, but the random tchotchkes for sale inside are impressive. Where else can you pick up a killer western shirt, 18 flavors of tequila and a mad hatter hat?
25. ✧ Hike the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
26. ✦ Have a Picnic at La Nebbia Winery
If you happen to be a fan of special wines, like to hang out with friends or meeting the locals, visit La Nebbia Winery in the town of Half Moon Bay. Here they have a beautiful outdoor area where you can bring a picnic, do a wine tasting, buy a bottle of wine (or two) and spend the afternoon on the patio drinking, playing bocce and socializing. It’s the perfect warm weather thing to do!
27. ✦ Sleep at a B&B — Mill Rose Inn
If you love a cozy old-fashioned B&B then the Mill Rose Inn is your place! It’s a short block from Main Street, where many of the hottest shops and restaurants are. The property is surrounded by beautiful gardens and the rooms are romantic (there was a fireplace in mine!)
There’s always yummy snacks in the dining room, but the breakfast in the morning is really special. Ask for the fruit & cheese delight and a banana-orange juice, both are their specialties!
The downtown is quaint, but packed with delicious restaurants and cute shops. Definitely stop by Oddyssea to shop for science, nature and art products. Plus when weather permits, Oddyssea Outside has creative projects and fun events to participate in (like building your own terrarium or kite).
There are many eateries to choose from—get your pasta fix at It’s Italia or Pasta Moon, get a burger and beer at Sacrilege and grab some Japanese at Sushi on Main.
29. ✧ Get Fried Food at Barbara’s Fishtrap
30. ✦ Get a View of Devil’s Slide Bunker
Devil’s Slide Bunker, which appears as if about to nosedive into the Pacific, is a remnant of the turbulent times that actually never reached California. Sitting atop a high point of Californian coastline (technically not a part of the Half Moon Bay Coastside, but just a wee bit north of Montara), it used to be an observation bunker of a coastline defense system during the Second World War.
Now it is a photogenic site, beautified with graffiti, to admire from a distance because regulations concerning trespassing through a private property still apply.
California’s Half Moon Bay Coastside may not be that big in size, but it is loaded with bucket list worthy things to do. It has something for everyone, and everything for someone. Even if you happen to be the most discerning traveler, wandering here won’t disappoint.
Want more information about the Half Moon Bay Coastside? Visit the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce & Visitors’ Bureau website here.
Essential Tips for Visiting Half Moon Bay
Getting There: SFO (San Francisco International Airport)is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to Half Moon Bay, you can use the Caltrain, take a shuttle through Nationwide Limousine Service or Super Shuttle, or take a taxi, Uber or Lyft.
Where to Stay in Half Moon Bay:The Half Moon Bay Lodge is a great choice conveniently located off coastal Highway 1. For something on the less expensive side, try The Lighthouse Hotel located in Pacifica. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Half Moon Bay is the best way to really experience the city and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, Lyft and Uber are available all over the city.
Best Tours in Half Moon Bay: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones: