Half Moon Bay: The Perfect Coastal Getaway

One of the questions I get asked the most as a Bay Area-based travel writer is “Where’s a great place get away for the weekend?” And my answer is always the same: Half Moon Bay. It has everything you could possibly want for a fun, relaxing, romantic, and adventurous getaway: superb restaurants, pristine beaches, a seaside brewery, rustic fishing boats, wine tasting, cozy inns, cute shops, farm visits, whale watching, golfing, surfing—the amount of things to do in Half Moon Bay is phenomenal. Below are a few of my top picks, but you’ll need to log onto www.visithalfmoonbay.org to see everything you’ve been missing.

DUNGENESS CRAB PICNIC BY THE PIER

The highly anticipated Dungeness crab season kicks off on November 15th, and Half Moon Bay has one of the largest concentrations of this seafood delicacy with more than 50 commercial boats fishing off Pillar Point Harbor, the last working fishing harbor between San Francisco and Monterey. Every day, boats haul in their catch while visitors purchase live crabs and fresh fish directly from the local fisherman.

Whenever I’m at the harbor I always schedule an alfresco crab-eating session at the Princeton Seafood Company, where you can make as much of a mess as you want feasting on freshly steamed and cracked Dungeness crab at their picnic tables (be sure to request a bib—you’ll need it). After lunch, waddle over to the harbor’s six informational plaques by the main pier for insight into how local seafood is caught and what kind of boats can be found in the harbor.

HALF MOON BAY’S NEWEST COASTAL TRAIL

What I like best about Half Moon Bay is that it’s refreshingly free of those tourist-tacky shops you see in other coastal towns such as Monterey and Santa Cruz. Rather, you’ll discover some of the most enlightening and eco-friendly attractions on the California coast, such as Half Moon Bay’s new Cowell-Purisima Trail, which opened in July to hikers and bikers. This trail spans three miles of gorgeous coastline just south of Half Moon Bay, overlooking offshore rocks, remote pocket beaches, and even a harbor seal haul-out area. Travelers along the Cowell-Purisima Trail will find themselves among fields of artichokes and brussel spouts, all the while looking out at sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and mountainsides.

HOLIDAY SHOPPING IN HALF MOON BAY

Half Moon Bay’s Main Street is a holiday shopper’s paradise. Dozens of small stores, boutiques, and art galleries line the quarter-mile strip, selling everything from gourmet food products to custom furniture and hand-crafted toys. Must-see stops include Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel, a great place to pick up a treat for your pet (and take the kids to see chicks and other cute and cuddly animals), and Cunha’s Country Store, the town’s beloved grocery and general store that is a mandatory stop for visitors from the Bay Area.

At La Nebbia Winery, guests are invited to participate in a tradition known as bottle and cork, where you bring in your own empty wine bottles and get them filled with La Nebbia’s wines, then they will apply your own custom labels, making an ideal holiday gift. Half Moon Bay has several independent bookstores, including Coastside Books, which carries a wide selection of children’s books.

Savvy Skirts is a boutique that carries merchandise made by local female artists and from companies owned by women: photography, jewelry, blown glass, and more. Their weekly Girls Night Out event takes place every Thursday from 6 to 8pm and combines a fun holiday shopping experience that also celebrates women. Nasturtium Art of Living offers art made by local artists, including one-of-a-kind hand painted glass, crafted by the owner of the store—perfect for the home and garden, and they make great gifts as well. End your shopping spree with a stop at Cottage Industries to browse the wide selection of high-quality handcrafted furniture.

FAMILY FARMS

Half Moon Bay is known for its organically grown produce, and one of the best places to stock up on fruits and vegetables is the Andreotti Family Farm, an old-fashioned outfit in business since 1926. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a member of the Andreotti clan slides open the door to their old barn at 10 am sharp to reveal a cornucopia of strawberries, artichokes, cucumbers, and more. Head toward the beach and you’ll see the barn on your right-hand side.

Another great place to visit is Phipps Country Store and Farm, located southeast of Half Moon Bay in nearby Pescadero. Here you’ll find a huge assortment of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables, homemade jams (great for gifts), herbs and spices, and an amazing selection of dried beans. But my favorite place to visit when I’m in the region is Harley Farms, the only working dairy farm left in San Mateo County. The charming and charismatic Dee Harley and her gaggle of 220 goats have been supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area with some of the finest goat cheese in the country.

HALF MOON BAY DINING TIPS

Very few visitors know that the Flying Fish Grill makes some of the best fish tacos in California, each piled with fresh cod, avocado, coleslaw, lime, and jack cheese, then wrapped in a soft corn tortilla. My other top picks include local favorites Café Gibraltar and Sam’s Chowder House, the lively Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., Pasta Moon for superb Italian cuisine, and Ketch Joannes for fresh seafood in a casual setting.

Another great reason to take a weekend getaway to Half Moon Bay is to spoil yourself at the outrageously opulent all-you-can-eat seaside brunch at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay’s Navio restaurant. Held every Sunday, the brunch includes an endless array of gourmet edibles—sushi, dim sum, soufflés, a raw bar, classic breakfast dishes (including great blintzes), tarts, salads, cheeses, meats, vegetables, pastas, desserts, and much more.

 

 

 

A leisurely 45-minute drive from the busy streets of San Francisco is the heavenly little hamlet of Half Moon Bay, one of the finest—and friendliest—communities on the California coast. With its pristine beaches, mild climate, diverse eco-attractions, and close proximity to the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay combines the best of Northern California all in one convenient location, making it the perfect solution for anyone in need of a memorable weekend getaway.

What I like best about Half Moon Bay is that it’s refreshingly free of tourist-tacky shops you’ll find in other coastal towns such as Monterey and Santa Cruz. Rather, you’ll discover some of the most enlightening and eco-friendly attractions on the California coast: redwood forests, nature preserves, hiking trails, tide pools, fishing harbors, horse ranches, organic farms, and a host of superb inns and restaurants. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and I still haven’t experienced everything Half Moon Bay has to offer, such as…

Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon BayBeaches, Tide Pools, and Nature Preserves The four-mile arc of golden sand that rings Half Moon Bay is comprised of three state-run beaches— Dunes, Venice, and Francis—that comprise Half Moon Bay State Beach. Not only is surfing allowed year-round, you can even take a lesson or enroll in a full-blown surf camp through Open Ocean Surfing. (When the surf is really up, be sure to check out the banzai surfers at Maverick Beach, just south of the radar-tracking station past Pillar Point Harbor.) A wonderful paved Coastal Trail winds five miles from Pillar Point Harbor to Half Moon Bay; be sure to keep a Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon Baylookout for dolphins and whales as you walk, bike, jog, or skate along the shore. You can even rent bicycles from the Bike Works in downtown Half Moon Bay.

About seven miles north of Half Moon Bay off of Highway 1 (a.k.a. Cabrillo Highway) is the Fitzgerald MarineReserve, one of the most diverse tidal basins on the West Coast, as well as one of the safest. It’s a great place to take the kids and let them scramble around searching for sea life. Call before coming to find out when it’s low tide (all the creatures are hidden at high tide) and to get information on the docent-led tours, which are usually offered on Saturdays.

Sixteen miles south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 at the turnoff to Pescadero is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, one of the few remaining natural marshes on the central California coast. Part of the Pacific flyway, it’s a resting stop for nearly 200 bird species, including great blue herons that nest in the northern row of eucalyptus trees. Passing through the marsh is the mile-long Sequoia Audubon Trail, accessible from the parking lot at Pescadero State Beach on Highway 1.

Seaside Adventures A popular visitor activity in Half Moon Bay is horseback riding along the beach. Sea Horse Ranch and Friendly Acres, both on Highway 1 about a mile north of Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon BayHalf Moon Bay, offer pony rides and guided horseback rides along the beach.

Golfers can choose from two stellar ocean-side courses at Half Moon Bay Golf Links. The 18-hole “Old Course,” designed by Arnold Palmer, has been rated among the top 100 courses in the country, as well as the best in the Bay Area. The Arthur Hills-designed Ocean Course is a true Scottish-style links layout and very challenging.

Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon BayYou also might want to consider a day of deep-sea fishing with Huck Finn Sportfishing. You don’t need experience, tackle, or even a fishing license; they provide everything, and will clean, fillet, and bag your catch. December through February they also offer whale-watching trips. The fishing boats depart from picturesque Pillar Point Harbor, a full-service harbor that houses over 350 commercial fishing vessels and recreational boats. Whether you plan to go fishing or not, it’s worth visiting to watch the trawlers unload their daily catch and buy freshly caught fish directly from the fisherman (which you can have cooked to order at the nearby Princeton Seafood restaurant).

Shopping, Galleries & Spas Half Moon Bay’s Main Street is a shopper’s paradise. Dozens of small stores, boutiques, and art galleries line the quarter-mile strip, selling everything from feed and tack to custom furniture and camping gear. From north to south, must-see stops include Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel (331 Main St.), a great place to pick up a treat for your pet—and take the kids to see chicks and other cute and cuddly animals. And Cunha’s Country Store (448 Main St.), the town’s beloved grocery and general store that was rebuilt in 2004 after a fire tore through the place, is a mandatory stop for visitors from the Bay Area.

Half Moon Bay also has a great bookstore, Coastside Books (432B Main St.), which carries a fair selection of children’s books and postcards. End your shopping spree with a stop at Cottage Industries (621 Main St.), to browse the wide selection of high-quality handcrafted furniture.

Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon BayAfter a hard day of shopping, treat yourself to a luxurious spa treatment at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. The resort’s 16,000-square-foot super-luxury spa—complete with 16 treatment rooms and an entire menu of massage treatments—is a fitting end to a weekend of outdoor recreation and beach-side relaxation. The luxurious Oceano Hotel & Spa Half Moon Bay Harbor also has a beautiful new 3,000-square-foot seaside spa that offers a wide range of treatments from massages to facials and body care.

Family Farms Half Moon Bay is known for its organically grown produce, and one of the best places to stock up on fruits and Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon Bayvegetables is the Andreotti Family Farm (329 Kelly Ave; 650/726-9151), an old-fashioned outfit in business since 1926. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a member of the Andreotti clan slides open the door to their old barn at 10 am sharp to reveal a cornucopia of strawberries, artichokes, cucumbers, and more. Head toward the beach on Kelly Avenue and you’ll see the barn on your right-hand side.

Another great place to visit is Phipps Country Store and Farm, located southeast of Half Moon Bay in nearby Pescadero. Here you’ll find a huge assortment of fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables, homemade jams, herbs and spices, and an amazing selection of dried beans. But my favorite place to visit when I’m in the region is Harley Farms, the only working dairy farm left in San Mateo County. The charming and charismatic Dee Harley and her gaggle of 220 goats have been supplying the top restaurants in the Bay Area with some of the finest goat cheese in the world.

 

Insider Dining Tips Very few visitors know that the tiny Flying Fish Grill, located at the corner of Main Street and Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay, makes some of the best fish tacos in the state, each piled with fresh cod, avocado, Local Getaways - Great Getaways - Half Moon Baycoleslaw, lime, and jack cheese, then wrapped in a soft corn tortilla. Some of my other top picks include local favorites Café Gibraltar and Sam’s Chowder House; the lively Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., Pasta Moon and It’s Italia for superb Italian cuisine; and Princeton Seafood and Ketch Joannes for fresh seafood in a casual setting.

Another great reason to take a weekend getaway to Half Moon Bay is to spoil yourself at the outrageously opulent all-you-can-eat seaside brunch at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay’s Navio restaurant. Held every Sunday, the brunch includes an endless array of gourmet edibles—sushi, dim sum, soufflés, a raw bar, classic breakfast dishes (including great blintzes), tarts, salads, cheeses, meats, vegetables, pastas, desserts, and much more.

hmb_stay_play_buttonSo there you have it—a memorable getaway to Half Moon Bay that’s perfect for a romantic weekend getaway or mini-vacation for the entire family. For more information on places to stay, dine, relax, and play in Half Moon Bay, log onto the website at www.visithalfmoonbay.org or call the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Bureau at 866/558-6823.

And if you have your own tips and recommendations about Half Moon Bay that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our Half Moon Bay blog below. We’d love to hear from you.

 

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By Pooley / Administrator

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on Oct 28, 2011