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 visithalfmoonbay.org to see everything you’ve been missing.
Featured Photo: Cristina Glebova
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 Brussels 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 6pm 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.
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.