Half Moon Bay Beaches.
Home ยป Around San Francisco ยป 10 Most-Worth It Beaches in Half Moon Bay, California

10 Most-Worth It Beaches in Half Moon Bay, California

There are so many awesome beaches in Half Moon Bay that the residents here can truly say, “Life’s a beach!” It seems like this whole stretch of coastline is just one long sandy playground.

There are beaches for all types of beach lovers.

Whether you’re looking for those with all the frills when it comes to amenities or those that are a little more wild and rugged, you are sure to find beaches in Half Moon Bay you will fall in love with.

Don’t forget to check out our other guides to Half Moon Bay!


Get our curated list of the best adventures and things to do north of LA loaded onto your maps with just two clicks!

1. Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Gray Whale Cove State Beach is a beautiful little cove located just off Highway 1.

The beach is also commonly known as Devil’s Slide, which doesn’t make it sound very appealing at all. While the beach itself is safe, the area is known for its dangerous slide zone!

View across Gray Whale Cove State Beach near Half Moon Bay.
View to Gray Whale Cove State Beach from the cliffs opposite

For a start, Gray Whale Beach is simply stunning. The soft yellow sand is backed by towering cliffs.

Although relatively small in size, you will always find a spot. It is actually one of the less visited Half Moon Bay Beaches despite being the closest to San Francisco.

Things to Do

  • It’s not really surprising that one of the best things to do on the beach is to watch for gray whales! They are a pretty common sighting in the spring months, with the possibility of spotting some directly from the sand.
  • If you are feeling adventurous, you could check out the small, hidden cave that is located on the cliff face to the back of the beach. Just be sure to watch the tides.
  • Tackle the nearby Devil’s Slide Trail.
  • Surfing and fishing are also popular activities on or near the beach.
  • The Gray Whale Cove Trail is a great nearby hike if you want to stretch your legs after a day of beach bumming. The trail starts at the parking lot adjacent to Gray Whale Cove Beach and is signposted. Along the route, there are stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and coastline. The sunsets can be pretty spectacular here!
Tourists sunbathing on Gray Whale Cove State Beach next to blue ocean water and red cliffs.
Sun-lovers on Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Tips for Visiting

  • There are more than 147 steps down to the beach, which is fine on the descent, but remember you are going to have to climb all the way back up, so don’t pack too much.
  • There is plenty of free parking for Gray Whale Cove Beach located east of Highway 1. This means you must cross the busy Highway, so be very careful crossing the road.
  • The parking lot is also shared with those who want to venture up to Green Valley and San Pedro Mountain so that you could combine your beach trip with a hike.
  • You will find toilets in the parking lot. Remember to go before you head down to the beach, or else you have a long climb back up again!
  • The beach is a clothing-optional beach, so don’t be surprised if you see a few people going au naturel. If you fancy it, you could join them. Edun Beach is located to the north of the beach, and this is where people prefer to lose their clothing.

2. Cowell Ranch Beach

Cowell Ranch Beach is a favorite for both locals and visitors to the area; yet again, this beautiful sandy spot is rarely crowded.

To get to this Half Moon Bay beach, you have to take a half-mile path, which could be one of the reasons that it is not as visited as other beaches.

Lone tent and two tourists on Cowell Beach in Half Moon Bay.
Cowell Beach was rather empty the day we visited

Once you reach the whale gate, it is time to descend the steep stairs built directly into the cliffside. Before you descend, take a minute to take in the beach from your lofty position.

The beach is just so beautiful! High bluffs surround the large stretch of sand, and while it is a bigger beach, it feels like you are tucked away and hidden from the world.

Things to Do

  • At the southern end of the beach, you will find Seal Beach, a seal preserve where tons of playful seals make their home and raise their pups. Despite being closed to the public for the protection of the seals, they are pretty easy to spot from the side of the beach that is open to visitors.
  • This beach is also a popular bird watching spot, so if you have an interest in the bird life of the area, be sure to bring along your binoculars, and you won’t be disappointed.
  • If you are up for a hike when visiting the beach, take the Cowell Purisima Trail. The trail begins at the state beach overlook, and takes you through farmland and along the edge of the cliff, giving you a glimpse of what some of the rest of the coast is like in this area.
Stairs leading down to Cowell Beach on an overcast Half Moon Bay day.
Stairs leading down to Cowell Beach

Tips for Visiting

  • The parking for Cowell Ranch Beach can be found just off Highway 1. Although parking is free, you will have to take a short hike to reach the beaches, but for a while, you will be on the bluffs overlooking the beaches, so it is hardly a drag having to walk here.
  • There are picnic tables at the north end of the beach, which is a popular area where visitors hand out to enjoy lunch.
  • Chemical toilets are also available at the parking area and at the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach.
  • It is about a half-mile walk from the parking lot to the beach, which is going to be a lot harder on the way back to the car.
  • Check out the interpretive panels along the trail to the beach overlook to find out more about life along the coast.
View across Cowell Beach near Half Moon Bay on an overcast day.
It’s a pretty big beach!

3. Francis Beach

Francis Beach is a very popular beach in Half Moon Bay, especially during the weekends in the summer months.

The beach makes up one of the Half Moon Bay State Beaches, along with Dunes, Venice and Roosevelt. It is the most southern beach in this series of beaches.

A few tourists on Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay State Park.
It was lively considering the weather

To get to the beach, head to the state park, and follow the signs to for the beaches. There is a short but steep drop down to the beach

Things to Do

  • Sunning yourself is one of the best things to do on the beach. The sand is wide and expansive, meaning plenty of room to lay down a towel and enjoy being in the moment.
  • The beach and dunes make a lovely home for all sorts of sea birds, but if you want to see something seriously ‘cute’, keep a look out for the tiny snowy plover, they are so well camouflaged that you may walk right past one sitting on the sand and not even realize.
  • The windy bluffs are a great place to fly a kite or sit and take in the views. It is an actual family beach, where you could easily spend the whole day and not even realize where the time has gone.
  • The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail passes right through here!
Group of tourists hanging out on an empty Francis Beach near Half Moon Bay.
Francis Beach endlessly stretching into the distance

Tips for Visiting

  • Pop into the Half Moon Bay Beach State Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the area and its history.
  • There are plenty of places to park to visit Francis Beach, and although you will have to pay an $8 fee, included in the parking fee, you will get access to the day-use area, which includes picnic tables and BBQs overlooking the ocean.
  • As it is a state park, there are excellent camping facilities located very close to the beach. With 52 campsites that are available for both tents and RVs, it is a popular campsite. You are so close to the water that you may even be able to hear it when you wake up.
  • Although dogs are not permitted on the beach, you can bring them with you to the park, as long as you keep them on a leash.
  • Be aware of the surprisingly angry seas at Francis Beach. There are a fair few signs warning of riptides, sneaker waves, and undertows, and they are there for a reason. Always heed the signs and be wary of the water, as the ocean here drops down at a steep angle. There are also no lifeguards on duty.

โœ‹ HOLD UP! Don’t Forget…

You need some wheels! It’s nearly impossible to get around the USA and check out the best adventures without a car! Here are our top recommendations…

๐Ÿš— Rent a car

If you don’t have your own, renting a car is your best bet!

๐Ÿ‘‰ Find Deals on Cars and SUVs

๐Ÿš Rent a home on wheels

For the more adventurous, rent a van or RV and ditch the hotel.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Find The Best Van For Your Trip

4. Poplar Beach

This is one of the most visited beaches by both visitors and locals, and it can get very busy on weekends and holidays. Surely, though, it is popular for a reason.

It is a place of vast and rugged beauty, with long and sandy shores, rock pools at low tide, and trails to explore on the bluffs. The beach is easy to reach, just half a mile west of Highway 1.

Things to Do

  • This beach is one of the best beaches for dog walking in the area because it allows dogs.
  • The setting is the ideal spot for relaxing sunbathing, with picnics on the beach and families relaxing a common sight.
  • The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail runs right along here.
Birds flying over Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay State Park on an overcast and misty day.
An empty Poplar Beach

Tips for Visiting

  • Although popular, there is plenty of parking available for those who want to visit the beach. The parking lot has almost 100 spaces available and has $10 for parking for the whole day. You can also get a couple of different annual passes. If you visit a lot, this works out much more cost-effective.
  • There are toilet and shower facilities near the entrance to the beach, but there are no camping facilities.
  • Don’t let the crowds put you off visiting Poplar Beach. On busy summer weekends, it may look as though you will not find a spot to lay down a towel, but head south, and you will very soon escape the crowds.
  • Ensure you bring some sturdy shoes for the hike down the bluff from the parking lot, as the trail down is very steep.

5. Fitzgerald Marine Ranger Station

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve can be found just to the north of Pillar Point Harbor and provides a beach experience that we think will be quite unlike any you have had before.

Almost isolated, Fitzgerald Marine Ranger Station is so much more than your average beach. It is one of the best marine life habitats in Northern California, promising a tide pooling experience like no other.

A fenced path following the cliff edge towards Moss Beach in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Fenced pathway long the cliffs of Fitzgerald Marine Ranger Station

Things to Do

  • Well, the most obvious thing is to go tidepooling. The waters here are rich with sea urchins, scuttling hermit crabs, colorful sea stars, and bright anemones. Then you come on to the bigger creatures, with bobbing seals and a never-ending view of sea birds soaring overhead. The tide pool zone stretches out around 1000 feet!
  • For some of the best views of the marine reserve, you will want to head to the bluffs above the beach. The reserve has many trails that wind through the ancient cypress and eucalyptus trees, most of which have incredible views out over the Pacific.
Seaweed covered tide pools at Moss Beach in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
Tide pools on Moss Beach

Tips for Visiting

  • There is plenty of parking that will give you easy access to the beach and pools; however, be prepared to walk down a fair few stairs to reach the tide pools from the bluff parking above. Parking and the park are free, making for a nice, cheap day out.
  • The reserve boasts a great little Visitor Center, which features several exhibits about the marine life found in the pools, such as a 9-step guided tour and an interactive computer system that allows visitors to scan items into a virtual tide pool. There is also a small picnic area and restrooms.
  • Although the marine life is incredible, ensure that you do not take or disturb anything in the tide pools.
  • If you plan to go tide pooling here, ensure you only visit at low tide. Check out the tide tables before you visit, so you don’t have a wasted journey.

6. Redondo Beach

If you are looking for a long sandy beach close to downtown, Redondo may be just what you are after. You sometimes may also hear it called Wavecrest Beach.

The rocky reef and eroded bluff behind the beach help to keep things nice and natural, but despite being close to town, the lack of lifeguards and the steep descent down to the sand sometimes deter visitors to this beach in Half Moon Bay.

View over an almost empty Redondo Beach near Half Moon Bay in dreary weather.
View across Redondo Beach

Things to Do

  • The reef provides for some excellent tide pooling when the tide is out, and the colorful marine life comes out to play. To get to the best tide pools, you will want to walk south to Miramontes Point.
  • Fishing, surfing, canoeing, and other water sports are all very popular. However, if you are planning on going near the water, be very careful, as the ocean is very unpredictable here, with dangerous rip currents. Plus, there are no lifeguards on duty!
  • Wildlife lovers should keep an eye out for seals, as their shiny round heads are often visible bobbing just off of the shore. You could also see sea lions, dolphins, and the odd migrating whales, while the skies are full of bird life like pelicans and cormorants.
A cyclist riding by Redondo Beach on an overcast day.
Also go cycling nearby if that’s your thing

Tips for Visiting

  • You can find designated parking for the beach down Redondo Beach Road, which is directly off Highway 1. If you follow the signs, you shouldn’t have a problem finding it. Once you are parked up, it is time to start the slightly dodgy descent down to the beach.
  • There are a few different trails, although we use the term trails lightly here, as the trails down from the bluff are quite steep and eroded.
  • Other than the parking, there are pretty much no facilities available for Redondo Beach; it is a pretty rugged and wild one, giving you the chance to see the California Coast at its most natural.
  • Wear sturdy shoes when visiting the beach, as the dirt trails that lead down to the beach are very steep and eroded. Flip-flops are just not going to cut it.
  • There are no lifeguards on duty, and the ocean here is known to be dangerous, so treat it with caution.
Looking down at Redondo Beach from the cliffs of Half Moon Bay.
Cliffs besides Redondo Beach

7. Surfer’s Beach

For beach bumming and surfing, Surfer’s Back is one of the must-visit Half Moon Bay beaches.

The beach is primarily known for its consistent, high-quality waves, thanks to its position just outside the rock jetty that protects Pillar Point Harbor.

Things to Do

  • As the name suggests, people head to Surfer’s Beach for one main reason: to get out and hit the waves. Nearby Mavericks Beach is known for the seriously huge waves, but for surfers, it is a bit of a step-down and is ideal for those who enjoy a more average surfing experience. We recommend being careful as the water is known for having rip currents.
  • If you are not a surfer, then it is a great sport to sit and watch those who do enjoy hitting the waves.
Surfers and tourists on Surfers Beach at sunset.
A busy Surfer’s Beach at sunset

Tips for Visiting

  • Although no parking is available specifically for Surfers Beach, that doesn’t mean that parking is a problem. There are a couple of nearby parking lots that charge $10 a day, or it may be possible to find a spot along Highway 1. There are a few restrooms available.
  • If you are new to the surfing game, there are several surf schools and rental shops in the area so that you can learn the tricks of the trade at one of the best surfing spots in California.


Get our curated list of the best adventures and things to do north of LA loaded onto your maps with just two clicks!

8. Pomponio

Pomponio State Beach is a little drive from Half Moon Bay, located about 12 miles to the south. It is the ideal family beach in Half Moon Bay, which is several miles long.

The beach here is just beautiful (when the weather plays along)! The water is crystal clear, and the whole area is so photogenic you could fill up a memory card.

A family with a beach tent enjoying a day out on Pomponio State Beach on an overcast day in Half Moon Bay.
These guys are making the best out of the weather

The beach is surrounded by a sandstone bluff with powdery soft sand and is often uncrowded.

It’s not your classic ‘beautiful’ beach, but it is beautiful in its own right, with huge pieces of driftwood, coastal grasses popping up all over the sand, and rugged cliffs.

Things to Do

  • The beach is a surfing hot spot, and boating, fishing, windsurfing, and swimming are popular here too.
  • Most people who visit the beach use it as simply a place to sit down, relax, and take in the natural beauty. Try to stay until sunset if you can, as the beach is perfectly positioned for optimum sunset watching.
  • Be sure to check out the impressive rocky arch located on the south side of the beach or walk up to Vista Point for some stunning photos.
Two fishermen on Pomponio State Beach on a foggy Half Moon Bay day.
It’s not a great photo day for us, but the fishermen are still happy!

Tips for Visiting

  • There are plenty of parking facilities available for those who want to visit the beach, it costs $8 per vehicle. All the money raised from the parking supports the park and its facilities. The difference between this beach and most others is that the bluffs are not as high, making it much easier to climb down to the beach from the parking lot.
  • There are BBQ and picnic areas, as well as pit toilets, although, like the other state beaches along this stretch of coast, camping is not available.
  • Seeing as the beach is quite small, don’t leave it too late to head there on a weekend or holiday, as all the best spots can fill up fast.
  • If you have small children, the elderly, or those with mobility issues with you, this is a good beach to visit, as the the location of the parking lot makes it much more accessible than some of the other beaches on this list.
Unique looking rocks along and empty Pomponio State Beach.
Pomponio State Beach has these unique-looking rocks

9. Pescadero State Beaches

This Half Moon Bay beach is located around 15 miles from Half Moon Bay and is just one of many beaches along this particular stretch of coastline.

With a crescent of sand around a mile long, there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy time at Pescadero State Beach.

Empty Pescadero Beach on an overcast day.
You might be likely to find it empty!
Seaweed covered rocks on Pescadero State Beach in Half Moon Bay.
Details at the Pescadero State Beaches

Things to Do

  • Pescadero is a lovely place for a long walk along the sand. As you walk, admire the plentiful driftwood that makes its way from the redwood forests along Pescadero and Butano Creeks. You may even spot a few driftwood huts or sculptures created by other creative visitors.
  • There is also sometimes free guided marsh walks in Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, where you can learn more about the marshland and have a change of scenery from the beach for a while.
  • The Sequoia Audubon is one of the most well-trodden trails near the beach. The nearby 600-acre Pescadero Marsh is best explored via this trail, which takes you deep into the heart of the marsh where you can see how many of the 230 species found here you can tick off your mental list.
Seabirds roosting on a rocky outcrop at Pescadero State Beach in Half Moon Bay.
Seabirds nesting on a rocky outcrop at Pescadero

Tips for Visiting

  • There are three different parking lots available for Pescadero State Beach, so there is plenty of parking available. No matter which you choose to park up for the day, there is a $8 per car day use fee that you will have to pay. There is also a single restroom available in each parking lot.
  • For easy access to the beach, the North or Central lots are the best places to park.
  • Pick up some groceries at the nearby Pescadero grocery store and enjoy a lunch at the picnic tables, which can be found at the south parking lot.
Empty picnic bench overlooking Pescadero State Beach on a misty day.
Stop here for a picnic with friends or family

10. San Gregorio State Beach

You will find the stunning San Gregorio State Beach about 11 miles south of Half Moon Bay, and it is, without a doubt, worth the journey.

With tide pools, rugged cliffs, and rich gold sands, it is a visually stunning place to spend the day and one of the most picturesque beaches in Half Moon Bay.

The real question here is, why wouldn’t you visit? The beach is lovely, mainly thanks to the fact that San Gregorio Creek, which flows through the park, tumbles directly into the sea, creating a wide lagoon on the beach.

Despite being right off the highway, it feels very secluded and almost magical.

A huge cliff on San Gregorio State Beach in the sun.
Take a stroll along the cliffs

Things to Do

  • The beach and wetland habitat brings an array of bird life, making it a bird lover’s dream. Birds are spotted here no matter what time of year you visit.
  • To the north of the creek, there are some caves and fossils in the sandstone cliffs, which can be fun for kids to explore.
  • The large grassy picnic area near the parking lot is a popular spot for families.
Golden hour over San Gregorio Beach near Half Moon Bay.
There’s enough room for everyone!

Tips for Visiting

  • The parking for the beach is also the parking for the state park, so there is a small fee if you want to park here, although it doesn’t cost too much, especially if you have a car full.
  • Toilet and picnic tables are available in the park, but that is pretty much it when it comes to facilities.
  • There are powerful rip currents on the beach here, so always use caution when you are near the ocean.
  • There is nowhere to grab any food on or around the beach, so pack a lunch and enjoy it on one of the picnic tables.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Accommodation in Half Moon Bay

Don’t forget to check out our other guides to Half Moon Bay!

We hope this helped you choose the best beaches in Half Moon Bay to visit!

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Thank you so much for this great article!!! It was so helpful in planning out my families weekend trip to Half Moon Bay!