Things to do in Half Moon Bay.
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17 BEST Things to Do in Half Moon Bay, California

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Don’t let this sleepy beach town fool you—there are plenty of things to do in Half Moon Bay!

The town is located on the Pacific Coast Highway, south of San Francisco, with so much to keep visitors entertained both in the town and in the surrounding area.

Historic looking building in Half Moon Bay town.
Half Moon Bay is a fun town to explore

The town itself is classic and cute, with a main street, tons of festivals throughout the year, plenty of places to eat and go shopping, and a world of outdoor adventures on your doorstep.

It’s a small town with a huge backyard, boasting some of the biggest waves in the country, quaint small-batch breweries, wide stretches of sandy beaches, and more hiking trails than you could imagine.

Things to Do in Half Moon Bay


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

1. Stroll Half Moon Bay’s Main Street

One of the best ways to get to know the real Half Moon Bay is to take a walk down Main Street. It has one of the most charming downtown areas that is well worth spending some time in. Seeing as most people hit the area for the beach, this can often come as a surprise.

A woman walking along the street in Half Moon Bay.
Lucy parked up in Half Moon Bay

Many of the buildings along Main Street are rich in history, for example, the town’s original jail building has been transformed and is now a museum. The street is lined with shops, from your traditional to those that are… not so traditional. Be sure to stop into the Half Moon Bay Bakery for delicious hot cross buns, but be quick, these goodies sell out quickly.

Purple historic clock tower of Half Moon Bay town.
The buildings in Half Moon Bay display their own unique character

The best thing is, that the whole street has managed to maintain much of its unique charm and character, and is where many of the town’s famed events take place, so just a walk down here is one of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay.

2. Scan the Ocean for Whales

There is nothing quite like seeing a whale breaching the water. Whether it is your first time seeing a whale, or you have seen the spectacle hundreds of times before, it really is a magical sight!

A huge humpback whale breaching from the ocean.
A male humpback mid-breach

From Half Moon Bay, you have a great chance of spotting whales, as around 15,000 gray whales pass the area during their migration to the warmer waters of Mexico.

If whale watching is your thing, visit the town between January and March. You often don’t even have to head out to sea to spot these incredible creatures; just find a suitable spot on a bluff or beach, and keep your eyes peeled.

Boat trips will give you a much better chance of spotting them, as the knowledgeable guides have inside knowledge of where the whales can be found, and it will give you a chance to get much closer to them.

A breaching whale while people on a boat look on near Big Sur.
Whale watching season anyone?

You will also likely see many other sea creatures, such as harbor seals, dolphins, porpoises, and sea lions. There are plenty of companies offering whale-watching trips; it is one of the most popular things to do in Half Moon Bay!

3. See the Rainbow at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Head to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to explore one of the most bio-diverse inter-tidal regions in the whole state. Bit of a mouthful, but this essentially means you will see plenty of colorful wildlife in the many tide pools that appear during low tide.

An orange sea star in a tide pool.
A bright orange sea star in the tide pools

Just offshore you will find a series of reefs, and in them is where you will discover turban snails, brightly colored sea anemones, and sea stars, gently drifting in the hardly moving waters.

There are fish, scuttling crabs, playful harbor seals, and endless birds that spin in the skies above you. It is one of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay and the place to go for nature and wildlife.

A fenced path following the cliff edge towards Moss Beach in the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
A trail around Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

You are free to venture around the reserve yourself if you would rather linger by the pools, or alternatively take a guided tour with knowledgeable docents. Even if you don’t take a tour, the docents are still available to answer any questions you may have.

Seals basking on seaweed covered rocks at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
See if you can spot a colony of seals

If you have timed your visit wrong and the tide is in, don’t just around and go home. Spend some time exploring the bluffs above the beach, winding through the trails of rugged Monterey cypress, seeing if you can spot any whales from your lofty position, and staying until sunset for one of the most beautiful views of your life.

4. Kayak the Harbor

See the harbor from a different perspective by getting out on the water on a kayak, one of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay.

There is nothing quite like gliding across the still waters of Pillar Point Harbor, giving you a great opportunity to see the seals and the sea birds up close.

Different colored kayaks stacked on each other.
We always recommend getting out on kayaks!

With a guide, you will also get local knowledge as a bonus, as they will tell you all about the history of the harbor, and the creatures that live in the area.

For those that would rather venture without a guide, you can head off and find quiet beachside picnic areas or admire this area of the coast, paddling to spots in the harbor that look interesting and stopping to admire views for as long as you like.

Check out Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. at the marina for rentals and tours.

5. Go to the Beach!

When it comes to beaches, you won’t be disappointed. It is a must-do in Half Moon Bay. The area boasts some of the best beaches in the state, and you could spend days exploring them all. Whether you want sand to relax on, tide pools to explore, or those with great hiking spots, there are beaches for everyone.

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Beautiful Gray Whale Coves sits tucked up in a sheltered cove. It is a particularly picturesque beach due to huge cliffs that surround the beach and drop down into the Pacific Ocean. It is a pretty steep trail down to the beach, so good shoes are a must, but when you are down on the sand it is a pretty special experience.

Tourists sunbathing on Gray Whale Cove State Beach next to blue ocean water and red cliffs.
Sunbathe at Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Surfer’s Beach

Surfer’s Beach is the best of both worlds for beachgoers. For those that fancy hitting the waves, it has some incredible surf, although these are a little less hardcore than the monsters found at Mavericks. There is an almost constant swell, bringing surfers of varying abilities to the beach throughout the year.

If you don’t want to surf, the beach is the perfect place to lay out a towel and simply watch those trying to catch a wave or take the nearby scenic coastal trail to stretch your legs.

Surfers and tourists on Surfers Beach at sunset.
Sunset at Surfer’s Beach

Redondo Beach

Rendondo Beach is a huge stretch of sandy beach, sometimes known as Wavecrest Beach. It is nice and clean, and because of its size, you are almost guaranteed to have a large patch of beach all to yourself.

The beach can be very windy, making it a fun place to fly kites and go for a walk rather than sunbathe, but you still will find some people lazing about during warmer weather.

View over an almost empty Redondo Beach near Half Moon Bay in dreary weather.
An almost empty Redondo Beach
A cyclist riding by Redondo Beach on an overcast day.
It’s even a great place for a cycle

Poplar Beach

Poplar Beach is one of the most well-known and well-used beaches in the Half Moon Bay area, but you will soon see why as soon as you see this gorgeous, expansive beach. The beach is accessed via a steep trail down from the top of the bluffs, but it is all worth it when you can feel the sand between your toes or go for a long walk at the water’s edge.

Birds flying over Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay State Park on an overcast and misty day.
Poplar Beach is vast

You’ll likely find many furry companions on this beach, as it is one of the only beaches in Half Moon Bay that actually allows dogs.

Kite surfing, and body surfing are all popular activities, although be very careful, as the area is known for dangerous rip tides, and there are no lifeguards on duty.

Cowell Ranch Beach

To get to the sandy Cowell Ranch Beach, you have to park up and take a half-mile walk before descending the stairs built into the cliff. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Half Moon Bay region, with the sandy bay surrounded by massive, towering bluffs.

View across Cowell Beach near Half Moon Bay on an overcast day.
It’s spectacular, even in overcast weather

The end of the beach provides a wonderful seal viewing spot, as it is where many of these creatures raise their pups. This side is closed to visitors, but you should still be able to see plenty of seals.

6. Explore Pillar Point Harbor

Don’t overlook Pillar Point Harbor while exploring Half Moon Bay, as it is much more than your standard harbor. Stroll down to the bobbing boats and choose from one of the many eateries lining the waterfront.

You will feel like you have stepped into New England rather than the state of California. With an inner and outer breakwater, it is one of the safest harbors in the states.

Boats in Pillar Point Harbor at sunset.
Pillar Point Harbour is magical at sunrise

You could spend a whole day enjoying the harbor, whether heading out in a pleasure boat, hiring a paddle board, or popping into the local surf shops. To get your nature hit, take the coastal trail to the sandy shores of Pillar Point Beach.

There are plenty of shops to pop into to pick up a souvenir or end your day with a delicious harbor-front meal of freshly caught seafood. We recommend the lobster roll or a steaming bowl of clam chowder!

7. Watch Surfers Hit the Waves at Mavericks Beach

Whether you are an avid surfer or prefer to let others take to their boards and hit the waves, Mavericks Beach is the perfect place to see people try and catch that perfect wave.

It’s a seriously big wave surf area, so not suitable for those who are just beginning their surfing journey. This will be obvious as soon as you see the size of the waves.

These vast waves are created due to the landforms that lie just under the water, creating unique swells. In the inter months, you could be watching some of the biggest waves in the world! No joke!

Surfer tackling a huge barrel wave at Maverick's Beach near Half Moon Bay.
Look at this size of this barrel!

This beach at Pillar Point is the location of the big wave surfing competition known as Maverick’s, which calls surfers from all over the globe. The competition has happened most years since 1998, just as long as there is a decent wave.

If you are not a surfer, the best thing for you to do is take a picnic, settle yourself down on the sand, and watch the crazy action take place before you.

8. Discover Ocean Life

There are tons of great tide pooling spots near Half Moon Bay, brimming with marine life in every color of the rainbow. You won’t have to look hard to find some gems, but these are a few of the best spots.

The most obvious spot is Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, where the tide pooling is out of this world. The offshore reefs are so full of life when the tide is out, that they have tours of the pools and docents around to tell you about what you are witnessing. Purple shore crabs and starfish are common here, and you may even spot a curious harbor seal or two.

Seaweed covered tide pools at Moss Beach in Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.
So many tide pools to choose from at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve!

Another beach that is full of life is the beach at the base of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Resort, which can be reached either via Pelican Point Beach or Redondo Beach.

Pillar Point is another excellent tide-pooling spot with two different tide-pooling options. When the tide is out, the pools are easily found, where you can spot starfish, sea plants, tons of grasses, plenty of crabs, and lots more, all sharing their life in their tightly packed community.

A star fish in a tide pool at sunset.
Some, like this guy, are easy to spot

On a lucky day, you may even spot the odd octopus or sea cucumber. Over 650 species have been recorded from the Pillar Point tide pools, not including the whales, seals, and sea birds that live just outside the collections!

9. Watch the Sunset

The area is a spectacular sunset-watching spot, and sunset watching is one of the best things to do in Half Moon Bay. It is positioned just so that you will be able to see all the good stuff, so all that is left for you to decide, is where to watch this spectacle. Would you rather be at one with nature, or with a cocktail in hand?

A flock of birds at sunset near Moss Beach.
Sunset across Moss Landing Beach

If cocktail was your answer, there are no judgments here! For a glimpse of the high life, try the Ocean Terrace at the Ritz Carlton, complete with fire pits and blankets to keep you cozy. Alternatively, the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company also has an extensive terrace, while the Moss Beach Distillery also has an incredible overlook.

If you would instead be immersed in nature while the sun sets, one of the best places to observe this beautiful sight is at Martin’s Beach. The huge rock formation that sits just off the shore adds to the dramaticness of this location, plus it has the bonus of being rarely crowded. You can also catch an incredible sunset at Pescadero Beach due to its west-facing position.

A burning red sunset behind some sea stacks at Martin's Beach near Half Moon Bay.
Unreal sunset at Martin’s Beach

Any restaurant at Pillar Point Harbor will also have a great sunset viewing if you book your table at the right time.

10. Have Fun at Local Events and Festivals

Half Moon Bay is a fun place to be no matter the time of year, and this is clear by just how many fun festivals and events are held in the town.

One of the most fun festivals can be found if you visit in October for the annual Pumpkin Festival and Competition. You’ll see pumpkins here bigger than you have ever seen, as people compete to win the coveted prize for growing the biggest pumpkin.

A giant yellow pumpkin.
Yes… it’s a big pumpkin!

In the past, they have reached 2560 pounds! During the event, you can browse the wares of over 275 of the country’s best craft producers and enjoy plenty of other entertainment.

If you are visiting the town on a Saturday, you have to pop into the Coastside Farmers’ Market, which is located at Shoreline Station. In addition to your local fruit and veg, you can also pick up crafts, chocolates, and more, and listen to live music while you browse. In summer, there is usually live music in Mac Dutra Park too, hosted by the city.

For a magical evening, attend the Night of Lights near Christmas, where beautiful lights adorn the trees and windows of Main Street.

A giant firework display at night.
Stick around for the 4th of July celebrations

The old-fashioned 4th of July Parade in Half Moon Bay is a unique experience. The day starts with a huge pancake breakfast before the main event begins at midday. Main Street is transformed into a lively, pulsing procession made up of floats, marching bands, all types of vehicles, sports teams, and community groups.

11. Take a Hike

The area around Half Moon Bay is a hiking dream. There are so many places to set off and explore, from coastal wanders to marshy treks, clifftop walks to redwood hikes; it has it all. Here are a few of our favorites:

Devil’s Slide Trail

Distance: 2.8 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 344 feet

The Devil’s Slide Trail is likely the most well-known trail in the area and one you don’t want to miss. The hike takes you along one of California’s most beautiful cliffside paths, offering breathtaking views of the ocean.

Tourists standing at the viewpoint on the Devil's Slide Trail.
A viewpoint from the trail

The trail has a rather interesting history, as it was once the only route available around the sheer cliffs of San Pedro Mountain. Let’s say it wasn’t the safest or easiest of routes, so when a tunnel was installed and built through the rocks, the original road was soon abandoned and turned into the beloved hiking path that is there today.

Seabirds roosting on a rock close to the surface of the ocean.
Check out the sea birds nesting here

Mavericks Cliffs Trail

Distance: 3.6 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 259 feet

The Mavericks Cliffs Trail is one of the best ways to view the epic waves at Mavericks Beach in action. The trail is nice and easy, taking you along the cliff tops, and offering incredible views out over the Half Moon Bay coastline. The first part of this trail is the hardest, as you will have to start with a steep hike up from the parking lot, but it gets easier after that.

An observatory sitting atop a headland at Pillar Point Bluff near Half Moon Bay.

It is only a short walk from the parking lot to the views of the beach. However, there are over 4 miles worth of trails on this cliff top, so if this short hike wasn’t enough for you, you can continue your exploration.

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

Distance: 3.8 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 239 feet

With such a spectacular coastline, it is hardly surprising that there is a coastal trail designed to show it all off. There is not much better than walking parallel to the Pacific Ocean from a lofty clifftop vantage point, surrounded by sea birds and seals and maybe even whales in the water below you.

Cyclists along the Half Moon Bay coastal trail on an overcast day.
You can also cycle the coastal trail

The trail is paved, which makes it pretty accessible, and along the way, there are lots of places where you can access the beautiful beaches along this part of Half Moon Bay. Although it is only a short trail, expect to spend a lot longer than you think hiking it due to the number of photo stops and ocean gazing you will want to do.

A small sparrow besides the ocean along the Half Moon Bay coastal trail.
There’s tons of bird-watching here!

Cowel Purisima Trail

Distance: 7 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 400 feet

The Cowel Purisima Trail is one of the most well-known hiking trails in the Half Moon Bay area, mainly due to the easy access to the city. It forms just a tiny part of the California Coastal Trail, but it is a worthy stand-alone hike as well.

Two women walking along the grave path of the Cowell-Purisima trail.
The Cowell-Purisima trail is and easy walk

For the whole hike, you’ll be perched high up on the bluffs above the crashing waves, with wide gravel paths and a few bridges to keep things interesting. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open so you can spot the seal colony!

A steel bridge crossing a small gorge along the Cowell-Purisima trail.
There are some unique sections to this hike

What to Do Near Half Moon Bay

You don’t have to go far to find even more things to do in the area!

12. Discover Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Perched on a cliff edge and towering 115 feet into the sky, Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the tallest lighthouses in California or even the whole of America. This lofty light has been in action since 1872, warning travelers about the steep cliffs and rocks surrounding it.

Slightly dirty white lighthouse in Pigeon Point Lighthouse Station.
A slightly worn but still beautiful lighthouse

Although the original huge lens is no longer in use, the lighthouse is still in action to this day, but this time, it uses a lot more modern LED light.

If you are interested in finding out more about the light and its history, consider taking a guided history walk around the grounds and heading into the lighthouse interpretive center, which is housed in the fog signal building. Here, you can see the first Fresnel lens up close, and you will likely be surprised at just how big it is!

White lighthouse on a headland in Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park on an overcast day.
It’s perched right by the ocean

The area around the light is also great for exploration. From your position on the cliff tops, you can hear the roar of the swell below you crashing into the rocks. There are a few blufftop trails to extend your visit further.

13. Wander through Purisima Creek Redwoods

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Reserve is a beautiful and mysterious place to hike and explore the great outdoors. The redwoods here are not huge, but still big enough to be impressive, and there are several trails to enjoy within the reserve that cater to a range of hiking abilities.

A wooden bridge along a trail in the Purisima Creek Redwoods.
The redwood trees will dwarf you

14. Año Nuevo State Park

If you are looking for a spot near Half Moon Bay to check out the local elephant seal population, Año Nuevo State Park has you well and indeed covered. There are thousands of noisy seals here that use the remote beaches for mating and birthing.

Nina walking along a boardwalk on Franklin Point Trail in Año Nuevo State Park.
Nina walking along Franklin Point trail

If you have never seen an elephant seal before, in comparison to a harbor seal, these creatures are huge! They are in the park year-round, but winter gives you the best chance of viewing them in serious numbers.

Elephant seals basking on the beach in Año Nuevo State Park.
Don’t miss out on spotting sealions!

For avid hikers, there are some great hikes, such as the Año Nuevo Point Trail, the Whitehouse Ridge Trail, and the Franklin Point Trail. It also has some great beaches and tide pools to explore.

15. Check Out Pescadero

Nearby, Pescadero has a little bit of everything. The perfect combo of beach and town life and is just a short 14 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The town is small but has everything you need for a quick stay, with restaurants, shops, markets, and farms.

Seabirds roosting on a rocky outcrop at Pescadero State Beach in Half Moon Bay.
Seabirds nesting at Pescadero

One of the most unique factors of the town is that it’s home to many historic buildings that were built back in the 1800s in the style of New England dwellings, which makes for an interesting visit. There is also a great Farmers’ Market to shop local and enjoy delicious delicacies.

Pescadero State Beach is a beautiful beach of pure sand, stretching out for around half a mile and forming part of a stunning chain of beaches. Even when the tide is in, you can still take a nice long stroll across the sand, taking in the views, enjoying the salty breeze, and checking out the driftwood that covers the beach.

Empty picnic bench overlooking Pescadero State Beach on a misty day.
The beach is not to be missed!

In addition to hikes on the beach, you can also enjoy a walk in Pescadero Marsh, home to around 230 species of bird life. The Sequoia Audubon Trail is the best way to see the marsh and bird life, taking you right into the heart of the wetland.

16. Surfer Watch at Pacifica State Beach and… Eat Tacos?

Pacifica State Beach is a beautiful beach, but in addition to this, it also has a rather unusual claim to fame… it has the prettiest Taco Bell! Yes, it is a very odd thing to boast about, but when you see this architectural gem, you will understand what we are talking about.

Wooden Taco Bell cantina at Pacifica State Beach.
Yes… we recommend the Taco Bell!

For a start, the Taco Bell is located directly on the beach and has a perfect deck. Who wouldn’t want a burrito while scanning the horizon for whales or peeping the surfers?

A great Taco Bell is far from all that Pacifica has to offer, however. The state beach is known as Linda Mar Beach and is a long curved stretch of sand backed by tall dunes. When the tide is low, there are plenty of tide pools to enjoy or hop in the freezing cold waters and catch some waves.

Pacifica State Beach on an overcast day.
Pacifica State Beach on an overcast day
A surfer walking along Pacifica State Beach with a backdrop of houses.
A surfer finishing up his day

17. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation area is a pretty epic place to hang out. For a start, the views of the Golden Gate Bridge are unmatched; whether you are sitting and admiring or hiking the trails, the looming orange suspension bridge spans over San Francisco Bay.

Many of the trails offer incredible vantage points to take in this engineering marvel, with some of the best views found at Spencer Battery.

Nina exploring the abandoned looking Battery Spencer with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Explore Spencer Battery for the history and…
A tourist at the Battery Spencer viewpoint looking out over the Golden Gate bridge.
… for the view as well!

Although the views of the bridge are the biggest draw to the park, it is far from all it has to offer. It has the largest number of historic buildings in any national park, which can best be discovered via a guided tour.

All of the hiking trails are stunning, and if you are not looking at views of the bridge, you could instead be admiring the rugged coastline shrouded in the thick fog the area is known for, the picturesque San Francisco Bay, or some of the almost 2500 plant and animal species that call the park it’s home.

Low cloud over the Golden Gate bridge framed by trees in San Francisco.
Check out Kirby Cove!

One minute, you could be strolling through forests of towering redwoods, the next admiring a lighthouse or a shipwreck. You could spend your time hiking to historical landmarks or sitting on a raw, untouched beach; the options are endless when there are 80,000 acres to explore!

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

We hope this helped you plan which things to do in Half Moon Bay!

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