Half Moon Bay always seems to get a bad rap because of the fog and cold climate. Yes, yes. It gets foggy. But it also gets sunny and clear and beautiful and makes for a gorgeous scenic drive, day trip, or weekend escape. Located about 30 miles south of San Francisco on the coast, Half Moon Bay provides respite from Silicon Valley and city life in San Francisco. What it lacks it temperature, it more than makes up for it in the activities offered in the area. At first glance, it seems like you could blink and get through it in no time. In actuality, there is more to offer than meets the eye. This once rural area, known mainly for coastal agriculture and grazing land, became a thriving fishing community for a culturally diverse community. Today, the restaurants in the area are reflective of that growth and the general public can purchase fresh crab and fish directly from the fisherman at a discount.
Starting with the random stores I love to go into, bookstores and oddball shops are a must for me. Downtown Half Moon Bay houses some great independent bookstores with some of the friendliest owners. I’ve been into plenty of high tourist areas where store owners treat you like you’re just another shopper. This still feels like a small town, where the store owners still welcome all of their customers and ask their customers where they are from, etc. I troll a lot of bookstores and find that the most successful and long running ones have a friendly staff who maintain the feel that a good bookstore should have. It’s rare these days.
I also love antiques and anything to do with gardening. There is a great combination of both in a store called Half to Have, also in downtown. They have antique garden benches, fountains, planters, pots, trellises, gazebos, swings, chairs, anything you can think of for the garden. The fountains are running when you walk into the garden and I found people sitting in the middle of it all, just enjoying those old benches and listening to the fountains running. I found an old cast iron gazebo/bench that I wanted to haul home but I’m still working on how I’m going to do that. Inside the main building, there are plenty of vintage items and collectibles to rummage through. This is one of those places that could easily make me a candidate for that show, Hoarders.
As far as events go, this area is not lacking in that department. Here are a couple the area is known for:
Let’s start with the Bay Area famous Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. Every year in October, people from all over flock to this festival to try the famous pumpkin pies, check out who grew the biggest pumpkin in the area, and pick out pumpkins from the many pumpkin patches leading up to Half Moon Bay. This festival gets a lot of attention so it’s worth checking out early in the day if possible. The traffic going to/from this festival is unreal but I think that says something about the festival itself. It has been going strong for many years now and has become a tradition for many. The drive alone is worth the trip and winding through this area during the season immediately gets you into the Fall spirit. http://www.miramarevents.com/pumpkinfest/history.html
Mavericks, the famous surf competition which takes place around January every year, is held off of Pillar Point where surfers from all over the world converge to try to battle waves that could have starred in the Poseidon Adventure. I know it’s cool but I shake my head every year because just looking at those waves from my car gives me the creeps. Not to mention, the viewing area where the competition is held, is on a bluff and can be bone chilling in the winter. If you are a die hard and must see it in person, I would book a hotel early because they usually fill up the day the competition is announced. Or you can do what us wimps do and go watch it on the big screen at AT&T Park or stream it online. It’s fun to watch no matter how you view it. http://www.maverickssurf.com
Where to eat/drink?–
Holy cow. Take your pick. Pasta Moon, located in downtown Half Moon Bay is a favorite, known for Italian Trattoria style cuisine. It has been reviewed very well by food critics and is a local favorite. Everything is made in-house, including homemade/handmade pasta and they have an award winning Italian wine list. Live music on the weekends. http://www.pastamoon.com
Moss Beach Distillery-Right up the road from Half Moon Bay is Moss Beach where you will find the Moss Beach Distillery. There simply is no better place to spend a Sunday afternoon than this place. Inside the restaurant, they have a gorgeous view to accompany the delicious menu. However, the best part of this place in my book is the outdoor patio where dog owners can hang out with their pooches and eat and drink while enjoying the beautiful view. That’s coastal living.http://www.mossbeachdistillery.com
Sam’s Chowder House– I swear, one of these days I’ll actually get into this place. Every time I have driven by it, it’s packed. As expected based on the name, they are known for their chowder. They too, have an incredible view to accompany an amazing menu but they also serve up hot sourdough bread which is favored by those who frequent the restaurant. http://www.samschowderhouse.com
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company- Located just north of HMB, next to the Mavericks surf competition site. They serve Mavericks beer and have happy hour specials like Fajita Fridays. With a great patio, it’s another fantastic place to watch the sunset and enjoy some good food and drinks. http://www.hmbbrewingco.com
Where to Stay
Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel– Hostels are not what they used to be. Hostels these days are for everyone and not just a cheap way to stay someplace. I have met more interesting people in hostels than I could have ever expected. The hostel in Montara, which is just north of HMB, is located next to a still functioning lighthouse. Once used as former coast guard quarters, the Lighthouse Hostel has been converted into a comfortable hostel, which includes complimentary linens, free parking, BBQ’s, shared or private rooms, and plenty of sitting areas to enjoy the view. Shared rooms start at $23 a night per person. http://www.norcalhostels.org/montara/
San Benito House- Located in downtown HMB. This hundred year old B&B landmark hotel has been brought up to date with modern amenities while retaining its vintage charm. It’s very rustic and cozy, has rooms with hardwood floors, claw foot tubs in the bathrooms, and comfy 400 thread count sheets with down comforters. Don’t be fooled. In August, those comforters will still be needed. (I live on the coast. I know this.) My kind of place to spend a relaxing weekend. Next door to the hotel, is the deli or Garden Deli and Cafe, best known for their award winning sandwiches and old world baked bread. For anyone reading this not from the Bay Area, if you haven’t already figured out, we’re big on bread out here. Sourdough has been the reigning champion but creations like olive bread and whole grain are also big favorites. Especially in agricultural communities such as this one. http://www.sanbenitohouse.com
Oceano Hotel & Spa-This all suite hotel includes fireplaces in the room, and some really nice shopping at Harbor Village. This hotel offers top of the line spa services, golf and they also proudly display their Eco-Friendly Features on their website. Some of these features include organic bamboo linens, solar heat in the public areas, in-room recycling, preferred parking for low emitting vehicles, and environmentally friendly chemicals used for room cleaning. They are part of the Bay Area Green Business Program and is a Green Suites Certified Hotel. http://www.oceanohalfmoonbay.com
I can’t not mention the stunning Ritz Carlton. I will always lean towards independent businesses and shoot my mouth off about places that are different or off the beaten path but ultimately, I shoot my mouth off about things I like, chain or not. This is one of those places where you may have to decide if you would give up one week in a so-so place for two days in a fabulous place. The Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay is upscale without feeling stuffy, and first class yet friendly, laid back and comfortable. The location is the best romantic getaway ever. Located on a bluff, looking back on it, it looks like it’s at the end of the earth. Quiet, beautiful, and packed with services, they are also dog-friendly with a cleaning fee of $125. I have been to a wedding at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay and it is a spectacular setting for an event with impeccable services and fantastic food. The bar is as you can expect, a bit pricey but the drinks are worth every penny. The golf course and spa are top notch. This is a special occasion spot for sure but absolutely memorable. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/HalfMoonBay/Default.htm
Half Moon Bay is a great stop to make if driving between San Francisco to Santa Cruz/Capitola along Highway 1. There are so many coastal towns along Highway 1 so don’t forget about this little gem. The weather is typically best in the Fall and can have weird bouts of perfection in the winter and spring. From June-August those of us on the coast put on our pj’s and wait for “Summer” to arrive in the Fall.