Half Moon Bay is a coastal city in San Mateo County, California, United States, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of San Francisco. Its population was 11,795 as of the 2020 census. Immediately north of Half Moon Bay is Pillar Point Harbor and the unincorporated community of Princeton-by-the-Sea. Half Moon Bay is known for Mavericks, a big-wave surf location. It is called Half Moon Bay because of its crescent shape.
Originally an agricultural outpost to Mission San Francisco de Asís, the town was founded in the 1840s first as San Benito, and then as its Anglo fishing community grew, it was renamed Spanishtown. In 1874, it was again renamed Half Moon Bay. After rail and road connections in the early 1900s, the town grew. The foggy weather of the coast made the town a popular destination for booze-running during Prohibition.
The city’s infrastructure is heavily integrated with the coast, including the Pillar Point Harbor, major roads, and the fire department. The economy of Half Moon Bay is dominated by a handful of businesses, the biggest of which is the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay which employs 500 people and is a major source of property tax and tourism income for the city. Because of this geography, a 2022 study found that the city had over 123 buildings vulnerable to sea level rise.
Things to Do in Half Moon Bay
You’ll definitely want to spend as much time as possible by the Pacific, and several miles of the border-to-border California Coastal Trail run through Half Moon Bay. One particularly nice section begins at Poplar Beach and travels down the coast above the waves. Just north of town at Moss Beach, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a great place to see harbor seals and explore tide pools—look for purple sea urchins and sea stars in the craggy rocks.
As for Mavericks—the breaks that Half Moon Bay is known for the world over—only the most skilled surfers should consider tackling the challenging waves that can reach heights of 50 feet or more. But you can get a taste of the local surf scene (and pick up cool hoodies to impress your inland pals) at Mavericks Surf Company, owned by Jeff Clark, a big-wave legend. For something a little more sedate, the company’s Mavericks PaddleSports offers stand-up paddleboard rentals and lessons on the flat waters of Pillar Point Harbor.
If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land and have kids in your posse, visit the farm-themed amusement park Lemos Farm for family-friendly fun. Pony rides, hay rides, train rides and a petting zoo are all on the activity list here, along with goat yoga, for those into pursuing wellness with furry friends. Though open year-round, October is a particularly good time to visit, with celebrations that feature live music, Halloween-themed festivities, and lots and lots of pumpkins.
Where to Eat and Drink in Half Moon Bay
The dining here is steeped in tradition: Sam’s Chowder House is famous for its lobster roll sandwiches and cioppino, as well as views that look out over the harbor and to Pillar Point. With its neon fish sign outside and nets dangling from the ceiling, funky Barbara’s Fishtrap sits along the harbor and has drawn big crowds since 1971, thanks in part to some of the best fish and chips anywhere in California. There’s also great eating (and shopping) on Half Moon Bay’s historic Main Street: Pasta Moon sources from area farms and fishermen for its spaghetti puttanesca, which features day-boat sea scallops, clams, and mussels. If your thoughts run more toward imbibing, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has been serving the community with local handcrafted beers since 2000, and two distilleries—Jettywave Distillery and Half Moon Bay Distillery, both woman-owned—have been receiving accolades for their lines of small-batch spirits. Half Moon Bay Distillery offers private in-store tastings; Jettywave’s pet-friendly garden, The Swell Lounge, serves up cocktails as well as food.
Where to Stay in Half Moon Bay
A few of Half Moon Bay’s standout lodging options include the Inn at Mavericks, a dog-friendly inn overlooking the Pacific, within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, and the ocean. If you’re looking for some ultra-luxe pampering after a day exploring the coast, the grand Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay commands a bluff overlooking the ocean. Its spa features treatments inspired by the area’s natural setting—it’s an ideal spot for some rejuvenation.