Snapshots from Half Moon Bay: Our Top Spots to Visit with Kids
Half Moon Bay is one of our favorite weekend destinations. At 30 miles (~50 km) south of San Francisco and 20 miles (~30 km) west of San Francisco International Airport sits the coastal gem Half Moon Bay. It's a quiet Californian coastal town with quite a few surprises: big waves, golf resort, pumpkin festival, and a working fishing harbor with fresh and delicious seafood.
Travel Chic Dad goes fishing. The kids go wave-chasing. Me, I go for the seafood and the fog. The fog? Half Moon Bay, like many Californian coastal towns, is very often foggy. That is especially the case during the summer months, and the locals will tell you about the May Gray, June Gloom, No-Sky July, and Fogust. So if you're planning a summer vacation to Half Moon Bay, understand that many coastline pictures with beautiful bright blue skies are most likely taken before May or after September. Exhibit A:
I don't mind the fog. There's something mysterious and magical about fog. It replaces sunblock. It moistens your skin. It grows on you.
The fogginess of Half Moon Bay definitely has its charm, it fits the character of this quiet little coastal town. But don't worry, there are many activities you can enjoy with or without sunshine.
Here are a few of our favorite places to visit with kids.
Main Street in Downtown Half Moon Bay
Take a stroll down Main Street in downtown Half Moon Bay. You'll see the foggy blue Zaballa House, one of the earliest houses established in Half Moon Bay, known as Spanish Town back in mid-19th century.
When it's sunny outside, grab a drink from the San Benito House's Deli and sit by the parrots in the garden terrace. When it's foggy, cold, or even rainy outside, go further down Main Street to Moonside Bakery & Cafe, order a hot beverage and enter the hidden-gem indoor courtyard with the lovely trompe-l'oeil.
Kids will love a trip to Oddyssea, a very unique retail store with marine-themed curios and hands-on gift workshops in the garden. It is the perfect Half Moon Bay "experience" that will conjure up images of Treasure Island and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, especially when the weather is foggy.
Further down on Main Street, you can spot a giant mural of a big-wave surfer. This is not a coincidence, as Half Moon Bay is just south of Maverick's Beach, the iconic big-wave surfing destination and the site of the invitation-only big-wave riding contest, Titans of Mavericks. The winter waves at Maverick's are known to reach 60 feet (~18 m). Riding Giants (2004) is a great documentary about big-wave surfing if you want to get into the spirit of things.
Farms and Nurseries
Half Moon Bay is historically an agricultural area, and today there are still many local farms specializing in Christmas Trees (Santa's Tree Farm), house plants (Repetto), artichokes, and... pumpkins!
Every year in mid-October, Half Moon Bay floods itself with pumpkins for the annual Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. The town celebrates pumpkins with numerous pumpkin patches, the world's largest pumpkins, the world's largest pumpkin sculpture, pumpkin pie-eating contest, costume contest, and a pumpkin parade. As I'm writing this post, the festival is taking place in Half Moon Bay this weekend, and it's a wonderful occasion for a family trip.
Outside of pumpkin season, there's a farm that will be a guaranteed hit with kids: Lemos Farm. Lemos Farm is hard to miss if you're driving towards Half Moon Bay from Highway 92 (San Mateo Road), it's that place with lots of colors on your right-hand side. The farm provides many activities for a flat rate ($15 all day unlimited pass per kid, cash only), and kids will delight in pony rides, mini train rides, hay rides, petting zoo, and "playtown" area with a bounce house.
The fun is very contagious. As you'll see in the video on my Instagram account (follow @travelchicmom):
This is also where Travel Chic Boy took his very first pony ride. First times can be quite daunting...
But with dad's reassuring voice and firm hands, it didn't take long before he asked for more rides!
Of course, a trip to Half Moon Bay is not complete without some time on the beach. There are several beaches from which to choose from, just remember to carry cash for the parking.
Isn't the beach always fun? Even if the Pacific Ocean is most likely to be too cold for swimming most times of the year (without a wet suit), there are so many things to do at the beach that can satisfy your senses.
Chasing waves never gets old. Smelling the salty air is refreshing. Hearing the rhythmic waves and the seabirds chant can be so relaxing.
You know that feeling when your toes sink into the sand? It's like a massage.
And don't forget to look out into the horizon. In Half Moon Bay, you just might spot a whale!
Pillar Point Harbor
Pillar Point Harbor sits at the northern end of Half Moon Bay, it is a working harbor for commercial and sports fishing fleets. It is also where you'll find Maverick's Beach, as the unique sea floor at the point of the harbor gives birth to those giant waves.
But inside the protected harbor, the waters are calm and safe for kayaking. Half Moon Bay Kayak Co. is a good place to rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards (SUPs), and bikes. If you fancy a fishing or whale-watching trip out to the sea, visit Half Moon Bay Sport Fishing and Tackle Shop.
But the real reason why we always head up to Pillar Point is the following point...
Places to Eat Seafood
Pillar Point Harbor is the best place to get seafood. When Dungeness crab season comes, the best place to buy crabs is directly at the boats down at the pier in the harbor. We're talking about big, fat, juicy and sweet crab meat, right off the boat. If you want to enjoy them right away, take them to Princeton Seafood Company's Fish Market, for a meager fee, they'll steam the crabs and crack the shells for you. You can also buy super fresh seafood from the Fish Market, the quality never disappoints.
We also like Princeton for the summer picnic take-outs at the counter and the dine-in experience. I highly recommend the cioppino and the clam chowder in bread bowl, these are local favorites and they are really hard to beat.
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
I love the fact that most of Half Moon Bay is casual, intimate, and down-to-earth. However, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay has an amazing view over one of the best strips of the coastline. The best place to take in that coastal splendor is at the Ocean Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton. This is a place where you can fit inside a single frame the sandy beaches, rocky tide pools, sandstone cliffs, manicured golf course, and a handsome resort hotel.
The wide-open terrace provides lots of intimate seating areas. There is an open fire pit with Adirondack chairs, you can order a s'mores kit and toast the marshmallows while admiring the view.
Get the very rich hot chocolate and the artichoke dip served with a generous basket of freshly baked bread. Sit back, relax, for life is quite good then and there.
And for a perfect way to end the day at Half Moon Bay: wait for sunset, and you'll hear a bagpiper play in the vicinity as you watch the sun take a dive into the ever-peaceful Pacific. The waves that caress this coastline have perhaps also stroked the shores of Scotland.
Where to Stay
This cozy and warm property is in great management hands. The Spanish mission style lodging is a great value for a stay in Half Moon Bay. They have children's souvenir toys for sale in the lobby, which is a nice touch.
Conveniently located next to Pillar Point Harbor and many good restaurants, this hotel provides modern comfort with great views.
A resort destination hotel. Definitely a splurge, but it is most probably the best beachfront resort hotel on the Northern Californian coast north of Monterey Bay.
Last but not least, there's always Airbnb. Sign up and get a $35 credit on me!
Here's my Half Moon Bay map with the places mentioned in this post, don't hesitate to save it to Google Maps.
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