Just a few miles south and west of bustling San Francisco you will find Half Moon Bay, a rural oasis of charm set along pristine California seashore.
It’s in this small village that you’ll find quaint shops and a little more laid-back pace than the bay cities less than a half-hour drive to the northeast. There are lighthouses and farms nearby, flower markets, spectacular tide pools and a harbor with the freshest of crab, salmon and halibut that find their way onto tables of some excellent local restaurants.
Our most recent visit to Half Moon Bay was enhanced by our accommodations, a place called the Beach House that offers colorful loft suites perched on a scenic cliff overlooking the coastline. The suites are spacious and inviting, designed as open studios to take advantage of the ocean views.
Just a five-minute drive from the hotel is the downtown shopping district of Half Moon Bay, a place to meander and explore while you look for that special something. Numerous boutiques, restaurants and cafes are along historic Main Street, not to mention more bakeries per capita than any small city we have visited.
A restaurant called Cetrella was recommended to us and is described as a “casually elegant Mediterranean bistro” with perhaps the newest and most impressive building in the downtown shopping area. The menu was amazing in its variety, yet it still offered simple choices between seafood, beef, pork, lamb and even rabbit. Among our favorites were the mesquite grilled dry aged Creekstone Farms Black Angus rib eye and the seared Cypress Island salmon, both cooked to perfection.
Another fun place to dine in Half Moon Bay is Sam’s Chowder House. Located within walking distance of the Beach House, this casual restaurant has great views of the bay as well as a fresh seafood market.
Once you’ve shopped and dined to your heart’s content, the next step is exploration. There are some 55 miles of beaches along this part of the Coastside area and it seemed like a good number of those were right in Half Moon Bay. We took a trail along the bluffs and then went down another trail to the beach level where on this windy day we had miles and miles of beaches to ourselves.
Numerous state parks and coastal trails of all varieties are found in nearly all of the communities along Highway 1. McNee Ranch State Park is a 700-acre preserve near Montara Mountain that offers picture-perfect ocean and hillside views. San Pedro Valley County park is an 1,150-acre park in Pacifica that offers several short, scenic trails.
Eco-tourism is big in this area. Among the activities to put you in touch with your planet are visits to area wildlife preserves and farms. Pillar Point Harbor is a working fishing harbor where you can interact with fishermen and women and learn how they make their living from the sea. In fact you can go fishing yourself on one of the local charter boats, or take a boat out to watch the whales that travel the Pacific Coast, December through April.
And how’s this for an interesting option: Spend part of your visit staying on a local family-owned farm where you’ll get an up-close view of how farmers make their living from the soil or from animal products. You can also tour a farm if you don’t have time to stay. Phipp’s Ranch in Pescadero features over 100 varieties of organic veggies, plants and herbs, while Harley Farms Goat Dairy features an edible flower garden and tours of their cheese-making room.
In addition to the seashore activities such as beachcombing and tide pooling, there are a couple of bird refuges in the area.
The Pescadero Marsh is where about 200 species of birds rest and feed each year and the trail that leads along an old marshlands dike offers some great views. At Pillar Point, bird-watchers have sighted about 20% of all North American bird species including herons, snowy egrets, loons and grebes.
Finally, be sure to visit the two historical lighthouses located in along this coast. The Point Montara Lighthouse is in Montara and just off Highway 1 – although keep a watchful eye or you’ll miss the turn-off.
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse State Historic Park is located south of Pescadero on the way to Santa Cruz. The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk with guided tours and docents available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
For more information on Half Moon Bay and area eco-tours, visit www.visithalfmoonbay.org or phone (866) 558-6823.
• For more information on travel in California, visit www.californiaweekend.com.