Weekend Getaway to Half Moon Bay

Foiunded in 1911, Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel Co. features “ranch, hobby farm, livestock and pet supplies.”

Foiunded in 1911, Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel Co. features “ranch, hobby farm, livestock and pet supplies.”

Story and photos by Patricia Corrigan

Patricia is a journalist, photographer and book author based in San Francisco.

Cozy beach town is a short drive — and a world away — from San Francisco.

I’m sitting in Café Society, a coffee shop in Half Moon Bay, a cozy coastal town in Northern California. Customers drift in, solo and in pairs, wave to neighbors, exchange warm greetings with the barista and discuss the merits of the pastry of the day with the counter clerk.

Half Moon Bay is part of an urban area that’s home to more than 21,000 people. I’m not one of them, but because I watch “reality” real estate shows about picturesque beach towns, sometimes I pretend to be. I live in San Francisco, just 30 miles north, and when that city life feels too crowded and too complex, I get in the car and head south.

Road Trip to Paradise: San Francisco to Half Moon Bay

The drive excels in scenic vistas and takes only about an hour. First, put the top down or open the sunroof on your rental car — or at least open all the windows. Then drive west to Ocean Beach and head south on the Great Highway, which connects you to Skyline Boulevard (state Route 35). That delivers you to a glorious stretch of California’s Highway 1 that passes through the town of Pacifica and on to Half Moon Bay.

You’ll marvel at the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, watch waves crash against steep cliffs, admire high forested ridges and view acres of fertile farmland. You may even be lured by a sign that blares, “WETSUIT SALE.” (I will not be, because once I got trapped, half in and half out of one, and nearly called the fire department to rescue me.)

The Wonders of Half Moon Bay

The Pacific Ocean defines the western edge of Half Moon Bay. The Santa Cruz mountains sit to the east and Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve is just south of town. On a quiet weekday on historic Main Street, I can browse in galleries and eclectic boutiques (Oddyssea is a favorite). I can visit small, family-owned wineries or taste olive oils. Or I can drive east on state Route 92 to shop for succulents and native plants at sprawling nurseries.

Don’t be deceived by the laid-back vibe. On holidays and special occasions, this town knows how to please a crowd.

Every October, thousands of people visit Half Moon Bay for the annual Art and Pumpkin Festival to see a parade, taste seasonal cocktails and ogle giant pumpkins, some that tip the scales at 2,000 pounds or more. Thousands more show up in winter for the annual Mavericks Challenge, where world-class surfers pit their skills against waves that can top out over 60 feet.

Nothing against big wave surfing or pumpkin ogling, but whale watching is my favorite pastime, and that’s what first drew me to Half Moon Bay some years ago. Now after a three-hour boat trip, my seafaring friends and I often head to Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for fish tacos and locally grown artichokes. On Main Street, Pasta Moon serves ribollita, a Tuscan stew and delicious lasagna.

Half Moon Bay State Beach consists of five beaches that stretch along 4 miles of coastline. Hikers walk the seaside trails, but I like to sit on the beach and look at the water. If you’re in town for an extended visit, consider Francis Beach Campground (off Kelly Avenue) or nearby lodgings that range from family-friendly motels to small romantic inns to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

When it’s time to drive back to my real home, I need no souvenirs from my time away. A simple verbal reminder helps fuel my fantasy about living in Half Moon Bay, so as I leave the coffee shop with a mocha to go, I wave to the
barista and call out, “I’ll be back.”


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