Road Trips From San Francisco | Things Do Half Moon Bay You’ll Love

There are so many things do Half Moon Bay and along the coastal highway, one of my favorite road trips from San Francisco, California.

Driving the San Francisco Peninsula Coast, I’m always amazed to find how quickly I leave the city behind for views of crashing ocean waves, crescent sand beaches and stunning bayfront shorelines.

Come along as we road trip down the California coast to Half Moon Bay. 

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One of My Favorite Road Trips From San Francisco

concrete bridge with tall arches connects hills along Pacific Coast
California Highway 1 | Photo by Dan Hadar on Unsplash

To start one of my favorite road trips from San Francisco, point your vehicle south. If you’re starting out near the Golden Gate Bridge or the Presidio, take State Route 1 (SR 1) south for a road tour through the city.

On the other hand, if you’re near the airport or the east side of San Francisco, take I-280 south to State Route 1 (SR 1) AKA California Highway 1. Go south.

California Highway 1 (SR1), which runs along most of the Pacific coastline, is a road-trippers dream!
It's the second-longest state route in the US!

It’s an easy-breezy ride high along the California Coast. You’ll be able to see for miles! If you have a moon roof, open it! If you’re driving a convertible, for heaven’s sake, put the top down.

This is what California is all about: sunshine, open roads and a salt mist in your hair!

In no time, you’ll dip down to Pacifica Esplanade Beach at sea level. Time to stretch your legs and sink your toes into the sand.

waves crash near sand beach as seen from sandy esplanade above
Esplanade Beach Overlook Trail in Pacifica, CA | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Handy Map of SF Peninsula

Map of The San Francisco Peninsula

This map of the SF peninsula shows how close the city is to the coast and countryside on the San Francisco peninsula.

The Bay Area peninsula offers some unique road-trip destinations, and we’re headed to one: Half Moon Bay, a seaside town with attractive accommodations, local agriculture and restaurants that awe and inspire with innovative chefs making use of those peninsula Bay Area purveyors.

At our first stop in Pacifica, we’ll sample artisan bread, Roma-style pizza and coffee drinks.

But first, are there really 3.5 bakeries in this small SF Peninsula coastal town?

3.5 Bakeries in Pacifica, California, City of 37,099

carrot cake bars and pizza in large baking pans are in forground, bakery workers are in middle ground with scenes of the california hills can be seen through the glass business front
Sweet and savor treats offered at Rosalind Bakery in Pacifica | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

For a beach town of only 37,099, there are a whopping three bakeries in Pacifica, plus a pie shop!

  • Mazzetti’s Bakery, an Italian-American family-owned operation for almost 50 years
  • Rosalind Bakery, handcrafted loaves, pizzas and pastries that bring people together
  • Saltwater Bakery, where everything they bake is gluten and dairy-free

We visited Rosalind Bakery, where patrons Hang Loose in the indoor and outdoor spaces.

The bakery, named for founder Matthew Kosoy’s grandmother, is known for its outstanding sourdough breads. The most popular sourdough flavors, walnut rosemary, sesame rye and olive, sell well at the San Francisco Farmers Market. 

Roman-style pizza created with Point Reyes Toma Cheese is a local favorite at the Rosalind Bakery in Pacifica.

I feel like I have to go back to uncover why there are so many bakeries in Pacifica!

Now that we’ve had our morning pick-me-up, let’s continue south on California Highway 1.

Things Do Half Moon Bay: Farmer John's Pumpkin Farm

rows of picked orange pumpkins line a flat gravel area with a "tipi" behind and fields of dried sunflowers behind that. This is one of the things do Half Moon Harbor in the fall. two preteens shop among the pumpkins with a pull-along wagon
Farmer John's Pumpkin Farm, one of the best thing do in Half Moon Bay | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

I recommend stopping at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm just before arriving at Half Moon Bay. It’s one of the best and most fun things do Half Moon Bay in the fall. 

The 14 acres of pumpkins are planted the second weekend in May and then harvested in September.
 
The farmers grow 1000s of pumpkins on site with many varieties to capture the eye.

We marveled at the Atlantic Giant, estimated to weigh in at 600 lbs/ 272 kilos. Last year’s winner was 2700 lbs / 1225 kilos.

Check their website for opening day sometime in early September. Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm typically remains open through October 31.

So now, onto Half Moon Bay!

Exploring the Charms: Half Moon Bay Things To Do

Half Moon Bay Beach | Photo by saira ahmed on Unsplash

You could spend a whole week on this stretch of Highway 1, but we’ll outline the best Half Moon Bay things to do during a day trip.

I have to admit that lunch is high on THAT list, but first, here are a few things to do before lunch to whet your appetite. 

What To Do in Half Moon Bay?

High on your list of what to do in Half Moon Bay should be visiting the many beaches. At the beach, you could 

  • walk along the shoreline
  • go beachcombing
  • go tide pooling
  • play with your pooch
  • go surfing
  • or sit, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere and breathing in the beneficial negative ions created by the surf.

Swimming is not recommended because of cold water temperatures (~50F / ~10C) and rip tides that can pull you out to sea.

Of course, besides the beach, there are plenty of things to do, such as shopping, playing golf, kayaking or enjoying lunch.

There’s that lunch again, but we’ll save the best for later! After we reveal more about what to do in Half Moon Bay Cal.

Enjoying the Beaches in Half Moon Bay California Tops the List

man in longsleeved yellow shirt and black tights surfs down huge wave as it crests with walloping force
2010 Mavericks Competition at Mavericks Beach near Half Moon Bay | Shalom Jacobovitz via Wikimedia

Of all the beaches in Half Moon Bay California, the best beach in Half Moon Bay CA depends on the type of beach you’re seeking.

Does it need to be dog-friendly so you can take your four-legged friend? Are you looking for big waves to watch surfers or go surfing? Do you or a member of your party have mobility issues?

With those sorts of requirements in mind, here are some options (from North to South) for your best beach in Half Moon Bay CA:

Gray Whale Cove State Beach – we saw whales near the shore from our vehicle as we drove by on Hwy 1.

Montara State Beach – pooch-friendly beach, but Fido must be leashed.

Mavericks Beach – a big-wave surf spot where waves can crest at over 25 ft / 8 m after strong winter storms. At low tide, visit the Half Moon Bay Tide Pools nearby.

Surfers Beach – consistent waves make this one of the best beaches in Half Moon Bay CA, for experienced and beginner surfers.

Half Moon Bay State Beach – four miles of wide sandy shoreline consisting of four beaches: Roosevelt, Dunes, Venice and Francis. Francis Beach has the reputation of being the best beach in Half Moon Bay CA for people with mobility issues. In addition to accessible parking and restrooms, Francis Beach has a beach wheelchair.

Popular Beach – one of the only Half Moon Bay beaches that allow horseback riding. Dogs are allowed on the sand, unlike most of the state-run beaches. 

With so many choices, you’ll be sure to find the best beach in Half Moon Bay CA, that fits your needs and desires.

Now that we’ve reviewed the beaches in Half Moon Bay CA, let’s move on to what to do in downtown Half Moon Bay.

two women ride two white horses along wide sandy beach as setting sun reflects on the ocean waters
Horseback at Poplar Beach, one of the best Half Moon Bay beaches | Photo by Kevin Henney courtesy of Visit Half Moon Bay

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What To Do in Downtown Half Moon Bay

Downtown Half Moon Bay  |  Photo by Kevin Henne courtesy of Visit Half Moon Bay

There is plenty to do in historic downtown Half Moon Bay.

We loved the free parking all along charming Main Street. On a day road trip from San Frencisco you can’t do it all, but here’s a quick list of what to do in downtown Half Moon Bay:

  • Shopping: wine, cheese, kitchen gadgets, home decor and jewelry! You choose!
  • Self-guided walking tour: discover the unique history of this seaside town, from Ohlone indigenous people to Spanish explorers to Gold Rush fortune seekers to a jail and Gothic Revival chapel. 
  • Listen to music: check out Mac Dutra Park on the corner of Kelly and Main for music during the summer and fall.
  • Enjoy a lunch of fresh California produce and seafood accompanied by California wines.

So FINALLY! It’s time to talk about lunch! Let’s get on with it…

Enjoy Lunch at This Restaurant in Half Moon Bay California

Fattoria e Mare, our favorite restaurant in Half Moon Bay California | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

One of the highlights of road trips from San Francisco is the opportunity to pause for lunch or dinner. Savor fresh seafood straight from the ocean, as well as fruits and vegetables picked from the farmlands you’re passing through.

On top of that, these culinary stops wouldn’t be complete without a taste of California’s renowned wines.

But which restaurant in Half Moon Bay to choose?

I’ll tell you, I can’t say enough about the fabulous food experience at Fattoria e Mare, the restaurant in Half Moon Bay California where we dined.

Our servers performed superbly, even more noteworthy since our group was large.

Over 20 of us food, wine and travel writers sat at long wooden tables pushed together, Northern European-style.

A blue water glass the color of the Pacific, a linen napkin in a similar nautical hue and crystal wine glasses dressed each place setting. 

Barterra Winery provided and poured the wines paired with our four-course luncheon.

Things Do Half Moon Bay: 4-Course Luncheon at This Half Moon Bay Italian Restaurant
The primi included this Pumpkin Gnocchi, which tasted as good as it looks | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Items from our four-course, family-style meal came straight from the Fattoria e Mare menu. So, although courses were plated especially for our group, you can find the dishes on the menu of this Half Moon Bay Italian restaurant.

Do note that some menu items change seasonally.

That’s because whenever possible, Executive Chef  Owner Pablo Estrada uses local organic ingredients. So, too, the chef and his team use the principles of sustainability to guide their practices.

First Course | Fattoria e Mare

Butternut Squash Chips with Paprika and Sea Salt
Pumpkin Gnocchi
Butternut Squash with Burrata and Pepitos

Pairing Wine: 2022 Vermentino (Lodi)

The Barterra pairing wine, a 2022 Vermentino from Lodi, crisp with delightful tartness, unfolded on my palate with layers of lemon zest and exotic tropical fruits.

It complimented the earthy pumpkin and squash and harmonized gracefully with the gnocchi. 

Now that our appetites were whetted, out came the second course of Italian-style pizza. The 24-hour dough fermentation tasted authentically Italian.

Second Course | Fattoria e Mare

Pizza Margherita with tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil

Meat Lover’s Pizza with prosciutto, sausage, pepperoni, olives and arugula

Pairing Wine: 2020 Sojourn Red Blend (Lodi)

round white plate with one-inch side making it almost bowl-like contains white burrata cheese sitting on slices of orange-colored squash at the Italian restaurant in Half Moon Bay Calif
The first course also included this out-of-this-world butternut squash with burrata, pomegranates and pepitos | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo
plate-sized pizza sits on wooden table next to blue water glass and writer's notebook at this italian restaurant in half moon bay
The meat lover's pizza with green arugula | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

I’m not a big fan of ‘meat-lover’s pizzas, but I do love arugula on my pizza, so that’s what I chose.

Arugula reminds me of my cross-Italy pilgrimage because it grew next to many of the trails in southern Italy where I walked.

Of course, you could find arugula on pizza in Italy, too. Rucola is the Italian word for it, but on English menus in Southern Italy, it was translated to ‘rocket.’ That’s because that’s how it’s known in the UK.

The Barterra wine, the 2020 Sojourn Red Blend (Lodi), paired with this second course, was vinted of 48% Zinfandel, 43% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Alicante.

Seafood Restaurant Half Moon Bay

“The seafood platter it Chef Pablo’s shining star,” said Molly Blaisdell. She should know, she’s the publicist for Fattoria e Mare, one of the best seafood restaurants in Half Moon Bay.

Fattoria e Mare means ‘farm and sea’ in Italian, BTW.

But I have to admit it is the only seafood restaurant Half Moon Bay I’ve visited!

The seafood platter serves two with ample portions of fish, mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, calamari, lemon and chili.

Our third course, the main, was fishless, however. Instead, we had the best pork chop that, dare I say? I’ve tasted in over 10 years.

Chef Pablo's porkchop during harvest season | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo
Main Course | Fattoria e Mare

Pork Chop, Mostarda, Chicories

Pairing Wine: 2019 Odyssey Red Blend (Lodi)

Barterra’s red blend paired with the pork chop was created with 67% Syrah, 26% Zinfandel, and 7% Petite Sirah. The 2019 Odyssee took Silver in the 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

40-year-old-ish man in blue apron over white chef's jacket raises hand to emphasis point with a seafood restaurant in half moon bay in the background
Pablo Estrada, Chef-Owner, answers questions posed by IFWTWA writers | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

I felt very privileged when Chef Pablo greeted our group after dessert was served.

After talking with him, I could tell he truly loved his work, his team, the food he created and his clients.

And by dipping my spoon into the creamy dessert, I could taste the love coming through.

Dolci | Fattoria e Mare

Pumpkin Gelato + Pumpkin Flan Brulee

Pairing Wine: 2022 French Colombard (Mendocino)

Let’s relax with our wine a bit before the drive home.

Or, maybe we’ve fallen in love with Half Moon Bay and want to spend the night. Here are some options…

 

Options for Half Moon Bay Accommodations

If you decide to spend the night, you have plenty of accommodation options, from camping to high-end hotels.

Half Moon Bay Campground

Half Moon Bay offers a tranquil escape if you are a camping enthusiast.

Half Moon Bay camping provides perfect blends of coastal charm and outdoor adventure, with sites that cater to both RV travelers and tent campers.

Wake to waves gently crashing on the shore at Sweetwood Camp. Spend your days exploring the rugged beachside cliffs, strolling along the sandy beaches, or hiking coastal trails near Half Moon Bay State Beach Campground at Francis Beach.

As the sun dips below the Pacific horizon, gather around a crackling campfire to share stories and roast marshmallows under a canopy of stars at Pelican Point RV Park, a highly-rated Half Moon Bay campground.

Half Moon Bay camping is an experience that combines the rustic beauty of California’s natural landscapes with the ambiance of the ocean’s edge.

Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or an active beachside holiday, camping Half Moon Bay connects you with nature in an unforgettable way.

 

Accommodations Including Dog Friendly Half Moon Bay Hotels

One of the most popular hotels in Half Moon Bay is The Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Its unique location overlooking the Pacific just might be worth the splurge!

If you brought along Fido on this road trip from San Francisco, then choose from over half a dozen dog friendly Half Moon Bay hotels.

They  include:

The Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Nantucket Whale Inn, Half Moon Bay

Quality Inn Half Moon Bay – Mirmar Beach

As usual, when booking with a pet, call the hotel first to let them know you are a pet-accompanied patron. Ask them about additional pet fees and restrictions.

 

 

Conclusion: Is It Worth Going to Half Moon Bay?

Kayaking in Pillar Point Harbor | Photo by Kevin Henney courtesy of Visit Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is always worth the day trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco. I still remember the first time I drove it back in the early 1980s.

In San Francisco for a business convention, I snuck away for an authentic California Coast experience: beaches, surfers and classic cars. The coastal drive through Pacifica to Half Moon Bay over forty years ago is still indelibly etched in my mind.

But I must admit that this recent road trip down the SF Peninsula was even more memorable. I can’t wait to go back and try a Half Moon Bay campground!

If you enjoyed this article about what to do in Half Moon Bay Calif – one of my favorite road trips from San Francisco – then please leave a comment below.

Q&A: Things To Do in Half Moon Bay

How many days should you spend in Half Moon Bay?

You should spend one to seven days at Half Moon Bay, depending on your interests and activity levels.

Surfers and hikers spend seven or more immersing themselves in the wonder of nature found at Half Moon Bay.

Families could comb the beaches and go tidepooling for two to five days. 

What is the best month for road trips from San Francisco?

The best month to visit San Francisco is in late September or early October when the weather in most clear. It is notoriously foggy during summer months.

The best month for road trips to Half Moon Bay is April or May when weather is mild. You’ll also get those clear days in September and October. The warmest months are July through October. 

We visited in October and you can see from my photos how clear the skies were during that time of year.

 

What is the best way to do road trips from San Francisco

The best way to do road trips from San Francisco is with a sporty convertible. The roads are twisty and fun to drive during midweek.

Another way to do fun road trips from San francisco is with a camper van. Since you can reserve campgrounds at many California State Parks, doing a road trip with a camping van is adventurous and easy!

Of course whatever vehicle you have makes for the most convenient road trips from San Francisco.

Where should I go for first-time road trips from San Francisco?

We recommend that for first-time road trips from San Francisco, you drive California Highway 1 to Half Moon Bay, like we did. Freeway driving is minimal along this route, and you get ocean views very soon after leaving the city.

More About the San Francisco Peninsula

To learn more about stunning destinations for more road trips from San Francisco, check out this video:

woman stands on rooftop with Med sea in background

Hi, I’m Stacey

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…

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2 thoughts on “Road Trips From San Francisco | Things Do Half Moon Bay You’ll Love”

  1. You’re article is so inspiring and in great detail. I have saved it in my favourites. Cant wait to visit Half Moon Bay as I got a trip to US coming soon.

    Reply

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