Half Moon Bay is just half an hour’s drive out of San Francisco, making the city an ideal day trip for many Bay Area residents. Shaped like a crescent moon and straddled between the majestic Santa Cruz Mountains and the great Pacific Ocean, Half Moon Bay is naturally beautiful and a true balm to the senses with its tranquil seaside vibe and friendly locals.
The coastal city is not just postcard-pretty; it’s pretty historical as well. As the oldest settlement in the county of San Mateo, it was once inhabited by the Ohlone Indians before Mexican settlers came in in the early 1800s and subsequently became known as Spanishtown. During the gold rush, it became a melting pot of many cultures that wanted a piece of the action. Thanks to the city’s devotion to historical preservation, the many structures from this era still stand.
Today, Half Moon Bay remains a small quaint city with over 12,000 residents, though with its close-knit vibe it feels even more intimate. Its residents are proud of its majestic landscape and seascape. Ask a local where to find the best view of the Pacific Ocean, which nature trails to walk on, or which whale watching tour to join during the migration season. You should also ask them which fishing charter to rent to catch trophy king salmon as the area is particularly known for its epic salmon fishing.
Ultimately, if you’re heading to San Francisco for a visit, you should go south to Half Bay Moon where you will find a side of the Bay Area that they normally don’t show you in guide books.
Half Moon Bay is primarily known for its chinook salmon fishing, and for a good reason. Its waters are especially teeming with this fish species at the start of the salmon run. However, Half Moon Bay is more than just its salmon catch. After all, the city is a great access point to the rich waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Off Pillar Point, anglers will find many fishing charters that will take you out from shallow waters and to the open ocean. Many charter boats specialize in drift mooching or trolling for chinook salmon, and their experienced guides will be able to tell you which technique to use on any given day. Along with king salmon, you can also catch a few lingcod and halibut along the way. With the warmer waters, you might also catch a rare albacore tuna. These charters usually leave the harbor at sunrise. If you happen to be in Half Moon Bay for the colder months of the year, charter boats can take you fishing for sturgeon. A more affordable and slightly more challenging option would be to rent your own kayak and fish nearshore.
However, if you don’t want to leave the shore, you can still catch plenty of fish right from the Pillar Point Jetty and the Johnson Pier. The shallow waters in the rocky pier are home to many species of rockfish and perch. Cast away from the pier, and you’ll find its sandy bottom filled with starry flounder and sand sole.
The state beaches of Half Moon Bay, such as Dune State Beach, Venice Beach, and Montara Beach, are great spots for surfcasting. Watch out for the tide that will bring Rockfish, Perch, and Striped Bass closer to shore. You will find plenty of anglers targeting Lingcod here as well.
Half Moon Bay may be a quiet town. However, it is still home to some exciting North Californian water sports competitions, including fishing tournaments such as the NorCal Kayak Angler’s Half Moon Bay Fishing Derby held in July.
The mild climate over Half Moon Bay and the easy access to the Pacific Ocean make the city a great fishing destination all year round, though it can get quite windy and foggy. However, you will be more successful if you come here from June to October when the waters are still warm. Half Moon Bay gets the earlier of the salmon run, but later into the season, you will be more likely to catch bigger fish. Halibut and lingcod join the action at the height of June, and as summer progresses, more striped bass will appear. Colder months are also quite productive for certain species of flounder. Sturgeon are also active in the colder months of January to March.
There is a long list of fishing charters for you and your family, but you have to make sure you book ahead of time and choose one that is licensed.
Half Moon Bay is home to the legendary waves at Mavericks. But if you’re not a pro surfer, you can still paddle board or learn the sport over on Surfer’s Beach.
The California Coastal Trail is a bike-friendly trail that allows you to enjoy the scenery from Poplar Beach and Pillar Point Harbor. The trails are wide and well-paved, so you can bring your entire family along. The path is peppered with benches so you can stop and view the ocean while you catch your breath.
Drive through the famous Skyline Boulevard for breathtaking views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The views are stunning as they are diverse — a road trip down the boulevard will allow you to feast your eyes on majestic redwoods, beautiful farmlands, and amazing seascape. There are also several worthy stops along the way. Traverse Highway 92 and let your kids enjoy the attractions at Lemos Farms (they have an epic pumpkin wonderland during fall), hike for a while at Highway 35’s Purisima Creek Redwoods Reserve, then stop over for some food at Alice’s Restaurant at the Highway 84 intersection.