FoodTravel & Day Trips

A Bay Area Local’s Guide to the 9 Best Restaurants in Half Moon Bay, California

As a Bay Area local with over ten years of experience exploring the culinary scene in Half Moon Bay, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering some amazing food spots in this picturesque coastal town.

In this guide, I’ll share my favorite restaurants and insider tips to help you enjoy the best dining experiences in Half Moon Bay.

First, a bit about me. I’m a professional food photographer whose work appears in The New York Times, Food and Wine, and more, and a writer with bylines in SFGate and the Bold Italic. In short, I know my way around a plate!

Table of Contents

Why Half Moon Bay?

Half Moon Bay, California is known for several things—its beautiful coastal location, its landmark Ritz Carlton hotel, and its variety of amazing food.

Half Moon Bay is on the Pacific Coast about 30 miles south of San Francisco. That means it has access to fresh seafood from boats docking at Pillar Point Harbor, as well as exotic ingredients sourced via San Francisco, and fresh produce from California’s central coast.

All those factors combine to make Half Moon Bay an often-overlook culinary destination.

As a Bay Area local, I drive down to Half Moon Bay multiple times per year. Here are some of my favorite Half Moon Bay restaurants.

Restaurants We’ve Tested Personally

We try to test as many restaurants as possible. Here are the Half Moon Bay restaurants we’ve visited and tried personally.

Sam’s Chowder House

Sam’s Chowder House is a Half Moon Bay institution. If you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 and seen throngs of cars spilling out from the parking lot of a nondescript white building, you probably caught a glimpse of Sam’s.

This iconic restaurant serves amazing seafood with views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s not a fancy or pretentious place—think New England lobster pound more than china and white tablecloths.

Sam’s food is fantastic, though. My favorite menu item there is the lobster roll. It’s pricey, but it’s one of the best lobster rolls I’ve had in the Bay Area.

One of the best ways to enjoy Sam’s Chowder House is to grab food to go and then walk down a small path to Sam’s private beach. 

Lobster rolls eaten by the side of the Pacific? What could be better than that?

Cameron’s Pub

Cameron’s is kitschy and a little bizarre. It’s a British pub plunked down in the middle of a coastal hamlet.

You can’t miss Cameron’s. It’s anchored by a giant London bus on the front lawn, and has plenty of British phone booths and other English ephemera.

Cameron’s also has awesome fish and chips and other pub fare. Grab a pint mate (sorry) and enjoy the UK atmosphere. Bonus: it’s dog friendly!

The Conservatory

Want a meal that will decidedly break the bank, but is also served in one of the most beautiful spots in the world? Check out the Conservatory restaurant at the Ritz Half Moon Bay.

The Ritz used to have a fancy restaurant and a more causal one. The casual option ultimately got upgraded, and the Conservatory was born.

Heads up: you can easily pay $100 per person for lunch here. But for that, you’ll get tasty New American food, a fantastic wine list, impeccable service, and a stunning view of the hotel’s award-winning gold courses, with the waves of the Pacific breaking below.

After your meal, head down to the hotel’s fire pits to roast s’mores for dessert.

If you’re looking for a super luxurious dining experience in Half Moon Bay, Navio is the place to eat. Navio is the Ritz Half Moon Bay’s flagship restaurant. 

That shows in the prices (budget $150 to $200 per person) but also in the quality and variety of the “ocean to table” menu. Navio primarily serves tasting menus with up to seven courses. They’re also known for their luxurious brunch.

I’ve eaten there several times, and it’s an experience!

If you’re staying at the hotel, celebrating a special anniversary or event, or sold your Silicon Valley startup for so much that human money no longer has meaning to you, Navio is a great place to dine.

Mezza Luna

Mezza Luna is a classic Italian place by Pillar Point Harbor north of downtown Half Moon Bay. This restaurant has special meaning to my family, as it was my mother in law’s favorite place to eat in the Bay Area.

Mezza Luna serves Italian classics in a historic building. Their pizzas, homemade pastas and meat dishes are fantastic. Their food is served in a low-key but classy environment with very reasonable prices.

Try the gnocchi and the veal picatta.

Moonside Cafe

Moonside Cafe is a classic bakery in downtown Half Moon Bay. I honestly don’t know how Moonside bakes so many different items each day.

Their display cases hold everything from delicate meringues to classic cookies to fanciful holiday items and French macarons.

I like their macarons especially, and your kids will love their colorful sugar cookies. They have pots de creme, artisan pizzas…everything! 

You can enjoy your meal in a dated but pleasant indoor atrium, making this a great rainy day destination.

Restaurants with a Great Reputation

We haven’t tested these restaurants personally, but they have a great reputation or we’re recommended to us by other travelers.

Dad’s Luncheonette

The Bay Area has a surprising number of old train cars that have been repurposed as dining destinations, but Dad’s is one of the most iconic.

Their hamburger sandwich is frequently referenced or mimicked on cooking shows, and Dad’s has become a must-visit place for many people traveling to Half Moon Bay.

Barbara’s Fish Trap

We haven’t personally tested Barbara’s Fish Trap, but this seaside restaurant near Pillar Point has a great reputation for fresh and unpretentious fish.

While walking around the harbor, you’ll often see long lines leading away from this Half Moon Bay staple.

Check out Barbara’s if you want some tasty fish but don’t feel like fighting the crowds at Sam’s.

Pilot Light

I’ve been dying to try this unique and creative restaurant in Half Moon Bay! Pilot Light is located at Half Moon Bay’s small municipal airport.

It’s right by the runway, so you can enjoy brunch, sandwiches and other American fare.

If you own a small plane, you can even fly in for the $100 Hamburger; an old joke among pilots, and an actual menu item at the Pilot Light.

Conclusion

With its ideal geography and beautiful location, Half Moon Bay is perfectly positioned to serve up amazing seafood and many other excellent eats.

Check out these Half Moon Bay eats on your next day trip or weekend getaway.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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