Travel & Day Trips

10 Free Things to Do in Half Moon Bay (From a Local)

Half Moon Bay, California, is a scenic coastal town located just 30 miles south of San Francisco.

It’s known for its breathtaking coastline, nature trails, and laid-back atmosphere. Here, I’ll share with you 10 amazing activities you can do for free in Half Moon Bay.

1. Take a Stroll on Half Moon Bay State Beach

Surf and sand on an overcast day at Manhattan Beach, Half Moon Bay, California, May 27, 2022.

Half Moon Bay State Beach is a series of beautiful sandy beaches. Take a leisurely stroll, build sandcastles, or simply sit and watch the waves roll in.

Half Moon Bay can be foggy and chilly. I usually don’t go in the water, but if you love to surf or just to run on the sand, it’s a great destination.

2. Explore the Coastal Trail

Picnic tables at Poplar Beach near the Half Moon Bay Coastal trail, a cliffside trail beside the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, California, January 2, 2022. Photo courtesy Sftm.

The Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. The trail is suitable for walking, jogging, and biking, making it perfect for a family outing.

You can even ride a horse on it!

Just make sure to stay away from the cliffs. Half Moon Bay is overall very safe, but the natural hazards of the trail are important to keep in mind.

3. Visit the Half Moon Bay Library

The Half Moon Bay Library often hosts free community events, workshops, and children’s activities. It’s a great place not only for book lovers but for the whole community.

4. Attend a Pumpkin Festival

In October, Half Moon Bay is famous for its Art & Pumpkin Festival. Enjoy the parade, pumpkin carving, and other festivities without spending a dime!

The festival takes over most of downtown. Be prepared to either spend a little on parking or park farther away for free and walk in.

5. Check Out the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

This marine reserve is a wonder for nature enthusiasts. During low tide, tide pools reveal an array of sea creatures, including starfish and sea anemones.

6. Go on a Self-Guided Historical Tour

Immerse yourself in the town’s history by going on a self-guided walking tour. Visit historic buildings and landmarks while enjoying the quaint downtown area. You can find tour info here.

7. Enjoy Bird Watching at Pescadero Marsh

Rocks in the Pacific Ocean at Pigeon Point, Pescadero, California, November 19, 2022.

Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve is just south of Half Moon Bay. It’s an excellent spot for bird watching, where you can see a variety of migratory and resident birds.

You can also check out the stunning Pigeon Point Light Station which is in Pescadero, a bit south of HMB.

8. Visit the Johnston House

Learn about the history of Half Moon Bay by visiting the Johnston House, a saltbox-style home built in the 1850s. While tours of the inside are not free, the grounds are open to the public at no cost.

9. Take a Scenic Drive Along Highway 1

Driving along Highway 1 through Half Moon Bay provides breathtaking views of the California coastline. Make sure to pull over at one of the many turnouts for pictures!

It’s a perfect example of “Slow travel,” where you meander along and really enjoy your surroundings.

10. Visit the Ritz

Waves break along the shoreline near the Half Moon Bay Golf Links in Half Moon Bay, California, December 29, 2016.

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is a stunning luxury hotel on the cliffs in Half Moon Bay. Staying there certainly isn’t free!

But the hotel offers free parking and a free walking path for people heading to the nearby beach, which is public. The path leads you through one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, and right past the luxurious and beautiful hotel.

Walk the path at sundown and you can hear the hotel’s bagpiper playing to the crashing waves.

There you have it! Ten incredible free activities to do in Half Moon Bay. Whether you are a nature lover, history buff, or just looking for a relaxing day by the beach, Half Moon Bay has something to offer.

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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