ActivitiesTravel & Day Trips

Is Half Moon Bay Good For Swimming? A Local Answers

If you’re considering visiting the San Francisco Bay Area or you’re looking for a day trip, you may have considered visiting Half Moon Bay, California.

Half Moon Bay is a beach town, with more than 10 different beaches. So does that also mean it’s a good place to swim?

Yes, Half Moon Bay is a great place for a swim—if you know where to go, and the right safety steps to take.

I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 10+ years and I visit Half Moon Bay, California at least 5 times per year. Let me fill you in on swimming options.

How Cold is the Water?

Okay, let’s share the bad news first. The water in Half Moon Bay is really chilly. If you’re imagining the pristine, sun-kissed beaches of SoCal, you won’t find those in HMB.

Beach in Half Moon Bay on a foggy day
Half Moon Bay can be chilly

The average water temperature in Half Moon Bay is around 56 degrees fahrenheit. That’s really cold!

At those temperatures, you probably won’t be going for long swims in the ocean. But for a quick dip or some splashing in the waves, it’s manageable.

The silver lining is that the water temperature only varies by 1-2 degrees between the seasons. So even in the Winter, the water will be about the same temperature.

Planning for the Cold Temperatures

There are a few ways to plan for cold water swimming in Half Moon Bay. For one thing, always bring towels to dry off, and a change of clothes so you’re not staying in cold clothing.

This guide provides excellent safety information for cold water swimming.

If you want to swim for a longer time, consider bringing a wetsuit. Many local places rent them, and it can make swimming (or surfing) in the ocean much more pleasant.

Beach in Half Moon Bay on a foggy day with surfer in wetsuit
Consider at wetsuit

It’s also important to know your limitations. If you have any health conditions, check with you doctor before swimming in super cold water. Limit your time in the water.

Ocean Safety in Half Moon Bay

In addition to the temperature, it’s important to know that the ocean in Half Moon Bay can be unpredictable.

Sneaker waves, rip tides, and other dangerous conditions can happen. Never swim alone, make sure to watch your kids and pets, and stay out of the water if wave conditions appear dangerous.

The Best Beaches for Swimming in Half Moon Bay

Now that we’ve covered the essential safety considerations—and the inherent chilliness of the water—let’s dive into the fun parts.

Although you’re going to be cold, it’s totally possible—and tons of fun—to swim at HMB’s beaches.

Here are my favorites.

Pillar Point Harbor

This little-known beach is at the far North of Half Moon Bay. Park at Sam’s Chowder House or the Pillar Point harbor, and walk down to the beach (Sam’s has both a private staircase to the beach and fantastic picnic food you can take out.)

Because Pillar Point Beach is in a protected harbor, it has much gentler waves and less surf than more exposed beaches.

Kids wade at Pillar Point
Kids wade at Pillar Point

That makes it a great place for kids and dogs to play in the water. I recently visited with my kids in September and they had a blast splashing in the water.

You can stay at the Beach House Inn for easy access to the beach, too.

Just make sure to check bacterial levels at the beach. During the rainy season, they can sometimes be elevated, and that can be a concern for certain swimmers.

Half Moon Bay State Beach

The state beach in Half Moon Bay is a long stretch of beautiful sand. It’s one of the best Bay Area beaches!

There are multiple access points at Francis Beach, Dunes Beach, and Venice Beach, all of which are part of the State Beach.

Wading and splashing at Francis Beach
Wading and splashing at Francis Beach

Especially in the summer, you’ll see tons of people splashing in the water and playing in the sand here. Keep in mind that the State Beach isn’t as sheltered as Pillar Point, so you’ll need to be extra careful about riptides and larger surf.

Francis State Beach, part of the Half Moon Bay State Beach, has lifeguards during the Summer, which makes it a great place to swim if you want that extra measure of safety.

Beaches to Avoid for Swimming

Although there are some great swimming spots in Half Moon Bay, there are also beaches I’d avoid for swimming.

Walk, don’t swim, at HMB’s most exposed beaches

Mavericks is a legendary surfing spot that can see waves over 50 feet. It’s a super cool spot to watch people surf, but not a great spot for a casual dip.

Likewise, Manhattan Beach is beautiful, but it’s too rugged and remote for swimming.

Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach is too remote for swimming

Pools to Swim in Half Moon Bay

If you’re not into ocean swimming, there are several great options for pools in Half Moon Bay.

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay has a heated, indoor pool with views of the award-winning golf courses at the hotel.

Technically the pool is operated by the colony club, but Ritz guests get access. This glass-covered pool can get a bit humid and balmy inside, but it’s a great swimming option for winter months.

The spa at the Ritz also has an indoor, small soaking pool that’s super relaxing.

For an outdoor swim, check out the pool and hot tub at the Beach House Inn. It’s small but has lovely views of the Bay, and is heated.

Hot tub at the Beach House
Hot tub at the Beach House

I recently swam in the pool and it felt very comfortable, even on a very chilly and foggy HMB day.


Don’t let the cold water temperatures scare you away—you definitely can swim in Half Moon Bay!

The key is to plan ahead and pick a beach that will have the right conditions for you and your group. Pillar Point is perfect for younger kids, and Francis Beach is great for older swimmers and buggy boarders, since it has lifeguards on duty.

If a swim sounds too chilly, opt to stay at a hotel with a pool instead. You can still enjoy a swim and then take a relaxing walk on the beach instead of braving the water.

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.

Leave a Reply

Back to top button