Half Moon Bay, California is a great place in the Bay Area to head to the beach for a quiet walk or even a (chilly) swim.
As a 10+ year Bay Area resident, I love the beaches in Half Moon Bay, and I visit at least 6-7 times per year.
Here are the best beaches to visit in Half Moon Bay.
Half Moon Bay Beach Basics
If you’re picturing the hot, sandy beaches of Southern California, think again!
Half Moon Bay’s beaches, like most NorCal beaches, are ruggedly beautiful. The water is cold, and wetsuits are recommended if you’re planning on anything more than a casual dip.
Sneaker waves and riptides can happen, too, and many Half Moon Bay beaches don’t have lifeguards. You’ll need to exercise caution around the water, especially if you’re visiting with kids.
That said, if you’re looking for a stunning spot to hang out on the sand, enjoy the incredible majesty of the Pacific, eat a fantastic lobster roll, and dip your toes into the (admittedly freezing) water, Half Moon Bay is an amazing place to do it.
Picture a vibe that’s more “sitting awestruck by the beauty and power of the sea” than “wearing a swimsuit to see and be seen,” as one might do in SoCal. That’s more in line with Bay Area vibes anyway.
Also, if you’re a surfer, Half Moon Bay is one of the must-visit destinations in America. I recently visited Half Moon Bay on a holiday weekend and saw about 100 surfers in the water off Mavericks Beach alone.
Most visitors to Half Moon Bay head to the State beaches closer to downtown. There are plenty of amazing beaches just a bit north on Highway 1 as well, though.
Pillar Point Harbor
Pillar Point Harbor is a working harbor and marina protected by a big breakwater. You’ll see fishing boats heading out to sea.
You’ll also find some amazing places to dine, and a small but often less-crowded beach.
My favorite way to access Pillar Point Harbor is to eat at Sam’s Chowder House. Get a lobster roll to go and walk down their private stairway to Pillar Point beach.
Staying at the adjacent Beach House Hotel is a great option, too. You can walk from the hotel right down onto Pillar Point Beach.
Mavericks is one of the best surfing locations in the world. Especially during the winter, when big storms offshore bring equally big waves, hundreds of surfers flock to Mavericks.
The beach itself is located on Pillar Point right next to a giant military radar installation. You literally can’t miss it.
Make sure you know what you’re doing if you plan to surf at Mavericks, though. This isn’t a place for total beginners. If you’re just starting out, consider booking a lesson or bringing an experienced guide.
Half Moon Bay’s main beaches are more of your typical beach experience. They have nice, natural sand, easy access via state-run parking lots, restroom facilities, and more.
These beaches are most similar to Bay Area staples like Stinson Beach, as well as SoCal haunts like Corona Del Mar.
Miramar Beach is a bit like a little version of Mavericks. Closer to shore and with less dramatic wave action, Miramar Beach is a popular stop for less experienced surfers.
Dunes Beach is part of the Half Moon Bay State Beach complex. Really, the beach is one long stretch of sand, but Dunes Beach offers one of the most Northerly access points.
Dune Beach is a nice, big sandy beach. Unsurprisingly, it features stunning sand dunes topped by ice plants with dramatic purple flowers.
Half Moon Bay State Beach/Venice Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach are essentially one and the same, sharing the same stretch of sand and nearby parking facilities.
Half Moon Bay State Beach is one of the best places to park for easy access to the beach in Half Moon Bay. It’s a great option for people with limited mobility.
Keep in mind, though, that this is a popular entry point, and you might have trouble finding parking on busy days, like Summer weekends or holidays. Plan ahead and arrive early.
Sweetwood Camp is an adjacent campsite which is popular with people visiting Half Moon Bay for group camping.
Francis Beach is another popular access point for the long strip of sand encompassing the Half Moon Bay State Beach complex.
Francis Beach feels a bit more rugged and windy than the beaches a bit farther North, but it still does have restrooms and parking facilities.
It’s also one of the wider stretches of beach in Half Moon Bay. I like the billowy sand that’s great for kids and still leaves plenty of space for lots of families to set up their beach tents and blankets.
As you get a bit farther South in Half Moon Bay, you start to reach more dramatic beaches with giant cliffs that recall the fjords of Scotland.
You also tend to get a bit more fog in the morning, but some incredibly dramatic sunsets as the day comes to an end.
Poplar Beach is operated by the City of Half Moon Bay rather than the state. That means one big difference for many visitors; Poplar Beach is dog-friendly!
You can bring your leashed dog to Poplar Beach. You can even bring a horse, and Poplar Beach is a popular spot for equestrians, though you’ll see fewer than in the rugged Point Reyes, where I once saw a man taking his whole flock of sheep for a beach walk!
The dog-friendly aspect of Poplar Beach is great, but be careful with your dog near the unstable cliffs. Keep them on-leash, both because it’s the law and for their own safety.
Poplar Beach is also a perfect place for a cliffside walk on the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail. Ideal for cycling beside the ocean—yet flat enough for a stroller walk—the Coastal Trail is an ideal way to see the surf and travel between Half Moon Bay’s beaches.
There’s a popular electric bike tour that will take you from downtown Half Moon Bay to many beaches along the trail. If you do it, book in advance as the tour often sells out.
Manhattan Beach is one of the most Southern beaches in Half Moon Bay. It’s a bit hard to access, but definitely worth the effort.
Manhattan Beach is a hidden gem beach in Half Moon Bay, and is often less crowded than other beaches.
Visit it by parking at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay (there’s a free option for beachgoers, just ask the person in the little guard booth when you first enter.) Walk along the cliffs past the Half Moon Bay golf links to the big staircase leading down to Manhattan Beach.
This probably isn’t a good one if you’re lugging a giant beach tent for the kids! But for those traveling lighter, it’s a great, secluded spot that’s rarely busy.
Pro tip: walk by the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay at sundown to hear their resident bagpiper play. It’s a perfect match for Half Moon Bay’s foggy, Scotland-esque climate.
Half Moon Bay beaches are quite different from the sunny beaches of SoCal. But there’s an incredible amount of natural beauty to see at any of them.