Touring Half Moon Bay – What a Wonderful Day


Author taking photo of Golden Gate Bridge as Discovery Princess sails underneath
Author taking photo of Golden Gate Bridge as Discovery Princess sails underneath

Full disclosure:  I only had half a day to explore Half Moon Bay. But it was a fantastic excursion during my Discovery Princess cruise down the Pacific Northwest coastline. We sailed into town, narrowly missing the bridge’s underside, and docked early. Soon, everyone scattered to explore this city by the Bay! Any day I can combine food, travel, and wine is a great day!

When you think of the San Francisco Bay area, what do you think of? Be honest—the Golden Gate Bridge? Victorian houses? Crooked streets? Sunny days filled with surfing? Elephant seals and whale watching tours? Local farms? What about a pumpkin festival? Did you know Half Moon Bay is called the “Pumpkin Capital?” I didn’t either! As coastal towns go, this one is practically perfect. 

Beaches in the San Francisco Peninsula

On a day trip driving up the Pacific Coast Highway on the west coast, we had breathtaking views of the rugged coastline tumbling onto sandy beaches. Those rocky outcroppings are one of my favorite sights. Coming from the South’s famous Grand Strand (South Carolina for the uninitiated), we are accustomed to wide, smooth sandy beaches. 

View of the Pacific Ocean near Half Moon Bay

With the Beach Boys’ California Girls soundtrack playing in my head, I craned my neck to get every glimpse possible along California’s famous Highway 1. Half Moon Bay has the right conditions to be home to some of the world’s largest waves, so surfers flock to the best beaches at this ideal location. 

If golf is your game, play The Ocean Course, located high on a cliff. Every hole provides a panoramic view. And if you’re not interested in chasing that little white ball, maybe you can chase a cold drink at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. This famous bar has floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views. Yeah, that sounds like a perfect spot to spend an afternoon.

We finally made our first stop and walked along Pacifica State Beach. Mingling in the salty air was the unmistakable aroma of fresh bread. Not kidding! Do I have your attention?

Rosalind Bakery, Pacifica

The enticing aroma led me by my nose from the beach up the street right to Rosalind Bakery. Oh, my! What a delightful discovery. 

This special place has a selection of wonderful things that will have you drooling. The sourdough bread, scones, muffins, cookies, and other baked goodies fill the display windows. Bakery owner and surfer Matthew Kosoy credits the salty ocean air with injecting unique flavor into his bread. He calls it negative ions. I call it delicious! Did I mention the croissants? *sigh*

Loaves of golden bread lined up on wire racks.

Rosalind bakes classic sourdough loaves every morning. In addition, they create hoagie loaves, which are filled with turkey, cheese, caramelized onions, and carrots for lunch. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I appreciate the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Others around me enjoyed steaming cuppas and clamoring for more while I took another bite of my chocolate croissant.

Shoppers can find Rosalind Bakery items in other local spots, like the Daly City Farmers’ Market and grocery stores in Pacifica and San Francisco. They also ship, so those on the East Coast can get our fix, too!

You can read more about this spot in my FWT (FoodWineTravel) article.

Tip: Go on Friday morning. Where else can you have a scone and listen to a band? And have one of those delicious almond croissants for me!

Piles of baked items for the taking--chocolate chip cookies, almond croissants, ham and cheese croissants, millet muffins and more made it possible to tour Half Moon Bay until lunch was served

Half Moon Bay’s Famous Pumpkin Patch

This trip spelled my first time in California, but this Southern country girl felt right at home when we pulled into the parking lot at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm. I admit I was more than a little surprised to find a pumpkin patch less than an hour’s drive from downtown San Francisco. 

Antique farm equipment dotted the landscape and provided great photo opportunities. Picture yourself on a vintage John Deere, surrounded by every variety of pumpkins imaginable. Of course, there are hay rides and corn mazes for the kid in all of us to enjoy. Farmer John also provides some pretty unique photo ops, like a teepee!

A Half Moon Bay field filled with orange pumpkins and a teepee in the background

The Pumpkin Patch is the place for diehard DIYers to pick out pumpkins for your pies, jack-o-lanterns, and fall décor. Visit Farmer John’s with your DIY mindset, with pumpkins to match any color scheme. I counted over 15 varieties of pumpkins without counting the mini pumpkins filling bin after bin. I can promise you will leave with a load of festive decorations. And if you need recipes for your haul, click on their website.

Along the way, we also passed a Taco Bell Cantina. This Taco Bell is one of only 13 chain locations with a new look, a custom menu, and alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, sangria, and liquor versions of the classic Freezes. There was no time for a stop, but we did learn that this restaurant’s claim to fame was hosting wedding receptions!

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay gets its name honestly. One of the first settlements in San Matheo County, HMB was initially known as Spanishtown. Still, by the mid-1800s, people began referring to it by the name of the crescent-shaped Bay that hugs beautiful beaches.

Pacific Ocean near Half Moon Bay with trails beside the beach

Half Moon Bay State Beach has a visitor’s center. So, take advantage of the rest stop and learn about the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail that runs alongside four beaches. You can walk, bike, or jog the trail. Fido is welcome as long as he is on a leash. The trail will take you to Pillar Point Harbor, a beach protected by two jetties. Since it is spared the erosion of the surf, there is no better place for walking and birdwatching.

Pillar Point has parking and easy access to the beach and Sam’s Chowder House. It’s tough to imagine a better way to end a beach walk than with a cup of clam chowder. (But rumor has it they make award-winning lobster rolls, so I may need a re-do!)

It is also one of the few area beaches to offer camping, so you will find locals and visitors setting up camp for the night. Take along your tent or camper and join in the fun.

Every October crowds fill downtown HMB to the brim. They come to attend the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. This event features pumpkin carving, a costume contest, live music, and a competition for the biggest pumpkin. If you plan to win this, be sure your entry weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds to have a fighting chance!

Historic Lighthouse

Another stop along the highway is Pescadero, home of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1872, it is one of the tallest standing lights in America. Sadly, you cannot climb the lighthouse, but there are historical tours of the grounds, and the cliff offers picture-perfect views. And there is a hostel for travelers wishing to stay for the night.

Pescadero is one of the many charming beach towns on the California coast. A bit more than fifteen miles south of Half Moon Bay, I hear it is worth the drive just for garlic artichoke bread!

Fattoria e Mare Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

We arrived in downtown Half Moon Bay in time for a short walk before making our way to Fattoria e Mare. The historic downtown is filled with small-town charm, historic buildings, old-fashioned hotels, cafés, gelato shops, and locally owned restaurants.

Lunch was a continuation of the Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch theme! Pumpkin in every dish; yes, really!

The first course at Fattoria e Mare was Butternut squash chips with paprika and sea salt, served alongside pumpkin gnocchi and butternut squash with burrata sprinkled with pepitos (toasted squash seeds). A slightly tart, lemony Vermentino wine from Lodi washed down the gnocchi and cheese course.

Lunch in Half Moon Bay started with Butternut squash chips with paprika and sea salt, served alongside pumpkin gnocchi and butternut squash with burrata sprinkled with pepitos

We moved right into the pizza course, with Margherita and Meat Lover’s pizzas, paired with Lodi’s Sojourn Red Blend, about half and half Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, with a bit of Carignane and Alicante Bouschet.

I was drooling from just the description of the main course. Pork Chops, with mostarda (candied fruit and mustard syrup) and chicories (bitter greens, similar to lettuce)! *yum!* It paired perfectly with a luscious Odyssey Red Blend (about two-thirds Syrah, a third Zinfandel, and a little Petite Syrah.)

Pork Chops, with candied fruit and mustard syrup and bitter greens on a blue pottery plate at Fattoria e Mare Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

Stuffed though we were, I didn’t hesitate to dive in when Pumpkin Flan Brûlée topped not with ice cream but with Pumpkin Gelato arrived. The wine pairing for dessert was a French Colombard from Mendocino.

In writing about this meal, my mouth is watering (again), but I’m sadly realizing that I didn’t try any of the fresh fish dishes they’re known for. I guess I’ll have to go back to San Francisco!

Redwood Preserve

Towering Redwoods capture your imagination. Loggers cut these trees in the 1800s for lumber, but now 100-year-old second-growth trees age safely in the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. The area has 25 miles of trails leading from a remote canyon and Purisima Creek almost to the Pacific. Springtime hikers will spot ferns, wildflowers, and berries thriving in the forest.

Twenty-five miles of hiking trails through the Preserve provide a great place to walk off your lunch—or work up your dinner appetite.

Local Libations in Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay's Barterra Wines owner pouring wine for the writer, Jo Clark

Half Moon Bay doesn’t compete with neighboring grape-growing areas in the vineyard. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a drink or two in town. You read all those descriptions of divine wine pairings at lunch, right? Well, Barterra Wines selected those pairings. The Barterra tasting room is on Half Moon Bay’s Main Street.

They constantly visit small farms and meet with producers, finding fine wines throughout California. The staff at Barterra likes to say a visit to their tasting room is like taking a tour through California’s finest AVAs. 

Not a wine enthusiast like this writer? Never fear; the Bay has you covered. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is clearly doing things right. They are heading into their 24th year in business! The brewery has indoor and outdoor seating and happy hour specials that live up to their name. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, so pick from beer, wine, cocktails, or cider to sip on as you peruse the menu.

Although the Bay is short on vineyards, a small-batch distillery in town produces ultra-premium spirits. End your day with a tour and tasting at Half Moon Bay Distillery. The gin, in addition to the usual juniper, has tastes of spice and citrus—just what you’d expect in California!

HMBD also produces vodka, which owners make from 100% organic wheat. They say it “may be the finest vodka produced by California’s blossoming craft distillery movement.” They also make a Lavender Vodka that makes me think of a cocktail in a hidden speakeasy. But that’s a story for another day.

Plan Your Next Trip!

For more exciting vacations, try these locations!! Plan a trip to South Carolina’s Georgetown, or plan a cruise on the Discovery Princess, or follow my Wine & ‘Shine Trail through North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley! You know, it’s never too early to start planning your next trip!


  1. Misty Singleton

    Cool trip!

    • Jo Clark

      It was such fun, Misty! That west coast is different, but quite beautiful. And the food!!! Oh, my goodness!

  2. Debbra Dunning Brouillette

    Glad to have shared the day trip with you, Jo! What a fantastic time…and beautiful weather, too!

    • Jo Clark

      It was a beautiful, fun-filled day!


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