There are hundreds of reasons to bring your family to San Francisco: Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio just to name a few. But head about a half an hour south of the Golden Gate, down the Pacific Coast and you’ll find Half Moon Bay, and its loaded with things to do with kids. Often referred to as the World Pumpkin Capital, Half Moon Bay is the main coastal town between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but when you arrive you’ll find so much more than pumpkins.
Half Moon Bay is a quick and easy getaway from a majority of the San Francisco Bay Area. If you’re flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport the drive is especially quick and painless. There’s more than one way in and out of town, but scenic Highway 1 is my favorite. If the kids are dying to get out of the car, beach breaks begin in the city of Pacifica.
Half Moon Bay is arguably the best known of a string of Pacific Coastal towns, but the relaxed beachside vibe truly kicks in when you hit Montara. Stop to stretch your legs or have a picnic at Montara State Beach. If you need picnic supplies, make a run to Gherkins Sandwich Shop, just a couple blocks past the beach. My girls recommend the Ooey Gooey: nutella, peanut butter, bananas and honey. Don’t be surprised if the guys behind the counter hand your kids a lollipop before they leave, it’s that kind of place.
The scenery will continue to impress as you head further south. If you’re a fan of lighthouses, it’s worth the 5-10 minute stop at Point Montara Lighthouse. At just 30 feet tall, it’s the tiniest lighthouse I’ve ever seen.
Just a few minutes further south is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. I only caught one sign just before the turn on California Street, so you have to pay attention or you can easily drive right by. (If you see the big sign for the Moss Beach Distillery, you’ve gone too far).
You’re at the mercy of the tide here. There’s a tide chart posted at the small, outdoor visitor center off the parking lot. The lower the tide, the more success you’ll have. If the tide dips below 1.0’ grab a copy of the self-guided walking tour from the visitor center and head to the beach. On our first attempt the tide was too high to look for marine life. Our second visit introduced us to a whole new beach loaded with anemones, barnacles and a variety of crabs scurrying from one spot to the next.
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve also offers a safe place for harbor seals to come to the beach and rest. There were a good dozen seals snoozing on the beach. We may not have even noticed them if it hadn’t been for the orange cones blocking off a section of the beach. Federal law requires you stay 100 yards, or the length of a football field, from seals or any other marine mammals.
Another great way to explore the beach and surrounding coastline is by horseback. You can’t miss Sea Horse Ranch located right on Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay. They offer a variety of guided trail and beach rides, depending on how long you really want to be on a horse.
For everyone’s safety there are some rules you need to know. Children must be 5 years old and are required to wear a helmet. Adults are encouraged to do the same. The maximum weight is 240 pounds. You need to wear long pants that cover your ankles and sturdy enclosed shoes. No flip flops or sandals. Leave your backpack, cell phone, camera and all your other electronic stuff in the car. Just enjoy the ride and getting to know your horse. My trusty travel companion Sombra, knew the route by heart and just where to step to keep us both out of the mud puddles created by recent rain.
Kids aren’t typically the shopping type, but it’s worth taking a walk down Main Street. Parents can check out the numerous art galleries, while kids check out the resident chinchillas and baby chicks at Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel. If hunger sets in, head to It’s Italia. You know a restaurant is family friendly when they don’t even blink an eye when your daughter orders something not on the menu. Good salad, pizza and all things Italian.
The loft-style rooms at the Beach House at Half Moon Bay are bigger than the typical hotel room, which any family will appreciate. All have a king bed, queen sofa bed, fireplace and well stocked kitchenette including a microwave, cooktop and refrigerator. All rooms have their own balcony or patio. The heated pool and over sized hot tub offer a panoramic view of the chilly waves below. Parking and high speed internet access is complimentary.
What I enjoyed most about the Beach House was its location. It’s right on the beach and the nearby jetty creates a calm stretch of sand perfect for kids, shell hunters and sand castle masters. The hotel gate by the pool leads you to the beach via the Coastal Trail. Head south and you’ll find Surfer’s Beach. Watch the professionals at work or take lessons. Walk north for about 10 minutes and you can watch fishing boats unload the catch of the day at Pillar Point Harbor. It doesn’t matter which direction you choose, the Coastal Trail is great for walking, riding bikes or an early morning run while dad and the kids are still fast asleep.
Complimentary continental breakfast is served every morning at the Beach House, but there is no restaurant in the hotel. That’s okay because Sam’s Chowder House is the hotel’s closest neighbor. The daughter of a fisherman, I haven’t had New England Clam Chowder that good in a long time and will admit to taking more than one bite of the fish & chips my daughter ordered from the kids menu. Try and save room for the homemade Straus Organic Soft-Serve for dessert.
And it just wouldn’t be a trip to Half Moon Bay if there weren’t any pumpkins. Even in March we found them, decorated on Main Street and adorning door steps around town. Folks take their “World Pumpkin Capital” title very seriously. We lost count after a dozen. How many did you find?
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Editor’s Note: Dana and her family received complimentary lodging, activities and meals as part of a press trip sponsored by the city of Half Moon Bay, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
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Always great to see an article on California, especially Half Moon Bay!