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Just south of San Francisco, the quaint beach city of Half Moon Bay is mostly known for its languid pace of life as a vacation destination. However, this beach city has a lot more depth to it than people give it credit for.

Unique architecture, thriving art scenes, and small-town charms abound at Half Moon Bay, making it a brilliant vacation destination for visitors of all ages. Most impressively, at the right time of year, tourists can go whale watching! Find out what else this beautiful hidden-gem West Coast destination has to offer.

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What To Do In Half Moon Bay

View The Wildlife

Nature lovers are sure to get their fill at Half Moon Bay. A few miles south of the city is Año Nuevo State Park, which covers 4,000 miles of coastal beauty. In particular, this park is where thousands of Elephant Seals come to molt, mate, sunbathe, and feast.

The seals can be viewed at all times of the year, however, they are most active in the winter, so tourists who are passionate about seals ought to consider visiting in December.

Of course, in the fall it is whale season, and this area is known for the best whale watching. Beginning around August and ending in October, the native Gray Whales swim to shallow and warm waters to mate and feed.

Visitors can grab a pair of binoculars and view the incredible show from most shorefronts in Half Moon Bay. Most hotel concierges will also help guests book boat tours that afford a closer look at the mighty creatures of the sea.

Take In Nature

As a coastal West Coast town, Half Moon Bay is home to towering Redwood forests. These forests, which stretch right up to the shore, are an excellent destination for tranquility. They are sure to delight visitors with an overwhelming sense of awe.

Highway 35 is a scenic route for cyclists and motorcyclists. The highway slices through miles of pine forest, passing a number of small farms and wineries along the way.

The highway leads to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, where old logging roads have been repurposed as hiking trails that offer some of the most breathtaking views in the country.

Experience Culture

The epicenter of Half Moon Bay is in the old district, which can be found on Main Street. Here, there are hundreds of small businesses selling local artisan crafts, farmer's breakfasts, and antiques. It's a great place to go at the end of the day when the streets are lit up with neon 'OPEN' signs.

Related: 10 Cheapest Destinations To Visit From The West Coast

Public events are often hosted at Mac Outra Park, formerly known as The Bells of Half Moon Bay.

Back in the 1920s, this park served as the town square, and bells were rung to mark the beginning and end of school days. Today, the park is used as an outdoor venue for concerts, speeches, and general recreation.

  • Place of Interest: Mac Outra Park
  • Address: Corner of Main Street and Kelly Avenue

Also on Main Street is the Half Moon Bay Bakery, one of the most famous Italian bakeries in the region. To this day, the bakery serves fresh Italian bread baked in the original brick ovens.

  • Place of Interest: Half Moon Bakery
  • Address: 514 Main Street

For a look at some vintage architecture, The Johnston House has been restored and offers tours to the public.

The beautiful home was built in 1855 and settled by Mr. James Johnson, who came to sunny California in a bid to escape the dreary East Coast.

  • Place of Interest: The Johnston House
  • Address: South end of Main Street

Where To Stay In Half Moon Bay

There is no shortage of lodging in Half Moon Bay. Whether visitors want a beachside, small farm, or boutique experience, there is an option for every taste.

One of the most recommended and romantic places to stay is the Cypress Inn. This is a small, luxury hotel right on the beach. There are only 18 rooms, so availability is always scarce and highly in demand.

  • Hotel: Cypress Inn On Miramar Beach
  • Address: 407 Mirada Rd., Half Moon Bay, California 94019
  • Price per night: $619
  • Amenities: Jetted hot tubs, ocean views, private balconies, private beach
  • Website: Cypress Inn

Alternatively, for a classy lodging experience, the Half Moon Bay Lodge is a solid choice. It is a larger hotel and is complete with best-in-class options for relaxation.

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Visit the whirlpool spa or hit the old golf course before sitting down to dine at the hotel's in-house restaurant.

  • Hotel: Half Moon Bay Lodge
  • Address: 2400 S. Cabrillo Hwy, Half Moon Bay, California 94019
  • Price per night: $205
  • Amenities: Private fireplace in every room, in-room massages, proximity to the golf course, walking distance to the beach
  • Website: Half Moon Bay Lodge

Where To Eat In Half Moon Bay

While in Half Moon Bay, it's a good idea to try the world-famous seafood. Try the catch of the day at Oddyssea restaurant, where oysters, clams, and lobster are caught fresh daily.

  • Restaurant: Oddyssea
  • Address: 730 Main St.
  • Price: $$
  • Recommended: Oyster linguini

Half Moon Bay is also known for its microbreweries and gastro pubs, so be sure to hit Main Street and unwind with some artisan beer and gourmet cuisine.

  • Address: 730 Main St
  • Price: $$
  • Restaurant: Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen
  • Recommended: Wasabi and Pickled Ginger Saison