Half Moon Bay, Part One
There is a moment when you realize you are no longer in Coastal Southern California and have now crossed the imaginary line into the central part. It isn’t the road signs that give it away, it is a feeling.
That moment when the traffic has subsided, your jaw relaxes, you are no longer chewing on the side of your mouth, and your body feels less stressed.
Don’t get me wrong there is traffic in the larger cities of the coastal north too. It is just that there are so many small, quaint, and mellow towns in the central or northern part that makes you feel like you are in a whole different world.
Our destination this time was Half Moon Bay. It is a town I had passed by a few times on my way up north but one that I have always wanted to visit for a longer period.
So with four and a half days off from work, it was time to take the trek north and visit this town and many others as it turned out.
We took Interstate 5 to get there and were guided by GPS through a series of other freeways that eventually dropped us off in Half Moon Bay. It was a long trip that was not helped by the LA traffic with its stop and go.
We made a plan once we arrived in Half Moon Bay that we would investigate north one day and south the other. On the third day we would slowly move our way south and visit among other places Monterey and Ventura. We would spend the night in Santa Maria leaving us only three hours to get home on our last day.
It was a great plan and we never felt rushed. Now all we had to do was try to avoid the rain that was predicted during our stay.
Part One starts at Half Moon Bay, then Pacifica, and eventually takes us over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to Sausalito.
The rain held off at least on this first day as we began exploration around Half Moon Bay. First stop was to hit the sand for some beach combing and sea glass hunting.
The bluffs were common place along the beaches in this area, making it very picturesque. The towering and rugged cliffs contrasted against the pristine sand, while giant breakers came crashing on to the shore.
I was overwhelmed on how large the waves were as they formed huge peaks and then exploded on the beach. There would be no way I would swim in that ocean or even to wade knee high! It appeared as if the outgoing waves could pull you off your feet and send you spiraling out to sea only to be tumbled back to shore by another huge roller. I am not sure if this is how it always is or if the waves were just big this day.
Regardless, it is an awesome beach so we took a leisurely walk for about an hour while alternating between enjoying the coastline and looking down at the sand for sea glass. The Pacific Ocean was beautiful this day but there was no sea glass to be found.
Then it was on to the nearby harbor to investigate further. Protected by a sizable breakwater, the Pillar Point Harbor houses over 360 boats of every size and is home to a huge commercial fishing community.
That was evidenced as we strolled on one of the piers where a few local crab fishermen were selling their goods straight from the boat. It was Thanksgiving Day but I am sure crab for dinner was quite the treat for some cultures as I saw more than a few people picking out the fresh and familiar crustaceans.
There were a few gift shops and restaurants near the parking lot making it a favorite place for locals and tourists alike but they were all closed for this holiday Thursday. Further out on the pier other boats were coming in for the day ready to sell their catches to the now increasing crowd.
The scene was an eclectic mix of commercial and leisure boats, old and new. I liked it, I can’t quite say it was small and quaint but it had that homey welcoming feel.
From most parts of Half Moon Bay you can see the Pillar Point Air Force Station with its huge radar or satellite dish apparatus looming high on a cliff. It sits right in front of the infamous Mavericks surf break which is known to have some of the largest waves in the world.
Trails allow you to hike along the bluffs and a local couple pointed out to us where the waves break if a massive swell were to bring Mavericks to life. We could only imagine what those huge swells looked like as we gazed across the water to a buoy far from shore.
Further north there were tide pools and sand as far as you could see. The couple also mentioned that there were trails to get down to the beach from where we stood on this steep cliff. However, that was not something we wanted to do on this day, or any day for that matter.
We hoped back in the car to head up north again and eventually stopped at a sleepy town called Pacifica. I really liked Pacifica because it was hidden in a crescent shaped cove and didn’t have the massively scary waves that we just saw down the coast.
This area was filled with surfers riding all sizes of surfboards on waves that allowed for longer and smoother rides. The waves weren’t giant walls waiting to tear your body in half like we saw only a half an hour earlier.
Houses were perched on the beach and the town had the hills as a back drop as a lot of the towns up here have. To the north you could see many more homes on the hillside as if announcing that we are soon entering the San Francisco area where the population is thick and heavy.
We walked along on the beach for about a quarter of a mile just to stretch the muscles and to possibly find some beachcombing treasures. No luck on the treasures but we loved this beach!
Since San Francisco was only 15 minutes away, we decided to continue further north. Within 5 minutes we were greeted with traffic as we were on the 101 Freeway heading for the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a pleasant Thanksgiving Day and I guess everyone was heading over to friends or relatives homes for dinner. In our case, we had given no thought on where we were going to eat.
After a few minutes you caught your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge as the tall towers peaked above the hills. Soon we would be seeing it in all its glory and driving over it shortly after.
This truly is a magnificent bridge. I don’t know why but for the first time I really noticed it even though I was driving. The length is less than two miles as it spans across the bay entrance with views of the city on one side and the bay entrance on the other. The bridge itself is a marvel. It is painted a natural red and has towers that rise 500 feet above the roadway with connecting cables and suspender ropes.
There is a sidewalk that allows you to cross the bridge and is something I would like to do once in my life.
Shortly after you cross the bridge you hit the small town of Sausalito. I know I have a million favorites up here but this is one of them. Tucked away across from the city of San Francisco it is surrounded by steep home filled hills on one side and the bay on the other.
The town itself has galleries, hotels, restaurants, and shops but it is also home to one of the largest house boat communities in the U.S. Hundreds of colorful and uniquely shaped house boats can be viewed in a few different marinas and you can even go out on the walk ways to inspect them closer.
While on one of the walkways here or around town, you can’t beat that view. It is a sight of the amazing bay, boats, hills, homes, and of course the majestic and towering skyline of San Francisco. Sausalito is a must see when you are in this area.
We gave a brief thought of eating at Pier 39 but decided it might be crowded so we headed back to Half Moon Bay. We stopped briefly to check out Ocean Beach then made our way back.
Dinner hour was rapidly approaching and daylight was waning so we drove to downtown Half Moon Bay to see what restaurants were open. None were, it was completely dead!
It was a charming area with restaurants, shops, galleries and all the usual. It was dressed up in holiday style and I would have like to have visited it later, but we never went back.
Hunger pains were starting to hit and we were getting a little desperate on this quiet Thanksgiving evening. Could it be possible that we would find zero to eat? Families were enjoying feasts of turkey and stuffing while some were munching on fresh crabs, but we had nothing.
We happened on a Safeway that was only open for another 20 minutes so we hastily picked up chips, salsa, cheese, crackers. and old deli chicken pieces.
We should have known in small town coastal California that they would pull in the carpet at sundown especially on this holiday.
Surprisingly, the food tasted great and it was a memorable turkey day, even if we were eating chicken instead.
For the next day and part two of this story, we would hit rain but we still managed to see
Half Moon Bay from Pillar Point.
Story and photos: Debbie Colwell