Half Moon Bay State Beach

Half Moon Bay State Beach is actually four separate beaches—Francis, Venice, Dunes and Roosevelt—each with its individual charms, like camping, dune exploration and birding.

Half Moon Bay is a catcher’s mitt for Pacific swell on the far side of the Santa Cruz Mountains from Silicon Valley.  Stretching along four miles of the Bay’s northern and central shoreline is Half Moon Bay State Beach.  With the languid rise of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the east, Pillar Point jutting proudly into the Pacific to the northwest and a strip of half-wild dunes behind, the views here aren’t half bad.

Actually comprising four individual beaches (Francis, Venice, Dunes and Roosevelt), the well-loved state park is popular enough to offer the camaraderie of beach-loving crowds but big enough to allow for solitary sandy nooks.

The Coastside Trail (also referred to locally as the Coastal Trail) links the entire strand and continues on to Redondo Beach to the south and Pillar Point to the north.  A strip of land rambling between split-rail fence-lined meadows and rolling dunes (both booming with wildflowers in the spring), the wheelchair-accessible paved trail escorts hikers along a beautiful coastal bench with a surprisingly remote feel.  Unfortunately, the bridge over Pilarcitos Creek is out between the Francis and Venice beaches, breaking the link in a lovely chain for the time being.

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While wandering around the dunes, keep an eye out for sandy rope-lined trails. These sanctioned paths offer a more intimate look at local flora and a great overview of the entire glorious Half Moon Bay State Beach scene.   

The surfing here is spotty, but with the right sandbar/swell combination it can deliver fun waves, and someone is usually in the water hunting one. Mavericks, that world-famous break that can chuck 20- to 40-foot walls of water at big-wave chargers, is about a mile offshore from Pillar Point, so don’t expect to glimpse the monster from here.

DEFINITELY Lock the car and hide valuables. Bring $10 for the entry fee.  Only Francis Beach’s entry station holds you to it with an actual ranger, but who doesn’t want to support state parks?  Also layers, sunscreen, water and snacks are crucial.

CREATURE COMFORTS Restrooms are provided at all four beaches sans soap and mirrors, so don’t plan on checking for errant sunscreen streaks.

OF COURSE dogs are allowed (on a 6-foot leash) in campgrounds, parking lots and on the Coastside Trail.

NO-NOS  No dogs, camping, campfires, horses, fireworks, or monster trucks are allowed on the beach.  No removing shells, driftwood or any treasures other than straight-up trash.

MAYBE THE GREATEST THING EVER  The beach wheelchair you can borrow gratis at the Francis Beach entrance station.

L. Clark Tate

Half Moon Bay State Beach, 95 Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay, CA.  650.726.8820. Learn more at the official Half Moon Bay State Beach website.

Directions: In Half Moon Bay, 30 miles south of San Francisco and 48 miles north of Santa Cruz, near the intersection with Highway 92, look for Kelly Ave, Venice Blvd or Young Ave and head toward the water. View the Google Map of Half Moon Bay State Beach.

Camping (at Francis Beach only): $35-$50/night tent or RV. Make reservations at Hipcamp. Hike & Bike sites $7/person; first-come, first-served.

Francis Beach
Family-friendly beach and campground

Venice Beach
Lovely stretch of Half Moon Bay sand, great for picnics, birdwatching and wetlands.

Dunes Beach
Busy locals’ beach day destination

Roosevelt Beach
Mellow beauty on the water