If you’re looking for a small beach town where the air is clean and crisp, the locals are passionate about their community, and the seafood is as fresh as can be, Half Moon Bay is it. I was lucky enough to grow up in this beautiful, idyllic, close-knit town. So, if you’re looking for what (and where!) to eat in Half Moon Bay, read up, straight from a local.
I grew up and spent my entire childhood in Half Moon Bay (or, “the coast”), from 1975-1993 and again from about 1997-1998 and 2001-2002. I get the pleasure of returning to this town often, to visit friends and family who live there. While a lot has changed since then, a lot still remains the same.
About Half Moon Bay
Known for surf and pumpkins, Half Moon Bay is a small beach town 29 miles south of San Francisco and 48 miles north of Santa Cruz. Its name comes from the half-moon-shaped bay that is Pillar Point Harbor.
The town is filled with beautiful beaches. Flower nurseries and farms line the main highway, Highway 1. The flower industry booms here (which is what my father did his whole working life in the US!). Family-owned farms like Andreotti line the roads.
Half Moon Bay is a very safe and child-friendly town. Those who want to enjoy the outdoors in between those delicious meals will have plenty to enjoy.
Half Moon Bay is a foodie’s dream. Let’s dig into the food and my recommendations for what to eat while in Half Moon Bay!
Getting To Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay may be close to San Francisco and other California locations and landmarks, but it has a secluded feel, thanks to the 2 roads that get you there. Highway 1 travels north and south along the rugged coastline. Highway 92 travels east and west through trees and farms. Neither road is particularly fast, so be aware that driving to (and from) Half Moon Bay requires patience. You’ll be driving on single-lane roads the majority of the time. Avoid commuting hours and weekends when the weather is nice.
When To Visit Half Moon Bay
If you’re looking for a hot beachside experience, Half Moon Bay isn’t your place. If you’re looking for very mild weather, and often fog, you’re in for a treat. Half Moon Bay is temperate, so it can easily be enjoyed year-round.
The Fall is the best time to visit. Summer can get pretty foggy.
If you get a sunny day in Half Moon Bay, it’s heaven. But, as mentioned above, if you catch a sunny weekend in Half Moon Bay, watch out – the roads getting in and out will be packed, as will the local shops and restaurants.
Lay of the Land
As small as it is, you’ll have no problem getting the lay of the land in Half Moon Bay. There are 2 main central locations/hubs you’ll likely find yourself while visiting. And, you should definitely take the time to visit both!
Princeton (Princeton-by-the-Sea)/Pillar Point Harbor
Princeton is just North of Half Moon Bay. There will you find a working harbor, where you can purchase fresh fish right off the boats. It’s also home to a variety of different shops and restaurants.
Main Street (aka “town”)
Take a walk down Moon Bay’s charming downtown area and pop into the shops, restaurants, and galleries. You’ll find many of the restaurants listed below on Main Street. Here you’ll so find a farmer’s market on the weekend and oftentimes, live music.
Shopping + Necessities
There is a shopping center as you enter Half Moon Bay. If you’re coming in from Highway 1, it’ll be on the right. If you are heading in from 92, it’s going to be straight ahead- you won’t miss it.
At the Strawflower Shopping Center, you’ll find a Safeway, CVS, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and various other smaller shops like a Hallmark (my first job in high school!).
Half Moon Bay is a relatively safe town.
There are a couple of safety issues you should note of.
Please don’t get out of the car and take a selfie along the cliffs on Highway 1. Yes, it’s gorgeous. Unfortunately, It’s also the way that a lot of people fall to their death. Save your selfies for the beach.
In addition, note that the ocean in Half Moon Bay has rugged waves and there are strong undercurrents.
Please enjoy the beautiful beaches while making sure you and your family and friends are safe.
Ok, let’s get to the FOOD + DRINKS!
Lobster Rolls @ Sam’s Chowder House
We can’t talk about food in Half Moon Bay without talking about Sam’s. Sam’s has won numerous national awards and is a really popular spot.
You have to try their deliciously fresh and famous lobster rolls and the clam chowder. They have indoor and outdoor dining, and both offer beautiful views of the ocean. From there you can walk down the path to the beach for a walk along the water after you eat. Be aware that there are a fair amount of stairs involved.
They currently only take reservations on weekdays, so expect a wait on weekends.
Local brothers serving local food. They have a lot of visitors there, but it’s also a local hangout spot (known as OPL to locals). They often have live music. It’s casual and relaxed, and a popular place for locals to gather.
It’s a close walk to the beach, and is a very relaxed place to grab a drink and hang out. They have a full bar and beers on tap.
You’ll definitely want to try some of their food while you’re there. It’s a great place for lunch. Their poke bowl is wonderful, as are their breakfast acai bowls. You can eat inside in the bar, or take it out back to eat and play some bocce ball.
Local Produce @ Half Moon Bay Coastside Farmer’s Market:
The market is held twice a week April through December and is full of fresh, colorful items sold directly from Coastside farmers and growers.
Fine Dining @ Navio at The Ritz Carlton
If you’re looking for fine dining, excellent presentation, and extra touches, Novia at the Ritz is your place.
Try their weekend brunch in their dining room with views of the ocean.
Even if you don’t stay or eat at this hotel, you should definitely plan on visiting for a variety of reasons. The biggest one? THIS VIEW.
The Ritz is located on a bluff with second to none views of the Pacific. There’s a path that runs along the beach where you can take a stroll along the water and breathe in the clean ocean air. It really is magical. But, definitely bring a jacket.
Bread @ Half Moon Bay Bakery
The HMB Bakery has been serving delicious breads and baked goods since 1927. Some of my most vivid memories is of st popping by at the bakery after Sunday morning church to buy a loaf of bread. If I was lucky, I’d get one of their delicious donuts. . It’s since gone through a couple of different owners, passed along but each have kept the bakery true to its origins, with a small, hometown feel.
Handmade Pasta @ Pasta Moon
Pasta Moon is a local favorite. Whether you sit in their dining room, or at the bar, you’re sure to have a great experience there. After 32 years in their original location, they moved into a new location at the end of 2019. Their space includes a hip bar with lounge area, and indoor fireplaces.
Their menu (including their cocktail menu) is seasonal and inspired by local fresh ingredients. They’re known for their handmade pasta, but their pizza is delicious as well.
A Sandwich @ San Benito House
San Benito house is a HMB treasure. It suffered a fire at the beginning of 2021, but has recently re-opened it’s doors. Originally an Inn and a spot to grab sandwiches, it now also includes a Cantina, where you can grab a margarita with their made-in-house mix.
Sushi @ Shiki Japanese Cuisine
If you’re looking for sushi, Shiki offers a variety of options, as well as noodle dishes. I took my daughter there a few years ago and she still talks about it.
Coffee @ The Half Moon Bay Coffee Company
You’ll likely fight a line of locals, sleepily in line waiting for their coffee or breakfast. It’s a big of a gathering place for locals and tourists alike.
They have a large menu, and a wide variety of coffee beans.
A burger @ The Barn
The Barn is a fun and casual little burger joint conveniently located on Highway 1. The rustic barn was converted into a restaurant. Since covid, they now are open outside only (last I checked!). Their outside is lovely and spacious, so it works great for them.
Order your food at the outdoor takeout window and eat in their beer garden or in the covered tent.
Local Variety @ Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival
Half Moon Bay is arguably known as the pumpkin capital of the world, which is no small title given its size.
The Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival launched in 1971 and has been an annual event ever since then, except for 2020 and 2021 due to covid. I really hope it happens in 2022, not just for us families who attend every year, but especially for the non-profits, merchants, and artists who rely on the annual festival for a large part of their income and funding.
Local restaurants come out to showcase their food to lines of hungry festive-goers. It’s a great way to sample Half Moon Bay’s options.
Book a room well in advance, as regular festival-goers book these out.
“I want to feel calm and at ease. Like someone who lives in Half Moon Bay, California, and makes hummus from scratch. Instead, I feel like I’m a contestant on some awful supermarket game show where I’ve got sixty seconds to hurl my shopping cart down the aisles, piling it with as much as possible before the buzzer goes off.”
~ Augusten Burroughs