By DENNIS WYATT
HALF MOON BAY — Talk about a quandary: You like mountain hiking and your date or significant other likes strolling along the beach.
And to make the day or weekend special you’d like to have a nice place to dine as well as do some window shopping while keeping things low key and without emptying your bank account. (Or you can do that and stay at the Ritz-Carlton starting at $636 a night.)
Half Moon Bay delivers on all points.
It’s not Monterey. It’s not Santa Cruz. It’s not Point Reyes Seashore. And that is the point.
There are 13 public beaches in and around Half Moon Bay along with 12 seaside trails, and the Purisima Creek redwood reserves and trail.
There are two marine reserves including Ano Nuevo State Park featuring one of the world’s largest mainland elephant seal breeding colonies. Upwards of 10,000 elephant seals a year drop by Ano Nuevo. You can see the elephant seals year round either on docent guided walks or on a self-guided tour regulated by permits within the marine reserve. It involves a 4 mile hike rated as moderate over varied terrain as well as some sand dunes. Ano Nueevo in nearby Pescadero also has otters, sea lions, terns and more. The state park also a Marine Education Center with exhibits, a bookstore and theater.
The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach had endless tidal pools to enjoy.
As for beaches, I’ve got to be honest. I’ve visited a few but I prefer ones that are more isolated and have less people such as Zmudoswki State Beach farther south toward Monterey where if you run into two dozen people on the weekend it’s a crowd. That said the beaches are all nice with easy access although I can’t honestly speak about San Gregorio Nude Beach as I’ve never been there. It’s privately owned and is the oldest nude people in the United States having been founded in 1967.
You can’t go wrong with any beach although Half Mon Bay State Park gives you the option of four beaches —Venice, Francis, Roosevelt, and Dunes — over a four-mile stretch.
Half Moon Bay caters very nicely to the Northern California staycation crowd or those seeking a weekend escape or a one day excursion. Half Moon Bay does a good job of it judging from the number of people that flock there from San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area for a quick respite. They have places you can book air tours, partake in kayak classes and trips, and whale watching tours to name a few things.
Taking in the beach and the Pacific Ocean I itself, though, is worth the trip and it is very low cost to do as some beaches do not have entrance fees and those that do are typically the basic state park charge of $10 per vehicle for day use.
If its food you want, Half Moon Bay has something for every taste and every budget.
My favorite is the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. They have the absolute best grilled Portobellini mushroom burger I’ve ever had for $14.95. They treat it right with red bell peppers, avocado, provolone cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, basil leaves and garlic lemon and hummus aioli. It is all served on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle on the side. It comes with fries or coleslaw. I rarely opt for fries in restaurants or opt for cole slaw given that most places make it into a tasteless mush. That isn’t the case of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.
Friends rave about the Brewer’s Smoked Monster Burger for $17.50 that’s built around three-quarter pounds of all-natural Snake River American Wagyu Kobe Beef. It is mixed with sautéed onions and seasonings on a Dutch crunch bun. It also has smoked Gouda cheese, Applewood smoked bacon, fried pickles, ne sunny side up egg and smoked chipotle-garlic aioli that’s served with lettuce, onion, and pickle on the side along with choice of fries or coleslaw.
Did I mention the ambiance inside is nice but the expansive ocean views from the deck are even better?
All things considered — especially traffic and travel — Half Moon Bay shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s more than decent and it beats the almost three hour drive to Monterey. Not only do you have impressive marine reserves and tidal pools but accessible and useable beaches are more plentiful and it’s not quite as touristy.