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Off the Beaten Path--Half Moon Bay


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    Squid boat in Pillar Point harbor

    You've got to get off the interstate to get to Half Moon Bay but it's well worth the drive. There is something there for everyone.

    Half Moon Bay began life as an agricultural and fishing center and by the 1840 grew into the first town in San Mateo County. First named San Benito, then Spanishtown because of its racial diversity; the town was officially renamed Half Moon Bay in 1874. Much of what drew settlers to Half Moon Bay and its surrounding then is what draws visitors today.  

    Variety of boats docked at Pillar Point Harbor
    Variety of boats docked at Pillar Point Harbor

    If you start on hwy 1 at Pillar Point Harbor you can appreciate the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and understand why this is such an important fishing port. We met with Steven McGrath, the harbor's general manager, and Cary Smith, deputy harbormaster, who gave us a tour and overview of the harbor. The pier is a wonderful place to get a feel for all this part of California has to offer. The water around the pier was alive with people having fun and people working. Stephen explained the importance of the commercial operations. "Without these fishermen you don't get your salmon and sushi. It's all part of an interconnected system. You can buy the fish right off the boat."

    Paddleboarders at Pillar Point Harbor

    Cary led us down the pier where we could see kayakers, paddle boarders, pleasure boats, sports fishermen, and the large commercial boats all sharing space. He explained how the fishermen can sell directly off the boat letting buyers get the freshest product possible. Cary talked about how perceptions change over time. Calamari is popular now so squid harvesting is big business. Cary, who is a native Californian, told us, "When I was growing up, my grandfather considered calamari as fish bait. It's interesting how species change from ‘not so important' to ‘can't get enough.'"

    He pointed out Maverick, one of the world's top surfing spots, just down from the pier. As deputy harbormaster, part of his job involves adding in safety and rescue for the surfing events there. So if you're a surfer, head out here. Did I mention your pooch is welcome here? We met one cute little fellow on the pier and there was a happy looking black lab mix just coming back to the dock with his fisherman companion.

    Fisherman and his dog return to the dock

    Wildlife is present here in droves. There were pelicans and other birds feasting on the detritus of the fishing fleets. The super treat for nature lovers is when the humpbacked whales are present. We were not lucky enough to spot any but they pass through in pods and linger here at certain times.

    Kayakers photograph birds on rocks

    Not only can you watch for whales as you head south towards the town of Half Moon Bay on Hwy 1, you will pass thorough Mateo Coast State Beaches, 40 miles of the world's most beautiful coastline. There are picnic areas along the beach. Besides the whales, that you are most likely to see from December to January and March to May, there are lots of other wildlife including the rare western snowy plovers. Be careful not to disturb them as you could cause them to abandon their nest if frightened.

    Have you ever seen such beautiful tomatoes?

    When you arrive in the Half Moon Bay area farmers markets are common. They greet you with tomatoes ranging from purple to bright yellow as well as the traditional red/orange ones along wiht any other produce you could want. Agriculture thrives here.

    Pasta Moon invites you in.

    If you are getting hungry about now, Pasta Moon Ristoriante and Bar is one of the places that make good use of the local produce. We ate there for lunch and the food was perfect.

    Kim Levin, Chef/Owner of Past Moon, began the business over 25 years ago when she fell in love with he coastal area. That combined with her love of Italian food makes a delicious combination.  She says, "I couldn't resist this unique location that offered my ideal in terms of ingredients, and the peaceful pace of such a lovely rural area nestled on the coast, surrounded by a spectacular beach and nature setting."

    My salad  and lasagna

    You can be sure her produce, fish, meats and cheese come from from local ranchers and dairies. Seafood form Pillar Point is prominent. One of her suppliers of cheese is Harley Farms which was featured in an earlier issue. I enjoyed the Della Casa Salad with baby greens, icicle radish, sweet herbs, sunflower seeds, white balsamic vinaigrette and for my entree, Pasta Moon Lasagna compassed of house made Sicilian sausage, ricotta, parmesan, chili flake, tomato sauce.

    Half Moon Bay's Old Jail

    Naturally after such filling food we all needed to walk it off a bit. Downtown Main St. is the perfect place to do that. The colorful Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel has been at its same Main Street address since 1911. Old Jail, now a museum was built also in 1911and in use until 1969.

    The feed store is colorful.

     One building that looks like it was here forever is actually a replica built after the original century plus Cunha's Store burned. The original had been many things. During prohibition it was a speakeasy, and once, the second floor housed an auditorium where political meetings and live theater were held. Today, it's a quaint grocer/sandwich shop/souvenir shop. You‘ll see art galleries, antique stores and boutiques on Main Street. There is even a psychic. Watch for colorful murals on some of the buildings.

    Cunha's Grocery is unlike the usual chains.

    Just a few miles south and inland you'll find a natural paradise. Wunderlitch Park is a wooded area of redwood forest, open meadows, and beautiful oaks and mixed evergreen trees. There are picnic tables and rest rooms but no other amenities. We hiked a part of the Alambique Trail and saw a sign warning of mountain lions but weren't lucky enough to spot one. However I did see a family of deer grazing.

    One of the beautiful deer grazing in Wunderlitch Park

    Once the private preserve of the Folger family--yes those who visit Starbucks know coffee is very profitable. It was purchased by Martin Wunderlitch and later donated to the county for a park. The park is primitive and natural with a system of trails winding up into the hills.

    Folger's Stable

    If you are hiking and meet a horseback rider don't be surprised.  The park is also home to Folger Stable. The stable and carriage house were part of Floger's estate. They have been restored and the stable is still a working stable with boarded horses and the carriage house is a museum that offers a look back into the county's history.

    Some of the horses boarded at Folger's Stable

    If you are there the weekend following Columbus Day you can visit the Pumpkin Festival.  Half Moon Bay calls itself the World Pumpkin Capital. 


    Carver at the Pumpkin Festival Photo Credit Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival - Miramar Events

    When it's time to call it a day, the Half Moon Bay Lodge is a quaint and scenic stopping place. It combines the feel of a vintage motel with a luxury hotel. All the rooms look out onto a garden. Some have balconies and fireplaces. Half Moon Bay Lodge has free parking and wifi and offers a hearty complimentary continental breakfast from 7 am - 10 am in their breakfast room. I liked their waffles and the fact they have tea but depending on your tastes, they also have cereals, pastries, toast, coffee, juice, and more. The pool is beautiful but the spa under the stucco shelter is even more charming. Don't be surprised if you dream of a big full moon over the bay this night.

    Half Moon Bay Lodge



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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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