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Half Moon Bay State Beach Late 2017

Visitors to Half Moon Bay State Beach, are welcomed by four miles of broad sandy beaches. The California state park of Half Moon Bay was established in 1956 and is an impressive 181 acres of prime real estate. It is a very pretty spot on the Pacific Ocean that offers wonderful fishing and picnic opportunities. It’s possible to camp at this state park as well in one of the 52 individual sites. Camping can be done in tents or in RVs. This is a great spot for family beach vacations, if you aren’t expecting tropical weather. 

This part of California’s coast gets incredible surf and the water is frigid. Basically, the water here is not good for swimming for nearly everybody. However, while I was here on Thanksgiving Day, I saw three people swimming in from an ocean swim. None of them had on wetsuits and the waves were “only” about 6-8ft. Apparently, there are treacherous currents as well.

Where is Half Moon Bay? 37.47° N, 122.45° W

Where is the beautiful beach spot Half Moon Bay?

Half Moon Bay has rough water in the winter

Here is what the Half Moon State Beach Park has to say about ocean safety, “Always use caution when you are in or near the ocean. The ocean water is very cold year round. Even a short swim can cause cramps or hypothermia (a life threatening condition which occurs when your body temperature drops below normal). In addition, strong rip currents can pull even the most experienced swimmers off shore.”

The first Americans arrived in this area in the 1850s.

Additionally, no fires are allowed on the beach. That is really a shame since the fishing appears to be awesome. I saw a handful of fisherman surf casting and they all seemed to be successful. Granted a couple hours is quite a limited sample size, but the daily catch seemed to be about as expected. The most commercially important fish in the area are English sole, rockfish, herring and surfperch. The marine environment has identified a wide variety of fish.

Half Moon Bay Beach on Thanksgiving Day 2017

Great Beach to Visit outside San Francisco

Horses aren’t allowed on the Half Moon Bay state beaches, but its ok to ride them on the Coastside Trail between Francis Beach and Roosevelt Beach. In state parks, the ponies are restricted to designated horse trails. Besides fires and horses on the beach, do not bring your drone to the park. It is not welcome! The park is off limits to Gliders in flight, unmanned aircraft systems and model aircraft. The ostensible reason is to protect the welfare of visitors and staff, wildlife as well as cultural resources but realistically drones are an annoyance.

Temperatures are moderate with the summer highs in the mid 60s and winter lows in the mid 40s.

The weather in Half Moon Bay is variable at best. I had a great day at the beach in late November. In the summer, I am not sure you want to plan a beach vacation to Half Moon Bay, California. It’s going to be foggy in the morning and evening. San Francisco is only about 30 miles away. The Spring and Fall offer the best weather to visit with frequent clear days. Winter may not bring snow, but it will be damp, windy and wet. That may not be your ideal beach day, but that is the time of year when the waves are at their most impressive.

Half Moon Bay Beach is amazing. Just a short drive outside San Francisco.

The north end of the Half Moon Bay State Beach park is just south of Pillar Point Harbor. The waves here are different and unusual. They are influenced by “reflective action from the harbor jetty. At the north end of the bay there is a county park in the lee of Pillar Point Harbor with a well-maintained trail that allows hikers and bikers access to the ocean below the point. Some of the tallest surf in California occurs offshore of Pillar Point following big storms. The area is well known as Mavericks and is famous for the annual Mavericks Surf Contest.”

The coastal city of Half Moon Bay had a population of  11,324 in the 2010 census. This California beach city in San Mateo County is directly south of Pillar Point Harbor.

Waves in Half Moon Bay

Before the influx of big wave surfers and pampered guests to the Ritz Carlton for thousands of years, the Ohlone people lived along and used the Half Moon Bay beach. The Native American tribe was rather small and existed in scattered villages due to the scarcity of available food stuffs. Just like other California beach spots, when the Spanish showed up to play in the late 1700’s, the native way of life was altered, dramatically. In 1769, the Spanish Portola expedition camped in the area of the bay. This expedition was the first European land exploration of Alta California. Pillar Point was described by the well known Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi. Crespi said,”In this place there are many geese, and for this reason the soldiers named it the plain of ‘Los Ansares’. From the camp the…point lies to the north-northwest, and the high rocks look like two thick Farallones [rocky islands]of an irregular and pointed shape.”

Half Moon Bay State Beach is well known for its rare western snowy plover colony.

In the year 1776, the Mission Dolores was founded on the San Mateo coastline. The area along the ocean was used for grazing the mission’s livestock. About 50 years later, the missions were secularized in 1834. At this time most of the lands were subdivided into ranchos, large land grants.

Even today, its easy to imagine the cattle ranching that would have been the main activity to support the area. In the 1840s, a community came into existence. Originally known as San Benito and later Spanishtown, the town was home to a booming fishing fishing industry as well as the cattle ranches.

The Anglos that arrived to the area around 1850 called the Mexican settlement, Spanishtown, Halfmoon instead. Indeed it was a commercial center, which had been renamed after the shape of the bay.

With regular stagecoach service to San Mateo and the nearby communities of San Gregorio, Lobitos, and Purissima, Spanishtown quickly became an incredible diverse place. Soon the town was home to Mexicans, Italians, Portuguese, English, Irish, Germans and of course, Chinese.  By the year 1874, Spanishtown had been renamed Half Moon Bay.  By the turn of the century, agriculture developed in Half Moon Bay.  Mushrooms, artichokes, brussel sprouts and more were now available to supplement the abundant meat and fish. The beach town of Half Moon was connected to San Francisco by the Ocean Shore Railroad in 1908.

During prohibition, Half Moon Bay was popular with bootleggers, who took advantage of the hidden coves  and dense fog in the area to serve a number of roadhouses and inns, some of which still operate today! In particular, Francis Beach was utilized to unload millions of dollars of booze as smugglers cruised off shore. An army post was created on Half Moon Bay beach in the second world war, to protect against Japanese invasion.

Half Moon Bay began as a rural agriculture area and was not incorporated until 1959. The area was under-developed until the construction of numerous subdivisions after World War II. Today, it is a classy place on the California Coast.

It can easily be combined with San Francisco on a trip. It’s a pretty town and rather beautiful. I feel especially grateful to have spent some time on this beach, Thanksgiving of 2017.

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About Author

This project, Beach Spot, has been a lingering thought for nearly 20 years. It started on a crazy offshore Venezuelan island, Isla Margarita, during the first dot com craze. The idea evolved while life continually got in the way. A decade was spent on a Mediterranean island as well as a number of years chasing the sun in the USVI.

Back living stateside in San Diego, this project will hopefully be an enjoyable look at a number of beach towns.

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