Montara State Beach
Montara State Beach / © Bob Cooper
Published August 2015

The Bay Area Coast

Just over the hill from the Bay Area’s busy cities are quiet beaches and small coastal towns

BYBob Cooper
It may be that the last (or only) time you saw the Bay Area coastline was from the window seat of a plane circling to land at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). But when was the last time you drove over the coastal hills from the Bay Area bustle to see it up close? Within an hour’s drive of SFO and downtown San Francisco are coastal towns, hamlets, beaches, and hiking trails well worth the time whenever you have an extra day, or even a half-day, to spare.
 
Half Moon Bay
Like the rest of the Bay Area coast, Half Moon Bay and the unincorporated villages north of town — Miramar, El Granada, Princeton-by-the-Sea, Moss Beach, and Montara — are swarmed by suburbanites from over the hill on sunny weekends. The rest of the week, however, it’s peaceful and uncrowded with a noticeably relaxed vibe.
 
The Beach: Montara State Beach, Half Moon Bay’s northernmost beach, is a wide, three-quarter-mile-long swath of white sand. With free parking at three lots, restrooms, and a beach volleyball court, it’s surprisingly uncrowded most days.
 
The Hike: The mostly paved Coastside Trail follows an old railroad bed on coastal bluffs, past several beaches, for 9 miles. Park for free at The Ritz-Carlton or pay $10 at Half Moon Bay State Beach.
 
Splurge Restaurant: La Costanera is memorable not only for its up-close view of Montara State Beach and floor-to-ceiling windows, but also for the extensive, exquisite Peruvian menu and cheerful, attentive service.
 
Casual Spot: The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company at Pillar Point Harbor is a huge indoor/outdoor microbrewery restaurant known for its award-winning beer and creative, brew-focused items like sourdough beer bread and beeramisu.
 
Pacifica
Approximately 15-minutes from both SFO and downtown San Francisco, Pacifica offers beaches comparable to any on the coast, plus good hiking in the hills. Most residents are commuters, so inn and restaurant prices aren’t inflated as they are at more tourist-focused coastal towns.
 
The Beach: Pacifica State Beach, which locals call Linda Mar or “Taco Bell” Beach (because there’s a Taco Bell right on the sand), is a magnet for families and surfers alike. The wide, half-mile-long, white sand beach has showers, restrooms, and a $4 parking fee good for four hours.
 
The Hike:
The Devil’s Slide Trail is really just the old stretch of Pacific Coast Highway that’s been replaced by the Devil’s Slide Bridge and Tunnel between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay — but with benches and coin-operated telescopes instead of cars and trucks. It’s 1.3 paved, hilly, dramatically cliffy miles.
 
Splurge Restaurant: Moonraker offers Pacifica’s best dining-with-a-view, with all booths facing Rockaway Beach, a seashell’s throw below. The spacious restaurant offers scrumptious seafood for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch; a daily happy hour (4:30 – 6:30 p.m.) features $1 oysters.

Casual Spot: The High Tide Cafe & Crepery boasts a great location for picking up sweet and savory crepes, a steak sandwich, a salmon burger, or fish tacos for a picnic on Pacifica State Beach, one block away.
 
La Costanera in Half Moon Bay / © Bob Cooper
La Costanera in Half Moon Bay / © Bob Cooper
If You Go
Weather: The Pacific Ocean keeps the Bay Area coastal climate remarkably moderate, with temperatures rarely straying above 80 or below 50. Typically, you can expect morning and evening fog through Labor Day, sunshine in the fall, occasional winter rains, and windy spring days.
 
Adventurous activities: If hikes and beach walks bore you, the Bay Area coast offers more thrilling options, too. It’s prime surfing country, so rent a board to ride the waves in Pacifica or Half Moon Bay. You can rent a road or mountain bike in Half Moon Bay or rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard in Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor. Or, you can try hang gliding at San Francisco’s Fort Funston.
 
Fall festivals: September delivers the best weather to the coast, with little fog and often the warmest temperatures in the Bay Area. Fall festivals include Pacifica’s Fog Fest Sept. 26 – 27, San Francisco’s Ocean Beach Music & Art Festival Oct. 10, Half Moon Bay’s Art & Pumpkin Festival Oct. 17 – 18, and Marin’s Stinson Beach Doc Fest Nov. 6 – 8.
 
 

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