Half Moon Bay State Beach is one long sandy continuous beach below bluffs and dunes in the town of Half Moon Bay, California. Within the boundaries of this state park there are four separate named entrances and parking areas. North to south this includes Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach. Each of these parking areas are just off Highway 1, but Francis Beach is the closest to the center of town with the entrance at Kelly Avenue just one block south of the shops at San Mateo Road. All parking areas are open for day-use only and charge a fee for entering. In return you get restrooms and picnic tables making it easy to stay all day. If you want to camp overnight at Half Moon Bay State Beach there is a state park campground adjacent to the Francis lot.
After you get down to the beach at any location in the park, you will realize that it’s possible to walk on the beach for miles. Take off your shoes and walk at the water’s edge or bring a towel or chair and rest for a while. There are bird-watching locations near the center of the state beach where creek water pools up like large bird baths. Fishermen might be casting lines into the surf at any point along the bay shore. Speaking of surf, there might be surfers here donning wetsuits to enjoy the waves and bear the cold water.
Behind all the Half Moon Bay State Beaches there is a paved pathway called the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail which follows an old rail route called the Ocean Shore Railroad. This rail-trail is open to most users, but is best for walking and jogging since it is only about 3.5 miles long (2 miles in the park). However bikers can extend their ride by hopping onto the California Coastal Trail which continues north and south from Half Moon Bay for many more miles. Some of these longer routes follow dirt trails and paved roads (see the California Coastal Trail website for trail maps). Note that the HMB Coastal Trail is closed to horses, but a dirt equestrian trail parallels it for the majority of its length.
Between Venice and Francis there is an area known as Elmar Beach below a old state park parking lot that has been closed and gated off. Elmar is a great birding spot at the mouth of Pilarcitos Creek. Elmar can be reached by walking on the sand or on the bluff trail from Francis Beach or Venice Beach.
Nearby the state beach you’ll find a couple other beaches with a similar beach flavor. Poplar Beach is a popular place for horse-back riders to begin their journey. Redondo Beach is farther south and is popular for mountain bikers to begin a northward journey. Redondo is the only beach of these mentioned that doesn’t charge for parking.
Beyond Half Moon Bay there are many more beaches to discover. Moss Beach and Montara are the next towns north with unique cove beaches and tide pools to explore. San Gregorio and Pescadero, the next towns south, have a mix of large sandy beaches and hidden gems which require hiking to find.
This area of the Pacific Coast is frequently cool and windy even when the sun is shining so bring extra layers just in case. Also be careful if you play or swim in the surf as rip currents can be present and the water is cold year-round.