California’s beautiful coastline means there are no shortage of Half Moon Bay hikes with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, beaches, and rugged cliffs.

What might surprise you, though, is that you’ll also get to see Redwoods, wildflowers, hills, and farmland on a hike in Half Moon Bay.

Situated just 30 miles south of San Francisco, or 40 miles north of San Jose, Half Moon Bay is an ideal San Francisco day trip and a perfect spot to enjoy the fresh air.

Half Moon Bay hiking questions

Before we hit the trails, let’s start by answering a few common questions that first-time hikers ask.

Where can I hike in Half Moon Bay, California?

Half Moon Bay Hikes
There are plenty of gorgeous coastal trails in Half Moon Bay.

This guide gives a rundown of many of the popular hiking trails in Half Moon Bay. They range from short, flat, easy hikes, to more strenuous hilly hikes (I’m looking at you, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Preserve).

While the majority of these hikes will give you coastal views, some are set further inland so you’ll also get to experience the foggy forested areas as well.

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You’re likely to find a lot of other hikers and bike riders converging on these trails when the weather is nice, on weekends, and during the warmer months. Be prepared to not be the only person enjoying the views.

Are Half Moon Bay trails open?

Excellent question, I’m glad you asked. The opening and closure of public spaces are probably best described as “fluid” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been recognition that people need outdoor spaces to get some fresh air and exercise, so at the time of writing, trails in the following areas are open:

  • Quarry Park
  • Pillar Point Bluff
  • Mirada Surf West
  • Devil’s Slide
  • Blufftop trails
  • Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (tide pools and beach access are closed)

The following areas are closed following the devastating wildfires that swept through in 2020:

  • Memorial Park
  • Pescadero Creek Park
  • Sam McDonald Park
  • Tunitas Creek Beach

For more up-to-date information about trail and beach closures, visit the Half Moon Bay travel advisories page. Hikers visiting county parks are asked to hike single file on narrow trails, maintain six feet of distance between themselves and other groups, and wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.

What’s the weather like in Half Moon Bay?

Yes, it gets foggy in Half Moon Bay. Don’t be surprised!

You are not going to escape the fog in Half Moon Bay. Like San Francisco, Half Moon Bay has it’s own microclimates, which can be shrouded in fog in the mornings (and sometimes for much of the day).

Having said that, once the sun burns through that fog, the days are usually warm even during the winter months. So my best advice would be to wear layers that you can remove and either tie around your waist or easily carry in a backpack.

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The winters can get wet, and being close to the ocean you expect the coastal breeze to be stronger during the colder months. Temperatures usually vary between 45°F to 67°F during the year, and rarely rise above 76°F or dip below 38°F.

What should I bring on a Half Moon Bay hike?

Yellow and white striped umbrella on a beach, surrounded by rocky cliffs
If lazing on the beach is part of your hiking plan, don’t forget some sun protection.

As mentioned above, dress in layers that you can remove as the day gets hotter or as you warm up on a hike. Other important things to remember are:

  • Sunscreen – even when it’s cloudy
  • Hat – there aren’t many trees on coastal walks so shade is minimal
  • Reusable water bottle – even though some of the hikes are easy, you will get thirsty
  • A picnic or snack – make a day of it with a picnic lunch or bring a snack to tide you over
  • Download your maps – there isn’t always phone reception so be prepared
  • Sneakers – if you have hiking shoes, wear them, but most of these trails are fine with sneakers
  • Mask – don’t forget to maintain six feet of distance between you and others
  • Backpack – make sure you have a comfortable backpack that won’t dig into your shoulders

Half Moon Bay Hikes

Now that all the “admin” stuff is out of the way, we can get into the great hiking trails available in Half Moon Bay.

Cowell-Purisima Trail

This view is worth the easy hike, and then some.

  • Distance: 7 miles out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy, flat trail
  • Trailhead: Cowell Ranch Beach or further south across from Bob’s Vegetable Stand
  • Note: This trail is only open on weekends and holidays from 8AM to sunset.
  • Trail map

You can start this hike from one of two trailheads that start at Highway 1. I’ve (unwittingly) hiked from both trailheads, however my favorite is the Cowell Ranch Beach entrance.

This trail is named for the two farms, Cowell Ranch and Purisima Farms, that hug the coastline here. The trail runs between the farmland and the coast so you’ll get stunning views out to the ocean and beautiful pastoral views in the other direction.


 

The trails are wide and are mostly gravel, with a few sturdy bridges over marshlands and Purisima Creek. Be mindful that this is a popular route for cyclists so keep your ears peeled and stick to one side of the trail especially around blind corners.

Apart from the cliffs and sandy beaches below, look out for rocky outcrops where seals will be taking advantage of the sunny weather, especially at Seal Rock.

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

Even in the winter months, Half Moon Bay brings the color!

  • Distance: 3.5 miles out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy, mostly flat (with a few inclines at the golf course)
  • Trailhead: Redondo Beach (Redondo Beach Road) or Cowell Ranch Beach
  • Note: Dogs are not allowed on beaches
  • Trail map

This trail will allow you to visit a few beaches and while it doesn’t have a name (that I could find), it was a well marked trail along the bluffs.

Start at Cowell Ranch Beach parking area (only open on weekends between 8AM and sunset) and walk out to the staircase down to Cowell Ranch Beach. Continue on to the seal and whale viewing area, that gives beautiful views out to the Pacific Ocean and along the cliffs.

Then head back to the beach staircase and follow the narrow dirt trail to the right, along cliffs. While your gaze is naturally drawn to the rocky cliffs and pristine beaches below, remember to look up to see birds coasting on the breeze above you.


After crossing Canada Verde Creek, you’ll meet up with the wide concrete Coastal Trail of the Ritz Carlton golf course. Keep your wits about you because the golf carts don’t make a lot of noise and can come up behind you pretty quickly.

Continue past the staircase for Manhattan Beach, up to Miramontes Point at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. There are wooden chairs here if you’d like to have a rest and stare out at the ocean for a bit. From here, continue walking to Redondo Beach. Start at Redondo Beach if you’d like to do this hike during the week.

Miramontes Point Loop

Even if you’re not staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, you can still enjoy the beautiful landscape

  • Distance: 0.9 mile loop
  • Difficulty: Easy, paved trail
  • Trailhead: The Ritz Carlton Hotel (25 public parking available at the hotel)
  • Note: Dogs must be kept on a leash on this trail
  • Trail map

This is a great paved, short loop to hike at Miramontes Point, with all the amenities that the Ritz Carlton Hotel offers. If you want a short hike with the promise of coffee at the end, this is the one for you.


From the Ritz Carlton parking lot you’ll circle the building out to Miramontes Point. Walk up to the wooden fence to check out the view out to the ocean and the beautiful coastal vegetation and flowers. Follow the trail around to the Coastal Trail, which will bring you back to the parking lot.

Poplar Beach Trail

I was very proud of my rented bike, so this just about the only photo I took on this ride

  • Distance: 1.5 mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy, flat trail
  • Trailhead: Poplar State Beach, at the end of Poplar Street
  • Note: Dogs must be kept on a leash on this trail
  • Trail map

I rented a bicycle and rode the Poplar Beach Trail, but it’s also a great hiking trail. This very flat walk will take you along the coast cliff sides so you’ll get beautiful views over Poplar Beach and out to the Pacific Ocean.

Since this is such an easy and moderate length of trail, it is a very popular one so be ready to come across lots of hikers and bike riders. There isn’t a lot of protection from the weather on this trail, so be ready for that coastal breeze to batter you around a bit.

Pillar Point Bluff Trail

The Pillar Point Air Force Tracking Station is probably the most photographed landmark on this trail

  • Distance: 1.7 mile loop
  • Difficulty: Easy, with a climb up to the loop section
  • Trailhead: Pillar Point Bluff parking lot (off Airport Street), or from the end of W Point Avenue
  • Note: Dogs are allowed on this trail
  • Trail map

I started this hike from W Point Avenue because that’s where I found parking, and it adds a bit more of a climb to this trail while still being a fairly easy hike. There are also other access points from Ocean Boulevard and Bernal Avenue.

You’ll meet up with Jean Lauer Trail, which loops around the bluff, and is a wide dirt trail. The main photo spot that you’ll recognize on this trail is the Pillar Point Air Force Tracking Station, which is used to track “objects” like planes, missiles, space boosters, and orbiting bodies off the coast.


Behind the station, you’ll find Mavericks Beach, which draws surfers looking for big waves and is the home of the annual invitation-only surfing competition. Waves here can tower 50 feet high.

Back to Pillar Point Loop Trail, it’s important that you stay on the marked trails to ensure the natural habitat remains intact. Only 10 per cent of California’s native coastal prairie communities remain so it’s imperative that we protect them.

Mavericks Cliff Trail and Pier

  • Distance: 3.7 mile loop
  • Difficulty: Easy, with a few climbs
  • Trailhead: From W Point Avenue Parking Lot turn left and walk towards the ocean along the road, the trailhead is to your right
  • Note: Dogs are allowed on this trail
  • Trail map

Speaking of Mavericks, this trail will give you the best of both worlds – taking you to the point above the world famous surfing spot, and out to the Pillar Point Bluff trail as well.

Start at the W Point Avenue Parking Lot (there is some overflow parking on the street) and walk the initial climb and then connect with Pillar Point Bluff Trail for views back over the Air Force Tracking Station and Mavericks. From here you can do the Jean Lauer Trail loop and then head back to the parking lot.

But your hike isn’t over yet, take the Mavericks Beach Trail to the right, which leads to Mavericks Beach (surprise) and the rock pier, where you might see some seals sunning themselves. If it’s a seal-free day, you can always explore the tide pools for signs of sea life.

San Gregorio State Beach

Depending on the tide, you might need to cross a bit of water on San Gregorio State Beach

  • Distance: 2.9 miles out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: San Gregorio State Beach Parking Lot
  • Note: Dogs are allowed
  • Trail map

If you’re up for some exploring amongst the driftwood and traversing a bit of water, this is the hike for you.

During the winter months, a creek often cuts through the sandy beach, and people get creative making little bridges out of driftwood that’s usually strewn across the beach. But you can also just be brave and take off your shoes and socks to go for a wade through the water.


Head to the south west corner of the parking area, near the picnic benches and walk down to the beach. Once you cross the creek, walk along the coastline. Keep your eyes peeled for breaching whales during migration season.

You’ll come across a small cave in the sandstone cliff, keep walking and you might be lucky enough to see a waterfall, if it’s been a particularly rainy week.

Whittemore Gulch and Harkins Ridge Loop Trail

This hike involves a lot of climbing, but at least you have something pretty to look at while you’re resting

  • Distance: 7.6 mile loop
  • Difficulty: Difficult, descending and climbing 1,853 feet
  • Trailhead: From the parking lot at the Skyline Boulevard entrance
  • Note: Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve is currently closed after the 2020 wildfires.
  • Trail map

This trail within Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve is where you’re going to get that forest-feel, but it’s also a very strenuous hike. If you have knee issues you may want to avoid this hike.

The first half is a switchback descent, which can get muddy after it rains so bring a change of shoes so you don’t muddy up your car on the way home. Don’t rush this part of the hike, it’s where you’ll get to take in the redwoods, and is a nice shady part of the walk.


As you get down to Whittemore Gulch, you’ll start to hear the creek bubbling away if there’s been some rain or during the winter months. Keep your eyes peeled for wildflowers while you’re hiking the gulch area.

Once you hit Harkins Ridge Trail, it’s time to start the climb. In this case, what goes down must come up. So you’re going to pay for all that lovely downhill hiking you did. You will definitely feel the steep incline, and will probably have to stop a few times to catch your breath.

The good news is that this will give you ample opportunities to take in the views of Half Moon Bay from Harkins Ridge Trail.

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