Half Moon Bay attracts much of the attention on the Coastside, but a trip north of town promises stunning seascapes and unique dining experiences with fewer crowds.
My dad is fortunate to have a second home on the Coastside. My parents purchased the home 30 years ago, when grandkids entered their lives and there was no room for overnights at our little Burlingame bungalow. His modest house close to Poplar Beach has served us all at different times, from needing a place to escape the heat to temporarily housing my kids during young adulthood transitions.
And like my dad’s place, the coast is also flexible — as a place to call home, a resource and a playground. Its beauty is undeniable, and for this roundup, we’re focusing on the area north of Half Moon Bay to Montara, where local businesses mingle with some stunning natural landscapes and parks. Traversing this 5-mile stretch of Highway 1 can take minutes depending on how long you linger at each stop. Again, it’s all about flexibility.
Devil’s Slide Trail
It’s been 10 years since the Tom Lantos Tunnels and Devil’s Slide Trail in Montara and Pacifica opened. The brilliance of turning the old Highway 1 roadway into a walkable and bikeable 1.3-mile path still hits me every time I visit and stare out at the ocean beyond. Locals know the best time to snag a parking spot on either side of the tunnels (it’s between 9 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) and don’t get spooked by the feeling of walking on this historic roadway: San Mateo County Parks manages the wide, easy-to-navigate trail. There are restrooms and educational signage posted along the trail. Bring binoculars for birds and whales when they are migrating. The trail is open 24/7, but hours for the parking lots vary depending on the time of year. Always check the park’s website for closures.
Devil’s Slide Trail, south parking trail right before entering the northbound tunnel to Pacifica. Free parking is available at both the northern and southern trailheads, just off Highway 1.
Alexis Liu purchased the Montara gift shop, Tidepool, in 2022 when her good friend Sara Stockalper moved to Hawaii. As a graphic artist, Liu is slowly adding custom-designed Tidepool graphics that adorn T-shirts, tote bags and stickers. The curated inventory includes vintage clothing and textiles, personal care and home goods made by creatives she admires. “I’d like Tidepool to be a genuine souvenir shop where people can pick up items that are made locally or are unique to the shop,” said Liu. “I’m grateful that my creative art projects are a big part of Tidepool.”
For decades, the petite one-room building was Montara Army Navy. Liu wants to highlight the shop’s close proximity to the ocean by hosting pop-ups and special events that attract both locals and visitors that want to gather. “I hope to host mini flea markets, creative workshops and live music in the backyard soon,” she said.
Liu, co-owner of Half Moon Bay’s Dad’s Luncheonette, is excited for Sage Bakehouse to open up next door for future collaborations. In the near future, Liu is looking to rebrand the shop and put her own stamp on it by way of inventory and aesthetics. An online shop is also in the works, but she encourages folks to head to the coast to get the full experience. Follow the shop’s Instagram to stay up-to-date on events and new items.
Tidepool, 8485 Cabrillo Highway, Montara. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday.
Coastside residents anxiously wait for Sage Bakehouse to open in the former Here Comes the Sun Coffee House in Montara. Until renovations are complete, fans of the brand’s savory New Zealand–inspired hand pies can still stop by their food truck, which is parked outside the soon-to-open bright yellow building on weekends, and purchase them hot or cold.
Owner Nicholas Lee started the business seven years ago and has been selling his pies at two San Francisco farmers markets. He recently started popping up at the monthly Harvard Neighborhood Market in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Lee has a rotating menu of 24 different pies and occasionally makes sweet ones. He’s also collaborating with Pacifica-based coffee brand Craftsman Coffee, preparing batches of cold brew from their beans and selling it at the truck.
The Coastal Vine Wine Bar
Shondra Mayer opened her cozy wine bar in Moss Beach in March 2020, approximately two weeks before the state’s pandemic shutdown. As a Moss Beach resident, she credits her local community for supporting her and her business. Mayer loves it when tourists find her, and said “They consider our wine bar a hidden gem on the coast.”
Thursdays are dedicated to locals, where they pack the tables inside and on the patio and treat the place as an extension of their home. The over-21 crowd can enjoy wine by the glass or the bottle, and there’s a good mix of California and international labels. Charcuterie boards and other light snacks are available. Every week, Mayer sources live music to entertain guests.
Moss Beach Distillery
Turns out, ghosts are good for business. Just ask the crowds of people who make their way to this former speakeasy perched on a bluff off the coast in Moss Beach. Formerly known as Frank’s Place, Moss Beach Distillery has been slinging drinks and serving chowder and classic seafood dishes since 1927.
The dog-friendly patio and cozy dining room are both great spots to catch a sunset or a glimpse of The Blue Lady, the supposed ghost who roams the beach and bluffs. A popular happy hour and live music at the bar contribute to the lively atmosphere. The last call at the bar and the last order for the kitchen is at 7 p.m. so folks get home safely, especially when the fog (and ghosts) roll in.
Moss Beach Distillery, 140 Beach Way, Moss Beach; reservations recommended, 650-728-5595. Open noon to 8:30 p.m. every day.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
Low tide is always a boon for curious beachgoers, but it can also be stressful for the creatures that call these intertidal zones home. This Moss Beach landmark is a favorite spot for kids to learn about the ocean’s wildlife. Low tide opens up a world full of anemones, sea stars, hermit crabs, sea slugs and mollusks. Even if you can’t plan your trip around the tidal chart, it’s still a lovely little beach to explore. It’s always a good idea to know where the tide is relative to the time of day you visit so you know how far down the beach to travel. The reserve opens at 8 a.m. every day, with closing times varying throughout the year.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, 200 Nevada Ave., Moss Beach. Free parking.
Pilot Light Cafe
Coastside residents Sachin Chopra and Shoshana Wolff know a thing or two about opening restaurants, having owned and operated San Mateo’s All Spice for more than a dozen years. So when they learned that the owner of 3-Zero Cafe at the Half Moon Bay Airport was retiring, they jumped at the chance to lease the spot and operate a business closer to home.
“From the moment the project was announced, the coastal community enthusiastically embraced Pilot Light Cafe,” Wolff said. After 16 months, they’re now open every day for brunch and lunch with hopes to eventually serve dinner. The menu is balanced, with an equal number of breakfast and lunch items. Lemon ricotta pancakes and a killer breakfast burrito are served alongside burgers, hot sandwiches like pastrami and chicken, and a refreshing nicoise salad for something less heavy. The patio out back is perfect for watching the planes come and go.
Pilot Light Cafe, 9850 Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay; 650-402-0575. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day.
Spangler’s opened in 2017 and immediately serviced the needs of El Granada residents tucked away in the hills on the east side of Highway 1. It’s got everything a resident would need, from fresh proteins and produce to a well-stocked deli that offers catering. It feels like a smaller version of Half Moon Bay’s New Leaf Grocery, and the prices are competitive, if not better. Local favorites like Rosalind Bakery bread, local fish and housemade sauces and dips are some of the highlights. The wine and spirits section is small but well-curated.
It’s not the first business for local owner Dan Spangler: Previously, he and his wife ran Press on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. It’s the perfect place to pick up a freshly made sandwich, picnic provisions or snacks to pack before heading to one of the nearby trails or beaches. There are also a few picnic tables out front to enjoy the ocean view.
Spangler’s Market, 401 Avenue Alhambra, El Granada. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.