I’d seen the pictures of Half Moon Bay while researching my trip, so I knew it would be beautiful. And yet, I was still awed by the steep and rocky cliffs perched high above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. And when the fog sets in (which it does regularly) it creates a moody scene reminiscent of Scotland.
Located in Northern California, just 40 minutes southwest of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is a small beach town that doesn’t feel overly developed. Instead, there are dozens of historic buildings lining Main Street, miles of quiet sandy beaches and coves, and a small recreational harbor perfect for weekend boating. But when it comes to food, this unassuming hamlet exceeds all expectations.
The variety of dining options is impressive, ranging from coastal seafood stands to multi-course fine dining. And while seafood is certainly a good bet in Half Moon Bay, so are a number of international cuisines. Mixed in are local breweries, cafes, and bakeries. I was definitely not going home hungry.
This trip was hosted by Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, but all opinions are my own.
My husband, Jason, and I were celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary during our trip to Half Moon Bay, and I could not imagine a better place to celebrate than at Navio. Located in the Ritz Carlton, this elegant fine-dining restaurant sits on the third floor with sweeping views of the grounds and ocean. This is definitely the place to go for a special occasion. The food, cocktails, wine, and service were all excellent. Navio offers dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Guests have the enviable options of a three-course dinner or a seven-course tasting menu which we enjoyed. Dishes change seasonally and we enjoyed the summer menu.
If you’re not able to experience dinner at Navio, consider trying a weekend brunch instead. Under the expert care of Executive Chef Roberto Riveros-Leyton, there are only excellent meals to be had here.
What To Order At Navio
The beauty of Navio is that the menu is always changing. Our meal began with an amuse bouche, then continued with four savory dishes — ahi tuna loin, tagliolini with uni, petrale sole with zucchini blossoms, and finally angus beef tenderloin with little romaine. Fresh-baked bread rounded out these courses. Next up were two dessert dishes, strawberry and brie and finally poached pluot with bellini sorbet. Each course was accompanied by an expertly paired wine. Everything was delicious, but when recapping our meal later, we agreed that the tuna and beef tenderloin were exceptional.
If you enjoy craft cocktails, Navio offers a seasonal cocktail menu. Currently, it includes the Cortez, Amelia Earhart, or Black Beards Sword. I had the chance to sip the gin-based, purple-hued Amelia Earhart which was both delicious and strong.
2. Pasta Moon
No matter where I go, I’m always looking for a good Italian restaurant. Not only do I love the food, but often the atmosphere exudes romance. So Pasta Moon was such a treat to dine at while visiting Half Moon Bay. The chef and owner of Pasta Moon, Kim Levin, is committed to local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and artisans.
What To Order At Pasta Moon
While the menu does change based on the season, one of their continually highest-rated dishes is lasagna. We tried it and agreed — it was delicious. For an appetizer, we enjoyed the grilled, marinated artichoke bruschetta. Artichokes are one of the largest crops in the region, so I highly recommend enjoying them in any form while visiting Half Moon Bay.
Pasta Moon has a nice wine list with a strong focus on Italian wines. There’s also a full bar if you prefer a cocktail.
Another popular and frequently recommended Italian restaurant in Half Moon Bay is Mezza Luna, a place I will certainly be trying during our next visit.
3. La Costanera
When I heard there was a Peruvian restaurant in town, I knew we had to go. Jason and I are always eager to try new cuisine, and La Costanera came highly recommended by local residents. When I did more research, I found it’s one of the top-rated Half Moon Bay restaurants.
Located in the harbor, La Costanera has 180-degree ocean views from two stories up. Weather permitting, there’s also a large outdoor patio. It’s the perfect setting for enjoying one of many seafood dishes.
What To Order At La Costanera
We started with their ceviche sampler which included one made of red snapper, the next from ahi tuna, and the third with mixed seafood. All were tasty, but the tuna was our favorite. Be sure to order the yuca chips to accompany the ceviche.
Next, we shared the pescado a lo macho, a fish and seafood stew prepared with a tasty paprika sauce and served with coconut rice. I love everything flavored with coconut, and I could have eaten the rice by itself.
I hate to admit that we were too full for dessert, but there is a nice menu with sweet, Peruvian specialties.
Pro Tip: After a romantic dinner at La Costanera, take a walk to the water and explore Pillar Point Harbor.
4. Sam’s Chowder House
I think a meal at Sam’s Chowder House is practically required while visiting Half Moon Bay. And I’m never one to pass up a great clam chowder. Sam’s has won all kinds of awards including Best Seafood Restaurant in the Bay Area. Opened since 2006, this is the place to come for fresh fish and seafood.
While Jason was golfing, I found my way to Sam’s for lunch. Even on a weekday it was crowded. Instead of waiting for a table, I grabbed a seat at the bar.
What To Order At Sam’s Chowder House
A cup of Sam’s New England clam chowder is a must. I accompanied it with a local beer — both were tasty. Based on reviews as well as input from local residents, I understand they make a really good lobster roll.
If you don’t like waiting for a table, reservations can be made online in advance.
Pro Tip: The parking lot fills up fast at Sam’s, but there is ample street parking in front of the restaurant if you’re willing to walk a bit.
5. The Barn
The Barn was a last-minute addition to my list of restaurants to try in Half Moon Bay, and boy I am glad I went. Located in a former barn, this rustic-looking restaurant has some seriously unique and tasty food.
What To Order At The Barn
The Barn is well known for its creative hotdogs and hamburgers topped with all kinds of veggies and sauces. I always love a real veggie burger (as opposed to an Impossible or Beyond Meat burger) and I was delighted to see they make their own, called The Pretender. Made from farro, mushrooms, garlic, flax, and parmesan, it was delicious.
The Barn is also known for its soups and milkshakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t try these, but I hope to next time.
Pro Tip: The Barn only offers outdoor seating, either in a tent or in the garden. If it’s a chilly day, dress warm.
6. Half Moon Bay Bakery
On our final morning in town, Jason and I popped into Half Moon Bay Bakery for breakfast. The line was out the door, but the wait was worth it.
Established in 1927, this bakery has been run by five different families, all listed on a plaque outside the front door. The current owners, Desi and Blanca Sanchez, continue the tradition of serving a large assortment of fresh-baked pastries, donuts, croissants, cookies, and pies.
What To Order At Half Moon Bay Bakery
I selected a spinach and feta croissant and coconut besos (a sweet bread traditionally sold in Mexican bakeries). I also took home a loaf of their artichoke pesto bread. Everything was tasty, but the artichoke bread was outstanding.
Pro Tip: They don’t serve coffee at this bakery, but fortunately, there’s a cafe next door that does. The two businesses are a perfect complement for breakfast.
7. Dad’s Luncheonette
One of the things I love about Half Moon Bay is its quirkiness. You just never know exactly what you’ll see around the next corner. Dad’s Luncheonette is a perfect example of this. Scott Clark took an old train caboose, parked it on Highway 1, and turned it into a restaurant. Open only Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m.–4 p.m., this is a great lunch stop while in town.
What To Order At Dad’s Luncheonette
The menu here is small and everything is good, but I highly recommend the mushroom sandwich.
8. Hop Dogma Brewery
Visiting local breweries is a priority when I travel, so when a local recommended Hop Dogma, I knew I had to go. Located in the same shopping center as La Costanera, this is a great place for a pre-dinner drink. There are plenty of spots to sit indoors, but I headed outside to the patio and grabbed a seat in front of the fire pit.
What To Order At Hop Dogma Brewery
With a dozen brews on tap, there is something for everyone including IPAs, pale ales, and stouts. After consulting with the bartender, I opted for Exotic Physics, a hazy IPA.
While there’s no food served here, there’s usually a food truck parked outside. When I visited, it was Lamas, serving a nice combination of Mexican and Peruvian food. Alternatively, grab some takeout from the highly-rated Barbara’s Fishtrap which is just a 4-minute walk from Hop Dogma.
I ran out of time to try more breweries, but there are many others in town that come highly recommended including Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, Humble Sea Brewing, and Sacrilege Brewery. But if spirits are more your style, Half Moon Bay Distillery is a local favorite.
Where To Stay In Half Moon Bay
If, like us, you’re celebrating a special occasion, then the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is definitely the place to stay. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and flanked by two golf courses, the views are gorgeous and reminiscent of Scotland. In fact, each night at sunset, a bagpiper strolls the grounds playing soulful tunes to signal the end of the day.
The decor is California-coastal with neutral colors and plenty of natural light. Our room overlooked both the 18th green of the golf course and the ocean. Robes, slippers, and a Nespresso machine are just a few of the amenities.
Pro Tip: Be sure to have at least one drink at the Ocean Terrace overlooking the golf course and ocean. Don’t worry if it’s chilly outside, there are several fire pits and blankets also available.
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