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San Jose Mercury News

Half Moon Bay: 5 fab ways to play

by Karen D'Souza

5 fab ways to play in Half Moon Bay includes Sam's Chowder House with outdoor patios and ocean view dining
Between the harbor views and lobster rolls, it's hardly surprising that Sam's Chowder House in Pillar Point draws crowds all day long. (Sam's Chowder House)

Autumn may well be the perfect time for a weekend getaway to Half Moon Bay. It's warm enough to make a splash at the beach, but late enough in the year for the pumpkin harvest. Throw in some s'mores by the campfire, and you may well have the ultimate way to unwind. Oh, and did we mention there are redwood forests, tide pools, lighthouses and whale watching? Here are five reasons to fall hard for Half Moon Bay.


This is a paradise for pumpkin lovers with scores of charming, family-friendly patches scattered about town. Here are three of our faves: Arata Pumpkin Farm, the granddaddy of them all, beckons with its colossal horse sculptures, an epic maze and a haunted house. 185 Verde Road; Farmer John's Pumpkin Farm, where farmer John and his wife, Eda, grow more than 60 varieties of pumpkins and squash, boasts an authentic Native American teepee, an Ohlone reed hut and a vintage tractor ride. 850 N. Cabrillo Highway;

Lemos Farm is like an amusement park with bouncy houses, pony rides, train and hay rides, a petting zoo and the dirty delights of the Dig Zone. 12320 San Mateo Road;


Sam's famous lobster roll
The famous lobster roll at Sam's Chowder House (Sam's Chowder House)

Sam's Chowder House ( is the reigning champ of seafood. With a killer view and family-friendly atmosphere, this East Coast-style restaurant has an unpretentious oyster-house feel and a prime perch on the harbor. This is your go-to stop for a lobster roll, the tender ahi tuna poke, a first-rate veggie burger and alluring fire pits. The Pillar Point gem is also a great spot to spy the spouts of passing whales, which are whooshing by a little early this year. Locals also rave about Jersey Joe's (, a delish hoagie and cheesesteak shop that's the perfect spot for throwing together a picnic lunch for the beach. For a refined and innovative take on seafood, Navio at the Ritz-Carlton ( is a prime spot to view the sunset, sip fine wine and bask in the pleasure of grilled wild salmon with figs.


Have a meet-and-greet with the friendly goats at Harley Farms Goat Dairy ( in nearby Pescadero, then sample the decadent goat cheese they help produce. Just try to resist these gorgeous rounds of creamy cheese bejeweled with flower petals. This is cheese as art. (Once you are in this neck of the woods, you might also check out Pescadero or Pomponio beach.)


Kids will be tempted to make like a crab and scuttle along the rocks of the eye-popping seashore at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Peer into the mysteries of the deep as captured in coastal tide pools, with their never-ending ballet of starfish, crabs and sponges, or simply gaze at sea lions splashing in the surf. Be sure to check out the schedule for low tide for the peak time to, well, peek at this Moss Beach treasure;


Take a peaceful hike amid the towering giants of Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. Blissful views of the coast are almost beside the point as you stroll through 4,000 acres of ancient trees. You'll spot few tourists in this underappreciated forest, but there are scads of banana slugs and butterflies to gawk at; If you run out of time for a hike, you can get a taste of the redwood atmosphere by driving home on Highway 84, which snakes through deep, dark groves, and also has far less traffic than the often-snarled Highway 92.