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Half Moon Bay State Beach

Half Moon Bay, the oldest town in San Mateo County, lies along a gently curving, sandy shore that is protected as parkland. Stretching for nearly four miles north to south is Half Moon Bay State Beach, a wide expanse of beach and bluff that includes four beaches: Venice, Roosevelt, Dunes, and Francis, the most accessible and most developed. Amenities at Francis Beach include blufftop camping, blufftop picnic tables overlooking the beach, and a small visitor center with displays about local wildflowers, birds, and animals, as well as local history. Beach access for a beach wheelchair is at Roosevelt and Francis Beaches (at the northwest corner of each).

The paved Coastside Trail runs for nearly 3.5 miles behind the beaches, from Mirada Road, one mile south of Pillar Point Harbor, to Poplar Street, .5 miles south of Francis Beach. Numerous benches along the trail offer unobstructed ocean views.

Trail/Pathway Details

Coastside Trail

Trailhead: Accessible from any of the Half Moon Bay State Beaches and from Poplar Beach

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Hard

The bridges are quite bumpy


This heavily used multi-use trail runs along the eastern boundary of Half Moon Bay State Beach and provides good pedestrian access to all four beaches in the system, as well as the city-owned Poplar Beach, south of Francis Beach. The ocean is not always visible, but when it is you can see the crescent shape of the coastline that gives Half Moon Bay its name. For a lovely outing you can combine this walk with a meal at one of several trailside cafes at the trail's north end, by Magellan Road.

I picked up the trail at Poplar Beach and headed south from the parking lot one-quarter mile to a bridge that crosses an outlet to the ocean. I lingered here to admire the exposed walls of the cliffs. On the other side of the bridge, after passing through a small stand of cypress trees, the trail becomes hard-packed dirt and is very rutted. A sign indicates that this blufftop is Wavecrest, a 206-acre park set aside in part to serve as raptor wintering grounds. Although the terrain is very rough and caused me to turn around after 20 feet, it’s worth the jostling because the views are spectacular—plus, you might spot migrating whales (Nov.-Jan.) and raptors. Retrace your steps and continue north past Poplar Road; check out the view from the bluff at the foot of Poplar.

On a sunny, warm winter weekend day, the trail seemed like a superhighway of cyclists, runners, and people pushing strollers and walking dogs. Weekdays will likely be quieter. You can pause and admire the views at one of the many benches along the trail and down dirt paths that take you closer to the ocean. To the east are open, grassy fields that stretch to housing in the distance. You reach Francis Beach in about .8 miles, then cross the park entry road to continue along the trail, unless you want to stop in at the small visitor center (weekends only) or picnic on the bluffs. A sign indicates another 2.4 miles to the trail's end.

The trail parallels the campground access road a short distance, then, once past the developed area, becomes quieter. Dunes on the left are dotted with yellow bush lupine, coyote brush, buckwheat, and sagebrush. Next you cross Pilarcitos Creek on a long wooden bridge that's pretty bumpy. Housing is now closer to the trail and scrub obscures the ocean. Soon you arrive at Venice Beach, where there is no wheelchair access to the beach. I continued north a few hundred yards to another extremely bumpy bridge. After crossing this, the trail briefly curves west and a picnic area comes into view, as does the ocean.

About 1.6 miles from Francis Beach you arrive at Dunes Beach, then Roosevelt Beach. Beyond Roosevelt Beach the surroundings are more residential. At Mirada Road it appeared as if the trail ended, but seeing throngs of people walking on the ocean-front road, I was spurred on. Traffic was sparse and moved slowly because of all the people. In a quarter of a mile I reached Magellan Avenue and followed it a few hundred feet to another trailhead. This new trail travels on the bluffs through Mirada Surf, a 49-acre park that occupies one of the few remaining undeveloped coastal bluffs in the region. We didn’t continue on this trail, but signage indicated that it travels one-third of a mile north to Pillar Point Harbor. On the return trip I topped off the day with appetizers on the patio of a restaurant with an ocean view.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Visitor Center: Accessible

Beach Wheelchair: Yes

Available at the Francis Beach entry kiosk on a first-come, first-served basis. Chairs can be taken to the other beaches using your own vehicle.

Accessible Parking: Yes

Plentiful accessible parking in all beach lots: Francis Beach at the end of Kelly Ave., Venice Beach at the end of Venice Blvd., Dunes Beach at the end of Young Ave., and Roosevelt Beach, accessed beyond the entry kiosk at Dunes Beach. Parking is also available at municipal Poplar Beach.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At Venice, Roosevelt, Dunes, and Francis Beaches; a porta-potty is in the Poplar Beach parking lot. Along the trail, the restroom at the picnic area just past the second bridge was locked during my visit.

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

At Francis and Roosevelt Beaches, and along the Coastside Trail just north of Venice Beach

Other Things of Interest

Lodging in Half Moon Bay tends to be quite expensive, but 8 miles north of town is a great and less expensive option, the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel––ranked one of the top 10 customer-rated hostels in the world for 2010. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it is well-maintained, clean, and unbeatable in price for its stunning ocean views. Access is pretty good throughout despite the fact that it's an older facility.
View fromPoplar Beach
View fromPoplar Beach (Bonnie Lewkowicz)

Features icon key

  • Beach Wheelchairs Available
  • bicycling
  • camping
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • picnic
  • swimming

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: California State Parks
Address: 99 Kelley Avenue
Phone: (650) 726-8819
Hours: Beaches: 8 am to sunset. Visitor center: Weekends, typically 10:45 am-5 pm, but hours are seasonal and dependent on volunteer staffing, so it’s best to call ahead: (650) 726-8819.
Fees: Entrance
Public Transportation: SamTrans
Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, November 28, 2013
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
  Hiking icon is silhouette of a hikerHiking & Trails
Biking icon looks like person riding a bikeBicycling   Good for Familis icon is a child on a swing'Particularly Good for Families
Boating Icon is a boatBoating   Picnic Area Icon is a picnic tablePicnic
Camping icon is a tentCamping   Swimming Icon is a person swimmingSwimming
Fishing Icon is a fish biting a hookFishing   Wildlife Viewing Icon is a pair of binocularsWildlife Viewing