With even more seaside splendor than legendary Highway 1, a bike ride along the California Coastal Trail provides a safe and scenic way to explore the Half Moon Bay coast. Blissfully removed from (nearly all) roads and traffic, the family-friendly trail guides cyclists through lush wildlife habitats, past secluded beaches, and along dramatic coastal bluffs with sweeping views of the Pacific. Below, we’ve assembled everything you need to know about biking the trail plus some notable stops along the way.
About the California Coastal Trail
Still a work-in-progress, The California Coastal Trail (CCT) is a statewide project that, upon completion, will span 1,200 miles of the California coastline. Rather than one contiguous path, the CCT is comprised of numerous trails that extend from Mexico to the Oregon border. Locally, the multi-use path follows the former Ocean Shore Railroad route welcoming bikers, hikers, equestrians, and those with wheelchairs. For cyclists, the best stretch extends 7.5 miles from Pillar Point Harbor to the Ritz Carlton. Without stops, the exhilarating one-way journey clocks in at an average 45-60 minutes.
What to Expect
Big, panoramic ocean views are a given, but you may be surprised by the diversity of landscapes you’ll encounter along the trail. In addition to skirting beachfront shores and coastal bluffs, you’ll zip under giant cypress trees and across bridges that extend over rippling creeks and lush riparian habitats. In spring, the path is enveloped by a riot of colorful wildflowers. Along the way, you’re likely to spot local wildlife such as soaring red-tailed hawks, dive-bombing brown pelicans, and when the season’s right, migrating whales that fill the horizon with misty plumes.
If you need a bike, or simply don’t want to hassle with lugging your own, there are numerous nearby options to rent. The Bike Works has a variety of rentals—from comfort bikes to mountain bikes to performance road bikes—located a few blocks from the CCT. Half Moon Bay Kayak Company has a number of multi-gear comfort bikes ready to roll at Pillar Point Harbor. Both shops offer tag-alongs for kids.
START: Pillar Point Harbor
Near the site of the famous Mavericks big-wave surf competition, this working harbor provides an ideal starting point for your ride. Within minutes of pedaling out of the parking area, you’ll be skirting peaceful harbor waters filled with colorful fishing boats, zipping past cheerful patio diners at Sam’s Chowder House, and enjoying front-row views of surfers shredding waves at the aptly named Surfers Beach.
Soon after Surfers Beach, you’ll want to slow to appreciate the quaint beach houses, inns, and eateries that form a charming seaside village at Miramar Beach. If you’re feeling peckish, the historic Miramar Beach Restaurant & Bar, a former prohibition-era speakeasy with a fun history, is a popular spot for seafood and sunsets.
Half Moon Bay State Beach
After Miramar Beach, you’ll traverse green coastal bluffs overlooking the four picturesque beaches that comprise Half Moon Bay State Beach. Each one provides an easy opportunity to stop and enjoy the view. After paralleling Roosevelt Beach, you’ll cross a big arched bridge over Frenchman’s Creek, and then be treated to peek-a-boo views of Venice Beach. After a lengthy metal bridge leads you across the lush vegetation of Pilarcitos Creek, you’ll arrive at the namesake sandy mounds of Dunes Beach. Finally, Francis Beach is a popular destination for its oceanfront grills and picnic tables, informative visitor center, and campsites for both tents and RVs.
Some of the trail’s most inspiring views come from cruising high above the sandy expanse of Poplar Beach. You’ll skirt sheer, ice plant-blanketed bluffs dotted with benches. Take five and enjoy panoramic views of the golden shore and blue Pacific.
Wavecrest Open Space
The CCT cuts through the open grasslands and wetlands of this scenic land preserve purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust. The area provides a critical winter nesting site for local raptors including American kestrels, northern harrier hawks, and barn owls. Within the preserve, the CCT doubles as The Bird Trail which provides interpretive panels on the natural history of this important habitat.
END: Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay
Perched on rolling green coastal bluffs, this upscale resort is a fitting destination after a day exploring the coast. Kick back with a craft cocktail at The Conservatory, or soak in a whirlpool near the fireplace in the luxurious day spa. Better yet, call it a special occasion, stash the bikes, and settle in for a restoring overnighter.