Visiting Beautiful Half Moon Bay
Historic Johnston House
Half Moon Bay in the Fall: ready for its close-up
Fall is absolutely the best time to visit the MidCoast area just south of San Francisco! The fog takes a back seat to warm, sunny days and clear, crisp nights. The pumpkins are starting to turn orange and there are still flowers and artichokes in the fields... what could be better?
You can come West over Highway 92, but the scenic route from San Francisco is Coast Highway 1, which lives up to its name by meandering down through Pacifica and over Devil's Slide, offering some of the most spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean to be found anywhere. On a clear day, you just may see the Farallone Islands out on the horizon, though they often disappear into the mists for weeks at a time... I sometimes wonder if Brigadoon was written about them! Soon the tunnel will be finished, offering visitors and commuters a faster route, but I'll miss the rugged rocks and peek-a-boo views of this twisty road.
You may be tempted to stop along the way, in Pillar Point Harbor, and enjoy the fresh seafood at the HMB Brewing Company, Cafe Capistrano, or Princeton Seafood. The radar station out on the point overlooks the famous Mavericks, scene of one of the world's most dangerous surfing competitions each year, an area the local surfers avoid because of the rocks and unpredictable currents.
But whether or not you pause to admire the working harbor, I'm going to urge you to keep heading South another 4 miles or so, into Half Moon Bay. You can either turn right at HWY 92 and then right again on Main Street, or continue another long block to the light at Kelly; that right turn will lead you up to Main, as well. Parking on Main can be busy, but there are lots of places to park on all of the side streets.
Once you've parked, take a stroll along our historic Main Street and enjoy all the many interesting shops and places to eat, from the very casual to the very classy. Half Moon Bay is a laid-back town, so feel comfortable in anything from jeans and walking shoes to business casual... you can play a game of 'count the business suits' and not make it through an entire hand!
Some fun and ever-so-uniquely Half Moon Bay places to visit include Feed & Fuel, which just turned a century old this year and still supplies farmers and local 4-H clubs with everything from hay bales and horse blankets to baby chicks and bunnies. Another shop, Half Moon Bay Electric Company, has been around since the old days, and still offers light bulbs and repairs alongside the decorator lamps.
The seemingly oddly-named MCoffee was once named McCoffee by its original owner, Liz McCaughy, but a larger business [who shall remain nameless here] sued to have the 'c' removed. Only in Half Moon Bay would a crowd turn out for the somber funeral of 'little c', which was removed from the sign, mounted in a black-bordered frame and laid to rest on the wall of the coffee shop for many years. Liz took it with her when she sold the shop, but locals still call the place 'McCoffee' more often than not.
Want to go to jail? The original town hoosegow, built in 1911, is on Johnston Street [one block East of Main Street] just off Kelly Ave.
The Historic Johnston House shown in the photo above was built in 1853 on a hill just south of what's now the main part of town and has been lovingly restored by the Spanishtown [Half Moon Bay's original name] Historical Society. It is open to visitors the third Saturday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is closed October, November and December, except for the Holiday House fundraiser held the first two weekends of November.
The loving care with which the town's original buildings have been maintained and restored [or rebuilt, in some cases] makes the place still feel like the little farm town it once was. Cunha's Country Store burned to the ground in 2003, and there's not a person who was living here at the time who can forget that... I could see flames shooting into the air as I drove home over 92 that night from a meeting 'over the hill' and it seemed the entire town turned out over the next few days to mourn the lovely old hub of Main Street. The store was completely rebuilt to look much like the original, and although no longer belonging to a Cunha, is still a fully working grocers in the middle of town.
Look at the sides of buildings and into little side alleys as you walk... you'll discover murals painted on a number of buildings, including the lovely mural on the side of what is now HMB Wine & Cheese, which depicts scenes from town life, such as the Portuguese Chamarita Festival that takes place each Spring.
If you need help finding your way around, the Chamber of Commerce offices are on Main Street, just south of 92, or just ask a local where to go.
Oh yeah, you wanted to know about Pumpkin Festival, didn't you? Once a year, each October, our tiny little town hosts more than thirty thousand of its closest friends for the weekend. Main Street is filled with hundreds of booths selling all manner of arts and crafts, and all of the food booths are run by local nonprofits agencies, school and sports groups, and churches. Be advised that many of the downtown businesses are either not open or are offering limited menus and/or hours, and the traffic is just as horrendous as you can imagine, but if you get here early and stay late, you will avoid much of that and have a wonderful time. Two stages offer continuous entertainment, and there are various places all along the way where artists sing, play, or belly dance, so you won't be bored. A kids' area at the south end of the street has activities for the little ones, too. In 2011, the Festival is October 15-16.
Dogs are not allowed at the Festival, so please leave them home! Honestly, I can't imagine subjecting a beloved pet to the crowds, the noise, and the danger of being trampled, anyway!
I do hope you can come visit during what is my favorite time of year. There's so much more to see and do than I could ever manage to write here!