THE BLOG
05/06/2013 11:37 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

Finding Hidden Gems in California: Half Moon Bay

By definition, gemologists are qualified to identify and evaluate gems. I pride myself on finding the hidden gems of California family vacation spots. While I am fortunate enough to reside on the west coast, I am on a lifelong mission to vacation in my backyard and then share these hidden destinations.

Most families are probably beginning to pencil out summer vacation plans and I encourage you to put away the pencil and write, "Half Moon Bay" on your calendar in pen.

My family and I just had the opportunity to head up the coast and spend a few nights in this secret little beach town which is nestled just 40 minutes south of San Francisco in San Mateo County. According to numerous sources, this little town is the hush-hush weekend getaway spot for residents of San Francisco. While I am normally good at keeping secrets, this one warrants a shout-out from the rooftops.

On our journey to this little coastal town, we pulled into Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, which is about 25 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. Harley Farms is a restored 1910 goat farm which boasts a historic barn, mercantile shop of amazing goat milk products along with critically acclaimed cheeses. My personal favorite was the "Van Goat chevre round" which delighted not only my palate but my visual senses as each cheese round contains a stunning edible flower pressed onto the top. To our delight, we stumbled upon the farm during baby goat season and the seasonal baby goat count was at 186! While I have had the pleasure of touring many farms in California, this one ranks as number one in my opinion. It's more than just a goat farm -- you can feel the love and dedication exuding from every staff member.

We arrived at the spectacular Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay wide-eyed and ready to experience all that the area has to offer families. Our hotel contained the same elegant features that The Ritz-Carlton is known for however, the breathtaking Northern California coastline combined with the property which is reminiscent of Old Scotland will leave the most elite traveler in awe. Our evenings were spent on our patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean roasting smores and watching as a bagpiper filled the evening air with timeless sounds channeled straight from Scotland.

Where to Dine:
It's Italia in Downtown Half Moon Bay is a gorgeous Tuscan-inspired restaurant serving mouth-watering Italian dishes, artful pastas, award winning pizzas and my personal favorite, the gnocchi with a roasted tomato cream sauce. Forget seconds, I was begging for thirds! I also recommend one of their fun and lively signature cocktails, such as the Margaretta's Margarita, which comes with an optional pinch of chile powder!
Sam's Chowder House was another highlight on our weekend adventure. I had heard about their famous lobster roll, which was named as one of the "Top Five Best Sandwiches in America" by NBC's Today Show and not only was the lobster roll unbelievably delicious, the jumbo prawns stuffed with Dungeness crab and wrapped in smoked bacon were to die for. The sunset from this cliffside hot spot partnered with their organic, soft served ice cream sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil is a match made in gastronomic heaven.
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company sits just down the road from the Pillar Point Harbor and is a fun, family-friendly restaurant and brewery where we enjoyed a laid back atmosphere and a fabulous Yucatan Ceviche and Ahi tuna poke, served with house-made tropical salsa, fried won tons and tortilla chips. We were also mesmerized by the Dungeness crab roll, which paired nicely with the Mavericks Rye Pale Ale, which was suggested by the fabulous, Chef Gaston Alfaro who prides himself on eclectic menu that plays upon the colors, textures and tastes of the regional cuisine of Half Moon Bay.
Navio at The Ritz-Carlton recently re-opened after a one million dollar renovation and was a phenomenal experience from the incredible ocean view to the last morsel of dessert on my plate. Specializing in the region's freshest ocean cuisine, this was the culinary highlight of our trip and possibly, of our year. I asked everyone at our table for a moment of silence as enjoyed the Grilled Alaskan King Salmon with a curry leek fondue, which was served with glazed spring vegetables and braised fingerling potatoes and an ouzo crème fraiche broth. My daughters both agreed that their macaroni and cheese dish warranted a five-star review. The amazing Navio is under the direction of Executive Chef, Xavier Salomon who is the second chef in Ritz-Carlton history to earn the title of Maître Cuisinier de France (French Master Chef).

Where to Play:
La Nebbia Winery is located in the picturesque hills of Half Moon Bay and they pride themselves on producing complex, full-bodied red wines, which were right up my alley. While reds normally excite my palate, the warm weather beckoned me to leave with their 2010 Rose with hints of strawberry and watermelon. Located behind the tasting room is a gorgeous backyard filled with picnic tables and much to my daughters' delight, bocce ball courts!
Half Moon Bay Art Glass is an art glass studio specializing in blown and sculpted forms of nature. Owner and glass artist, Douglass C. Brown literally breathes imaginative art pieces into existence and offers glass sculpting classes to novice and more experienced glass artists of all ages. While shopping in and around Half Moon Bay, you will recognize his works of art at many stores and hotels around town. Definitely a must-do for the entire family!
Half Moon Bay Kayak Company takes you from the role of visitor to participant as you paddle your way through the dynamic and diverse environment of the protected Pillar Point Harbor or into the wild waters of the Pacific Ocean. Our family consists of both novice and expert kayakers and owner, Doug Connor, was able to accommodate everyone in our group with ease.
Ritz Kids Camp at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay provided an afternoon of adventures for my daughters that entailed tennis lessons, crafts and a fun-filled scavenger hunt. Afterwards, we enjoyed a family golf lesson on Half Moon Bay Golf Links, a world famous golf course right next to the hotel. I was so green when it came to golf that I initially thought that we were using "sandwich" clubs only to discover that the proper term is "sand wedge." We had a ton of fun and are already looking forward to our next golfing adventure.
Mavericks is a popular beach in Half Moon Bay which is known as a world-famous, big wave surf spot. What many don't know is that during low tide, this is by far one of the best spots in California for tide pool adventures. Here you will see starfish, sea anemones, crabs and on occasion, an octopus! Take a walk out onto the reef for a true family adventure.
Sea Horse Ranch offers guided horseback adventures for the entire family regardless of your skill level. Your adventure takes you on seven miles of beautiful trails, through a creek and along the bluffs of Sunset Beach. The true magic happens as you arrive on the sandy sea shore.

If you are seeking a family friendly adventure for the summer months or anytime of the year, Half Moon Bay is one of the most welcoming little towns that I've ever visited. My family could have easily spent an entire week enjoying the people, farms, beaches, restaurants and the charming downtown area. As we were driving off into the Half Moon Bay sunset, my daughter summed it up when she said, "This was the best vacation ever!" To plan your trip, visit www.visithalfmoonbay.org.

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