Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, Pescadero?
Samtrans offers a coastal bus service that connects the central Bay Area to the peninsula's beach towns, seven days a week. [Last updated 8/13/23]
Weekdays to / from WOAK [C]
To/from downtown Half Moon Bay via Pacifica: The journey takes around two hours. Earliest departure: 5:10AM. Last return: 7:08PM via bus 117, or 9:06PM via bus 294 and CalTrain..
Pescadero and Points South: You may be able to schedule an inexpensive ride to destinations south of Half Moon Bay. See SamTrans' Coastside Services page.
Weekends to / from WOAK [C]
To/from downtown Half Moon Bay via Pacifica: The journey still takes around two hours. Earliest departure: 6:18AM, Saturday, 8:18AM Sunday. Last return: 9:06 PM via #294 and Caltrain.
For an introduction to this blog, check The Glove Compartment.
In Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, winter creeks draw sediment west from the Santa Cruz Mountains, where it adds, along with the sea erosion of low bluffs, to miles of flat, sandy beaches. The creeks are riparian sources for some of the oldest livestock ranges in Northern California, and each of them has attracted settlers from the Hispanic Pacific: Mexican, Philippine, Chinese, and Irish. Places on this coast, which for a long time was simply marked on Anglo maps as “Spanish Town,” can still look like Spain: at Our Lady of the Pillar, I saw a woman enter the church by inching across the threshold on her knees, a rare penance in Northern California. This ancient Californio community and the newer, slightly bohemian Anglo community are another set of parallel flows, not braided together, but not as antagonistic as in some central valley towns – at least, that's how it seemed to me in a brief visit.
As ranching and fishing gave way to tourism, the creek towns north of San Pedro Mountain (including Edgemar, Vallemar, and Linda Mar) incorporated -- re-branded themselves, one could say -- as Pacifica, while the towns south of that cape (Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada) remain unincorporated "census points" blending together with the largest, oldest town, which was called San Benito before it became Half Moon Bay. The "census point" of Montara has a noble website, from which I am pleased to quote the following: "Asking typical developers/contractors/realtors to limit growth . . .is like asking guppies to stop eating their young or dung beetles to stop rolling balls of their foul bounty." It's indeed an attraction of the sites from Rockaway Beach south that the Santa Cruz range behind them is largely undeveloped.
Where the creeks drain to the surf, Highway 1 is spanned by one or two lights, at which the traffic waits for people to cross with cautious, sandal-lifting steps. Being split by a highway usually makes half of a community into a desert, with curtailed foot traffic, but in Pacifica or Half Moon Bay, constant walking is the stitch between the main street and the state park.
SamTrans's coastline routes thread through these lights to curl around Highway 1 like a vine. SamTrans #110 leaves Colma BART and winds around the Serramonte ridge to discover the ocean, several times each day, including weekends. It's the best choice for visiting Pacifica, which offers several beach stops that seem more affordable, if more franchise-influenced, than the resort towns farther south. This bus also offers a close-up tour of the small, pastel "Doelger" houses that are a characteristic feature of Daly City as seen from the interior freeways. Up close, passing so many individual doors on one street helps you appreciate the democratic impulse that offered home ownership for the working class on the California coast. Small parcels; big sky full of clouds and spray.
SamTrans 110 ends at Linda Mar Park 'n Ride, which is next to a shopping center, and a popular beach. From there, SamTrans #117 rides a classic Highway 1 bend and heads south along Half Moon Bay. Every third stop on the #17 offers an appealing place to eat, or a beach, of which my favorite was Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, accessible from the bus stop at Airport and Los Banos. Low tide exposes acres of tidepools – then the breakers return as a fast, intense attack.
You can leave the bus and travel between the towns along Half Moon Bay via the HMB Coastside Path, paved, car-free, bike-, wheelchair-, and dog-friendly, and as I write this, in May 2017, bordered by wildflowers. And by beach; beach; more beach; vast, clean, accessible, and free to all. Staying overnight in walking distance, though, can cost $200 or more in high season, but I noticed at least two hotels with closer to two-star pricing: America's Best and the Comfort Inn.
For more historical interest and another easy, scenic, low-traffic bike trip, near the end of the our route, follow Higgins Canyon Road from the south end of Half Moon Bay's Main Street to the Burleigh H. Murray Ranch.
As of August 2023, SamTrans offers several buses and ride services that parallel the 117 through Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. This may allow you more flexibility in touring this region. Note that some of them are on-call rides; in particular, SamCoast offers rides to destinations further south, like Pescadero, which were formerly served by an infrequent bus. Give them a call if you are interested in visiting the stunning coastline on the way to Santa Cruz.
Alternative CalTrain Route via Hillsdale: If you want to go directly to downtown Half Moon Bay, it is sometimes faster to take CalTrain or the SamTrans El Camino Real bus to the Hillsdale stop, and catch the SamTrans #294 on Camino Real, near the Hillsdale mall. This bus crosses the hills on Highway 92, visiting the Crystal Springs Reservoir and old school attractions like Santa's Tree Farm, some of which have bus stops. The 294 runs frequently, including on weekends, and is often the last bus leaving Half Moon Bay after dark.
Alternative Route From Linda Mar to Montara: Much of the route along the coast can be bicycled or walked, but car-free travel on Highway 1 itself is too dangerous, in my opinion. I know that many experienced touring cyclists use it; one of them was killed near El Granada while I was researching this post.
The cliffside and tunnel section of Highway 1 from Linda del Mar to Montara (the “Devil's Slide” area) seems especially inappropriate for bikes. However, there is a wild alternative over the San Pedro Mountain Trail – the former country road between Linda Mar and Montara that now serves as a hiking and fire trail. You can enter it by riding east from the Linda Mar shopping center, right at the light, and continuing south on ascending roads until you reach the end of Higgins. Google. The first quarter of this road climbs through a beautiful eucalyptus forest; the balance of the route is along lee slopes of headlands. The slope is surprisingly gentle, but the paving is so full of holes that you may need to dismount and walk about 20% of the time, if you use a road bike with skinny tires. Only this erosion prevents me from saying it is one of the best bike routes in the bay area. It's a fine route for a hike.
San Pedro Mountain Trail rejoins Highway 1 near Montara. This section of the highway has enough shoulder to permit a walk to the bus stop (turn left on 2nd to meet the #117 on Main). Google recommends a route on farm roads that avoids the highway, but I was not able to confirm that this route is accessible.
The Devil's Slide itself, a section of Highway 1 plagued by rockfalls, has been replaced by a tunnel. The resulting two miles of disused highway are now a pedestrian and bike trail. It's reportedly wonderful – a chance to cruise Highway 1 without a car – but I didn't visit it myself, because it's a bike route to which there is no bike route. The only safe access without a car is the #117 bus, which will drop you at the parking lot on the Montara side, either northbound or southbound. (This stop replaces the dedicated shuttle from Pacifica mentioned by some websites that describe the Devil's Slide Trail.)