My parents love camping at Francis Beach Campground in Half Moon Bay, so much so, that they camp there several times a year. This year, for Memorial Day weekend, we joined them for a family camping trip that was unexpectedly eventful.
Over the years, we’ve done a lot of camping, so we didn’t think much about dragging out all out camping stuff, loading up the truck, and heading out for the weekend — until we arrived and it was windy, freezing cold, and starting to rain.
Our tent is a summer tent with a lightweight rain fly and when it began to sprinkle, we were a little nervous. Then it got worse and holy moly, our first night was horrendous. My parents have a trailer, so they slept like babies. The four of us on the other hand, we’re in our little summer tent and:
- The rain got worse and worse, until it was seeping through the walls of our tent. My hair was wet and the entire left side of Brian’s sleeping bag was wet.
- The fog rolled in and it was freezing. Totally freezing.
- The wind picked up and became fierce, blowing/folding the whole tent over on us.
- During bad weather, SFO reroutes planes directly over this campground, so loud airplanes were flying overhead every 10 minutes or so.
- The fog horns from the near by lighthouses were blaring constantly.
- The waves were crashing loudly on the beach.
- And, our campsite neighbors were terrible. They were a huge group across several campsites who partied, played loud music, and yelled until well after 1:00 am.
By the next morning, we had maybe slept 45 minutes — and that’s being generous. Brian was ready to pick it in and head to a hotel or go home, but we ended up deciding to stick it out with some changes. Brian and Carter slept the rest of the camping trip in my parents trailer and Natalie and I continued to sleep in the tent, but with earplugs and and a lot of ZzzQuil.
I am so happy we stayed because while still freezing cold, the rest of the trip was awesome!
Francis Beach Campground
Francis Beach Campground, sitting right on a gorgeous sandy beach, behind a small dune, has 52 individual, grassy campsites, and while most are more suitable for RVs and trailers, there are some that are perfect for tents.
We had a huge corner campsite, which meant we only had neighbors on one side and across the street and never felt boxed, like when you get stuck between two trailers. Our campsite was on the opposite end of the campground as the day use area, so it was quiet. It was also was close to the restrooms and the beach access, which was super convenient. While my kids are no longer babies, I still like keeping them in sight.
On Saturday, we walked the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail that runs on the bluffs along the eastern boundary of the beaches for about three miles. It is part of the California Coastal Trail and with a flat, easy paved trail and a narrow dirt trail closer to the edge of the bluff, it’s a great place to walk, jog, ride bikes, pull a wagon, or push a stroller. Plus, there are benches dotting the trail so you can take a break, relax, and enjoy the stunning views at any time!
We also stopped in the Half Moon Bay State Beach Visitor Center, located at Francis Beach, to learn more about this area of the California coast. Here we chatted with a docent who told us about two nearby lighthouses to visit.
We then spent the afternoon at Francis Beach, reading and building sand castles. The beach at our end of the campground wasn’t very crowded at all, but the beach near the day use area was wall-to-wall people — and we were really happy to not be camping at that end of the campground!
On Sunday, after a hearty breakfast, we headed out to visit Pescadero State Beach, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, and the Point Montana Lighthouse. Then we headed back to the campground for some more beach reading and sand castle building. This time, the kids actually played in the surf a bit because all the moon jellies the storm had washed onto the beach had disappeared.
And of course, what camping trip would be complete without s’mores?!
Every night, we built a big fire in the fire pit and made s’mores with Hershey Bars, Symphony Bars, KitKat Bars, and even fudgy brownies — and they were sooooo good!
Half Moon bay State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach extends for four, beautiful, sandy miles along the California coast. It is made up of several small sections of beach, including Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, Francis Beach, and Cowell Ranch Beach.
Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach make up a single two mile stretch of sandy beach connected by the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail, while Cowell Ranch Beach is located much farther south down the rocky coastline. Immediately south of Francis Beach is Poplar Beach — it’s a city-run park and beach and the only stretch of beach that’s dog-friendly.
Here’s some more information on the beaches of Half Moon Bay from north to south:
Roosevelt Beach has a parking area off Young Avenue with restrooms and a picnic area. Several short trails lead through the dunes to the beach and because it is less accessible, this beach is usually much less crowded than the other beaches.
Dunes Beach access is at the end of Young Avenue. There are restrooms near the small parking lot and a moderate trail leads down the small bluff to the gorgeous, sandy beach. This beach also has fewer crowds than the popular Francis Beach.
What’s wonderful about the beaches in Half Moon Bay is that they aren’t covered in seaweed and debris like many other beaches are.
Venice Beach can be found at the end of Venice Boulevard. There are two parking areas, but one looks closed and the restrooms are boarded up. If traveling to Venice Beach, stay to the right! Several short paths and trails lead through the dunes and the nearby neighborhood to reach this beach.
Francis Beach, also called Kelly Beach, is the headquarters for the Half Moon Bay State Beaches. Located at the end of Kelly Avenue, here you’ll find the Visitor Center, a large grassy park on the bluffs with picnic tables and barbecues, a wide and clean sandy beach, easy access to the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, restrooms, outdoor showers, and the Francis Beach Campground.
Poplar Beach is a dog-friendly beach located at 152 Poplar Street. This Half Moon Bay city park is technically a lashed beach, but most of the dogs are all off leash and generally behave well. My parents bring their two labs to that beach to run off leash and fetch balls in the surf.
The hill getting down to the beach is a little steep, but it’s fairly easy and access is free. The nearby paves parking are has a fee.
Cowell Ranch Beach
Unlike the other beaches, Cowell Ranch Beach sits alone, unconnected. Located 0.6 miles south of Miramontes Point Road, there is a small parking lot for just over 10 vehicles and a portable toilet.
From the parking lot, a trail leads 0.5 miles to a stairway that leads to the beach.
If you skip the stairway and stay on the trail, you’ll reach a scenic overlook with views of a harbor seal preserve to the south that is closed to visitors. Pull up a bench to enjoy the view of peek through the telescope to get a closer view of the seals.
Know Before You Go
- Francis Beach Campground at Half Moon Bay State Beach is located 0.5 miles west of Highway One at the intersection of Kelly Avenue and Balboa Boulevard, Half Moon Bay, California 94019 in San Mateo County.
- There is a $10 parking / day use fee at Francis State Beach.
- The day use area is open from 8:00 am to sunset.
- The Half Moon Bay State Beach Visitor Center is open Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free and completely accessible.
- Francis Beach has a campground with 52 individual sites, some suitable for tent camping, others for trailers or recreational vehicles. Some campsites have electrical hookups. Water and sewer hookups are not available, but there is a dump station and a water filling station.
- The campground has individual bathrooms and coin-operated hot showers. Venice Beach directly north has outside showers and restrooms.
- Download the Half Moon Bay State Beach brochure.
- Download the Half Moon Bay Francis State Beach Campground Map.
- While there sometimes is a lifeguard on duty at Francis Beach during busy times, generally, there are no lifeguard stations at Half Moon Bay State Beach, so please be responsible near the water.
- California Gray Whales and Humpback whales can be seen off the coast during the winter months when they are making their annual migrations.
- Fires and fireworks are not allowed on the beach, drones are not allowed in the State Park, and collecting is prohibited — that means no shell collecting!
- Horses are allowed on the Coastside Trail from Roosevelt Beach to Francis Beach. While in the State Park, horses are restricted to the designated horse trail and are not permitted on State Beaches.
- Dogs are prohibited on the State Park beaches at all times. Dogs are permitted in the campground, in the day-use picnic areas, and on the Coastal Trail. They must be on a leash of no more than six feet at all times. Dogs are allowed at Poplar Beach at the west end of Poplar Avenue off Highway One, which is a Half Moon Bay city park. Poplar Beach is technically an on-leash dog-friend beach, but you’ll find lots of dogs off leash.