Big Wave Hiking

Hike Pillar Point Bluff to See Mavericks in Half Moon Bay

Mavericks' surf break is like a grizzly bear on reverse schedule: It hibernates in the summer and roars to life in the winter. This famous surf break off the coast of Half Moon Bay has been drawing spectators and big-wave surfers for over 20 years. And while the 24-hour-notice surf contest is the biggest draw, it’s still awesome to see the three-story-building-sized waves break anytime during winter. Outside of a helicopter or boat (those lucky ducks!), the best place to spy the wave when it’s breaking is on Pillar Point Bluff. This trail system is great year round, and punctuated by the dramatic location of the Pillar Point Air Force station.

The beautiful bluffside trail system overlooks the moody Pacific and a few of its popular residents, like harbor seals. The small regional park has dog-friendly trails zigging and zagging on the bluffs with distant views of Mavericks (bring binoculars).

Woman hiking along Pillar Point Bluff towards the Pillar Point Air Force Station

There are several entrance points to the park: from the main parking lot (map) you’ll hike just half a mile up to the bluffs and begin the sea-hugging stroll on a cliffside trail that’s spectacular with coastal views. But it’s not all about Mavericks! You’ll also be able to peer down to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve—the protected coastline below Pillar Point that extends north to Moss Beach. In winter, you’ll likely see loads of harbor seals hanging out on the rocks and bouncing their way into protected coves of more turquoise tones.

People sitting on a log on the beach and eating in front of Barbara

Ambitious hikers can head down the trail to another parking area and follow the beach to Half Moon Bay’s hamlet of food and drink options. The uber-popular Barbara’s Fish Trap has long lines on weekends, but the time passes quickly enough and the takeout classic fish and chips is delicious. Spread some blankets on the beach and picnic before heading back the way you came.

Three people and a dog sitting on a blanket at the beach in front of Barbar

Beverage Bonus: Get a drink and some easy eats at historic Moss Beach Distillery, home to "The Blue Lady" ghost. Once featured on the show Unsolved Mysteries, the story goes that a woman who always wore blue frequented the restaurant to carry on an affair with a man purported to be a piano player in the bar before her tragic death on the beach below. She may still be frequenting the restaurant, in spirit, searching for her lover. Tip: Moss Beach Distillery is popular, so reserve ahead. Try for a seat next to a fire pit on the outdoor heated patio and toast the day’s wanderings.

There are several ways to enter Pillar Point Bluff. We recommend parking at the lot on Airport St. in Moss Beach (map). Follow the trail up to the bluff. Important: Be cautious along the bluffs; signs posted indicate unstable cliffs. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Big Wave Hiking

    Pillar Point Bluff's amazing trail system is a coastal haven most popular for being the best spot to watch the famed Mavericks surf break in winter. But this place is beautiful year round for hiking.

    View
  2. Sweet and Salty

    Located on Highway 1 about 18 miles north of Jenner, Salt Point State is wild, scenic, and one of the most beautiful places to do some classic coastal camping.

    View
  3. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

    View
  4. Barnabe Bonanza

    Sure, there are higher mountains in Marin (Mount Tam) and easier ascents (Mount Burdell), but is there a more expansive North Bay view? Barnabe Peak in Samuel P. Taylor State Park offers a glorious panorama including Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, and Mount St. Helena.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Secret Stair Master!

    Step up to a wonderful 2-mile, nearly 1000-step workout in peaceful Pasadena that is part leg labor, part suburban stroll, and all serene secret.

    View
  2. Hidden Stairway in Silver Lake

    Life in Los Angeles can be vibrant in so many ways, including stairways! This hidden stairway hike in Silver Lake features colorfully artistic and historic steps via 1.5 miles, four unique staircases, and countless local food options for a bite to eat.

    View
  3. Apple of Your Eye

    That fall feeling is definitely in the air and on display at the Oak Glen Preserve. Apple orchards and colorful leaves are a bonus, as are the apple cider donuts and slushies you can enjoy post-hike.

    View
  4. Hidden Trio

    A trio of hidden canyons is often found in more remote places, but they're also on this urban walk in the serene hills of eastside’s Mount Washington. Head here for a beautiful 7-mile (round-trip) neighborhood tour of historic homes, ample greenspace, and, yes, three hidden canyons.

    View