Being the first part of the Northern California Bay Area Peninsula to be discovered by foreign explorers, and oldest of settlements in San Mateo County (dating back to the 1840s), the Half Moon Bay area coastside is unquestionably filled with a rich historical past. Click here for local resources on historical information.

Below are some quick facts on the history of the Half Moon Bay coast:

  • During 1776, the year the U.S. was formed, Captain Gaspar de Portola founded San Francisco’s Mission Dolores, and within a short time the Half Moon Bay Coastside became the grazing land for mission cattle, horses, and oxen.
  • Highways 92 and 1 (Cabrillo Highway) follow original Indian trails of the native Costanoan (as the Spanish called them – or Ohlone, as they called themselves) Indians who lived here for thousands of years. 
  • In the 1840s, as the gold rush brought Americans west, Half Moon Bay was dubbed “Spanishtown” after land grants were deeded to early Mexican settlers and the owners came to live on their grants during and following the Mexican War.
  • The first small Catholic chapel (no longer standing) was built in Pilarcitos Cemetery, which is visible from Highway 92 just east of Main Street.
  • In 1874, Spanishtown officially became known as Half Moon Bay and the city of Half Moon Bay was incorporated in 1959.
  • Half Moon Bay was a thriving community in the late 1800s and the area’s character was altered by the arrival of Canadians, Chinese, English, Germans, Irish, Italians, Scots, Portuguese, and Pacific Islanders making the Half Moon Bay Coastside a prime example of the American melting pot.
  • During this period to the south of Half Moon Bay there were stagecoach stops at Purissima, Lobitas, and San Gregorio. To the north, there were wharves at Miramar know as Amesport Landing and at Pillar Point for shipping.
  • The 1906 earthquake destroyed the last of the Spanish adobes, but many early wooden structures still remain.
  • In 1907 the Ocean Shore Railroad came to the Coastside, hugging the shoreline from San Francisco to Tunitas Glen. Passengers were able to marvel at the stretches of sandy beaches perfect for picnics, kite flying, horseback riding and exploring.
  • In 1920, the railroad ceased operation due to financial problems due in part to the increasing popularity of horseless carriage.
  • During Prohibition, the Coastside came alive again as the hidden ocean coves and thick fog cover was ideal for rumrunners from Canada.

From the 1920s to the present, growth has been slow but steady. Present day “explorers” of the Northern California Half Moon Bay coast will still see original farms dating back to the 1800s as well as miles of deserted white sandy beaches, redwood forests, beautiful state parks, fields of wild flowers, and hiking and biking trails along ocean bluffs and mountain ridges as far as the eye can see.

Learn more about the historic towns of the Half Moon Bay area:

Photos courtesy of Half Moon Bay History Association