Wave Crashing Family Camping & Mavericks at Half Moon Bay

What a way to start the new year! Family camping by the beach and a phenomenal California surf competition, all before January even finished.  It all started a few weeks ago when we decided to take advantage of our unseasonably warm weather and camp for a night near the coast.  I tried a few other California State Parks but Half Moon Bay State Beach reservations were half empty and it was as close as camping on the beach as one can get.

The Stars (more like the waves) Aligned....

A few days before our quick camping trip, I scanned through my Twitter feed and saw "Mavericks [Surfing] Competition might be held this Friday!"  I literally start going into hyper sonic mode and try to tell my husband what I just read.  I stalked news media for the next two days until it was confirmed that the Mavericks Invitational 2013-2014 was going to be held a few miles from our campsite.  Joy!

Green means, Go! Surfs up!
I'm not a surfer, nor will I probably ever surf but that doesn't mean I'm not fascinated with it.  I'm a California girl, born, raised and I'll probably die here.  I LOVE the beach, it's my happy place and it's a world of wonder especially the once a year 40-60 foot waves where they hold the Mavericks Invitational.  Ever since I found out about this competition I've wanted to attend but it just never happened, so I was beyond thrilled that it happened during our camping trip.

Mavericks Festival: Oceano Hotel & Spa Grounds

A few years ago the Mavericks audience was able to see the competition from the Pillar Point Beach/Cliffs near the area marked as "Mavericks" on the map.  Unfortunately in 2010, a HUGE wave came onto the shore and took down bystanders and media personnel, so now it it prohibited to watch from the shore.  Sadness.  I understand why it is prohibited now but it would still be really cool to see with my own eyes.

The Oceano Hotel & Spa now hosts the Mavericks Festival, here's a quick review on it:
  • Jumbo Tron Viewing ~ There are two huge Jumbo Trons on the opposite ends of the festival, lots of room for everyone to view.  The general audience brought chairs, blankets and set up for the day but there was a VIP area which was more expensive of course.  The viewing was a live feed that occasionally would lose signal but the announcer would jump in to fill the gaps.
  • Mavericks Competition ~ The competition it self was really fantastic to see, each "round" was called a heat and we quickly learned some surfing terminology, like "Air Drop" and of course "Wipe Out".  I didn't know any of the surfers but Grant "Twiggy" Baker from South Africa became our favorite real quick, who eventually won the competition.  I know...there were many Bay Area local surfers in the competition but Twiggy was awesome and no one could deny it.  I loved how the audience would go into a lull but  the energy would pick up along with the waves.  There was a local band playing "beach music" from Pacifica which was entertaining to listen too, GoPro was doing a giveaway which we signed up for but left before they announced the winner.
  • Logistics/Cost/Parking ~ The festival is located in the Oceano Hotel & Spa Parking Lot, no real view of the ocean but it's walking distance away. There were FOUR levels of tickets ranging from $15-1,000/ticket, we purchased the $15 tickets online the night before.  I had read in other reviews that the festival had sold out online in the past years so I didn't want to risk it and purchased it online.  I was able to download all our tickets on Eventbrite App and the ticket hostess just scanned my phone at the entrance.  Parking is available at the Half Moon Bay Airport but we parked for free about a mile away on Pacific Coast Highway 1 and walked along the Coastal Trail to the festival.  There is a bike valet if one decided to ride your bike to the festival.
  • Family Friendly Activities ~ There was only one real family friendly activity, the Skate Park, which is geared more towards older children who can skateboard.  My toddlers were a little bored because they wanted to go to the beach and there weren't toddler friendly activities.  They were only partially interested in watching the surfing competition on the Jumbo Tron.  Hint, hint....maybe more kid-friendly activities (rock climbing, a portable playground or inflatable slides, etc)!  I saw lots of families with younger children, so family friendly activities might be a great addition.
  • Food/Beverages ~ There were food trucks galore!  In particular, The Sanguchon a Peruvian food truck that I've been dying to check out.  It was was DELICIOUS by the way!  I was so fixated on The Sanguchon truck I can hardly remember the other food trucks but other foods included paella, garlic fries, burritos, grilled sandwiches.  Cliff Bar and Red Bull were also there giving out free samples as well.  There was a free water station as well as a a Sierra Nevada station on every corner.

Overall, we had lots of fun at the Mavericks Festival watching the competition and eating delicious food.  We left in the middle of the festival to walk around Pillar Point Harbor and found a little beach and creek for the kids to run around before returning to watch another heat.  News media was all around Pillar Point Harbor, from CNN to NBC with helicopters flying all around Half Moon Bay.  I am definitely going to return someday to the Mavericks Invitational/Festival but maybe when I have enough money to charter a boat out to the waves so I can see them myself!!  Truly amazed by the surfers physical strength, expertise and courage to go out in those enormous waves.

Wave Crashing Camping at Half Moon Bay State Beach ~ Francis Beach

We left the Mavericks Festival before the Final heat and walked along Coastal Trail to our car on Pacific Coast Highway 1.  We couldn't check into our campsite until 2 p.m., so the Mavericks Festival was a good way to spend the day.  My original plan was to hike around Pillar Point but all roads were blocked off due to the competition.

Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail

The First of Many Camping Trips
As I mentioned earlier, we just wanted to get away for a quick camping trip and not spend time driving far away for a one-night camping trip, so Half Moon Bay State Beach was the perfect place to start our camping adventures for 2014.  Half Moon State Beach is actually comprised of four beaches, Francis Beach being one of them, 52 campsites and it feels far away from the city even though it a few blocks away from downtown Half Moon Bay.  We are not RV campers and probably will never be, but I must mention that this was primarily a RV campground, yet with a few tent campers interspersed around.

Mi Casa - ALPS Mountaineering: Three Room Camping Tent
We had reserved Campsite #40, which was an RV/tent site with partial shade, a picnic table, fire pit with a grill and the road ran behind it.  Not my ideal location but cars hardly drove by and in the morning we were able to see all the horseback beach tours ride by, which added the "California Factor" to the campsite.  NOTE: There are Tent-Only sites which are almost on the beach (near the bathrooms), which I'm assuming must be reserved way in advance.

The campground was pretty quite overall, there was close to no RV noise which was hardly noticeable over the crashing waves.  Once darkness rolled around, all the RV campers went into their homes and it seemed like we were the only ones there.  Nice.  I think we were the only ones in our area with a fire going, which we cooked Chicken Shish Kabobs.  After dinner, our toddlers fell asleep (Yay!) and we waited for my friends' husband to arrive.  Once he arrived we all proceeded to have second dinner, one of the many reasons we like camping.  It was a chilly night and we all ended up smelling like smoke because we huddled so close to the fire for the rest of the evening.  Fun times.

Crashing Waves at Francis Beach
Francis Beach is just down a few steps from the campgrounds but be warned it isn't a swimming beach due to its strong currents.  Plus nobody really "swims" in the Northern California beaches because they are too cold.  My toddlers concept of the "beach" is playing in the sand vs. swimming in the ocean.  They like to roll down a sandy beach dune [Cue Video]....

We spent a little while at the beach before setting up camp so the kids could burn off some energy!  I loved being able to still see the waves at Mavericks/Pillar Point from Francis Beach but the waves right in front of me were strong and large as well.  All night we heard the waves from our campsite, but at some point in the middle of the night the waves sounded like mini-explosions which was really neat to hear.  While the night brought crashing waves and a strong wind, they disappeared with the sunrise.  Everyone slept well, except when the winds became so strong that my son woke up to ask what was all that noise, it's just wind little buddy.....

The morning came, breakfast and packing commenced before we went down to Francis Beach. Our camp neighbors had children similar age to ours and they played together in the trees.  Camp friends are nice because we could easily clean and pack up without major disruption.  We spent the rest of the morning playing in the sand and splashing in the water until the kids got tired of the waves knocking them down.

Thus ends our great first camping adventure at Half Moon Bay.  Surfing competition, giant waves, camping at a great California State Park, family, friends and being in the outdoors.  I love California.

What's your favorite California outdoor adventure?

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Related Posts and Links

  1. The Excellent Año Nuevo State Park
  2. Half Moon State Beach - California State Parks
  3. California State Parks Website
  4. Mavericks Invitational 2013-2014