Gray Whale Cove State Beach in Montara is a lovely little link in a chain of beaches that string together some of California’s best coastline. This guide for Gray Whale Cove beach will help you plan a day trip there, with suggestions for what to do and how to park.
Gray Whale Cove State Beach FAQ
Where is Gray Whale Cove?
The beach is located on California’s scenic Highway 1, 9.5 miles north of Half Moon Bay and 4 miles south of Pacifica. It’s located just south of the Devil’s Slide and the Tom Lantos tunnel.
How Do You Find Parking?
There is a lot on the east side of Hwy 1 with ~35 spots for cars. However to get to the beach, you’ll need to cross the road, which can be very busy, especially on the weekends. There are no pedestrian crosswalks or traffic lights, or even much of a shoulder, so cross with extreme care.
What are the Amenities at the Cove?
Other than the delightful crescent of a beach and staggering ocean views, there aren’t a lot of services at the beach park. There is a port-o-potty in the parking lot, some picnic tables on the blufftop and garbage cans. Otherwise, pack it in and pack it out.
Are There Day Use Fees for Gray Whale Cove?
No. The parking area is free and there is no fee kiosk for the beach.
Can You Swim in the Cove?
Coastside surfers do go into the water. However it’s a very cold 50-60’F and the surfers are doing it in wetsuits. The area beaches also have riptides. It’s fine to play along the edges of the water on a calm day, but be very careful to keep an eye on the surf.
Read More: Get the full downlow on all CA parks with our complete California State Parks list (with map).
Fun Activities to do at the Cove
Hike Along the Gray Whale Cove Trail
The Gray Whale Cove trail is an 2.2 mile out and back hike along the bluff just east of the parking lot. It goes between the cove’s parking lot and Montara Beach. The trail is high enough that you can get fabulous views of the coast. The trail is part of a larger Montara State Beach hiking system that includes 7 trails ranging from 2-7 miles.
And if you like a good long hike, check out our guide for hiking in Half Moon Bay. It has 10 other options beyond the Gray Whale Cove trail.
Take a swing
On the bluff top, there is is a tree swing with a view that overlooks the cove. You can find it as you enter the bluff, look left toward the Cypress trees.
Take an Extra Large Chill Pill on the Beach
Look, Gray Whale beach is not designed for action-adventure. It’s more of a quiet contemplative beach. You can do some beachcombing on it, but it won’t take long because the beach is fairly small. It really is best suited for sitting in a beach chair and staring at the waves. The north end of the beach is separated by a series of jutting rocks, making it quieter and it’s also sometimes clothing optional. If you do use that section of the beach, note the tide because it will rise up to the rocks, making for a wet return if you aren’t paying attention.
Watch Some Whales
Gray and Humpback whales do indeed swim past the cove on their annual migratory patterns. The best time for spotting Gray whales is Dec/Jan when they are migrating south to the Baja peninsula and then Mar/Apr when they are returning to Alaska. The Humpbacks migrate during the summer months. Your best chance for spotting them will be along the blufftop trail or at nearby Devil’s Slide trail.
More Fun Things to do in Half Moon Bay and the Coastside
- Plan your visit to Half Moon Bay with our complete guide.
- Get more beach action by checking out one of the three beaches that are part of the Half Moon Bay State Beach Park or Pescadero State Beach.
- We also have a list of our 10 fave beaches in HMB.
- Head over to El Granada for a hike in Quarry Park.
- If you are visiting in the fall, be sure to check out the Half Moon Bay pumpkin patches.
- Book a beachy weekend getaway at one of these cool coastal Airbnbs in Half Moon Bay.
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3 thoughts on “Gray Whale Cove State Beach Park: Everything You Need to Know”
Thank you for the blog, Carol….
Planning to visit this weekend…
Great write up! Always a nude beach not sometimes though
Tourists, please be very careful! Gray whale cove has been the site of a shark attack in the past year, drownings due to sneaker waves and rip currents and cliff rescues on the bluffs above. Please DON’T park on the shoulders and turn outs of Highway 1. Those are needed for emergency and rescue access as this is the only route to save people and help with the frequent accidents. Use extreme caution crossing Highway 1. There is a blind curve just south of the parking lot that can be a problem when cars are stopped to turn or allow pedestrians to cross. Also be advised that the north end of the beach has historically been clothing optional.