Half Moon Bay: Your Pumpkin Headquarters
By Kathy Chin Leong
This autumn, instead of buying your pumpkin at the local Safeway, consider taking the family to Half Moon Bay, the pumpkin capital of the world. Fill your senses with the intoxicating breeze and seascape views, and pick an orange orb or two while you're there.
On Oct. 16 and 17, over 250,000 visitors will converge here to celebrate the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. The town pulls out all the stops to host visitors with a 5K run, a parade, costume contest, pumpkin pie eating contest, and the revered pumpkin weigh off. Last year an Oregon man won with his 1,180 pound orange behemoth.
Here are four colorful coastside institutions where pumpkins and kids go hand in hand this time of year. Throughout this month, they are open daily to visitors. Going mid-week is your best bet to beat the crowds.
FARMER JOHN'S PUMPKINS
"This is a magical place," says Farmer John of Farmer John's Pumpkins . "We have special needs kids come out here and run around, and their moms are so thankful. They tell me their stories. We cry almost everyday."
The 15-acres of pumpkins here is one of many pumpkin patches in the area, and in the fall, Farmer John strives to be unique with his rainbow assortment of gourds which he sells for eating, carving, and for display. Under the bright green leaves, he reveals a white pumpkin variety known as Cotton Candy. In another row, he pulls back leaves to unveil a stout, orange red one called "Cinderella's coach."
"I'm doing a shipment of pumpkins today for William-Sonoma for their display window," he says. "I have to FedEx it." Recently he sent baby pumpkins to a would-be bride to decorate her reception tables. The day prior he had lovely models come out to do a photo shoot in his pumpkin patch for a national magazine.
That's the life of a pumpkin farmer. With competition among so many in Half Moon Bay, Farmer John says he has to be creative with what he's got.
Team-building pumpkin carving is yet another opportunity he has begun to develop. Here's how it works: a company looking for a team building retreat goes to Farmer John's to reserve a half-day session in his field. There in an outdoor room, where the walls are made of corn stalks, employees sit on haybales and carve pumpkins as cleverly as they can. A local pumpkin artist will give a demo, and then lunch is served.
Farmer John keeps things simple with his approach to business. He believes in giving back to the community by offering school tours when asked, and he is a member of the Chamber of Commerce. People who come to pick pumpkins here can either pick the ones already cut from the field, or they can go into the patch itself and get one "fresh."
When Mr. Lemos purchased this acreage in 1942 to build a dairy, little did he know that in 2004 it would be one of the top amusement attractions in Half Moon Bay. Lemos Family Farm on Highway 92 isn't really a working farm, but the kids don't care. Owner Bob Lemos and his family live on the property, and folks coming to Half Moon Bay can't miss the large horse statue in front with the Lemos Farm sign perched beneath.
This is the place local kids come for a birthday party or soccer celebration. Lemos farm has a downhome feel of a country picnic with enough activites to keep children busy for an entire day. This is obviously more than a pumpkin patch.
Lemos runs pony rides, train rides, a bounce house, a Halloween spook house in October, barbecue facilities, pumpkin patch, wagon rides, playground, a petting zoo and more. Attractions each cost $1 and upwards to $4.
His little boys Frank, 7, and Joe, 5, take all this for granted, of course. When asked if they like living among ponies and wagons, they reply, "Yeah, I guess so." It's funny to also note that the boys are sometimes invited to their friend's birthday parties on their own property, tells their father.
In October, the establishment is open daily.Of late, Lemos has decided to make the farm a year round play arena, and on weekends it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then in the winter, he sells Christmas trees and turns the same place into a winter wonderland.
For now, his staff has hauled in pumpkins to corral together into a patch, and he's put together the annual Haunted House that operates daily. A less scary version for younger kids operates in the early part of the day with all the lights on, he says. The older kids can get scared out of their wits when they come later.
With picnic tables on the premises and a snack shack to buy everything from burgers to pizza, parents can enjoy food and festivities while their costumed tykes take control of the farm.
Directly across the highway is 30-something-year-old Pastorinos , a flower farm with a huge red barn that's transformed into an autumn boutique during the fall. For arts and crafts lovers, this place is an amazing shopping extravaganza, for the barn stalls feature elaborately decorated booths.
Visitors can buy corn husks, apple dolls, and decorator items in every shade of brown, yellow, and orange. Pastorino employees comb gift fairs during the off-season to stock up on one-of-a-kind doodads for this harvest fair.
Although Pastorinos focuses on its plants and flowers the rest of the year, business is business. Like Lemos, Pastorinos offers hay rides and pony rides, a food window, and a large pumpkin patch with what seems like miles of bright orange gourds.
Tourists can walk the premises to view and buy plants from the greenhouse and walk in the back of the property to enjoy views of colorful flowers in the fields.
Further south on Highway One, Arata's Pumpkins has attracted families for decades. Valerie Kenway, a mom in Moss Beach, says she used to bring her children here when they were little. And although they are now in college, she says they have fond memories of the little farm.
People from all over the Bay Area and even further out will come just to buy a pumpkin from this region hailed as the pumpkin capital of the world. At Arata's, kids come in costume while parents grab their video and still cameras to get the perfect shot. The Kodak moments are many in this 6.5 acre working farm where every square inch seems to be splashed with orange.
Arata's features hay rides, a petting zoo, snack shack, a castle made of hay bales, and an ingeniously complex hay bale maze. For families that plan on buying lots of pumpkins, Arata's provides wheelbarrows for those heavy duty loads.
Arata's has ample parking, and schools arrive by the busload for field trips. In fact, owners Chris and Sunneva Gounalakis have special pricing for schools so that kids can get a pumpkin and an animal ride and petting zoo experience for just $7.
185 Verde Rd. Rt. 1
Half Moon Bay 650/726-7548
Farmer John's Pumpkins
800 N. Cabrillo Hwy.
Half Moon Bay 650/726-4980
Lemos Family Farm
12320 San Mateo Rd.
Half Moon Bay 650/726-2342
Pastorino Gifts & Plants
12391 San Mateo Rd.
Half Moon Bay 650/726-6440
WHEN YOU GO, BE SURE TO...
- Arrive in town well before 11 a.m. if you travel via Hwy 92. The congestion is brutal after that.
- Bring enough cash to pay for your pumpkins. Many places do not take credit cards.
- Bring all-weather clothing for finnicky skies. A fog bank can roll in at any time.
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