Sunday, October 20, 2013

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

     It's October, and my favorite Bay Area event celebrating my favorite gourd has arrived. No, I don't mean Halloween. Halloween is for amateurs. I'm talking about the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. Half Moon Bay, pumpkin capital of the world (or so they claim), is one of the prettiest seaside towns along the coast, and it's made pumpkin-love a specialty as well as an art.
     Each October, for three magical days, Half Moon Bay fills every possible surface with every possible pumpkin product. It will keep you seeing orange all the way through Christmas. If you can only go to one event in the Bay Area, this is the one to choose, especially if you want to eat and see pumpkin everything, want pictures with giant pumpkins, want to shop for great harvest art and crafts, and want to pick out your pumpkins from massive pumpkin patches.
    Let me walk you through my festival strategy so you can get an idea for the best way to approach and enjoy this most gourd-plumping of events. Unless you want to spend hours waiting in traffic trying to get into the festival, get to Half Moon Bay early. My suggestion is to be there by 8 am (yes, even on Sunday).
     Have your camera ready for the drive there because beautiful pumpkin patches pop into view as you wind your way through the forested slopes near Half Moon Bay, and the sight of long stretches of pumpkins with deep green trees behind them is one you'll want to remember and brag about every Halloween.
     When you enter Half Moon Bay, there's a parking lot right before Main Street that will get you the closest to the festival while also allowing you a quick and painless getaway when you're done. Parking is $20 in this lot (don't forget to bring cash), but you'll discover it's worth it when you aren't stuck in a snarl of traffic after you're thoroughly pumpkined out. Also, bring a jacket because it tends to be chilly and foggy in the morning.
    You can warm up and reward yourself for being up so early on a weekend by going to the Pancake Breakfast that benefits the local high school basketball team. This breakfast usually starts at 7 am (though I don't recommend getting there that early because you'll have a long wait for the festival to start) and will set you back $10, but you can eat all the pumpkin pancakes you want. They also have sausage, orange juice, and coffee. AND PUMPKIN PANCAKES.
     The festival begins at 9 am, and there are a ton of great vendors to browse, demonstrations to watch, photo ops to take advantage of, and activities to occupy the kids. Some unique items you can find at this festival are gourd art and decorations, wooden wrist watches, pumpkin jewelry, surf board barrettes and magnets, Bay Area photography and trendy art, pumpkin lavender lotion and pumpkin pie lotion, all sizes of blown glass pumpkins, pumpkin hats, pumpkin candles, and bubble wands.
     You can take your kids to the petting zoo, the haunted house, or to the craft stations. You can also sit and watch Farmer Mike carve intricate designs, scenes, faces, and characters into giant pumpkins. You can seek the wisdom of the year's largest pumpkins, take a picture with the world's largest pumpkin sculpture by artist Peter Hazel, listen to event bands, and browse through the little shops along Main Street (there are two books stores and a feed store that sells baby chicks).
     Then it's lunch time, or second lunch time, or snack time, or grab-as-much-food-for-the-ride-home-as-you-can time. Hey, this event only comes once a year. Here's a partial list of the delicacies you can enjoy at this festival: pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chili, pumpkin churros, pumpkin mac and cheese, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin smoothies, and classic pumpkin pie. There are other foods at this event too, but who cares? You're here for pumpkins! The pumpkin ice cream is my favorite.
     Once you finish with the festival, you can stop by the pumpkin patches to pick out your pumpkins, and if you have kids, there are a few more activities to deplete their energy and ensure a peaceful evening: pony rides, train rides, hay rides, corn mazes, haunted houses, and bounce houses.
      But the pumpkin patches are the real whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie. Pumpkins of every sort, every size, and every type, are everywhere...sigh. Walk among them, visit with them awhile, ask them to share their pumpkin knowledge until the perfect pumpkin invites itself home with you. Don't worry, they have plenty of wheelbarrows if you can't choose just one (or ten).
     If you're a true festival enthusiast, you can attend the Great Pumpkin Parade or the pre-festival pumpkin weigh off. If you have a knack for growing giant pumpkins yourself, or you're looking for a hobby, you can win $25,000 if you enter a pumpkin that sets a new world record. Thad Starr set a new California record last year with his 1,775 pound monster gourd.
     This event is perfect for bringing the family together and getting into the Halloween spirit. You'll have so much fun you might elevate Halloween to your favorite holiday...if you haven't done so already. Visit the festival's website to watch a video about the festival, read up on the festival's history, get more info about festival activities, etc:

And now, feast your eyes and torture your tummy with a picture gallery that spans three years of this beloved celebration:

A festival with official gear? Sh*t just got real.

Farmer Mike preparing to carve...
Voila! The Lorax.

Farmer Mike carving away again...
Bluegrass, folk music, and pumpkin festivals? Of gourd.

World's largest pumpkin sculpture by artist Peter Hazel

Bubble Summoner

Bubbles or Inner-Child Whisperers?
The year's largest pumpkins...not the prettiest, but the biggest.
Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Pancakes
On the hunt. Which one is just right?
Choose one...
Pumpkin Patch
Did I mention the prices? Lotta pumpkin for litta dollar.
The odd patch (my favorite).
Another pumpkin patch...
Treasure in hand, rest time...
Or another train ride.
Yet another pumpkin patch.

Until next year, my beauties...

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