Thursday, October 10, 2013

Toddler X's Pumpkin Report: Visiting the Half Moon Bay patches

The second day of our pumpkin-patching week brought us to Half Moon Bay, the self-proclaimed "World Pumpkin Capital" (not to be confused with "The Pumpkin Capital of the World" -- that self-proclaimed honor goes to Morton, Illinois, which also gets the "Fastest Self-Proclaimer of Pumpkin Greatness" award).
Driving to Half Moon Bay during pumpkin season can be a nightmare. Highway 92, which takes you from 280 to the coast, is one lane at most points, and twists and turns over the Santa Cruz Mountains before descending toward the sea. As you near Half Moon Bay, you begin to encounter pumpkin patches left and right (literally -- they are on both sides of the highway). At the end, where Highway 92 intersects Highway 1 near downtown Half Moon Bay, you have a single stoplight to handle the massive influx of visitors from points east (i.e., most of the Bay Area). All of this creates quite a traffic jam, particularly on weekends and super-particularly the weekend of the actual Pumpkin Festival (October 19-20).
During the week, however, the drive is quite doable, and I'm guessing early in the morning on the weekends (excepting Pumpkin Festival) you'd be okay too. Just pack something in the car to occupy your toddler, and look forward to the fun that awaits you at the other end -- because Half Moon Bay, though a bit of a hassle to get to, truly is a pumpkin patch mecca. Here's what you need to know:
The Timing

As I noted above, the traffic is horrendous mid-day on weekends and anytime during the Pumpkin Festival. If you're visiting on a weekend, try to make it over the hill as early as possible. Most of the patches open at 9 a.m.

During the week, you're fine driving to HMB almost any time of day, except for late afternoon. Many people who live in HMB and its environs commute over Highway 92 for work or school, so if you're driving in from around 3:30 onwards, you may get caught up in the commute traffic of residents returning home.

In terms of the best time to visit the patches, it seems like early to mid-afternoon on weekdays is ideal. In the morning, the patches are overrun with visiting preschools, kindergartens and playgroups, but in the early afternoon, you can have them (almost) all to yourself. If your toddler can postpone his or her nap until 2 or 2:30 (or 3:30, as Toddler X did for our HMB trip), you have a couple of great hours to visit a pumpkin patch, and a sleeping toddler for the drive home.

The Route
From Highway 280, take Highway 92 in San Mateo toward Half Moon Bay.

The directions are that simple -- several of the pumpkin patches are right on 92, and the rest are on Highway 1, which 92 intersects right in the middle of HMB. (Note: You can also get to HMB by taking Highway 9 in Saratoga to Skyline and heading north to 92, or by taking Highway 1 from Santa Cruz, but those are even narrower, windier roads, so I don't imagine you'd have any better result.)

Here are the patches in the order you will reach them as you drive west toward the coast on Highway 92:
  • 4 Cs. The first patch you will see is 4 Cs on your left. We didn't stop, but there looked to be plenty of pumpkins and a bounce house or two. They don't seem to have a website, but the Yelp reviews are positive.
  • Lemos FarmNext up, on your right-hand side, is Lemos Farm. This was our first stop of the day -- click here for the review.
  • Pastorino Farms. Directly opposite Lemos, on the left-hand side of Highway 92, is Pastorino Farms. We didn't visit Pastorino, but it seems very similar to Lemos -- lots of decorations, lots of activities, lots of pumpkins. It also appears that they caravan pedestrians across the highway from time to time, so it is possible to visit both Lemos and Pastorino without driving across Highway 92.
  • Repetto's Pumpkins. This patch is also on the left-hand side of the road, past Pastorino. I believe Repetto's operates a nursery in the location year-round, and opens the pumpkin patch every fall. The big selling point for Repetto's appears to be the price -- big signs advertise that the pumpkins are $5 or less, excepting the jumbo ones. The Yelp reviews (again, no web site) say that the pumpkins are fresh and less expensive than other patches, but that there are no special features other than the pumpkins. For toddler entertainment, you probably want to go elsewhere.

When you reach the light at the Highway 92/Highway 1 intersection, turn left onto Highway 1 to reach the following:
  • Bob's Pumpkin Patch. Wow. We drove by Bob's because we were heading to Arata's (you can only do so much with a toddler), but upon reading the Yelp Reviews this evening, I wish we had stopped. Heading South on Highway 1 from the 92 intersection, Bob's is on a hill a few miles ahead on your left, with views down toward the Pacific. Their big selling point is that you can actually pick pumpkins from the vine -- this may be one of the only local places that features this opportunity (they also have pre-picked pumpkins available). The Yelp Reviews suggest that this is more of an old-school pumpkin patch -- no bounce houses or train rides, just good pumpkins. I'm putting Bob's on my to-visit list.
  • Arata's Pumpkin Farm. Arata's is 6.2 miles down Highway 1 from the Highway 92 intersection, on your left-hand side. The signage is poor, and if I hadn't been there before, I might have missed it. This was our second stop of the day -- review will be up shortly.
Arata's was as far south as we got on Highway 1, and we never headed north on Highway 1 beyond the Highway 92 interchange, so there are no doubt plenty of pumpkin farms we missed. But again, traveling with a toddler, two pumpkin patches and lunch are about all you can hope for. Let me know if there are any patches that I've left off the list, and I will gladly add them to the post. I'm also hoping to make one more trip over to HMB before Halloween, so if you know of a real standout, I'll gladly stop in and do a review.

Overall, if you can make the trip on a weekday (ideally early afternoon -- say 1-3 p.m.) or early on a weekend, Half Moon Bay is a wonderful adventure for you and your toddler. The air is fresh, the pumpkins are everywhere, and the scenery is beautiful. But unless you want to encounter some true horrors (in the form of gridlocked traffic and toddler meltdowns) this Halloween, do not go the weekend of the Pumpkin Festival. You'll thank me, I promise.

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