Sunday, October 11, 2015

Seasonal Fun: The Woodside Pumpkin Festival

We visited the Woodside Pumpkin Festival on a whim last October after other weekend plans fell through, and left two hours later declaring it to be our favorite fall event. Not surprisingly, we returned this year the first day of the five day festival (schedule posted below), and I'm pleased to report that our repeat visit was just as much fun as the first. This will definitely be an X Family tradition going forward. Here's the scoop:

What is it?

The Woodside Pumpkin Festival is a fun, family-friendly affair, set in the beautiful hills of Woodside on the grounds of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County (bet you didn't even know that existed, right?). While it offers the same things as many of the big commercial pumpkin patches -- pumpkins and gourds, photo cut-outs, a petting zoo, bounce houses, pony rides, games, and even a non-kid-friendly haunted house -- it has a completely different feel because of its location. Trees, trees and more trees provide welcome shade (to everywhere but the bounce house area), the crowd is low-key and friendly, and the parking woes and long lines you might deal with on a weekend at Uesugi or Lemos Farm are almost non-existent (when we go in the morning, at least -- I can't speak for the afternoon).

Though it is promoted as a better alternative to the famous (and famously crowded) Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, which takes place October 17th and 18th this year, it is so completely different that it's almost a joke to make that comparison. It is a better option for us for sure -- no traffic, no crowds, no baking in the sun (except for at the bounce houses) -- but it's not a huge festival in the style of the Half Moon Bay one, and if you're looking for something like HMB's, you'll be disappointed here.

The Offerings

We've been really pleased with the entertainment options here -- for $15 today, we got to enjoy...

A great little petting zoo...

Toddler X loved this petting zoo last year, and it proved to be a favorite this year as well. Though it's not huge, there's plenty of space to greet the bunnies, chickens, ducks, goats and little pig. The animals are very sweet and gentle, the handlers are friendly, and the whole area is shaded. For $4, you can hang out in there as long as you like. Kids 3 and under must be accompanied by a parent (for free).

A wonderful pony ride...

Toddler X enjoyed his first pony ride here last year, and it was such a great experience that he's asked to ride every pony we've seen since. Of course, we opted to do it again this year, and it was just as fun. The pony ring is in the shade, and today there were four very sweet ponies taking toddlers and little kids around in circles for a nice long ride. The handler was friendly, and the whole set up was sweet and seemingly non-commercial -- no big decorations or anything, just some great photo ops for mom and dad! The ride is $7 and I don't think they'd mind in the least if you want to walk around with your toddler.

And some really fun inflatables...

These were a favorite last year as well -- they do a great job selecting cool inflatables! There are no traditional "bouncy houses", which is kind of nice because it allows crowds to spread out a bit, rather than having a room full of kids bouncing into each other. Instead, they have three great inflatables: a big, dump truck-shaped ladder/slide one, a smaller pirate ship-shaped ladder/slide one, and a really cool, large obstacle course type set-up, with things to go over, under and through and a fun slide at the end. For $4, it was endless fun for Toddler X.

There are a few things to note about the inflatables: They're set up in the lower show ring at the site, a short walk down a hill from the rest of the activities, and they're the only activity that's in full sun. They have two little pop-up awnings set up for shade, but those cover, um, like 5 people, so there's a lot of standing around and baking while your kid plays (assuming it's as sunny as it was last year and today).

Also, there is really no option for very young toddlers who require parental assistance. While some festivals have specific set-ups for kids under age 4, the ones here are really geared toward kids aged 2 1/2 and up -- maybe an agile 2 year old could manage them. I saw one parent climb in with his kids, but mostly it was 2 1/2-6 year olds. If you have a child under two, this may not be worth the effort/money -- in which case, just stay away from the lower show ring so your toddler won't see the inflatables and want to go inside.

More offerings

Of course, as a "Pumpkin Festival", there's also a small but well-stocked pumpkin patch with a variety of sizes. Some of the pumpkins were beautiful, others not so great, and the prices aren't cheap, but this has one virtue that almost no other patches have: shade!! Because fall apparently means 80 degree temperatures, this is as pleasant a place to pick a pumpkin this side of the mountains as you will find.

There's also a game area, with a couple of games of chance and skill that would probably appeal more to older kids, and in any event didn't seem worth the money.

There is a concession stand serving burgers, hot dogs, chips and drinks. Last year, there was a kettle corn spot too -- didn't see it this year, but maybe it will be back on later weekends. We just brought our own snacks this year and enjoyed them at the really nice picnic tables overlooking the festivities.

Finally, there's a haunted house that seems pretty intense. It's only open in the afternoons, and it's not in the heart of the action, though you will pass it as you walk down to the inflatables area. I'm not sure what you'd see from the outside when it's operating, but you may want to distract your toddler into looking away from it.


Dates: The festival takes place over three weekends in October. Today, October 11th, was opening day. The festival will continue next weekend, October 17th and 18th, and the following, October 24th and 25th, from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. each day. Some of the attractions/activities don't begin until 10:00 a.m., so you might want to arrive around then.

Location: The festival takes place at the home of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County -- basically, an equestrian club -- located at 521 Kings Mountain Road in Woodside. It's just a few miles off 280 at the Woodside Road exit, and your GPS should bring you there just fine. Wear comfortable shoes, as you'll be walking on dirt and among trees. It's shady enough that it might be several degrees cooler than you're expecting -- I had a light sweatshirt on in the shade, even though I was baking in the sun. Parking is in dirt lots, so there will be some dust.

Cost: Admission and parking are free. You purchase tickets at a booth for the various activities. As mentioned above, the pony ride was $7, and the petting zoo and bounce houses were $4. Pumpkins start at $5 and go up from there.

Overall, this is a great festival for families with young kids -- the location is convenient, it isn't particularly crowded, admission is free, there are several entertainment options, the setting is lovely, and there is SHADE! I highly recommend checking this one out.

Happy fall toddling!

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for checking this place out and writing your review. My family had the best time there today and we wouldn't have known about it without your post!


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