It’s October and just about anywhere you live in the U.S. people are carving, eating, and decorating with pumpkins. They’re in our desserts, at our front doors and even in our spiced lattes, but until I visited Half Moon Bay, California, I had never experienced the full awesomeness of pumpkins.
In Half Moon Bay, the great orange squash are piled everywhere. They sit on sidewalks, decorate store windows, and you’re sure to find them perched somewhere in your hotel room, but during the town’s Art and Pumpkin Festival, they take pumpkins to new heights—and weights. Earlier this month, at their annual pumpkin-weighing contest, a gourd weighing 2,058 pounds took first prize and set a new tournament record. A spokesman for the weigh-off said that the winner, John Hawkley from Napa Valley, “squashed” his competition, beating the runner-up by more than 300 pounds. (Pumpkin contest photo at top, courtesy of Miramar Events.)
Yet, Half Moon Bay is also a fishing town, an agricultural community, and a mecca for surfers and foodies. Consequently, when the pumpkin mania ends for the season, this charming seaside community about 40 minutes from San Francisco offers all sorts of other things to see and do. Visitors should think of the area as “Coastside,” encompassing the oceanside between two lighthouses, from Point Montara on the north to Pigeon Point Lighthouse to the south on Highway One.
Econo-minded travelers can stay at hostels at both of these lighthouses. Or, at the complete opposite end of the lodging spectrum, the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay offers unbelievable scenery and top-of-the-line pampering. Each of the state beaches along the highway offers something different in terms of scenery, terrain, and marine and bird life, so pack a lunch, drive along Highway One, and take time to stop to experience the rugged California Coast at its best.
To stoke up for the day, you can join the locals for breakfast at the The Ketch Joanne Restaurant on Pillar Point Harbor, then stroll the harbor that is the hub for the local fishing industry. During our visit, a San Francisco friend joined us for lunch on the oceanside patio at the Miramar Beach Restaurant, a former roadhouse, drop off point for illegal liquor during Prohibition, and house of ill repute early in the last century. Things have calmed down a bit since then unless you count the show that a breaching whale and a pod of dolphins put on for us, a surprise because it wasn’t really the time of year for whale watching.
Raise a pint (at least) at Half Moon Bay Brewing. For dinner, stop at the fabulous Pasta Moon in the funky downtown area of Half Moon Bay. Unassuming on the outside, Pasta Moon offers beautiful decor inside, along with hand-made pasta dishes and other fantastic farm-to-table cuisine, artisan bread and desserts. Don’t let the name confuse you; this isn’t your average Italian pasta joint.
Further down Main Street, shoppers can find clothing, handmade furniture and one of the most colorful hardware stores ever. I was particularly interested in the wine and gourmet fare at Half Moon Bay Wine and Cheese company. I always like to give a shout out to independent booksellers that I find on my travels. Surprising for such a small town, HMB has three interesting booksellers, Bay Book Company, Ink Spell Books, and Coastside Books. Spend a bit of time in local books stores and you always learn a little extra about the region and its literature.
Whenever I travel, I always come home with a list of things I missed that I’d love to go back and see. On my Half Moon Bay Wish List: seeing the really big waves at the famous “Mavericks” off Pillar Point Harbor, an area that draws really famous surfers from across the world. It’s, as they say, epic—like surfing over Niagara Falls. The
other is a much gentler event: dining at one of the Farm Dinners at Harley Farms Goat Dairy, down the coast near Pescadero. They serve their gourmet meals in the restored hayloft. Instead I had to content myself with bringing home a load of lavender goat cheese in my suitcase. The giant pumpkin wouldn’t fit.