Autumn on the California Coast: A Ocean Lovers Fall Day on Highway 1

Growing up a few blocks from the beach I never really had the traditional holiday experiences. There was no  frolicking in the leaves on Thanksgiving or “white Christmas.” Although there was the year that the ocean was particularly turbulent and covered the beach in a layer of foam, that from a distance, you could almost trick yourself into believing was snow. Needless to say the traditions  we continue to develop over the years have an undercurrent of beach running through them..

What the section of coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz lacks in fall foliage it makes up for in pumpkins. Late September through October there are endless fields of pumpkins adorning the fields next to Highway 1. During these months you can have a uniquely Californian autumn day exploring beaches, eating oysters, and searching amongst the thousands of pumpkins for the perfect squash.

Seaside pumpkins
Seaside Pumpkins is one of the many pumpkin farms along Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz

Pick Your Pumpkin Farm

The pumpkin patch options are endless…

  1. Seaside Pumpkins: Located just a few minutes north of Davenport this is a no fuss pumpkin patch option. Payment is on the honor system and you can zip in, grab a pumpkin or butternut squash, throw some money in the slot, and be back on the highway in five minutes or less. Best for: People who want a pumpkin and don’t need all the bells and whistles. Families with kids asleep in the car. Don’t forget cash

    Seaside pumpkin patch
    Pick out a pumpkin, pay, and continue on your way at Seaside Pumpkins
  2. Rodoni Farms: 5-10 minutes north of Santa Cruz this is a charming, organic pumpkin patch that is a favorite among Santa Cruz locals. There are hay bales for kids to climb,  giant tractor wheels to hide in, a simple corn maze, and beautiful ocean views.  No bounce house or pony rides here, just some simple, natural fun. Best for: Families looking for a laid back pumpkin patch experience. People who also want to explore nearby Wilder Ranch State Park or spend the day in Santa Cruz. Couples wanting a pumpkin patch date that doesn’t feel like a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese’s. Cash, Check, Paypal or Venmo.
    Rodoni Farms
    Big pumpkins and big views at Rodoni Farms

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    rodoni farms
    How to pick the perfect pumpkin?
  3. Arata Farms: The largest pumpkin patch on the coast. From Half Moon Bay it’s about a 10-15 minute drive south.  More amusement park than “patch” this has it all. Wagon rides, a little train, pony rides, a bounce house, a giant hay bale maze, a petting zoo and more.. unfortunately it can get pricey. Most of the activities are $5, the maze is $12, and a typical sized jack-o-lantern pumpkin costs about $15. So a family of 4 could easily end up spending upwards of $100 here. Best for: People looking to spend a couple of hours at a pumpkin patch and don’t mind spending $$$ Credit Cards accepted.
    Hay maze at Arata Farms
    Get lost in the massive hay maze at Arata Farms
    river of pumpkin
    Kids will be delighted to find the “river of pumpkins” hidden amongst the corn stalks

    peaceful arata farms
    A peaceful moment at the end of the day at Arata Farms

 

Add in a Splash of Ocean

  1. American Abalone Farms: This place is a hidden gem that is easy to miss when you’re driving on Highway 1. Keep your eyes open for the small sign on the highway just north of Davenport.   Stop in and check out the live abalones in the tanks, and do you’re best to find a question about abalone that the knowledgable staff can’t answer.  If you’re an oyster lover order raw oysters to enjoy out on the picnic tables. Kids, don’t forget your free little abalone shell before you leave! Open Saturdays and Sundays 10-4

    Abalone farm
    Holding abalone at American Abalone Farm
  2. Davenport Landing Beach: A few houses past the abalone farm is this stunning beach. A great spot for watching surfers, having a picnicking on the bluff side tables, or simply relaxing on the swing set.  This is a favorite beach among locals and for good reason!IMG_3923

Fall Flavors

If raw oysters aren’t your idea of fall grub there are a few good options along the coast where you can satisfy your cinnamon and nutmeg hankering.

  1. Whale City Bakery, Bar and Grill: Stop in for breakfast or lunch or just grab a pumpkin muffin. If the weather is nice you can sit on the patio and look out at the ocean. Chances are it will be a little chilly so it’s the perfect opportunity to wear a scarf and feel festive while you eat your pumpkin pastry
  2. Duartes Tavern: Take a little detour into the town of Pescadero and grab a cup of artichoke soup or a piece of pumpkin pie at Duartes.
  3. Swanton Berry Farms: Strawberries aren’t what comes to mind when you’re thinking about fall food but the strawberries at Swanton Berry Farms are incredible and often available through the beginning of October. Pick them yourself or pick up a basket in the farm store. While your munching on your berries reflect on how awesome it is that you can you pick strawberries and a pumpkin in the same day.. #IlovecaliforniaIMG_1713

Getting to the Coast

You can get to the section of Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz several different ways.

You can take Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay and then head south on Highway 1. A big downside to this route is that during the fall Half Moon Bay gets slammed with people flocking to this famed pumpkin loving town and traffic on 92 can be brutal.

If you’re ok with twisty roads you can take Highway 84 which goes from Woodside to the coast. Lots of bends and curves but fewer cars and you’ll be only 5-10 minutes south of Arata Farm when you reach Highway 1.

Silicon Valley pumpkin enthusiasts will want to brave Highway 17 to Santa Cruz and then head north on Highway 1. Unless it’s a sweltering fall day, Highway 17 doesn’t have nearly as many issues with traffic in the fall as it does in the summer.

IMG_3867
A drive along Highway 1 on a sunny fall day is the perfect “stay cation” for Bay Area residents.

Tips/Advice

  • Wear layers. Weather on the coast is always unpredictable
  • Smart shoes. It’s tempting to put on cute fall boots when you’re setting out on a fall themed adventure but ask yourself, “Am I going to sprain my ankle walking across uneven dirt fields in these shoes?” If I stop at a beach for a picnic will the salt and sand ruin these shoes?”
  • Start your day around 10am and plan on being done by 5pm which are the typical hours for most places. If you do want to get an early start consider doing a hike at Butano State Park or Big Basin State Park (from the entrance at Highway 1).
  • Arata Farms and Rodoni Farms both have wheelbarrows for pumpkin seekers to use. They’re free and your back will thank you when you’re not attempting to carry a massive pumpkin to your car.

    IMG_3920
    Viewing the world through abalone glasses

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