The calendar may dictate the official start of fall in the San Francisco Bay Area, but for me fall begins when pumpkins start appearing on doorsteps. It’s cheap and easy to grab one with the groceries at the store, but the memories made when you traipse through the dusty fields are priceless. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough weekends to explore all the great pumpkin patches in Northern California. Everyone has their favorites, and for some of my friends, picking out a pumpkin has become just as much of a tradition as Thanksgiving dinner.
Bay Area Pumpkin Patches
Peter Pumpkin Patch
A neighbor introduced us to Peter Pumpkin Patch in Petaluma when my youngest daughter was a baby. You can spend hours searching for the perfect pumpkin, but what I love about Peter’s is digging for potatoes. Bring gloves, a small garden shovel to dig with and the philosophy that it’s ok to get dirty. Your reward — some of the best potatoes you’ve ever tasted. If all the digging makes you hungry, you can sample a variety of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese or enjoy a scoop of homemade pumpkin ice cream. The only downfall is the crowds. Word about Peter’s has definitely gotten out.
The first grade teachers at my daughter’s elementary school take their classes on an annual trip to Peterson’s Farm in Petaluma. It’s a real working farm with chickens, cows and ponies. What makes it unique is that it is a Bee Friendly Farm, and Ettamarie Peterson is the “queen bee.” A retired school teacher, Peterson is a beekeeper who loves sharing her hobby with kids (and parents). So along with picking the perfect pumpkin, kids pick up a better understanding of a bee’s life and the role they play in Sonoma County agriculture. A science lesson disguised in a trip to the pumpkin patch –that’s hard to beat.
Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch
There are a number of small pumpkin patches that spring up off Highway 101 in Marin County once the calendar flips to October. Most offer the standard extras like jumpy houses and inflatable slides. They’re convenient and certainly more fun for families than just grabbing a pumpkin at the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have the farm experience in Marin County.
I have friends who say pumpkin picking season gives them a great excuse to drive out to the countryside and visit Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch. It’s a little bit of drive from 101 (half-an-hour to 45 minutes depending on your starting point), but fall usually means good weather and a welcome chance to meet up with other families and have a picnic. Sounds like a good plan to me. Nicasio doesn’t have a website so give them a call at 415-662-9100 for details.
World Pumpkin Capital
True and dedicated pumpkin enthusiasts make the trek to Half Moon Bay in search of the perfect pumpkin. The “World Pumpkin Capital” is celebrating its 40th annual weekend long Art & Pumpkin Festival on October 16-17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The festivities draw an overwhelming amount of visitors, so be ready to deal with the crowds. There’s a Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, pumpkin pie-eating contests, crafts, music, the list goes on and on. It’s a full- fledged community effort. The High School Varsity Basketball Team even hosts a traditional Pancake Breakfast. Pumpkin pancakes are popular sellers – go figure!
Either on your way to the festival, or on the way home you’ll pass numerous pumpkin patches, just take your pick.There’s so many to choose from, the San Mateo County Farm Bureau has a Pumpkin Patch Guide.
Arata Farms is the oldest working pumpkin farm in San Mateo County, and offers a good mix for families with kids young and old. Along with a petting zoo and pony rides, the farm has a straw maze that goes on for 2 acres. Your teen could be missing for hours!An added bonus: because it’s further down Highway 1, there’s less of a crowd factor to deal with.
Meet Farmer John
Farmer John’s Pumpkins is must with some college friends of mine that live in Half Moon Bay because there really is a Farmer John, and they say “he is a great, personable, down-to-earth, real local farmer.”
G & M Farms
One pumpkin is never enough. October’s a busy month, but my family can usually squeeze in a few trips to pumpkin patches. We have our regulars, but we also always plan to try somewhere new. This year, G & M Farms in Livermore is on the list. My kids are 9 and 12 years-old. Gone are the days of cute pigtail pictures atop pumpkin stacks. It’s all about the action. Finding their way through six acres of cornfield maze should deliver, and maybe even tire them enough to fall asleep on the ride home.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann and Amie O’Shaughnessy
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