How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

Love it. Hate it. Hide from it. Everyone living Coastside has an opinion about the annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. Our opinion? Embrace the madness. And here are a few tips for enjoying next year’s gourd gala.

Crowds generated by sunny days, holiday weekends and regional events are a mixed bag Coastside. Threading gridlock on Highway 1 to snag a loaf of bread and quart of milk at the grocery store isn’t any fun, and forget driving over the hill. Litter is an unsightly menace to beach lovers, hikers and wildlife. And no one likes to be crowded out by strangers at their favorite watering hole.

20171015 - pumpkin festival-IMG_5201Conversely, the tourists bring dollars to the coast that sustain local business owners and employees, many of them our friends and neighbors. And when the crowds go home, the locals get to claim the beaches, trails, cool and damp climate, and local cuisine as our own. Realistically, we’re talking about 12 to 15 weekends a year when the weather and/or calendar conspire to generate unwieldy crowds. And who doesn’t like 20 percent off at your favorite restaurant on locals night?

We’re kinda new to the Coastside, but we quickly learned from neighbors and experience that coping with holiday, beach or festival traffic involves timing and planning. And when it comes to the Art and Pumpkin Festival, it’s all about supporting local artists, charities and businesses. It can be done!

Still not convinced? Here are a few tips to consider ahead of next year’s festival. You have plenty of time to make up your mind.

  • Traffic: Traffic will suck. It will be nearly impossible to navigate the surface streets of downtown Half Moon Bay. Invariably there will be an accident at some point that blocks Highway 92 for an hour or so. Count on it. Bet on it. Plan for it. If you live in Half Moon Bay. Walk. Ride a bike. Stay out of your car. Easy peasy. If you live Coastside north or south of town, park at the first opportunity and hike in. Parking rates are cheaper and your Fitbit will thank you. We drive in from Montara and park at the high school for $5. We’ve never had a big issue with traffic and save up to $15 over parking closer to the festival. Driving in from out of town? Welcome. Consider approaching from Pacifica on Highway 1 rather than adding to the crush on Highway 92. And please respect our home. Thanks!
  • Shopping: Live local? Shop local. “Made on the Coast” (MotC) has a “pop-up” show and sale on festival Sunday featuring arts and crafts by Coastside artists who work in glass, paint, wood, fabric and other media. There’s a lot of talent around here. The Local Artists Block and Music Stage also features Coastside bands on both Saturday and Sunday. Many of the food booths are sponsored by local charities, who generate tens of thousands in revenue at the festival for a range of Coastside causes. And most of the businesses on Main Street are open as well. We’ve attended dozens of fairs from Los Angeles to North Bay over the yearsm and the Art and Pumpkin Festival merchandise is about as good as it gets at a street fair. Do plan to shop. Even if you don’t buy anything.


  • Food: We try to stick to the pumpkin theme but limit quantity. Inspired by a recent three-week trip to Spain where we each dropped 5 pounds by eating tapas and walking 8-10 miles a day, our festival caloric intake consisted of a half batch of donut holes split with a like-minded couple, a shared a slice of pumpkin pie and a free taste of pumpkin flavored apple cider. In hindsight, maybe we should have splurged on lunch. Next year. You also can find pumpkin mac and cheese, hot pretzels with pumpkin dipping sauce, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin donuts and pumpkin chili. You can garnish it with pumpkin butter and wash it down with jack-o-tinis, pumpkin beer or pumpkin apple cider. Not all the vendors get it. We’re not sure how one might embellish a burger or brat with pumpkin spice, but certainly the ice cream vendor offering vanilla, chocolate and strawberry could have done better. Must have been a first-timer.
  • Budget: The challenge of attending a first-rate art festival is that you can spend a lot of money in a big ol’ hurry if you’re not careful. Plan ahead. Maybe use the trip as an excuse to do some Christmas shopping or buy a birthday or anniversary gift for a favorite someone. Our first trip to the festival we bought a leather hat for MontaraManDan, a couple of holiday signs for the yard, and a puzzle and knit “Nemo” cap for our grandson. Nothing too extravagant, but we dropped a few bucks. This year, now retired and coming off that trip to Spain, we shopped hard, bought nothing and considered it a success. Don’t forget there are four stages of free music and other activities to enjoy. Pumpkin carving by Farmer Mike, the “Picasso of Pumpkin Carvers,” is always a kick. In our first decade as empty-nesters we wouldn’t have been caught dead in the Family Fun Zone, but grandparenthood has rekindled the fun of watching kids try their hand at crafts or simply bounce on a bungee. And don’t forget the pie eating contest, Pumpkin Run, parade and selfies with Gourdy. People watching is free.
  • Crowd management: Be patient. Both behind the wheel in traffic and on foot at the fair. Take your time. If you’re gonna play with your phone, step out of the flow of people filing path the booths. Remember, tiny mincing footfalls score the same as strides if you’re counting steps on your Fitbit. Feet hurt? Find a place to sit for a while and enjoy some music. Come as the festival opens and leave after an early lunch. You’ll beat the crowd, have time for a taste of your favorite festival food and activities and avoid the jam for the exit in the two hours before closing time.

We noted earlier that we are new to the Coastside. We’ve attended the festival two of our three falls as residents of Montara. That’s it. So perhaps we’re being naïve. Perhaps we’ll grow weary of the hassle and begin hiding out in the back yard on festival weekend. Perhaps. But if you live Coastside and haven’t been to the festival in a while, give it a try next October with fresh eyes and a fresh attitude. C’mon. It’ll be fun.

20171015 - pumpkin festival-IMG_5277

Leave a Reply