A small town forty five miles north of Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay is known as the “Home of the world famous Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival.” Inspired by the plentiful pumpkin patches that are scattered throughout the town’s borders, the inaugural Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival was held in 1971, raising funds to help revitalize downtown Main Street.
Forty seven years later, Half Moon Bay continues to embrace their World Pumpkin Capital status during a weekend filled with parades, pumpkin patches, pie eating and costume contests, arts & crafts, pumpkin carving, zip lines, bungee jumping, food, drink, and live entertainment. The Pumpkin Festival has become an annual autumn tradition for families throughout the Silicon Valley and is one of the most established and renown events of its kind in California.
Kicking off the event is the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, pitting one enormous, car-sized squash against another. Held on Columbus Day, the epic weigh-off denotes the importance of agriculture to the town’s local economy. For the past 44 years, veteran gourd growers haul their impressive half-ton pumpkins to Half Moon Bay for the “World Heavyweight Championship of Gargantuan Gourds”, each vying for the substantial $30,000 prize. The top five pumpkins, including the Grandmaster of all pumpkins, are prominently displayed during the two days of the Festival. Giant Pumpkin Photos are another huge draw, with proceeds benefiting the Cabrillo Education Foundation.
One of the highlights of the Festival is picking the perfect pumpkin. With the multitude of pumpkin patches, it’s understandable how the town came to be called the World Pumpkin Capital. Whatever your preferred size, color, shape or variety of pumpkin, odds are you will find a suitable squash. A list of all the patches along with local farms and produce stands is available by clicking here.
Of course, once you have a chosen a pumpkin, carving it is next on the list and no one is better at creating an incredibly carved gourd than Farmer Mike, known as ‘the Picasso of Pumpkin Carving’. He debuted his talents at the Pumpkin Festival in 1986 and he has been a fixture ever since, creating three-dimensional, quirky faces, iconic symbols like the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Wells Fargo Stagecoach as well as whimsical creatures on enormous pumpkins, delighting awestruck audiences.
The Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest is a favorite of all ages, encouraging participation, light-hearted competition and lots of messy fun. “To me, the pie eating contest embodies the essence of Pumpkin Festival,” said Wilbur Collins, the leader of the contest organizing team for many years. “It encourages participation, it’s loads of fun, and it’s open to everyone. Seeing kids with face and hair full of gooey pumpkin pie, whipped cream and a big smile, it’s a truly sight to behold.” The contest takes place Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. for kids 11 and under and at 2:15 p.m. for those 12 and over. Entering is easy as pie: just claim your spot at the table where you’ll be handed a 9-inch pumpkin pie laden with whipped cream. Contest winners are chosen by audience applause rather how quickly they consume their gourmet gourd, so bring on the style, flair and fun!
The Haunted Barn is another Festival highlight, featuring The Coastside Young Actors Workshop alongside audio-animatronic figures, projected and transparent ghosts, intense lighting, sound, and fog effects, all guaranteed to make the hair rise on the back of your neck. The ghostly pirates will make you walk the plank as they engage in swordfights and fire off cannons as they battle over a treasure chest overflowing with silver doubloons. Admission is $8 per person, children 3 and under are free although parents with children 5 and under are strongly cautioned.
Festival-goers of all ages are encouraged to wear their best costume, be they funny, ghoulish or just plain wild. The Costume Contest takes place Saturday, October 14th from 10am to noon at the Half Moon bay Library parking lot located at 620 Correas Street. Divided into five age categories, winners in each are chosen by a panel of local judges based on quality, presentation, creativity and attention to detail. All costume contest entrants are encouraged to participate in the Great Pumpkin Parade along Main Street that begins at noon on the 14th.
Over 200 artists display and sell their work at the festival, much of which is inspired by the event’s harvest theme. Country, rock, blues, jazz, reggae and other live entertainment is presented on four stages, The entire musical line up can be found here. True to its name, the Pumpkin Festival celebrates everything pumpkin, including food. Those arriving early will enjoy a steaming stack of pumpkin pancakes with a side of sausage, orange juice and coffee. Served by the Half Moon Bay High School Basketball Team, the breakfast takes place at mac Dutra Park at 7am both days of the event. But the pumpkin doesn’t stop there. Pumpkin breads, ice cream, cookies, smoothies, churros, pumpkin ales, and cheesecake abound as do stellar dishes derived from local crops like artichokes, seafood and Brussel sprouts. Click here for more about the variety of food available.
The Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival is a family event that embodies enjoyable tradition, fantastic food and amazing art all set in a gorgeous seaside town bursting with the most massive pumpkins you’ll ever see.
October 9th 7am to 11am
IDES Grounds, 735 Main Street half Moon Bay
October 14th & 15th 9am to 5pm
Main Street between Miramontes and Spruce Streets, Half Moon Bay