Pumpkins are really a lot like people. "They come in all sizes, colors and shapes, but inside we are all the same," explains John Muller, a third-generation California farmer. He's also the mayor of Half Moon Bay, the Northern California city about an hour south of San Francisco, which bills itself as the World's Pumpkin Capital. The coastal climate here, with warm days and cool nights, is perfect for growing pumpkins.
At Muller's Daylight Farms right near downtown Half Moon Bay, Muller showed off some of his pumpkins, which should reach 800 to 1,000 pounds for the famous Pumpkin Festival next weekend. It draws thousands and includes a pumpkin parade, championship pumpkin weigh-offs, live music, a haunted house and expert pumpkin carvers.
Of course, there's a lot more here than pumpkins to draw families, beginning with the stellar beaches. I wake up to the bleating foghorn and the chattering seabirds at the 54-room Beach House Half Moon Bay overlooking the Pillar Point Harbor, home to commercial and sport fishermen. The famous 7-mile Coastal Trail is just outside our door.
The area has everything for families -- opportunities to walk and play on the miles of beaches, the chance to explore teeming tide pools, watch the sea lions or hike amid the towering coast redwoods, farm stands and pumpkin patches, and then chow down on local veggies and seafood at local restaurants.
Pasta Moon on Main Street in downtown Half Moon Bay, a fixture here for 28 years, has such a commitment to local produce that the restaurant's website even tells you what is at peak freshness.
We walk a trail at Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve watching scores of baby heron in the trees in a rookery and spy a turtle in the water.
We stop at Harley's Farm and Goat Dairy in tiny Pescadero to sample goat cheese and laugh at all the baby goats born this spring. We walk along Pebble Beach with its distinctive small pebbles instead of sand.
At Pillar Point Harbor, locals check in to see what fresh-caught fish commercial fishermen are selling "off the boat." The harbor's Princeton Seafood will clean and fillet the fish at a nominal price; when it's crab season, they'll even boil them for you too.
We opt for lunch overlooking the Harbor at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, an exceedingly kid-friendly brew pub complete with a healthy kids' menu (think bay shrimp salad, wild salmon and grilled prawns -- all under $10).
You could happily spend the day in and around Pillar Point kayaking or watching the surfers: The famous Mavericks surf break is 1.2 miles offshore of the small town of Princeton-by-the-Sea. Surfers come from around the world in the winter to compete in the Mavericks Invitational in some of the world's biggest waves, which rise more than 50 feet.
Beginners can take surfing lessons at surfer's beach; Mavericks Surf Shop can help set you and your kids up.
But there is so much else to see and do. At Bean Hollow State Beach we watch the harbor seals laze on the rocks. A little farther down the coast there's Año Nuevo State Park with its famous elephant seal rookery.
Stop at the farm stands along State Route 92, the east-west highway. Muller explained his family began the pumpkin patch some 12 years ago so more families could share the farm experience, complete with a hay ride and the chance to climb on an old tractor.
He loads up my daughter with garlic, potatoes, arugula, onions, squash, fresh eggs and more -- some of the same veggies we'll eat for lunch later that day at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay's Conservatory Lounge where I order pasta with Daylight Farms' arugula, basil and local olive oil.
"People want to know where their food comes from," he said, adding that when kids have the chance to meet someone like Muller and see where their food comes from, they're more willing to try something new.
Thanks, Farmer John.