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Carved pumpkins at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival
Sarah Murray/Flickr

OCTOBER

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

Get into the spirit of the season in Half Moon Bay, the self-proclaimed “World Pumpkin Capital.” The expansive pumpkin patches you’ll see while approaching this coastal town from nearly any direction gives that claim some weight—not to mention the fact that it hosts the annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival.

As the highlight of the fall season, the free-admission “Celebration of the Great Gourd” draws tens of thousands of visitors every October with a myriad of pumpkin-themed activities. The goings-on are kicked off with what is perhaps the festival’s signature event: the Safeway World Champion Pumpkin Weigh-Off, where farmers, family teams, and other various green-thumbed growers bring in their heavyweight pumpkins—some tipping in at over 1,000 pounds—to be lifted via crane, to the scales. The winning gourd-grower takes home prize money pegged to his product: $7 per pound.

With all those pumpkins lying around, pumpkin carvers have their work cut out for them. Watch as they create incredible one-of-a-kind works of art that, come nighttime, are lit brilliantly. Four stages of comedy and live music, including bluegrass, singer-songwriters, and the local School of Rock band keep the party going, and the performances can get fierce with the “Smashing Pumpkins: Battle of the Bands” competition. Children love the old-timey Great Pumpkin Parade, led by the weekend’s mascot, the jovial and rotund “Gourdy,” and the Young Actors Workshop’s hair-raising Haunted Circus. Adrenaline seekers can get their fix on a 24-foot rock climbing wall and a bungee jump.

Pumpkin-flavored goodies were being gobbled up here long before “pumpkin spice” became a thing; sample a bounty of pumpkin pies, soups, Mavericks Pumpkin Harvest Ale from local brewers Half Moon Brewing Company, regional Central Coast wines, and other delectable treats.

Insider tips: The festival has its own mobile app you can download for free to help make the most of your experience. Pets are not allowed on the grounds of the event.