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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Pacific Coast Highway

It's Pumpkin Time in California - Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival

Paula Gaston

Autumn is here and it's harvest time. In October it is still quite warm in Northern California, and every place is decorated with pumpkins. People are eager to start the holiday season which starts with Halloween on the last day of the month. During October, people usually stop by pumpkin patches. There are big playgrounds for kids, and you can get your decorative pumpkins as well as the ones you want to eat. So if you happen to be in United States during October, don't forget to stop at a pumpkin patch, or check the events calendar for all the special events related to that. 

For a few years now, we have been driving over to Pacific Coast Highway, to Half Moon Bay for the pumpkin festival. We had planned to do that this year also, but the first autumn storm got in the way. The rain would have not stopped us, but we didn't want to spend the day in traffic caused by the rain. So we took our Finnish guests to a pumpkin patch in our hometown instead. Maybe we will head to Half Moon Bay some other day, but here are some of our experiences at the pumpkin festival from recent years. 

House of pumpkins in our hometown

House of pumpkins in our hometown

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal town, a little over half an hour drive from San Francisco to the south. It is known for the agriculture, fishing and the yearly pumpkin festival. Many people visit Half Moon Bay for it's nurseries or christmas tree farms. I have also been in Half Moon Bay for a few times for horseback riding trips. Most of the trails follow the coastline or take you down to the beach, so the views on these trails are magnificent. 

 

The Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival is held every October, and runs through the weekend. You should arrive early since the festival has gotten very popular in recent years, and it might be difficult to find parking, or get through the traffic. Half Moon Bay's Main Street will be closed during the festival, and it is full of art and craft booths, food vendors and entertainers. The first pumpkin festival was held in 1971. A committee which was established to maintain the historic downtown and Main Street started a festival tradition in order to raise some money. In the first year they got approximately 30,000 visitors during the weekend, but today this number has at least doubled. 

Usually, when we visit the pumpkin festival, we walk around the area and then find a nice restaurant or cafe to eat at. There are also a lot of street food options, and at least wine and beer for sale. Most times we haven't bought much, but if you like arts and crafts, I'm sure you can find lots of nice things. 

There are plenty of things for kids. They can for example participate in a pumpkin pie eating contest or pumpkin carving. There is a playground and last year, there was a miniature mechanical bull for kids. The festival starts in the morning with a costume contest for both, kids and adults. If you walk a little further from Main Street, you can visit a haunted barn.. but only if you dare!

We have mostly been interested in the pumpkin related things. The area has always been nicely decorated, and before the festival weekend the farmers bring their biggest pumpkins for weighing. The biggest one is hidden in a tent and you can get yourself photographed with it for a small fee. For us, it has been enough to see the other pumpkins that participated in the contest. They always look enormous too. In my opinion, the most interesting thing is to see, what kind of pumpkins farmer Mike have carved. He truly is a master of pumpkin carving, or what do you think?

Farmer Mike

Farmer Mike

There is no entrance fee for the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, and it easily becomes a whole day thing. However, there are other things you can do at Half Moon Bay too if you visit. You can go and get your own pumpkins from local pumpkin patches, or go for a nice stroll on the beach. You should however bring your umbrella. Based on these pictures you can see that it has been raining then too. I hope we get to visit the pumpkin festival next year!

The Best of California's Pacific Coast Highway

Paula Gaston

All these pictures are from my Instagram account. You can follow me @paulagaston

So many travellers have a dream to drive down the California Pacific Coast Highway or State Route 1. Many drive only a part of it, but you can also do a longer version. While living in California, we drove parts of PCH from time to time, and I have written articles about each place we visited. Now it is time to wrap them all up into one post which tells you everything you need to know about California Pacific Coast Highway.

Most of my travels in Southern California happened when I didn't have a blog yet. But in recent years, we have driven the northern parts a few times, so here is some information about them. I added the San Francisco Bay Area as a separate section since so many people stay here for a few days. Once I get down to Southern California again, I will add more articles on the list. And please, post some questions and wishes about what I should cover!
 

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA


Many people start their drive on Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco or they end their trip there. Don't under estimate the north parts of PCH though. There is still plenty to see if you drive up north from San Francisco. Enjoy the redwood forests, national parks or Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. State Route 1 merges into 101 in Leggett, but if you continue your drive it will follow the coastline soon again, and you can drive all the way up to the Oregon border. The views are great! Along the way is the Avenue of GiantsRedwood National Park, and right after the city of Eureka, a place that was disturbed by many tsunamis, Crescent city.

Glass beach in Fort Bragg

Glass beach in Fort Bragg

Drive Thru Tree in Leggett.

Drive Thru Tree in Leggett.

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
 

For a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area you want to reserve multiple days. Like any big city, there is plenty to see. There are of course the most known sights that everyone should see, but there are also many other places worth a visit. Because San Francisco is located right by the bay, you can hike along the coastline with amazing views, or rent bicycles and ride along the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. All this is part of the national park system, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Sunset in Sutro Baths

Sunset in Sutro Baths

SOUTH OF SAN FRANCISCO


Many start their drive on Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco. Even though you will be able to drive all the way to Los Angeles in one day, I recommend reserving at least one or two nights on the way. There are vista points and other stops all along the road, and so many things to see or do from nature activities to historic sites. Route 1 merges with I-5 in Dana Point in Orange County. 

Morro Rock

Morro Rock

Inside pool area in Hearst Castle

Inside pool area in Hearst Castle

Have you driven Pacific Coast Highway? How was your experience?

A Short Stop at Point Arena Lighthouse, California

Paula Gaston

Finally we were on our way home from our Labor Day road trip to Mendocino county. We had already seen many things on this trip; the Pygmy Forest, Glass Beach at Fort Bragg and Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. But we still had a couple stops ahead. On my last post, I told you about Bowling Ball Beach we visited, but before that we actually stopped at Point Arena Lighthouse

Point Arena Lighthouse was originally built in 1870, but the great earthquake in 1906 damaged the building and it had to be rebuild. The new lighthouse opened in 1908 and is still operating today, but now with an automated light. Before that, 4 lighthouse keepers with their families lived at Point Arena. The Point Arena Lighthouse fog horn was silenced in 1978. 

Point Arena lighthouse has served as a movie set for multiple different movies. The most famous of them must be Mel Gibsons' Forever Young. The lighthouse is seen even in the cover picture. Gibson jumps into his airplane right in front of the lighthouse, and flies up above the city of Mendocino. Also a movie called Need for Speed was filmed here in 2014. 

Today, there is a small museum and a gift shop at the lighthouse, and you can rent a room from the lighthouse keepers' house. If you want to visit inside of the lighthouse, there are guided tours for purchase. In fact, we were not aware of the two different kinds of tickets sold to the lighthouse area. The tickets are bought from a little ticket booth on the road that leads to the lighthouse. You can either pay $5 per adult ($1 children over 5 years old) to visit the museum right next to the lighthouse, or you can get a ticket to the guided tour for $7.50 per adult ($1 children). No one told us about that, and they automatically charged us the higher price. At the museum we learned that the in order to get the tour, we would have to wait for almost half an hour. We decided to skip the tour since we still had a long drive ahead of us, and the inside of the lighthouse didn't seem that interesting to us. 

The museum and the gift shop were really small. The only reason for getting a ticket here would be if you want to participate in the guided tour. You can see the lighthouse without charge from outside of the fence, and it seemed to me that actually it was the best photo spot. The first picture in this article was taken from there. I'm sure that the views from the lighthouse would have been great, but we wanted to get home before it got too late. Most lighthouses close in the late afternoon, so if you plan to visit, always check the opening times first. Outside the fence there is a small parking lot, and if you walk by the shore over here, you might see some seals on the rocks. There are also two sea arches that the waves have carved from the rocks. 

Sea arches at Point Arena 

Sea arches at Point Arena 

After this we were ready to return home!

Bowling Balls on a Beach in California

Paula Gaston

On our way home from Fort Bragg and Mendocino, we decided to stop at Bowling Ball Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California. The beach has been named after ball shaped rocks that have formed from hard spots in the sandstone cliffs.

The Bowling Ball Beach is in the north part of Schooner Gulch State Beach, and can be a little bit tricky to find. Even Google Maps showed it in the wrong location, but as a good traveller should, I suggested an edit and moved it to a correct spot. First you want to find Schooner Gulch State Beach, and then the correct trail that leads you to Bowling Ball Beach. 

 

When driving down from the north, the road after Point Arena Lighthouse is pretty curvy. The Schooner Gulch parking lot comes quite suddenly, and can be hard to spot. The signs for the beach were hidden by cars parked in front of them so, we didn't see them right away and we had to make a u-tun and go back. On the other side of the parking lot there is a small gravel road, where you can also park your car if this tiny parking lot is full. The sign shows you a picture of bowling ball rocks on the beach, but doesn't actually tell you how to find them. We first took the trail from the signs to a beautiful beach in a cove, until someone there told us that the rocks are in the northern part of the beach. Then we tried another trail going north, but it only took us up to the cliff edge. We were disappointed and walked back to our car, but then we noticed one more trail leading from the other end of the parking lot. We decided to walk a little ways to see where it leads us to. When I saw a ladder going down to the beach, I knew we were in the correct spot because I had read about them.

We started walking north until we found a little lean-to. Maybe someone had spent the night here. We were the only ones on this gorgeous beach. We saw a few rocks looking like balls in the water, and right away we knew that we are not going to see the Bowling Ball Beach as it's best. We arrived at the wrong time of the day. Most of the rocks you can only see during low tide which would have been early in the morning or late evening, but it just didn't fit into our schedule on this trip.  

During low tide, you can see multiple rows of rocks that look like bowling balls. You would would think that the waves made them round, but they come this way from the cliffs. Too bad, we only saw a couple, but we did find some very small bowling ball rocks on the shore. They even had holes for your fingers like real bowling balls do. The cliffs on the beach were heavily affected by erosion, the winds and waves. Looking up you could see some trees that were about to fall down soon. 

See from here what the beach would have looked like during low tide. 

New bowling balls are slowly coming out. They are the harder spots of the sandstone.

New bowling balls are slowly coming out. They are the harder spots of the sandstone.

We enjoyed the beach life for a couple of hours, and we even saw a few seals swimming by the shore. No one else came by expect a Dutch couple, who didn't know that the rocks can only be seen during certain hours of the day. We had fun before our long drive home, and after playing in the sand our little girl slept most of the drive. 

TIPS TO FINDING THE BOWLING BALL BEACH:

  • If you are driving south, start looking for the signs after the Point Arena Lighthouse. There might be some cars parked in front of it, so it might be hard to see. 
  • From the parking lot, choose the most northern trail which takes you thru a field and then thru a forest, all the way to the steps down to the beach. 
  • After the steps, you will have to use a ladder, so this beach can be challenging to access with small kids or with a disability. I'm not sure if you can use the other trails to access during the low tide.
  • From the beach walk north until you see the round rocks. 
  • Make sure you visit during low tide, you can check the schedule here
  • Watch for falling rocks and branches. Erosion has made the cliffs unpredictable. 

 

Hiking in Pygmy Forest in Mendocino, California

Paula Gaston

Have you ever been to a pygmy forest? Sounds odd, doesn't it? On our road trip to Northern California, we went hiking in Van Damme State Park, and we ran into this strange phenomenon. 

 

We started our hike on Fern Canyon Trail without really knowing what to expect. We had a map of the park, but we couldn't really decide if there was something on the trail that we wanted to see. The trail was following a little stream, and quickly changed from a small road into a narrow trail, which was almost covered by some plants. In the beginning of the trail we saw a warning sign about Poison Oak, which is quite common in California forests. So we had to be extra cautious with our little 4 year old who was running here and there.  

Poison Oak, as well as Poison Ivy is coded in an oil called urushiol, which most people are allergic to. The whole plant all the way to roots, stem and leaves is poisonous. Even a small touch can trigger an allergic reaction, which later turns into some red bumps or even blisters. After getting this oil on to one's hands, many people accidentally rub it around their body, or it gets to their clothes from where it goes to the skin. Reacting to the oil is very individual. Some might get a rash within a few hours, some might get it even after several days. First aid for the rash and itchiness is to take a warm shower. Then you need to make sure all the clothes you wore are washed. Most of the time, the rash gets better by it's self, but if you get more serious symptoms you should seek medical help. 

Poison Oak and Poison Ivy have several different types which look different from each others, so it might be hard to identify. Sometimes it even grows as a vine. The leaves are green but turn to red at fall. A good rule to remember is: "Leaves of three - let it be!"

Poison Oak and Poison Ivy have several different types which look different from each others, so it might be hard to identify. Sometimes it even grows as a vine. The leaves are green but turn to red at fall. A good rule to remember is: "Leaves of three - let it be!"

Plants are not the only thing that should keep hikers alert in California. Mountain lions are seldom seen during daylight but they can be unpredictable. 

Plants are not the only thing that should keep hikers alert in California. Mountain lions are seldom seen during daylight but they can be unpredictable. 

Finally, when we had plants even hanging above our heads, we decided to turn back. We had never seen so much poison oak at once, and we were having a hard time to identify the plants. Better safe than sorry, especially when we only had a few hours of daylight left and a child who most likely wouldn't want to walk very far anyway. We noticed from the map, that on the other side of the park was something called a Pygmy Forest. So we jumped into our car and drove over to see what it looks like.  

The base of the Pygmy Forest, was once at the bottom of the ocean. When the land rose up, it formed steps where the highest step has the oldest soil. This soil does not renew itself or get any nutrients running down from other steps. The soil is also very acidic, and forms a hard rock just underneath called "hard pan" which the roots can't break through. Because the soil is so poor and the hard pan, the trees are not able to grow as high as they would do in other forests. For example, some of the pine trees we saw were over a hundred of years old, but only about one meter tall. The other known species in Pygmy Forest is the Mendocino Cypress, which are mostly also over a hundred years old. 

The trail in the Pygmy Forest is a wooden walkway. It is not very long, only about 1/4 mile and suitable for children and people with wheelchairs. First, it was difficult to see which of the trees were pygmy trees because of all the other shrubs growing in the forest, but the signs told us what to look for. The forest is very thick but most trees are very short. It is bizarre, that these small branches are actually very old trees. 

The Pygmy Forest is a special and historic place. I wouldn't necessarily drive all the way over here because of this, but if you happen to be close by, it is nice place to get into the middle of nature.