This Labor Day, keep it low-stress with an outing to the farm country south of Half Moon Bay.
The slice of bucolic heaven that lies on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the best things about Silicon Valley. Goat farms, produce stands and quaint towns turn a trip down Highway 1 into an odyssey to another time. And then there’s the scenery: miles of blue Pacific Ocean and a string of inviting beaches along the way.
As it happens, late summer is a very good time to visit farm country with the kids. Here are some great family activities happening at special places on the coast this Labor Day weekend and in coming weeks.
U-Pick Dahlias at The Pescadero Flowery
Dahlias—those frowsy, bright, happy blooms that come in a huge variety of colors and forms—are blooming from July to mid-October, and The Pescadero Flowery grows 90 varieties of them using organic methods. Borrow a bucket and scissors from the farm stand and wade out into the colorful field to harvest your own ($2 a stem). The dahlias peak in mid-September, so there’s time to get your bunches if you don’t make it out this weekend. Or check out the DIY Succulent Bar at the farm’s quaint shop. The stand is open 11am-6pm on weekend days (11am-5pm on Labor Day) and noon-5pm otherwise. Closed on Tuesdays.
The Pescadero Flowery, 251 Stage Rd (rear field), Pescadero
Visit Pie Ranch
This charming farm stand a few miles south of Pescadero, with its worn wooden floor, rough-hewn tables and old cooler cases, sells pies made with Pie Ranch produce and wheat grown and milled onsite. (Recent flavors have been peach strudel, strawberry and lemon buttermilk on the sweet side and tomato and potato-gruyere on the savory side.) Pie Ranch veggies and eggs are on offer as well, though eggs sell out early. Slip out back to the shaded picnic tables to enjoy your goodies. The farm stand is open 10am-5pm weekends, noon-5pm weekdays.
Pie Ranch, 2080 Highway 1, Pescadero.
Heads up: if you like the produce you see and think you’d like a box of it delivered each week, the Fall Homeslice CSA from Pie Ranch starts Sept. 6.
Grizzly Bear & Wildlife Day at Rancho del Oso State Park (Sept. 2)
A generous sun-warmed valley with a wealth of grand old redwoods and oaks, Rancho del Oso is a joy to visit anytime, and is frequently calmer and warmer than the breezy, foggy coast. But this weekend is special. Saturday, Sept. 2 is Grizzly Bear & Wildlife Day, a celebration of the apex predator that once roamed “Bear Ranch.” From noon to 4pm, exhibits about the mighty ursid will fill the Nature Center, and docents will be on hand with live snakes and lizards representing today’s wild inhabitants of Waddell Valley.
In years past this event was simply called the Grizzly Bear Festival, but State Parks Interpreter Jeremy Lin explains that, taxidermied specimen at the Nature Center aside, the absence of a grizzly to interact with prompted staff to expand the festival’s scope to include current wildlife.
At 1pm, local bear expert Lisa Robinson, curator at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, will give an all-ages talk on grizzly bears at Rancho del Oso. At 3pm rangers will lead an all-ages, 1–mile walk along the nature trail.
Rancho del Oso State Park, 3600 Hwy 1 (30 miles south of Half Moon Bay), Davenport
U-Pick Apples at Swanton Pacific Ranch
Swanton Road, just south of Rancho del Oso, winds through one of the prettiest little inland valleys on the coast, with the serious bonus of passing by Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch. This picturesque two-acre organic orchard is home to 16 varieties of apple, and something’s always ripe. Right now look for Holstein, Cox Orange Pippin, Sali Red Delicious and Jonagold. Bring a bag of your own and cash or check; it’s on the honor system, and there’s no one to run your credit card. Hours are 9am to 4pm; after Labor Day Weekend the orchard will be open Fridays through Sundays only. Season runs through October.
Across from the old schoolhouse at 480 Swanton Rd, Davenport. (Note: this is not the same as Swanton Berry Farm, which is on Highway 1!)
What to Do About Lunch?
Consider bringing your own and picnicking at any one of the above locations. Eateries on Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay are few and far between, and the loss of the Pescadero Country Store to fire last year punched a big hole in the offerings. In Pescadero, Duarte’s Tavern will be open but mobbed, and it’s expensive (though the burger, at about $8, is very good); Arcangeli Grocery serves sandwiches, but the line is likely to be long and there aren’t many places to sit.
Our advice: pack a lunch and water (and sweaters! always sweaters when you’re going to the coast) and make it as chill an experience as possible.