Get Lost In a Hay Maze at Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay, CA

Pumpkin Minotaur, Photo by John Barrows

I thought the window of opportunity to get lost in the gigantic hay maze at Arata’s Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay was closed. I’d been looking through pictures taken late September a few years back. The pictures captured green corn fields, dingy yellow stacked hay bales with orange pumpkins dotting the dusty earth. It was already mid-October. I realized it might be too late in the month to spend an enjoyable afternoon at the farm.

Farm Equipment, Photo by John Barrows

Last year, my husband and I went to Arata’s the weekend before Halloween. Which was a big mistake. All of the parking spaces around the perimeter of the farm were taken when we got there. Farm staff directed us to drive up to the top of a hill. Pumpkin hugging pedestrians swarmed around our car on their way back up the hill. After much searching, we arrived at a muddy parking spot on the hill’s plateau. Then we became a part of the stream of people bounding downhill to the festivities.

Pick a Pumpkin, Photo by John Barrows

Once inside the farm I realized I wasn’t going to enjoy myself. People were standing in half-hour long lines to get tickets to the amusements and to buy pumpkins. The hay maze itself was full of frolicking children and parents. Yes, that’s what the maze was created for but I was used to a relaxed saunter through the maze not a frenzied push. So we wound up walking around the farm to stretch our legs, then hiked back up to the car without a 30lb gourd and slowly drove through the crowd back out to HWY 1.

So when I started thinking about the pumpkin farm this year it was already coming up on two weeks before Halloween. But my mind started plotting a way to go to the farm and enjoy it even though it seemed like the odds of having a great time were slim. I kept my work schedule light for Friday and asked my husband to take Friday off too. We made our escape mid-day and headed to the coast.

Start of the Maze, Photo by John Barrows

In years past we’d stuff a backpack full of sandwiches and drinks to eat inside the maze. I’d bring a beach towel to spread out on the moist ground in the nook of a dead end. Maze-goers gasp in surprise when they stumble upon us eating our deli sandwiches. We shake our heads at them and say in unison “dead end.” But this year we stopped at a seafood restaurant on the way to keep things simple.

South HWY 1 greeted us with views of crashing waves, clear blue sky over the ocean and brownish green rolling hillsides. Turning into the farm we had our choice of front row rock star parking spaces. I stepped out of the car to notice an autumn chill that hung on the air even though the sun warmed my skin.

We weren’t the only ones at the farm on a Friday. A school bus load of kids and plenty of families were around picking out pumpkins and participating in the festivities. But there was no problem getting our maze tickets and we were quickly on our way to getting utterly lost.

Picking a Path, Photo by John Barrows

The epic play structure was vast enough, twisty enough, tall enough (four bales of stacked hay) to obscure the view of average height participants. We had the choice of portals to take to get into the heart of the maze. After a few wrong guesses we found the right path.

After several years of stalking through the Arata Farm maze I’ve noted some tricks that can help you make it through in better time – if that’s what you’re going for. If you’ve hit a place in the maze where there are several choices to make, wait and see if people come out frustrated from one of those paths. Then don’t go that way. Notice if people leave trash inside the maze, you can use this as a marker and know you’ve already tried the route with the soda can. Also the maze builders like to put in gates made of hay. Go through these gates – they were put there for a reason.

John Found One, Photo by Eva Barrows

Once we made it out of the maze we scrutinized pumpkin size and shapes. My husband picked out a tall medium 20 pounder. I was surprised to find a bin full of orange pumpkins with what appears to be legions of bulbous green and orange warts. I decided to go for the diseased looking pumpkin because I won’t need to decorate it at all. It was born scary.

Scary Pumpkin, Photo by Eva Barrows

I don’t recommend going to Arata’s this coming weekend. It will be a mad house. Mark your calendar for the end of September or first two weeks of October next year to discover the maze. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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