Harvest Festival: Original Art & Craft Show

We’ve been going to the Harvest Festival almost every year since I was in elementary school. It’s delightful to see some of the same vendors every year – a few of whom even remember us and say “hi” – and to see many new ones as well. As an artist, I always find it inspiring to see so many new ideas and creative styles in one place. We often find truly unique gifts for our hard-to-shop-for friends and family members here too!

In a Nutshell

This is a large indoor arts & crafts festival that travels around California and parts of Nevada every year, showcasing beautiful hand-made arts and crafts, specialty foods, kids’ craft and activity areas, and a live stage with continuous music and entertainment. I think of it as a playful cross between a county fair (minus the farm animals and ferris wheels) and an art & wine festival.

Understandably, out of respect for the artists’ work, the show forbids most photography inside. My apologies for the limited photos in this post as a result.

sign says "no photos or videos of merchandise"

Location

This is a traveling show, so you can choose the location that’s closest to you. Check out the Shows page on their website for this year’s schedule. Parking and transportation details will obviously depend on the venue.

Weather

This is an indoor show, so you’ll enjoy it regardless of the weather outside. Given that many of these shows happen in the fall and over the holiday season, being a weatherproof outing is definitely a feature!

Cost

At the door, tickets are typically around $9 for adults and less for seniors, kids, and military personnel. (Prices are from 2018, but they don’t tend to change much year to year.) You can often get discounts for purchasing tickets online ahead of time, or with a postcard coupon if you join their mailing list. The postcard usually also has a coupon for a free shopping bag, so it’s worth joining the mailing list if you plan to go back next year.

Length of Time

This will take you a few hours to most of the day, depending on how quickly you stroll through the booths and how many exhibitors are at the show. (We’ve noticed some cities or some years bring bigger or smaller shows, but they’re always enjoyable regardless of size. We haven’t spotted a predictable pattern in the sizes, so we just go with the mindset that we’ll enjoy whatever we find.)

Regardless of which show you attend, we highly recommend getting there close to opening time because the event will get more crowded as the day goes on. If you’re going to a particularly popular show, such as the one in San Jose over Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll save some time in line by buying your tickets online ahead of time.

musicians dressed in Christmas clothes at Harvest Festival

Wheelchair Access

Accessibility will depend on the venue, of course, but every show we’ve seen has been in a large public event center, convention center, or the indoor part of the county fairgrounds, so it’s always been wheelchair-accessible in our experience.

The event is large, so if you have any kind of mobility challenges, balance/stability issues, or pain with too much walking, we definitely recommend bringing a cane, walker, wheelchair, or scooter, depending on what works best for you. For context, it’s more walking and standing than a typical trip to the mall, but much less than a day at Disneyland.

Each vendor’s booth varies somewhat in its accessibility because the layout is up to the exhibitor. Some have wide open spaces and some pack more tables into the same square footage, unfortunately leaving less maneuvering room for mobility devices. We’ve found that electric mobility scooters (especially the larger four-wheeled kind) have a harder time in this setting; wheelchairs are much more maneuverable in the sometimes-tighter spaces. Walkers or canes can navigate easily too.

FYI, a few booths also have high enough display cases that it can be challenging to see the merchandise from a low seated position. (This is where it helps to have a sidekick who can reach things for you.) It’s not a big enough problem to keep you from enjoying the event on your own, though. Most things are visible, and most of the artists or fellow shoppers will gladly help if you need it. Just ask!

Vision & Hearing

There would be a lot for someone with limited vision to enjoy here. The food booths often offer tasting samples, the teas and candles smell nice, and most of the textile or jewelry crafts can be as easily felt as seen. Some of the craft booths sell wind chimes, folk music CDs, and other sound-oriented goodies. It’s also possible to pick up most of the merchandise to look at it up close, so someone with limited but functional vision could navigate and enjoy the show independently. All the booths are laid out in aisles, which are marked by overhead flag signs. The layout of each individual booth is different, as mentioned above, and there are no tactile or audio markers to help with wayfinding, so a person who’s blind would need a companion to help navigate this setting.

Music is a much less prominent part of the show, compared to the visual arts and specialty foods, so someone who is deaf could easily enjoy the Harvest Festival without missing out on much. Because of the busy nature of the show, someone who uses hearing aids may have trouble filtering out the background noise at times, so if this applies to someone in your family, please remember to get their attention before speaking to them and be close enough for them to hear you clearly.

stage at the Harvest Festival

Sensory Processing

This is definitely a high-sensory experience, but I enjoy it anyway. I always wear earplugs here, and we are careful to go early in the morning to take advantage of the lower crowds. (This helps in two ways — lower sensory busyness for me and fewer crowds in which to maneuver the wheelchair for my mom.) In terms of visual and auditory input, it’s a little bit busier than a trip to the mall. There’s a lot going on in each booth, but it’s exciting artsy stuff that’s fun to look at, and you can just choose not to go in any booth that may feel overwhelming. There are a few musicians who walk around playing the ukulele or washboard or harmonica, which can be loud, but they pass quickly and there are only a couple throughout the whole show. (If you want to enjoy the stage shows, sit near the back so you’re farther from the often-too-loud speakers.) If you like to touch things, you’ll find many lush fabrics, soft toys, beautifully finished woods, smooth metals and jewelry, and other marvelous textures to explore.

If you’re especially triggered by smells, as I am, be aware that there are quite a few different smells to contend with here. Some of the crafts the vendors sell are handmade scented candles (none of which are lit, fortunately), soaps, foods, teas, seasonings and spices. Fortunately the smells are usually contained to the individual booths (apparently by magic, because the booths are open, but somehow it works), so it’s nothing like walking into (or even past) Bath & Body Works at the mall. I find that if I just don’t go in those booths, I’m fine. The venues are always enormous rooms with very high ceilings, and the fragranced vendors are a small fraction of the show, so it somehow evens out.  There is also a “food court” area, but it’s always off in one corner or one side, so those cooking smells don’t pervade the room either.

Food

You can bring your own food or buy food there. There is an area to the back or the side where a half-dozen booths sell different kinds of food for lunch or snacks. (These are not craft vendors; they’re part of the Harvest Festival itself and tend to be the same every year.) For example, there is usually a coffee & muffins booth, a salad booth, a chili & baked potato booth, a pasta booth, and a pulled pork or Philly cheesesteak sandwich booth. The food is usually made on-site but not always to order, so be careful about allergies. The people preparing it have very limited space and not much flexibility aside from whether or not to include certain toppings. Be patient with them.

food court at Harvest Festival

These food booths are side-by-side, and then there’s a large area with cafeteria-style tables end-to-end where you can eat. This makes it easy for different members of your family to choose different foods and eat together. (Keep in mind that you pay at each booth, so if you want different types of foods, you’ll each need to stand in line for yourself.) The tables are also an easy place to eat your own food from home if you brought it (I’ve never seen signs restricting it) or to just take a break if you need one.

As with most events, the lines for food can get long at peak times, so plan ahead if you can and have lunch a little earlier or little later than average and you’ll be fine.

Would we go back?

Of course! It’s a tradition for us at this point, but it’s also just really fun to see the creativity and variety on display each year. Pack your earplugs, wake up early, and go enjoy the Harvest Festival when it comes to your area. It’s sure to make you smile!

shoppers at the Harvest Festival

Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens is a small family-friendly theme park about a half-hour drive south of San Jose. It was originally called Bonfante Gardens (named for Michael Bonfante, who founded the park) and was famous for its “Circus Trees” – very cool whacky-looking trees that  were sculpted with special grafting techniques many years ago. Since then, the park has grown to include more rides, a large playground, multiple water play areas, and special events. It’s a delightful way to spend the day with or without children of any age!

The park is generally open from late March through late September for the regular season. Then they have special hours in October for Halloween and in late November/December for holiday lights. See their calendar for specifics when you’re planning a visit.

If you’re interested in the backstory of the park, there are self-directed tours and sometimes guided tours of the gardens, circus trees, and sustainability innovations throughout the parks. You can find the self-directed tour pamphlets at the Welcome Center near the front of the park.

In a Nutshell

The atmosphere here is lively but in a peaceful way, if that makes any sense. We always find it refreshing because it’s engaging enough to pull us out of everyday thoughts and concerns, but not so big or overloading that we feel pressured to squeeze everything into one day and go home wiped. For perspective, it’s bigger than Happy Hollow but smaller than Great America and much smaller than Disneyland.

The rides are mostly low-key (think more Dumbo, less Matterhorn) with one moderate roller coaster near the back. There are also gardens to explore, water slides and water-play areas of various sizes, carnival-style games, a small amphitheater that sometimes has a special show, and little “learning sheds” with interesting information about bees, trees, and other nature-oriented topics. There are often seasonal extras, such as a petting zoo or holiday lights.

On certain weekends, the park has special add-on events such as a Memorial Day BBQ or a Mother’s Day brunch or a holiday feast. You can also rent that event space for a wedding or party.

This year they added a nighttime feature for Halloween that’s a separate admission fee unless you’re a premium member. We haven’t seen this one, but we have seen their December holiday nighttime displays and enjoyed them very much, so I’d imagine their Halloween one would also be well done.

Location

Gilroy Gardens is in — you guessed it — Gilroy, off Highway 101 and 152. It’s about 30-40 minutes south of San Jose, or about 10 minutes from the Gilroy Outlets.

There’s a large parking lot just outside the entrance to the park. Parking is $15 or is included free with certain levels of season pass. Disabled parking is plentiful and is right up front near the entrance, not in the main columns of parking spots.

Because of its location, public transit is unfortunately not a great option for Gilroy Gardens. If you can’t drive here, I’d suggest carpooling with a friend or looking into a ride-sharing option such as Lyft or Uber.

Weather

Gilroy’s weather tends to be similar to San Jose, or sometimes a little warmer or windier. Most of the year, it’s very pleasant down here, especially if there’s a light breeze. In spring and fall, it’s often a little cooler in the shelter of the park than it is in the direct sun in the parking lot, so I’d recommend bringing your sweater in with you even if you think you won’t need it.

The satellite view on Google Maps shows all the trees:

There are lots of trees and peaceful garden spaces, but as with most theme parks, you will also definitely feel the prevalence of concrete and blacktop when the weather heats up. (There’s a reason the water park areas are so popular in the summer!) There isn’t a lot in the way of indoor/air-conditioned retreat options here. If you’re extra heat-sensitive, make sure to stay hydrated and go earlier in the day in the summer so you can be done before the heat of the day gets to be too much.

Cost

As of our visit (2018), general one-day admission at the gate is $58, but don’t worry, you don’t have to pay that if you plan ahead a little. Buy tickets online ahead of time (or even on your smartphone from the parking lot) and they’ll be $39 each or less, depending on how many you buy, plus taxes/fees. Note: there are often coupons in the newspaper or magazines for what look like significant discounts, but these usually only apply to the gate prices and bring them down to the same price you could get online without a coupon. If you subscribe to Goldstar deals, they sometimes have Gilroy Gardens discounts that save a couple dollars off the regular online price.

Daily tickets are somewhat pricey but there are good membership options if you plan to come more than a couple times a year. We’ve had memberships here many times before and certainly will again. We usually opt for the Premium level to get the free parking, in-park discounts, and holiday admission, but the Value level is a more affordable way to get free regular-season admission if that’s all you need. Both levels of membership are actually tax-deductible because Gilroy Gardens is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Note: A Gilroy Gardens membership doesn’t transfer to anywhere else, but if you have a Great America Gold or Platinum-level season pass, that will get you free admission into Gilroy Gardens as well. (They’re operated by the same parent company, Cedar Fair.)

Length of Time

This will take you a few hours to a full day. We usually spend about half a day riding our few favorite rides, sitting and reading in the gardens, taking lots of pictures, and just enjoying the ambiance. If your kids want to do the water park parts and/or ride all the rides, allow most of the day.

We sometimes go for a half-day or longer, or when we have a season pass (free admission + free parking), we sometimes go just for a little while. One of our favorite things to do is to sit in the shade in Claudia’s Garden near the waterfall area and just read a book for a while. It’s so peaceful!

Wheelchair Access

Their website has accessibility information and a Guest Assistance Guide PDF with more detail.

All parks operated by Cedar Fair use a Boarding Pass Program that gives you a paper pass to show the ride operators to let you go in the exit on most rides. To get this pass, go to the Welcome Center when you first enter the park. (Look at the map they give you at the entrance. After the ticket booths and security, go down the boardwalk, under the railroad track bridge, and past the restaurant and gift shop. The Welcome Center is directly in front of you.) Tell the Welcome Center folks you need a boarding pass. To help you choose which rides are safe, they’ll ask you about your ability to transfer and how much trunk/core stability you have. They’ll also ask how many people are in your party. Then they’ll give you the paper Boarding Pass with your name and today’s date and the list of rides. They’ll tell you about entering through the exit on most rides to avoid stairs and switchbacks while waiting in line. Simply show this pass to the ride operators at the exit to board.

Most of the rides are accessible if you can transfer out of your wheelchair and take a few steps. The railroad can accommodate your chair in the last car without transferring, along with one companion. Almost all of the gardens and other attractions are accessible as well, although the water parks are obviously limited to ground-level access and depend on how wet your chair can safely get.

A few of the rides are usually accessed from an elevated platform, so you’ll need to ride a little elevator to reach the exit. These elevators aren’t especially elegant, but they work reliably and you get used to them quickly. They’re rather narrow but open on top. To use one, just open the door, roll in, let the door close solidly behind you, then use the up/down button to control the lift yourself.

Wheelchair elevator as seen from the outside at the bottom
Wheelchair elevator as seen from the top
Inside the elevator

 

Service animals are allowed in the park, of course, but cannot ride most rides with you. You’ll need someone in your party to stay with the service animal (park employees are not allowed to watch them for you) while you ride. You can use the Child Swap Policy to let that other person in your party ride immediately after you’re done without having to wait in line again.

Every bathroom has accessible stalls and sinks as well. If you’re on your own, sometimes the main door to get into the ladies’ room is difficult to open from a wheelchair, and going in through the exit and out the entrance works better. If you need a private restroom for companion assistance, there’s one at the First Aid station.

You can rent a wheelchair or electric scooter for the day on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $15 for a wheelchair or $55 for an electric scooter. They also have $12 strollers and $18 double strollers to rent for younger guests.

Vision & Hearing

I think this park would be fun for guests with any level of hearing or vision impairment. Visually, there are many beautiful gardens, colors, and details to soak in. There are also printed signs with safety information for each ride. Auditorally, there is cheerful (but not overwhelming) background music and verbal instructions when boarding each ride.

If you arrange it at least a week in advance, they offer American Sign Language interpreters. The Welcome Center also has guides printed in Braille and large print upon request.

Sensory Processing

For a park this size, the sensory factor is amazingly reasonable. Yes, there’s background music in some places, but it’s simple and upbeat and not too loud. Some of the rides make a high-pitched whine as they get moving, but it doesn’t last long. This is one of the few places that I don’t need my earplugs. Visually, the colors come mostly from the flowers in the gardens or from the rides, most of which are designed to look like fruits and vegetables. There were mild food smells inside the restaurants but nothing overpowering inside or out.

Food

Officially you’re not supposed to bring food into the parks, but there are two exceptions:

  1. Food for infants & toddlers
  2. Special diets due to food allergies, religious restrictions, or personal choice

Anyone can bring a picnic lunch if you eat it at the picnic tables near the entrance. For all outside food, they request that you eat it in the picnic area near the front entrance, but in our experience this is not strictly enforced. Just be respectful about it.

They do sell gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan food options in some of the restaurants in the park. In our experience, these are hit-or-miss, especially for the vegan options. Almost everywhere sells the fruit salad and the side salad, but if you want something vegan with protein, you’re more limited. This season it’s essentially only the tofu veggie option at The Wok, which was closed the day we visited. (There were also hummus and pretzel cups at the coffee shop near the front.) To be safe, I recommend bringing a vegan protein bar at least.

Would we go back?

Of course! We even plan to renew our season passes in the future. Even when we go for only a couple hours, it always feels like we really went somewhere special — a mini getaway — and we always come home refreshed. If you’re looking for a special spot to visit, Gilroy Gardens will make you smile!