If you still don’t have a Christmas tree, and would like one you can feel good about, the place to go is Rancho Siempre Verde. It’s on Highway 1 on the San Mateo Coast, about half way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, and about five miles south of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the east side of the road.
I went there last weekend with my two Santa Cruz grandchildren, their parents, their grandfather, their other grandmother, who is in her eighties, and their little yappy dog, not much bigger than a cat but much louder. A good time was had by all, each in his or her own way.
Jon and Margaret Kosek, both doctors, bought the farm in 1960 and raised five kids there. All five (three doctors, two teachers) along with partners and 8 grandkids are still part of the maintenance and management. Jon said they knew they had to buy the piece of land when they saw their two first kids “running up the hill in joy.”
My grandkids, along with the dog, ran up the hill in joy when they saw the giant swings that the Koseks have hung from the big eucalyptuses and pines at the top. Along with 25 acres of Christmas trees of all kinds, visitors (who are encouraged to stay as long as they want) can toast marshmallows at a campfire, ride on a tractor, crawl through bales of hay, make wreaths and picnic. Dogs are allowed to run free—the only rule is that they not be on leashes, possibly to prevent fights.
Wreath-making is a plus for crafty types. The farm supplies wreath frames, metal circles with upstanding pegs, which are used on special tables with a device that looks like the triumph of a 19th century inventor, for $5. Bunches of greens are laid around the circle next to each peg, and a press of a foot pedal bends the pegs to hold them invisibly. The engineer in our group was delighted. Trimmings of all kinds including holly, eucalyptus, salvia flowers and pyracantha berries, are free.
The trees themselves are the main attraction. Buyers pay a flat $40 for any and every kind of tree: Douglas firs, Monterey pines, sequoias, incense cedars and several other varieties. This includes all taxes, the use of a saw, wrapping or bailing the tree, twine, tying the tree on top of your car, free fresh boughs, and all the marshmallows you can eat. There are huge trees and small ones, shapely pruned specimens and free-form natural ones, all pungent and fresh. The Koseks plant between 1,000 and 1,500 new trees each year, after starting out by planting 10,000.
The ranch is habitat for many kinds of wild creatures, and provides an economically feasible way of preserving open space on the development-pressured San Mateo Coast. Son Jake Kosek is a recent Stanford Ph.D. and newly-hired professor at the University of New Mexico. He has taken an increasing role in making things work as his parents have gotten older, and thinks of the ranch as having important social benefits.
“Given what Christmas is—parking lots, long lines—this is about doing something about Christmas that is not all about consumerism. It’s more about spending time with your family, it’s a different type of Christmas,” he told us.
The view from the hill, out over the ocean, is magnificent, in itself worth the whole trip. The weather when we were there on Saturday was spectacular, 70 degrees and sunny. Starting at the Santa Cruz/San Mateo county line, and then for about 5 miles up the coast, there is a section that Jon Kosek refers to as a banana belt, where there isn’t as much fog and the weather is warmer. My family reports that even on rainy days, as in preceding years, it’s an exhilarating spot. It will be open this weekend both Saturday and Sunday, 9 to 5, rain or shine.
Staff writer Jakob Schiller contributed to this report.