California Apple Farms - U-Pick 'Em And Enjoy

Author: Seth A. Gladstone

Tags : Baby, California, Fall Getaway, Food & Wine, Kids, North America, USA

The late summer and early fall is apple picking time for San Francisco and Bay Area families. Review the apple orchards and pumpkin farms of Mendocino, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties for a fun weekend away or even a day's outing with the kids. Whether you are looking to pick fruit, go on a hayride, or buy fresh baked goods in northern California, Family Travel Forum has you covered. 

Before you head out, consider what you'll do with the apples that you pick. Different varieties are better suited for different purposes. The most popular varieties for eating include the Macintosh, Empire, Idared, Red Delicious, and the Jonathon. If sauces or pies are in the plan, try the Cortland, the Golden Delicious, the Russet, and the Mutsu.

Here are our picks for the best apple picking around the San Francisco metropolitan area and information on which festivals are celebrated locally.

Apple Picking around San Francisco Metro: Mendocino County

A day or two spent away from the San Francisco metropolitan area is the perfect antidote to the depressing chill and fog that can blanket the city in late summer and early fall.

If you head about 90 miles north of San Francisco to Mendocino County in mid-September, you’ll encounter the annual Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. This weekend-long party is a great way to introduce the kids to a real old-fashioned country fair, with activities for the entire family including a rodeo, petting zoo, apple tasting, wine tasting, hoedown and parade. There are nearby U-pick orchards to let off steam after the kids have witnessed the ever-popular Sheepdog Trails.

October is the time for pumpkin picking in Ukiah. The Country Pumpkinfest occurs the second weekend of the month, featuring a "Scarecrow City," country fiddle contest, children's carnival, pie-eating contest and great pumpkin weigh-off for local gardeners.

For some peace and quiet, go visit tranquil Sonoma County. A little more than an hour away from San Fransico, be prepared to chill at one of the farms in Sebastopol. At some of them, you can take part in the farming, and learn about agriculture. Gabriel Farms is a traditional apple orchard, offering homemade juice and jam, well priced fresh apples ($2 per pound), pears, berries and pumpkins. They are a family farm, and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) community. They start harvesting fruit on August 31st and invite visitors to come in and help out.

Pumpkins & Olallieberries in San Mateo County

The agricultural heritage of the coastal area in San Mateo County, just south of the city, dates back to early Portuguese and Spanish settlers who developed the land by growing vegetables, fruits and flowers. Known for varied crops of artichokes, kiwi, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and the local olallieberries, the area is renowned as “The Pumpkin Capital of the World.” San Mateans take this title quite seriously as shown at the annual Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, where pumpkins weigh in as much as 1,000 lbs. Your family will find amazing pumpkin carvings, harvest-inspired crafts and foods, contests, music, entertainment and lots of fun.

A great place to experience the connection to the land is at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch (850 North Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019; 650/726-4980), a family-run farm since 1947. Originally growing flowers and produce, for the last 12 years Farmer John has been focusing on pumpkins and is open to the public so families can experience a real pumpkin farm. His passion is infectious and he delights in introducing you to the wide variety of shapes and colors of pumpkins, as well as gorgeous sunflowers and fun activities. Try to visit during their annual Mountain Dog Day because your tiny travelers will be thrilled with the dozens of Bernese who show up.

For more information on activities, restaurants and lodging, including pet friendly hotels, parks, restaurants, beaches and nature trails, log on to Visit San Mateo County.


Apple Picking & Pumpkin Hunting in Santa Cruz County

If fresh apples, tree climbing, 'mile-high' pie sampling, and fingers stained with berry juice sound like the components of a fun family outing, drive farther south down the coast to Santa Cruz County for some apple picking and farm stand browsing.

Several orchards (including the J&P Farm, Apple Barn, Mann's Apples, Jensen Pride, Prevedelli Farm, Apple Bin) are located within 45 minutes' drive of the popular tourist resort towns of Santa Cruz and Capitola. Families with more time should spend a day at the Santa Cruz classic Boardwalk Amusement Park, tour the Redwood forest on the Roaring Camp historic steam train, or browse the many offbeat, hippie and New Age shops along seaside Capitola's cute main streets. Plan carefully, as many activities are scheduled weekends only.

The apple-pickers' orchard of note is Gizdich Ranch, located at 55 Peckham Road in Watsonville, CA 95076, and founded by Vincent John Gizdich in 1937. It still covers 60 acres of the Watsonville foothills, while many other growers in the largely agricultural Pajaro Valley region have converted to berry farming. Even at Gizdich, strawberries, olallie berries, boysenberries and raspberries can be picked from May to July. The three local pick-your-own varieties are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Newtown Pippins, said to keep well for up to three months after picking. The Gizdichs advise using these apples, about a third the cost of store-bought produce, for jams, pies and sauces.

Another dozen varieties picked by the pros are sold in their farm stand, near their shops for 'antiques', fresh pies, and fresh squeezed apple juice. In fact, Nita Gizdich's baking became so popular that since 1980 she's run the Eata Nita Pie Shop on the farm property.

Once the pick-your-own season is done, families with active kids can return to pumpkin-pick and visit the Apple Butter Festival, held the third Saturday in October (cancelled fall 2013) which features apple butter making (lots of churning and squishing by hand), plus music, arts 'n'crafts displays and hayrides.

Contact the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council (800/833-3494, 831/425-1234) for information about other activities and accommodations in the region.

If you're traveling during the fall, please check out FTF's Guide to Pick Your Own Apple and Pumpkin Farms around the USA.