The late summer and early fall is apple picking time for San Francisco and Bay Area families. Review our list of California apple farms and u-pick pumpkin fields in Mendocino, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties for a fun weekend away. Or, go for 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.
This year, keep in mind that to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, many U-pick farms require face coverings and advance reservations to limit the crowds and maintain social distancing.
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.
California Apple Farms 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 — being held Sept. 19-29 of 2021 — 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 wineries to tour, and U-pick orchards to let off steam after the kids have witnessed (or marched in) the parade that welcomes pets and classic cars.
Pumpkin picking is popular in Ukiah. The Ukiah Country Pumpkinfest typically occurs in mid-October and, in the past, has featured a “Scarecrow City,” country fiddle contest, children’s carnival, pie-eating contest and great pumpkin weigh-off for local gardeners. No dates announced yet, sigh.
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 actually take part in the farming and learn about agriculture. Earth Seed Farms, the former Gabriels, has evolved from a traditional apple orchard to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) community in which only members are able to pick their own fruit. The price of membership is a case of their delicious pear or apple juice, so it’s a good investment if you live locally. They start harvesting fruit at the end of August. If you’re in the area, check with them as they may be able to wait-list you for entry.
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. When it returns in 2022, we hope the annual mid-October Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival will again feature pumpkins weighing as much as 1,000 lbs. Look for amazing artistry in pumpkin carvings plus harvest-inspired crafts and foods, contests, music, entertainment and lots of fun, when it returns.
A great place to experience the connection to the land is at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm. Open daily, mid September to Halloween, it’s been a family-run farm since 1947. Originally growing flowers and produce, for the last dozen years Farmer John has been focusing on pumpkins and 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 Bernese who show up — more than 1,300 have attended in the past.
Apple Farms & U-Pick Pumpkins 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 are located within 45 minutes’ drive of the popular tourist resort towns of Santa Cruz and Capitola. Families with more time should also spend a day at the Santa Cruz classic Boardwalk Amusement Park, tour the Redwood forest on the Roaring Camp historic steam train, and 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. Watch apple juice pressing each Saturday from September-May. 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’ and fresh squeezed apple juice, and Pie Shop and Deli.
If you’re traveling during the fall, please check out FTF’s Guide to Pick Your Own Apple and Pumpkin Farms around the USA.
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