Best California Apple Farms

The late summer and early fall is apple picking time for San Francisco and Bay Area families. Start with 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. Pick fruit, go on a hayride, make it a road trip, sightsee or buy fresh baked goods and delight in northern California.

Apples on tree
Apples are best when fresh picked and stay deliciously crispy for weeks.

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. Harvest a car rental deal from when you’re ready to go.

California Apple Farms around San Francisco Metro: Mendocino County

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. Expect 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.

Pumpkins are popular in Ukiah. The Ukiah Country Pumpkinfest searches for the heaviest ones annually  over a mid-October weekend. “Scarecrow City,” a country fiddle contest, children’s carnival and pie-eating contests entertain visitors. To pick your own, head to Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch which is a local farm instead of the roadside stands that crop up each fall.

Or visit tranquil Sonoma County. A little more than an hour away from San Fransico, Sebastopol is home to farms where you actually take part in the farming and learn about agriculture. EarthSEED Farm tackles agriculture and social issues with, according to their statement, “the permission and blessings of the Graton Rancheria Tribe.” Farming is based on AfroIndigenous permaculture principles. You’ll learn traditional farming wisdom and eco-system best practices. U-pick fruit is available by appointment.

Need a hotel or vacation rental for your visit to farm country in the Bay Area and beyond?

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. They developed the land by growing vegetables, fruits and flowers. “The Pumpkin Capital of the World” is also known for varied crops of artichokes, kiwi, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and the local olallieberries. Olallieberries, a cross between logan and blackberries from Oregon, became the rage in the 1950s.

The 51st annual mid-October Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival will again feature pumpkins weighing as much as 1,000 lbs. Look for expert sculptors doing amazing artistry in pumpkins. Festival-goers love the harvest-inspired crafts and foods, contests, music and entertainment.

A great place to experience the connection to the land has been Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm. Farmer John’s has been a family-run farm since 1947. Originally growing flowers and produce, experience a real pumpkin farm. The farmers delight in introducing you to the wide variety of shapes and colors of pumpkins. Admire the gorgeous sunflowers, 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

Do fresh apples, tree climbing, ‘mile-high’ pie sampling, and fingers stained with berry juice sound like the components of a fun family outing? If so, 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. Plan to spend a day at the Santa Cruz classic Boardwalk Amusement Park. Pass the weekend. Ride the Roaring Camp historic steam train and have some tacos by the beach. 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. It was founded by Vincent John Gizdich in 1937. It still covers 60 acres of the Watsonville foothills. 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 to May. Pick your own Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Newtown Pippins. The latter keepswell 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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