Ready for the leaves to change and looking for fun things to do in fall in San Francisco? I’ve put together a HUGE guide with tons of fall activities in the Bay Area – where to find the best pumpkin and apple picking, a street full of epic Halloween decorations, the best trails with fall foliage, and of course where to grab gluttonous treats like apple cider donuts and dutch apple pie a la mode.
Hate to be corny, but … Oh my gourd – it’s the first day of fall! Fall breeze and autumn leaves. Stressed, blessed, pumpkin obsessed. Sweater weather is better together. I like you a latte and I’d love to see you s’more. If you don’t like fall, you can leaf me alone. No one said I was actually funny…
After living in California for almost a decade (WHOA…), I’m finally starting to miss the seasons. Especially fall – I never realized how much the leaves changing, that cool, crisp air, and hot apple cider donuts mean to me! Fine, I won’t say no to a PSL either, but let’s not go overboard, now shall we?
This year, we’ve been feasting on maple streusel bread with pumpkin butter, getting crazy messy carving pumpkins, roasting those delicious pumpkin seeds, watching all our favorite Halloween movies, making semi-homemade apple pie — the works!
With that being said, I’ve been on a mission to do everything and anything possible to celebrate fall in San Francisco. It’s no New England fall, but with a little digging, I was able to find a whole bunch of fun fall activities in the Bay Area!
I’ve put together the ultimate list of things to do in fall in San Francisco and beyond. Many are favorites from all my years living in the Bay, and others I found while scouring the internet.
For, ya know, more fall activities to add to my personal San Francisco fall bucket list! Let’s get to it – all the impossible corn mazes, sticky candy apples, and haunted hayrides await!
Where to Find Fall in San Francisco
Haha, or shall I say, the greater Bay Area? Because, let’s face it – there’s not really tons and tons of fall activities in San Francisco itself.
Many of the activities on this list of things to do in fall in San Francisco are actually surrounding the city, not in SF itself. Think the East Bay, Peninsula/San Jose, and North Bay. The greater Bay Area is full of farmlands and tons of open spaces, perfect for apple picking, pumpkin farms, (some) fall foliage, and autumn wine tasting!
Weather During Fall in San Francisco
- In September, it’s still summer in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. Meaning it’ll be hot, especially inland (where you’ll find most of these fall in San Francisco Bay Area activities). Don’t be grabbing your flannels just yet! I typically wear fall dresses through September and into mid-October.
- By mid-October, it finally (kinda) starts cooling off (a bit…).
- And FINALLY, by November, we’ve got your typical fall weather! Time to bust out the beanies and cute boots!
Most people don’t realize this, but we’ve got Indian summers over here. Meaning our actual summer doesn’t start until the month of September. San Francisco is pretty chilly in the “summer” months of June through August, but come September, the jackets come off and the sandals come on out. We do get a nice breeze being on the coast.
Regardless of the month, just remember, the city’s got microclimates, so it may be hot and sunny in one area, and chilly and gray in another. Always wear layers; you never know when you’ll need to strip one off or add another!
The Best San Francisco Fall Activities (and Beyond)
Fall Foliage in San Francisco/Greater Bay Area
While San Francisco and the Bay Area in general are definitely not known for fall foliage, there’s a few spots to check out for leaf peeping! Fall colors are pretty unusual for San Francisco’s climate, so you really gotta know where to look. It’s definitely not Vermont or New Hampshire over here, but we take what we can get!
The leaves turn later than usual here, so don’t expect much color until the earliest mid-October.
Fall Foliage at Japanese Tea Garden (San Francisco)
Fall is by far my favorite time to visit the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. You’ll still find lots of evergreens, but those maple leaves really are something once they turn colors.
A stunning red pagoda framed by gorgeous yellow ginkgo trees. A waterfall peeking through the bright red maple leaves. The koi ponds and all the traditional architecture. And like all the other times of year, don’t miss the bronze Buddha statue, stone lanterns, pruned evergreen trees, reflective pond, and of course a walk over the drum bridge (it’s harder than it looks).
Your best bet is to come mid-October to early November, because if you come any later, there might not be many colors left!
SF Botanical Garden (San Francisco)
The SF Botanical Garden is 55-acres – of course there’s gonna be at least a little fall foliage here! The fall foliage peak is pretty short, only lasting about 2 weeks, so be sure to keep an eye out on the garden’s instagram page (usually peaking in November).
Two specific spots in the garden to check out for fall foliage in San Francisco: the Temperate Asia Garden and the Moon Viewing Garden! Expect striking Japanese maple trees, bright golden-fanned ginkgos, Persian ironwood trees, and deep purplish-red Dogwoods.
Hakone Estate and Gardens (Saratoga)
Japanese gardens are carefully designed to showcase all different seasons depending on the time of year. And Hakone Gardens in Saratoga is no different! We love visiting whenever we’re aching for a trip back to Japan (easily one of our favorite countries in the world).
There’s splashes of fall color all around the garden, and the maple leaves turn a bright shade of orangey red. Visit in late October/early November for the best chance of spotting them!
I took my parents here on their last visit to the Bay Area, and we loved touring the grounds – tons of koi fish in the pond, giant bamboo stalks, and traditional Japanese architecture. Plus multi-tiered waterfalls, strolling gardens, unique lanterns, and even unique Japanese stonework. And a tea house! Don’t miss the bamboo garden – it totally feels like you’re in Kyoto, Japan!
While you’re probably here for the fall foliage (this is a post on my favorite fall activities in San Francisco and beyond), don’t miss the Upper House and Lower House – we loved them! And get this, the The Cultural Exchange Center (another building in Hakone Estate), was actually constructed in Japan, disassembled, shipped to Saratoga (California), and then reassembled right on site. Can’t get more authentic than that!
A few other spots for fall foliage in San Francisco and nearby:
- Filoli Gardens (Peninsula: Woodside)
- Henry W. Coe State Park (South Bay: East of Morgan Hill)
- Tilden Regional Park (Berkeley)
- Sawyer Camp Trail (Peninsula)
- Sonoma County
Fun Fall Events and Activities
Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival (Half Moon Bay)
Every year, Half Moon Bay is transformed into the Pumpkin Capital of the World. And I mean completely transformed. If you haven’t been to the HMB Art and Pumpkin Festival, you haven’t done fall in San Francisco.
Expect to find enormous heavyweight champion pumpkins (last year’s winner was a whopping 2,000 pounds!), tons of entertainment, the Great Pumpkin Parade, a bone-chilling Haunted House, harvest-inspired crafts, home-style foods, expert pumpkin carvers, pie-eating and costume contests, and lots more.
It’s kinda like fall threw up all over Half Moon Bay — and I’m here for it! There’s also pumpkin beer and pumpkin mac n’ cheese… so yeah, plan to go on an empty stomach (and wear your stretchy pants!).
The Annual Pumpkin Festival takes place in downtown HMB on Historic Main Street, not far from the Half Moon Bay pumpkin farms and stands. It’s crazy popular (and actually one of America’s most iconic festivals), so know there’ll be crowds. Admission is free! Get more info here!
World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off (Half Moon Bay)
Thought you’ve seen a huge pumpkin? Well, my friends, think again…
Every year, farmers compete for big prize money for having the heaviest giant pumpkin – this year a whopping $30k! These pumpkins have been brewing since spring (April for most growers), so you bet they’re got time to grow.
I mean, the giant pumpkins need to be transported by forklift to the official scale for weighing! How wild is that?! Makes sense considering some of them get to be over a thousand pounds! Half Moon Bay isn’t known as the World Pumpkin Capital for no reason!
And just for the record, the current world pumpkin is a whopping 2,703 pounds – held by Stefano Cutrupi of Italy. Try and beat that, gourd growers! Find more info here.
If you aren’t growing your own bodacious behemoths, don’tchu worry – you can still be a spectator at the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay.
Pumpkin Picking and Pumpkin Farms (Half Moon Bay)
Another great fall activity near San Francisco is pumpkin picking in Half Moon Bay! Sure, you’ll find some small patches here and there in the city and on the peninsula itself, but no one does pumpkin picking better than Half Moon Bay. Come late September, the coast is filled with thousands and thousands of pumpkins of all different colors, shapes, and sizes.
So put on your fun fall outfit (flannels are perfect) and grab a wheelbarrow — time to go pumpkin picking in Half Moon Bay!
There’s plenty of pumpkin patches in Half Moon Bay to visit, and don’t feel like you need to visit each and every one. You can also go a bit further south to Pescadero where you’ll find even more pumpkin patches and farms (and that drool worthy artichoke bread)! Here’s the most popular patches:
- Farmer John’s: The amount of pumpkins at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm is crazy — there’s tons and tons of different varieties! There’s those famous Atlantic Giants (sometimes weighing in at 250 pounds to a whopping 1500 lbs!), Cinderella and fairy tale, Jack be little, Lumina (white pumpkins!), speckled gourds, and a ton of others. We found Farmer John’s to have some of the cheapest pumpkin prices in Half Moon Bay, so plan to stock up here.
- Arata’s Pumpkin Farm: This is your one-stop-shop for allll the fall activities – think the famous Minotaur’s Labyrinth Hay Maze (a delightfully complex, 2-acre hay maze), a petting zoo, pony rides, a fun hayride through the corn stalks, as well as a spine-tingling Haunted Barn and the Pumpkin River in the corn field. See, oh so much! Plus a huge variety of pumpkins of course! You could easily spend half a day here, especially if you’ve got little ones with ya!
- Bob’s Vegetable Stand & Pumpkin Farm: So, you come to Bob’s for one thing and one thing only — to go pumpkin picking in Half Moon Bay! Unlike the other farms, it’s pretty basic and this typically translates to less crowds and better pricing! There was hardly anyone there when we visited in mid-September!
→ Find all my favorite pumpkin patches and farms here (with of course tons of photos, tips, and other less popular patches/farms in the area!).
U-Pick Sunflower Fields (Half Moon Bay)
Always wanted to run throughout a bright yellow sunflower field? Now’s your chance — at Andreotti Family Farms! This is one of my favorite fall activities in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can guarantee you’ll have oh so much fun. You can even pick your own sunflowers to take home with you.
Plan to come in September or October before all the sunflowers have been picked through. However, the exact date varies every year depending on the season and the growth of the sunflowers. You’ll wanna follow Andreotti Family Farms on IG to check for sunflower opening updates. Not following them? Go do this, NOW.
A few things to know:
- There will be bees in the field (although they didn’t bother us one bit)
- Cutting down the sunflowers was actually way more labor intensive than I realized – the stalks are way thicker than you think!
- Wear sneakers – you’re essentially walking through a field full of sunflower stumps and there’s no clearly defined paths (you’re free to wander wherever), so you’ll probably get poked and stabbed quite a bit.
Fleet Week (San Francisco)
Watching the Blue Angels soar overhead is easily one of the best things to do in fall in San Francisco. It’s not your typical seasonal activity per say, but it happens in autumn, so we’re adding it to the list! Go try some caramel apple chocolate squares from Ghirardelli Square afterwards (not far from one of the best spots to see the Angels).
It took us 4 years of living in the Bay Area to finally watch these jaw-droppingly impressive flight demonstrations, but boy oh boy, the show did not disappoint. Fleet Week occurs every October, bringing some of the most elite pilots from the Navy and Marines to town, filling up the bay with military ships and choreographed jets soaring overhead.
We watched on the lawn near the Aquatic Park area, and despite the intense crowds (over a million people came out to watch), it was tons of fun. Definitely one of the most iconic (and crowded) things to do in San Francisco in the fall, that’s for sure! Let’s just say watching fighter planes zip by the Golden Gate is not something you’ll quickly forget.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (San Francisco)
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass welcomes fall in San Francisco. It’s a downright massive 3-day (annual) music festival that literally takes over Golden Gate Park. And get this – it’s completely free, you don’t even need a ticket! Just show up with your friends, picnic blanket, snacks, and wine and beer (in non-glass containers of course).
It’s an incredible 3 days of free music – with 6 stages (playing simultaneously), more than 50 gourmet food and beverage vendors (BYO alcohol), and all the good vibes.
Even though it’s a free event the festival gets big acts like Mumford and Sons and Elvis Costello. While it all started in 2001 with only bluegrass performers, there’s now a huge variety of types of musicians on stage, including tons of new, up-and-coming bands and performers.
The whole city comes together – it’s like one big (ok, HUGE) party in the park with live music! Over 750k people attended over the course of the three days this year; absolutely wild!
Spooky and Strange Things To Do for Halloween
It’s spooky season, ya’ll! And the Bay Area’s got a few haunted spots to check out.
Alcatraz Island After Dark (San Francisco Bay)
Being the inspiration behind countless urban legends, television shows, and movies, Alcatraz is most definitely one of the most famous things to do in San Francisco – and fall is the perfect time to visit. I mean, what’s creepier/eerier than visiting an ultimate maximum security prison, one of the most notorious in the world. Al Capone aka Scarface was held here!
Step into the solitary confinement cells. You’ll definitely feel the eerie coldness – it’s kinda like a real-life horror house.
Once home to the state’s most dangerous criminals, Alcatraz is now open to the public for guided tours (book yours here!). Wanna really send a shiver down your spine?! Visit Alcatraz after dark and buy a ticket for the night tour for all the spooky vibes. Eerie atmospheres at this abandoned prison on an island guaranteed. And if it’s raining? It’ll just add to the grim mood!
Be sure to make a reservation as soon as you can – tours to Alcatraz are hugely popular. We’ve been to Alcatraz quite a few times, and lemme tell ya — the night tour is where it’s at!
Winchester Mystery House (San Jose)
Next up – The Winchester Mystery House! What is this exactly?! It’s a stately mansion (and architectural wonder and historic landmark) in San Jose, with a strange and sinister history.
The mansion is said to be haunted by the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles over the centuries – so yup, expect the possibility of tons of paranormal activity here! So many years of history within these walls.
Like many others big on spiritually, Winchester was superstitious and was utterly obsessed with the number 13. Think 13 hooks in the seance room, 13 overflow drain holes in the sink in the Hall of Fires, and 13 parts to her will (which she actually signed 13 times!), etc. The mansion is bizarre and the grounds are actually quite lovely.
There’s a few different tours you can choose from here:
- Mansion Tour: Learn all about Sarah, the woman behind the house, and see all the bizarre architectural designs and mysterious elements. Plus the 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 6 kitchens, and just one shower (glad we didn’t live back then)!
- Walk With Spirits Tour: Explore the paranormal and topic of spiritualism – you’ll even attend a wake for a departed soul, experience a Victorian era seance, and end in the dark basement, home to the famous “Wheelbarrow Ghost”.
If you’re looking for all the spooky vibes and can’t wait to get creeped out/get the chills, I’d choose the Walk with Spirits Tour. Also, the mansion typically has additional tours specifically for Halloween – “Unhinged: Nightshade’s Curse”. Expect malicious spirits and terrifying scenes. Once you’re done, stop by the Spookeasy Bar (21+)!
California Great America’s Tricks and Treats (Santa Clara)
California’s Great America, a theme park we’ve been going to ever since we moved here, literally transforms into a Halloween fantasyland come October. And Tricks and Treats is their new, over-the-top, larger-than-life, gotta-be-there Halloween event packed with fun and family-friendly eeriness. It replaced the haunted Halloween nights which I kinda loved, so of course we had to check out the new event.
Psst — it was fun, but definitely not as well-done as the previous one.
There’s two worlds to explore – the Land of Tricks and the Land of Treats, each with different festivities, shows, and decorations. We had fun taking a few pics, but totally wish it was scarier like Halloween nights was in the past! Lines are long so expect to stay all day if you wanna get on all the rides.
If you’re a rollercoaster fan looking for an all-zombie cover band, The Bride of Frank’s Ice cream, and all things slimy, crawly, goopy and stinky, head over to the Land of Tricks.
And then there’s the other side, the Land of Treats, – with softly glowing candles, pumpkin spice, cozy flannels, campfire stories, and an incredibly sweet Trick or Treat Trail. You’ll totally feel all the nostalgia of a cozy fall festival.
Of course there’s bewitching brews, potions and magical elixirs for all us adults out there.
Tour the Haunted USS Hornet (Alameda)
Touring the USS Hornet is like taking a trip back in time. The ship’s been through a lot – serving in BOTH World War II and Vietnam, as well famously saving the Apollo 11 astronauts from the Pacific Ocean after the 1969 moon landing. So yeah, it’s pretty important in terms of history.
Today, the Hornet’s a museum, and it’s HUGE (the length of three football fields).
But what most people don’t realize is that the ship is actually haunted. Veterans who used to work on the ship (who are now docents to the tours) claim there’s tons of paranormal activity. They don’t call this the most haunted ship in history for nothin!
And you can visit on the museum’s three hour History/Mystery tour. It’s part history lesson, and of course part paranormal investigation. You’ll go below deck, into the dark, hearing ghost stories along the way. Get ready for lots of chilling history, and the K-II meters may even detect the presence of a spirit or two.
There’s usually only one history mystery tour per month, so definitely snag your ticket way ahead of time.
If you really wanna feel all the mysterious vibes and history, there’s even an overnight version of the History Mystery Tour. You’ll sleep where the crew slept, eat where they ate, and investigate with the crew from 6 PM to 9 AM the next morning. The ultimate paranormal investigation.
Mystery Spot (Santa Cruz)
Take a drive down south to Santa Cruz – The Mystery Spot is one of those quirky roadside attractions you should only attempt with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. It’s located in the nearby redwood forest and allegedly sits upon a “gravitational anomaly”. The 45 minute tour will show you amazing feats that defy the laws of physics. It’s goofy fun and not to be missed during any weekend in Santa Cruz.
I don’t wanna spoil all the fun, but I’ll say this – you’ll appear to defy gravity! The Mystery Spot is a circular area of effect around 150 feet, and within it, you’ll totally question your perception of the laws of physics and gravity.
Ghost Tours in San Francisco
Looking to learn about the haunted history of San Francisco? Join a walking tour after dark!
This ghost tour visits the mysterious alleyways of Chinatown and ghostly Jackson Square historic district, while hearing tales of unexplained deaths, scandalous murders, the old red-light district (not only in Amsterdam!), famed spirits, Chinatown assassins, and so much more.
Plus known ghosts and infamous crimes, and walk down the very streets where these hauntings and crimes took place. You’ll even be able to use your own ghost hunting tools, like an EMF detector – how cool is that?!
Wanna check out Nob Hill and Union Square instead? This haunted walking tour explores the darkest corners of San Francisco.
You’ll visit 8-12 sites, walk past haunted hotels, streets, clubs, and office buildings, plus learn about the famous tragedies that haunt The Westin St. Francis! Including some frightening stories about the gold rush and film industry! Definitely not your typical touristy tour!
Psst – you maaaay wanna leave the kids at home. Most ghost tours (including these) are rated PG-13 for some talk of violence and gore, and can be kinda scary (even for adults!).
San Francisco Vampire Tour
Vampire lore and local history await! This guitchy tour primarily walks through Nob Hill, making stops at Grace Cathedral (where vampires played a role in the history), the Nob Hill Café (lots of wild history over here), the Fairmont Hotel (definitely a haunted hotel), and the InterContinental Mark Hopkins. You’ll learn all the neighborhood’s secrets and some favorite vampire tales as you go
The tour also tells stories about the cemeteries that were removed from San Francisco (whoa, where did they put the bodies?!), plus the darker history of Alcatraz and other areas of the city. It’s also funny and there’s vampire costumes – a great way to learn the history of San Francisco during the 1800s and have a little silly fun while doing so.
Check out the tour here and book your ticket! Guaranteed to sell out for Halloween!
Fear Overload Haunted House (Newark)
Unsavory demons. Horrifying whispers. Flesh-eating abominations. Enter hell through the gaping mouth of a hideous monster and descend to the negative thirteenth floor of the building. This is a breathtaking, haunted experience (only for the bravest souls out there)! And easily the scariest haunted houses in the entire Bay Area.
There’s not just one, but 2 ecstatic, over-the-top haunted houses rich with horrific monsters and humans in agony.
Get lost in ridiculously detailed mazes (literally, you’ll get lost), get trapped in an Asylum, with horrific scenes all around you, and don’tchu worry, you’ll be hearing voices too. Humans chained by their wrists, sizzling away in barrels of acid. This is an experience you won’t believe – beware of nightmares!
Epic Halloween Decorations
Eucalyptus Street (San Carlos)
Residents on Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos really go all out for Halloween. The vibrant lights and spooky decorations are part of the San Carlos culture afterall! It’s a longstanding tradition over here – buy a house on Eucalyptus Street, and you’re automatically joined into the fun.
We love sipping on festive drinks (did someone say pumpkin spice?!) and wandering down Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos. Doesn’t hurt that it’s less than a 15 min drive from our condo – before buying our new place we could actually walk to Eucalyptus Street from our old apartment.
And it’s oh so fun and festive – everyone dresses up, there’s tons of candy given out (yes, even to adults sometimes… just ask nicely), and there’s even haunted houses and musical Halloween performances. We once saw a zombie invasion!
What used to be a low-key local event has turned into a spectacle everyone wants to see! And make sure to come back for Christmas – the street goes out even more (if that’s even possible).
Please please please, whatever you do – clean up after yourself and make sure not to litter the streets at all (including candy wrappers). As you can imagine, with all the crowds, residents need to clean the streets afterwards.
Do your part and don’t add to the madness. And of course be extra respectful to the families living there. The street is normally shut off entirely to traffic, so plan to park nearby (Burton Park is a great spot) and walk to Eucalyptus Street.
Halloween Houses in San Francisco
The city’s got tons of decorations, and it’s so fun to just wander around looking for them! But there’s a few specific houses that totally go all out — think dozens of pumpkins cascading down steps, spooky 12-foot skeletons, and giant spiders galore.
I’m itching to spend a day photographing them all. Thankfully, my friend Wendan already has! And her photos are just so perfect — I mean, she’s totally giving off Wednesday Addams vibes here!
Here’s some of the most popular houses (closest intersections below):
- Upper Terrace and Masonic (they go all out for Christmas in SF too)
- 6th and Irving
- Castro and Liberty
- Divisadero and Washington
- Page and Divisadero
Foodie Fall Things in San Francisco (and Beyond)
Okay, y’all know I’m all about the food when I travel. And fall food is no exception – I’m here for it all! Gimme the apple cider donuts, bratwurst, pumpkin bread, bartlett pears, persimmons (yes, I love those!), and literally any seasonal treat from Trader Joe’s (IYKYK). I recently had some pumpkin cheesecake and oh boy…
We can’t all get to Germany for Oktoberfest, but thankfully, there’s a few celebrations right here in the Bay! Put on your lederhosen and drink up – all the Oktoberfest beers and bratwurst await!
Redwood City Oktoberfest (Redwood City): Bier! Brezeln! Bratwurst! If you’re on the peninsula, don’t miss Redwood City’s Oktoberfest – it ain’t Redwood City’s premier fall event for nothing!
There’s authentic German food (like pretzels and brats), commemorative steins with delicious brews on tap, Austrian and German music from Tyrol and Bavaria, plus fun contests like stein holding, yodeling, and lots of variations of the “international” chicken dance all in a huge decked-out Oktoberfest tent. I already have it on my San Francisco fall bucket list for next year!
21st Amendment Brewery Oktoberfest (two locations: San Francisco and San Leandro): Another popular spot to celebrate, and 21st Amendment does it better than the rest! Enjoy Polka music, hearty German cuisine, the release of their Oktoberfest Festbier, and so much more.
Expect a full-on Oktoberfest menu with all the grub – including beer cheese soup, German potato salad, spaetzle, pretzels with beer mustard and obatzda cheese, bratwurst with sauerkraut, and of course, schnitzel! Yum!
Growing up in NY, it seemed like there were dozens of apple orchards everywhere you looked. But here in the Bay Area? There’s not that many… and the closest ones are about an hour and 20 minutes from San Francisco (without traffic!).
BUT, apple picking is one of the best fall activities out there… and you’ve got an excuse to make (and then eat) all the apple pie… so yea, you gotta go!
Depending on the orchard you visit, you’ll find all different types of apples. There’s gravensteins, golden delicious, rome apples, fujis, and other less common varieties like orins, pinovas, candy crisps, and jonagolds. You never know what you’ll find! If you’re looking for a snack, grab a few Gala, Fuji and Red Delicious. Rome, Golden Delicious, and Jonagolds are great for baking. Most apples cost $2-2.50 a pound.
U-Pick apple season typically runs from September through early December, although this always depends on the weather and availability of ripe apples. Always check specific farms/orchards before visiting to make sure there’s still enough apples to pick! As always, exact dates may vary.
Also, some orchards require an advance reservation/ticket purchase/parking pass, so head to the individual websites below for all the logistics. Things change every year – you don’t wanna show up and then not be allowed entry!
Here’s the most popular apple orchards with U-Pick apples in the SF Bay Area. And honestly the only ones I could find… haha.
Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): This is where we recently went apple picking, and had the best time! With no reservations needed, it was so easy. You just stroll up and you’re picking apples within minutes.
Before leaving, don’t miss out on the famous pie and fresh pressed apple juice (we were too full to try the famed apple dumplings and puff pastries).
The line gets exceptionally busy, so I recommend having some pie for brunch (hey, no judgments!), and then picking apples afterwards. Dogs are not allowed in the apple orchard (understandably), but they’re allowed elsewhere on property (so of course we took little Kona!). There’s a cute antique shop too.
Clearview Orchards (Watsonville): Besides U-pick apples, Clearview Orchards sells fresh apple juice, delicious apple turnovers, organic squash, pumpkins, dried lavender, honey, and more. Do note a reservation is required for parking and entry (up to 8 people).
Chileno Valley Ranch (Petaluma): This one you need reservations for, and it seems like there’s super limited availability (definitely check the website in advance for opening hours/days). They also sell other items from their farm or neighbors, like free-range eggs, honey, and baked goods.
Apple-A-Day at Ratzlaff Ranch (Sebastopol): This is where the award winning Apple-A-Day apple juice is produced! You’ve probably seen them at stores like Whole Foods and Molly Stones – and if not, I’m sure you’d recognize the label.
The cider is made using 100% pure premium apples, and absolutely nothing is added. No reservations are needed for U-Pick apples!
EarthSeed Farm (Sebastopol): This is the newest orchard in the Bay Area, and it just opened up in 2021. Do note you need reservations – u-pick is by appointment only and there’s a $25 fee (for up to 6 people). Dogs allowed (on leash!)
Pumpkin Ice Cream
I may be kinda basic, but one of my favorite things about fall in San Francisco is all the fall-flavored ice cream flavors!
If you don’t know by now, I’m a sucker for sweets and treats (I’ve got an entire list of 50 dessert places in San Francisco right here… which I keep on adding to… whoops). So, suffice to say, this is right up my alley! We love to grab a few scoops and go hunting for Halloween decorations around town!
One of my all-time faves? Salt & Straw – and they ALWAYS deliver on the festive flavors. They typically have autumn favorites incorporating apple pie cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pie cheesecake, and caramel apples in September, and then things get really wacky for Halloween in October (think licorice and bugs and piles of candy), and then a menu of ice cream comfort foods entirely for Thanksgiving in November. Trying all the different flavors is my kinda sport.
Think The Great Candytopia (filled with homemade kit kats, reeses, snickers, heath bars in a salted butterscotch ice cream), Black Cat Licorice and Lavender (silky, dark anise and fennel caramel with a luminous salted lavender ice cream), and Don Bugito’s Creepy Crawly Critters (complete with, you guessed it – actual bugs like toffee-brittle mealworms and chocolate crickets in matcha ice cream). Kinda makes me feel like I’m back in Thailand again (bugs are a delicacy over there).
But my favorite of all?! Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Bread – with tender hunks of freshly-baked pumpkin bread and swaths of whipped cream cheese frosting in a pumpkin spiced ice cream. It literally screams Halloween.
If you’re looking for other ice cream spots, Mitchell’s has great Autumn Caramel Apple and Pumpkin Spice flavors, Smitten’s got a droolworthy Pumpkin Pecan Pie and Cinnamon Toast, and you can’t miss the spiced pumpkin sundae at Humphrey Slocombe.
Wine tasting in Sonoma/Napa
Sure, you could visit the vineyards anytime of year (wine country’s just awesome like that). But wine country in the fall is absolutely spectacular – the valley’s grapevines change from the deep greens of summer to beautiful shades of bright yellow, dusty gold, deep burgundy, and rusty red. We just visited last weekend (early October) and I couldn’t get enough!
There were also still some (leftover, unwanted) grapes on the vines, which was so fun to see! The rolling hills are turning a soft golden color, and daytime temps have finally cooled off a bit (although it’s still a bit hot at times).
Some of our favorites in the area:
- Ledson Winery & Vineyards (I’m all about that castle-style architecture)
- MacRostie Winery Estate House (I swear it’s the prettiest vineyard in all of Sonoma)
- Viansa Winery & Tasting Room (get whisked off to Tuscany for the day!)
- Castello di Amorosa (the famous one in Napa literally in a castle)
You could visit every weekend and never get bored. There’s SO many vineyards to check out (in both Napa and Sonoma). Easily one of my favorite day trips from San Francisco.
Road trip to Apple Hill
Up for a road trip? When we’re really craving all things apple (ok, fine, when are we not?!), we drive out to Placerville for Apple Hill. And there’s a reason the area’s known as Apple Hill – it’s got California’s largest concentration of apple growers!
Yes, this means alllll the delicious apple treats, like dutch apple pies, apple wines (yup!), apple cider donuts, fresh pressed cider, caramel apples, and tons more. I don’t wanna spoil all the surprises for you, so you’ll just have to go yourself to see what all the fuss is about!
There’s also apple picking (plus chestnut picking later in the season), several wineries and cideries (which always makes Apple Hill more fun), pumpkin patches come October, and even a brewery.
A few of my favorites and non-negotiables whenever we go:
- Hot apple cider donuts from Rainbow Orchards (a staple and my all-time favorite)
- Caramel apple pie from Abel’s Apple Acres (just look at that thing – I definitely recommend sharing a slice and always add a scoop of ice cream on top!)
- Apple milkshakes from Apple Hill High Hill Ranch Pie House Restaurant (sounds kinda weird, but they taste exactly like fall)
- Hard cider at Hidden Star Bakery & Taproom (enjoy a flight or purchase a bottle)
The season runs from mid August to late December, so you’ve got plenty of time! But whatever you do, skip Apple Hill on weekends in October if you can – the place is absolute madness (and driving around from farm to farm will be horrible). I recommend visiting in either September or November instead, and on a weekday if your schedule is flexible!
Autumn produce at the farmers market
Ever since we moved to California, we’ve had a thing for markets. There’s so much variety and you just never know what you’ll find! And it’s all SO fresh, and you get to support your local farmers! Food just tastes better when you know where it comes from.
The produce in the fall months is absolutely unbelievable — look out for Gravenstein and Pink Lady apples, Bartlett pears, persimmons, and pomegranates, plus lots of squash and peppers, all coming to a farmers market or farm stand near you in late September!
Which of these San Francisco fall activities are you putting on your bucket list this season?! I’m off to go pumpkin picking soon… and if you see a girl double fisting apple cider donuts, that’s not me (wink, wink).