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Pick A Peck of Apples in the Desert

There are apples for sale at stands along the road.  A little red barn is pressing fresh cider and the smell of cinnamon donuts is in the air. It’s not a mirage, it’s Oak Glen, the “mile-high” desert town just 90 miles from LA, where the altitude provides the perfect climate for apple growing – and apple picking!  For the perfect fall escape, pack the kids in the car and head out to the high desert for a weekend of apples and Americana.

One Stop Shopping
If we could pick just one place to stop in Oak Glen, it would be Riley’s Farm, every time. Riley’s Farm is a working apple orchard and living history farm where you can pick your own (apples, pumpkins, berries, flowers and more), press your own cider, watch a blacksmith at work, churn butter, dip candles, throw tomahawks, learn games colonial children played, explore the farm and then eat at Hawk’s Head, a 18th century colonial public house.

There’s also a shop for all kinds of goods that recall a simpler time. While at times the trappings can feel a touch touristy, the variety of activities all in one place makes it the perfect pick for families with kids of all ages.  Be sure to check the website before you go – activities, tours and apple availability vary by day.

Don’t leave here without: Taking pictures of the kids in the wildflower garden up by the pumpkin patch.They make great holiday cards!

For the Mom and Pop Feel
Willow Brook Apple Farm is quite small compared with many of the other farms around, but it’s a true blue family run farm that welcomes you right into the family and gives you a taste of a small farm experience. The cider press where you can mix your own apple mixture is always busy and loads of fun for kids. Don’t forget to say “hi” to the pot belly pig and miniature horse.  Those in the know often start the day at Riley’s larger operation next door to explore and take part in all the activities, then head over here to pick in the orchards.  For 2014, cider pressing starts Labor Day weekend and u-pick begins October 4.  Keep in mind that they’re only open weekends when planning your trip.


Don’t leave here without: Tasting the caramel apples – they make them with a secret recipe and they are worth the ensuing dental work.

Cider & Donuts & Pie, Oh My!
If you play at Riley’s and pick at Willow Brook, Snow-Line is where you stock up and chow down!  Cider, a mini donut conveyor belt, caramel apples to sweeten any disposition (and housemade vinegar to countermand the sweet) – it’s all here.  Not to mention that they sell apples of all varieties, and have an apple tasting bar so the kids can sample everything and determine if they prefer the dark Arkansas Blacks, the classic MacIntoshs, the sweet Honey Crisps or even the spicy and unusual D’ Arcy Spice apples. Open Wednesday-Sunday, Snow-Line doesn’t offer u-pick, but will have apples available for purchase starting in September.


Don’t leave here without: Liquids!  If you opt out of the pricey u-press cider options at the other farms, get one of three varieties of cider here, and also the apple cider vinegar, which lasts long after your cider is gone.

It Takes A Village
If you like a side of kitsch with your apple pie, then you will find heaven at Oak Tree Village.  On weekends it’s a bit of a bustling frenzy when the artisans circle, petting zoo and activities for the kiddos are all open, but if crowds and a small town carnival vibe make you break out in hives, come on a weekday and poke around the woodsy little town where kids can indulge in some make believe play on what feels like a big, empty movie set.


Don’t leave without: No trip to Oak Glen is complete without a bite of the mile high apple pie at Apple Annie’s.

When to Go
Late August to early November is when the apples are typically ready, but always be sure and call to make sure that when you’re ready to pick the fruit is ripe and not over picked. Also keep in mind that the crops are dependent on the recent weather conditions so you may want to call ahead before you go picking to make sure they have a good selection. But even if you can’t get up in the trees, all season long there are plenty of apples to buy and turn into cider – or other u-pick options as well, such as berries, pumpkins and flowers.

Why Not Stay?
This is a do-able day trip from the Los Angeles area: Oak Glen is about 90 minutes straight down the 10 freeway (barring traffic, bathroom or snack breaks).  Bring the jammies and after a full day of all things apples, you can get the kids all ready for bed and they can sleep in the car as you drive home that very evening.  But if you can, try making this a mini-weekend vacation.  Palm Springs is a only 45 minutes past Oak Glen, and it gives a marvelous getaway feeling when you can spend the morning apple picking and then an hour later be splashing in the hotel pool in the desert heat!

While Oak Glen is usually about 15 degrees cooler than the valleys below, it can still get hot, and picking is hungry work.  So don’t forget to bring water, hats and sunscreen, and something to snack on (besides the apples).  It gets crowded here on good picking weekends, and the restaurants can have long waits.

For more information check out Oakglen.net.   As with any seasonal/weather dependent activity, it’s always best to call ahead to double check hours and availability!

Have you taken the trek out to Oak Glen? Where do you pick? Leave us a comment below!

- Meghan Rose

photos courtesy of Meghan Rose

RELATED STORIES:

A Bite of Fall: 3 Spots for U-Pick Apples
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