Apple picking. Fresh pressed cider. Warm cinnamon donuts. This is fall. But in LA, crisp air and apple orchards are replaced by sunshine and palm trees. So head to Oak Glen, the “mile-high” desert town just 90 miles from LA, where the altitude provides the perfect climate for apple growing, which means your city kids can pick a peck this weekend at one of these fabulous farms.
Mom and Pop Apple Picking: Willowbrook Apple Farm
While this apple orchard is small compared with many of the other farms around, it’s a true blue family run farm that is friendly and welcoming and gives you a taste of a small farm experience. If you’ve never brought the kids apple picking, and just want to make one stop, this would be our top pick. Less commercial feeling and overwhelming than the other farms, it’s a great place for little Johnny Appleseeds to explore, pick and play. Don’t forget to say “hi” to the pot belly pig and miniature horse.
photo: Meghan Rose
Come early: because the farm is small, and they don’t want it to get too crowded, wait times for entering the orchard can get long as the day progresses. But it’s worth the wait for the peaceful picking once you’re in. For 2016, cider pressing starts Labor Day weekend and u-pick begins in October. Keep in mind that they’re only open weekends when planning your trip.
Don’t leave here without: Making your own cider! The cider press where you can mix choose your own apple mixture is always busy and loads of fun for kids.
12099 South Oak Glen Rd.
Travel Back in Time: Riley’s Farm
If Willowbrook takes you back to your childhood, Riley’s Farm next door takes you back even farther, to Colonial America! This is a working apple orchard and living history farm where you can pick your own (apples, strawberries, raspberries, 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, an 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. Apple picking started on August 20 in 2016, so there should be some variety ready for you to pick. (Late season raspberries and strawberries are available in August and September, while pears and pumpkins won’t be ready until late September or early October and there are no watermelons this year; the whole crop was lost to bears!)
Don’t leave here without: Taking pictures of the kids in the wildflower garden up by the pumpkin patch. They make great holiday cards.
12261 S. Oak Glen Road
photo credit: Reena S. via flickr
For a Country Fair Feeling: Rileys at Los Rios Rancho
If your family likes the hustle and bustle and activities of a county fair, then a stop at Los Rios Ranch is perfect for you. It’s the biggest orchard in Oak Glen, so there is plenty of apple picking and cider making, and this orchard has the more down home feel of all. You can wander in a corn maze, take tractor and horse drawn carriage rides and almost always catch some music. This is a great place to stop for lunch (and packed, so start thinking about food long before you’re hungry) as it’s famous for the BBQ and bakery. Gravenstein and Macintosh apples are already picking in late August, and new varieties of apples will be ready for you to pick throughout the fall. Check their website to see what’s picking, when.
photo: Meghan Rose
Don’t leave here without: Taking a hike. Get out and stretch your legs on the Wildlands Conservancy Nature Trails. There are hiking trails and picnic tables available here, if the crowded orchards and long food lines become overwhelming (just remember to bring a picnic, or just get one of the amazing apple pies to go from the main store).
39611 Oak Glen Rd.
photo: Meghan Rose
Chow Down and Stock Up: Snow-Line
If you play at Riley’s, pick at Willow Brook, and hike and ride at Los Rios, Snow-Line is where you stock up for winter, like a busy little squirrel. Cider, a mini-donut conveyor belt, caramel apples to sweeten any disposition (and house-made vinegars, hard ciders and wines)—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 Macintosh, the sweet Honey Crisp or even the spicy and unusual D’ Arcy Spice apples. Open Thursday-Sunday, Snow-Line doesn’t offer u-pick apples (though if you gotta get in some picking, they have u-pick raspberries), but have apples available for purchase from the end of August through the end of apple season. They also offer Orchard walking tours and kids crafting tables on the weekends.
photo: Valerie Deanna C. via yelp
Don’t leave here without: Taking part in the tasting bar. Get kids to branch out from the Pink Ladies and Fujis and you’ll turn them into little apple connoisseurs.
39400 Oak Glen Rd.
It Takes a Village: Oak Tree 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.
38480 Oak Glen Rd.
photo: Cindy W. via yelp
When to Go
Labor Day 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 condition, which differ from LA. 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 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!
A Peck of Fresh Picked Tips
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!
Main image courtesy of Meaghan O’Neill via flickr