Apple picking. Fresh pressed cider. Warm cinnamon donuts. For many of us transplants, that 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, meaning your city kids can pick a peck this weekend. Scroll down to find perfect orchard for your Johnny Appleseed.
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 taken your 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 young farmers to explore, pick and play. Don’t forget to say “hi” to the pot belly pig and miniature horse.
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 2017, cider pressing starts September 2 and u-pick begins on October 7. 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 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. In the summer and early fall, you can also camp (glamp!) right on the farm. Read all about that adventure, here.
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 is starting sometime in September this year, check the website to monitor what varietals are available when you go.
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
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 even for the large crowds that weekends attract. 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 it’s gets very packed, so start thinking about food long before you’re hungry) as it’s famous for the BBQ and bakery. Gravenstein, Spartan and Macintosh apples were 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.
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.
Chow Down and Stock Up: Snow-Line
If you play at Riley’s, pick at Willow Brook, and hike & 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 and new last year even 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 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.
Don’t leave here without: Taking part in the tasting bars. (Apple for kids, wine for you!) 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.
When to Go
Labor Day to early November is when the apples are typically picked, 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.
Want Another Apple Option?
If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, head south. Julian, our favorite little mountain town in San Diego County, is 150 miles south of LA, and is filled with U-pick apple farms, apple pies and farm tours. Check out our guide to having a perfect weekend in Julian.
Have you taken the trek out to Oak Glen? Where do you pick? Leave us a comment below!
—written & photographed by Meghan Rose