Apple picking. Fresh pressed cider. Warm cinnamon donuts. For many of us transplants, that all spells fall. But in LA, crisp air and apple orchards are replaced by sunshine and palm trees. So to get your autumn fix, head to Oak Glen, the “mile-high” desert town just 90 miles east of LA, where the altitude provides the perfect climate for apple growing—meaning your city kids can pick a peck (insider lingo for a pound) this weekend. Scroll down to find the perfect orchard for your very own budding Johnny Appleseed.
photo: Meghan Rose
Mom and Pop-Style 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 gives you a taste of a small farm experience within an hour’s drive of Los Angeles. 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 potbelly pig and miniature horse and miniature donkey.
Insider Tip: 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 so make sure to get there nice and early.
Cider pressing and caramel apple-eating starts Labor Day Weekend but check the website for updates when u-pick begins (most likely in the beginning of Oct.). Keep in mind that they’re only open weekends from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.
Don’t Leave 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.
photo: Meghan Rose
Colonial Era-Style Picking
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 the first come, first serve 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.
photo: Meghan Rose
Insider Tip: Take photos of the kids in the wildflower garden up by the pumpkin patch. They make great holiday cards.
There’s a shop for all kinds of goods that recall a simpler time. And 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.
As always, check the website before you go; activities, tours, and apple availability vary by day but the farm is open on weekdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and then on weekends 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Apple picking begins late Aug.
12261 S. Oak Glen Road
photo: Meghan Rose
For That 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 the stop for you. Established in 1906, it’s the biggest orchard in Oak Glen, so there is plenty of apple picking and cider making even for the large crowds that descend on the weekends. You can wander in a corn maze, take a tractor and horse-drawn carriage rides and almost always catch some music. This is a great place to stop for lunch at their famous BBQ and bakery.
Insider Tip: It’s gets very packed on the weekends, so start thinking about food long before you’re hungry.
Gravenstein apples are expected to ripen mid-Aug. followed by Gala. Check the site to see which varieties of apples will be ready for you to pick throughout the fall. Open on the weekends, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Don’t Leave 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
To Just 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 the winter, like a busy little squirrel. Cider, a mini-donut coaster, caramel apples to sweeten any disposition, various house-made vinegar, balsamic and oils, local honey and even hard ciders and wines—it is all here. Not to mention that they sell apples of all varieties including Arkansas Blacks, the classic Macintosh, the sweet Honey Crisp or even the spicy and unusual D’ Arcy apples.
Insider Tip: During apple season, try the free samples of their three unique blends of apple cider to see which one you like the best before buying.
Open daily from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Snow-Line doesn’t offer u-pick apples (though if you gotta get in some picking, they have u-pick raspberries), but they do have apples available for purchase from the end of Aug. through the end of apple season. They also offer Orchard walking tours and kids crafting tables on the weekends.
Don’t Leave Without: Taking part in the tasting bars. (Apples 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.
photo: Hyerim K. via Yelp
It Takes a Village
Oak Tree Village: If you like a side of kitsch with your apple pie, then you’ll be in heaven at Oak Tree Village. On weekends it’s a bit of a bustling frenzy when the artisan circle, petting zoo, and activities for the kiddos that are all open like bounce houses, train and pony rides.
Insider Tip: if crowds 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 forget to go fishing in their trout pond.
Don’t Leave Without: No trip to Oak Glen is complete without a bite of the 5 pound, mile-high apple pie at Apple Annie’s.
38480 Oak Glen Rd.
photo: Jeremy Fitzhardinge via flickr
When to Go: Labor Day to early Nov. is when the apples ripen and are picked, but call before you go to make sure that when you’re ready to pick, the fruit is ripe and either not ready or over picked. Also, keep in mind that the crops are dependent on the recent weather condition. But even if you can’t get up in the trees to pick your own, all season long there are plenty of apples to buy and press into cider—or other u-pick options as well, such as berries, pumpkins, and flowers.
Make It a Day Trip: A totally 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 some jammies, and after a full day of all things apples, get the kids all ready for bed before hopping back in the car. They can sleep while you drive home that very evening.
Make It a Weekend: 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!
Fresh Picked Tips: While Oak Glen is typically15 degrees cooler than the valleys below but it can still get hot, and picking is hungry work. Don’t forget to bring water, hats and sunscreen and something to snack on (besides the apples). Again, it gets crowded on good picking weekends, and the restaurants can have long waits so prepare your hangry bunch appropriately.
How About These Apples? If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive, head south to Julian, our favorite little mountain town in San Diego County, just 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.
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—Meghan Rose & Andie Huber