The Great Pumpkin: The Bay’s Best Fall Festivals

There may not be a chill in the air yet, but the kids are back in school and the calendar says it’s almost autumn. Take advantage of the Bay Area’s fabulous fall weather (see ya, summer fog!) and check out some of these pumpkin, harvest and Halloween festivals.


Photo by Kevin Krejci via Flickr

San Francisco

Noe Valley Harvest Festival
For the 10th year in a row, kid-friendly Noe Valley will turn 24th Street into one of the city’s most popular fall festivals. The farmer’s market is open all day long, and the street fills up with two live band stands, a jumpy house, a hay ride, a pumpkin patch, face painters, a dunk tank, and a pet costume contest.

Saturday, Oct. 18
10 a.m.-5 p.m.
24th Street between Church and Sanchez Streets
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: noevalleyharvestfestival.com

Scare Grove at Stern Grove
Be here or be square! The most atmospheric Halloween event around, Scare Grove (from SF Rec and Park) is popular among older kids and teens for its genuinely frightening haunted house (they show horror movies on the walls!). There’s plenty for tots, though, like the tamer haunted house, incredible jumpy houses, live music and magic shows, hayride through the woods, and awesome crafts. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Friday, Oct. 24
3-9 p.m.
Enter at corner of Ocean Boulevard and 19th Avenue
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: $8
Online: sfrecpark.org

SuperNatural Halloween at the California Academy of Sciences
The Cal Academy is always more fun at night, and it gets downright creepy at this annual Halloween event. Bring the kids in costume to check out the skulls and specimens and to trick-or-treat their way through the museum. Also features dancing, magic, live animal shows, face painting, and a photo booth.

Friday, Oct. 24
6:30-9 p.m.
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: $50/adults and $35/child ($45/$30 for members). (Purchase tickets in advance.)
Online: calacademy.org

academy of sciences halloweenPhoto by Winni Wintermeyer

The Randall Museum’s Family Halloween Fest
This free nature museum is one of our favorite destinations any day, but its fall festival is an especially great excuse for a visit. Tailor-made for young kids, the event will feature ghoulish games, creepy crafts, pumpkin carving, a Twilight Forest, and more.

Saturday, Oct. 25
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
199 Museum Way
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Optional $3 per-person donation. (Some games cost 50 cents.)
Online: randallmuseum.org

Sherman Pumpkin Festival
Witness Cow Hollow—a micro-hood in the Marina—turn into a pumpkin wonderland. Kids can roam the pumpkin patch and win prizes at carnival games while the whole family enjoys the harvest market and the food trucks. It’s also a worthy fundraiser for Sherman Elementary School.

Saturday, Oct. 18
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
1651 Union St.
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Free. (Small fees for some carnival games.)
Online: shermanschool.org

Boo at the Zoo
Come in costume to trick-or-treat at stations throughout the grounds, take pictures with Caspar the Friendly Ghost, get spooked on the Haunted Nature Trail, and watch animals munch on their own special holiday treats. Lego fans will want to stop in at the Pachyderm Building to see the new Nature Connects exhibit.

Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
2945 Sloat Blvd.
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Kids in costume get $1 off. Free with membership.
Online: sfzoo.orgBoo at the ZooPhoto courtesy of the author

JAMBand Family Halloween Festival
The popular Charity and the JAMBand wrap up their free fall music series at Park Chalet with a Halloween-themed concert. In addition to the usual two hours of tunes on the grass (complete with mosh pit for the kids and dance moves for every song), there will be a costume parade half-way through, and free organic chocolate from Equal Exchange.

Sunday, Oct. 26
3-5 p.m.
1000 Great Highway
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: jamjamjam.com

East Bay

Ardenwood Historic Farm Harvest Festival 
Experience harvest time on the farm. Kids can help pick Indian corn and popcorn (to bring home) and fill the corncribs. Cider-pressing, magic shows, a climbable hay pyramid and old-time music and crafts will also be available.

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 11-12
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
34600 Ardenwood Blvd.
Fremont, Ca
$8 for adults, $5 for children 5 and up.
Online: ebparks.org

 Ardenwood hay pyramidPhoto by Libby T. via Yelp

East Bay Waldorf School Harvest Faire 
In true Waldorf style, enjoy the magic of the season with old-fashioned games and activities such as a Michaelmas pageant, puppet shows, a fairy house, and elf crafting. Organic food (including homebaked goodies) will be available for purchase.

Sunday, Oct. 19
Begins at 11 a.m.
3800 Clark Rd.
El Sobrante, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: eastbaywaldorf.org

Boo at the Zoo 
The Oakland Zoo gets all decked out for the holiday. Ride the spooky Boo Train, join the costume parade, collect treats, have your face painted, and make treats for the animals. Bonus: Kids in costume get a free ride ticket.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 25 and 26
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
9777 Golf Links Rd.
Oakland, Ca
Admission: $15.75/ages 15 and up; $11.75/kids 2-14; Free with membership.
Online: oaklandzoo.org

Smith Family Farm Pumpkin Festival 
At this genuine family farm, kids can take a hay ride to the patch to pick out their own pumpkin, plus enjoy live music, a replica of a Miwok Indian village, a corn maze, barnyard animals, an observation beehive, an herb garden with explainer, and a country store. (Note: Some activities available only on weekends.)

The entire month of October beginning on Saturday, Oct. 4
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
4430 Sellers Ave.
Brentwood, Ca
Admission: $10/weekends; $9/Mon.-Fri. Admission includes pumpkins and all activities.
Online: smithfamilyfarm or facebook.com/smithfamilyfarms


Photo by Amboo Who? via Flickr


Autumn at Filoli Festival 
If you haven’t yet been to Filoli, the stunning, European-style mansion and gardens in the hills of the Peninsula, make this your first visit. For adults, docents lead tours and offer tastings of apples from the orchard, while children will enjoy crafts and face-painting, a special bubble show, a visit from the San Francisco Zoomobile, and more.

Saturday, Sept. 27
10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Admission: $25/adults; $5/children ages 5-17
86 Cañada Rd.
Woodside, Ca
Online: filoli.org

McKinley Elementary Harvest Festival and Haunted Mansion 
This nighttime Halloween extravaganza has become a tradition for families all over the Peninsula. Support a local public school while you check out the incredible games, decorations, food, and haunted mansion.

Friday & Saturday, Oct. 24 & 25
Fri., 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
701 Paloma Ave.
Burlingame, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: mckinleyharvestfest.com

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival
Half Moon Bay is the pumpkin capital of California, and it defends its rep every year with this ultimate harvest festival. From the delicious pumpkin pancakes and ice cream to the famous parade and pumpkin weigh-off, this is the place to be in October. Tip: Go early to avoid the truly scary traffic, and stop at a pumpkin patch on the way home.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 18 & 19
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Main St.
Half Moon Bay, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: pumpkinfest.miramarevents.com

 Half Moon Bay pumpkin festivalPhoto courtesy of Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival

South Bay

Harvest Fair at Emma Prusch Farm Park
Once a working farm, this beautiful 82-acre area became a park in 1982, and continues to welcome families to enjoy the orchards, lawns, and butterfly garden. Its harvest festival recreates a country fair, with old-fashioned food, 4-H displays, entertainment, and pumpkin-related activities.

Saturday, Oct. 4
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
647 South King Rd.
San Jose, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: pruschfarmpark.org

San Jose Harvest Festival
This Black Friday, skip the big box stores and support local artisans instead. While you shop for holiday gifts, your kids will have buckets of fun at the KidZone, which features gingerbread decorating and eco-friendly art projects. Dance to jams from a Johnny Cash tribute band and take photos with strolling elves and other characters.

Friday-Sunday, Nov. 28-30
Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
San Jose McEnery Convention Center
410 Almaden Blvd.
San Jose, Ca
Admission: $9/adults; $4/kids
Online: harvestfestival.com

Bates Nut Farm

 Photo courtesy of Bates Nut Farm  


Harvest Celebration at Slide Ranch 
The educational farm Slide Ranch, stunningly located right on the rocky coast of Highway 1, opens up to the public every fall. Churn butter, spin wool, make a scarecrow, meet farm animals, and listen to music, all against one of the world’s most beautiful ocean backdrops.

Saturday, Oct. 11
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
2025 Shoreline Hwy.
Muir Beach, Ca
Admission: $30; Kids 2 and under/free. (15% discount when you buy four or more tickets.)
Online: slideranch.org

The Mountain School Apple Faire 
Welcome to a wonderland of games, crafts, and imaginary play, geared toward kids 3-7 but open to all. Highlights include fishing in the “pond,” digging for treasure in the sandbox, wandering through the Gnome and Fairy Castle maze, and two performances by the PuppeTrixers (11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.).

Saturday, Oct. 11
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
50 El Camino Dr.
Corte Madera, Ca
Admission: Free. Purchase tokens for games and tickets for the puppet show.
Online: marinmountainschool.org

Tolay Fall Festival 
Beautiful Tolay Lake Regional Park, outside Petaluma, is the setting for this wholesome harvest festival. No jumpy house here; instead, families can visit animals (including hundreds of rattlesnakes) in the historic Nighttime Creatures Barn, practice archery, and try their hand at traditional crafts such as candle dipping and making cornhusk dolls.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 11 & 12 and 18 & 19
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
5869 Cannon Ln.
Petaluma, Ca
Admission: $4/adults, $1/children.
Online: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

Tolay festivalPhoto courtesy of the author

Marinwood Halloween Harvest Festival
This classic Halloween fair for kids 12 and under takes place on the grass outside the Marinwood rec center in San Rafael. Kids can carve pumpkins, decorate trick-or-treat bags, munch on a caramel apple, and even make potions. Food is available for purchase.

Friday, Oct. 17
5-7 p.m.
775 Miller Creek Rd.
San Rafael, Ca
Admission: Adults/free; $10 in advance and $12 at the door/ kids 2-12.
Online: marinwood.org

Goblin Jamboree at the Bay Area Discovery Museum
You’ll hardly recognize everyone’s favorite kids’ museum after its Halloween makeover. Visit the Haunted Cove and the glowing train table, or check out the pony rides, petting zoo, live entertainment, and the Witches and Wizards School.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 18 & 19
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
557 McReynolds Rd.
Sausalito, Ca
Admission: $16/general; $13/members; children under six months/free
Online: baykidsmuseum.org

Are you and your family planning to visit any pumpkin patches or harvest festivals? Tell us in the comments below! 

—Emma Bland Smith