October might be devoted to the all-mighty pumpkin but when September rolls around, that means it’s time for one thing—apples, apples and more apples! Lucky for us Bay Area folks, there are tons of options for picking that most delicious of fruits all within a short drive. Whether you head south to Watsonville, north to Marin County or east past Sacramento, the kids are in for a sweet treat at these local u-pick apple farms. Read on to find some of our favorites!
Photo: Chileno Valley Ranch
If eating organic is important to your family, head to Gabriel Farm (located in Sebastopol, a town practically synonymous with the fruit) where you’ll get a tour of the certified organic orchard in addition to the opportunity to pick your own McIntosh apples and Asian Pears through mid-November. To participate in u-pick at Gabriel Farm, visitors are asked to become members of their CSA by purchasing a case of their juice for $36. U-pick price is an additional $2 per pound of fruit. The farm has a store with juice and jams for sale as well (no CSA membership required to purchase from the store).
3175 Sullivan Rd.
Chileno Valley Ranch
Petaluma’s scenic Chileno Valley Ranch also offers certified organic varieties of everyone’s favorite autumn fruit, such as Orin, Pinova, Candy Crisp, and Jonagold, as fresh grass fed beef. Check out the organic pastures and restored creek, where they have done habitat restoration for the local birds and fish. During the tours, families can get up close and personal with the critters, feeding calves, petting pigs, and collecting eggs. It’s best to book a time slot in advance ($6 online). This year’s apple picking season begins August 28, and is expected to end my mid to late September, so don’t delay!
Chileno Valley Ranch
5105 Chileno Valley Rd.
Swanton Pacific Ranch
Owned and operated by California Polytechnic State University, Swanton Pacific Ranch produces over five tons of apples every year. The two-acre orchard hosts 12 different apple varieties, all with individual ripening periods, meaning that the picking season lasts well into late fall (this year, they are estimating early November). Nestled in the foothills along the central coast and outlying Monterey Bay, this orchard is the perfect distance away for a family day trip!
Swanton Pacific Ranch at the Old School House
480 Swanton Road
The u-pick apple season has already started at Gizdich and lasts about 4 weeks. While not all apple varieties are available for picking (you can expect Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Pippins and Galas this year), they do have many varieties for sale in the barn. Visit their website to see what varieties are in season. Stay for a self-guided tour of the apple orchard and berry farms. If you’re visiting on Saturdays (September-May only), you can watch the apples get pressed for juice! Make sure you make time to head to the bake shop after picking to grab one of their out-of-this-world pies to take home or enjoy a slice a la mode while the kids play behind the barn. If you visit on a hot day, cool down the kidlets with an apple popsicle or apple slush. The are open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily during picking season.
55 Peckham Rd.
Also located in the beautiful Santa Cruz Basin, Clearview Orchards offers a huge variety of certified organic apples, specializing in Gala and Fuji, Honey Crisp, Mitsu and Pink Lady during their early September through end of October season. Pick some apples and enjoy their beautiful terraced grounds with a view of the Watsonville valley. They also sell delicious local honey and fresh-pressed apple cider. Kiddos can even pick out their own pumpkins, just in time for fall. Open Saturday and Sundays only, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
646 Trabing Rd.
Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch
With a name like that, you know Ratzlaff Ranch is focused on apples! U-pick Roman Beauties and Golden Delicious are a bargain at $1.50/pound or $50 for 40 pounds (now that’s a LOT of pies!). They are open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. (except Thursdays and Saturdays when they are closed).
Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch
13128 Occidental Rd.
Photo: Jennifer Young
For a bit of a longer trek, you’ll get no better apple selection than in the Apple Hill Region, about fifty miles east of Sacramento. With over 55 ranches offering different apple varieties and activities, you are bound to find the perfect experience for the kids. The Apple Hill Growers Association lists orchard details including U-pick hours, picnic areas, local attractions, and more. The u-pick ranches tend to be very small, and very popular, so it is a good idea to call the ranches themselves to make sure they have the apple variety you want and that the fruit is available.
One of the Apple Hill Farms that is worth visiting is Pine O’Mine, which offers no-frills non-organic u-pick apples. You’ll be able to wander through the beautiful apple orchards of Pine O’Mine picking your own Fuji, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith varieties from early September through October.
For more farms in the Apple Hill Growers Association, check out their site or call their number at: 530-644-7692.
Now that fall is here, where does your family go to pick the fruits of the season? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
—Erin Feher and Kate Loweth