Whether your kids drool for red and sweet, or pucker up for green and sour, when fall hits, we’ll bet they go bananas for apples. Lucky for us, there are a wealth of u-pick apple orchards around the San Francisco Bay Area growing this delicious favorite fruit of fall (and at the unbeatable price of around $2 per pound). Is there a better way to eat locally and get out and enjoy the perfect California fall weather? We don’t think so.
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. The farm has a store with juice and jams for sale as well. For 2014, Gabriel Farm is asking all u-pick visitors 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.
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, Molly’s Delicious, Jonafree and William’s Pride, as well as Asian Pears, until the end of October. 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. Round out your visit by taking home some of the farm’s natural grass-fed beef for a regular fall feast.
Chileno Valley Ranch
5105 Chileno Valley Rd.
Swanton Pacific Ranch
Owned and operated by California Polythecnic 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
125 Swanton Rd.
The u-pick apple season starts August 30 and lasts about 4 weeks. While not all apple varieties are available for picking (you can expect Golden Delicious, Red Deliciious, Pippins and Galas this year), they do have many of them for sale in the barn. Visit their website to see wha 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! And be sure to stop by the deli to pick up a fresh-baked pie or apple dumplings.
55 Peckham Rd.
Also located in the beautiful Santa Cruz Basin, Clearview Orchards offers a huge variety of apples, specializing in Gala and Fuji, during their early September through end of October season. Bring a picnic, pick some apples, and enjoy their beautiful terraced grounds with a view of the Watsonville valley. They also sell delicious local honey, and kiddos can even pick out their own pumpkins, just in time for fall.
646 Trabing Rd.
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.
p.s. Once you’ve got all those apples, we suggest you bake them in a pie and enter the Marin Country Mart’s annual pie baking contest on Saturday, September 13. Pies must be entered by 10 a.m. in a disposable 9-inch pie tin, and will be judged on appearance, filling, crust, and taste.
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!
—Sarah K. Choi, Claire Schillings and Sarah Bossenbroek
photo credit: McKay Savage, Brian Birke, & Tim & Selena Middleton via flickr