It may not be sweater season yet, but fall is on its way in and that means one thing – time to jump in a pile of leaves! The Bay Area may be known for its redwoods and other giants but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to see all the yellow, orange and red leaves we desire. Pack up the kids and the picnic and head out. There are spots from Napa to the South Bay that offer leaves of all colors if you know where to look!
Photo: Seth Lemmons via Flickr
Denizens of the cool, gray city don’t have to look further than Golden Gate Park to find the warm tones of autumn. A stroll around the SF Botanical Garden in October and November reveals an arresting array of color to observant eyes, from the golden-fanned gingko trees to deep purple vine maples. Ask a docent to point you to the Persian ironwood tree, whose leaves take on a spectacular rainbow of shades this time of year. Different trees peak at different times, so check the garden’s Facebook page for updates.
Time your visit to catch children’s story time and docent walk at the garden library, free with garden admission. For lunch, walk out to one of the many kid-friendly restaurants around 9th Ave in the Sunset District. Or bring your own fall picnic bounty and spread out on the lawn next to the Moon Viewing garden, where the Japanese maples are putting on their own quiet show.
Showy maples can also be found across the street in another park gem, the Japanese Tea Garden. While you take in the autumn scene, kids will have fun challenging themselves by walking up and down the famous drum bridge, and finding their fortune in a cookie at the tea house.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Golden Gate Park
1199 9th Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
Adults: $8; Youth (12-17): $6; Child (5-11)$2; free for children 4 and under and all SF residents
Bean Sprout Family Days: every Saturday through October, 1-4 p.m.
Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, Ca
Adults: $6 (Residents), $9 (Non-Residents); Seniors (65+) & Youth (12-17): $3 (Residents), $6 (Non-Residents); Child (5-11): $2; free for children 4 and under. Also free Monday/Wednesday/Friday when entering before 10 a.m.
Photo: Oakland Zoo
The Oakland Zoo‘s newly-added gondola is the place to be this fall when the leaves start changing color. Where else can you get a bird’s eye view of the zoo and surrounding landscape? Take the opportunity during your visit to view the zoo’s California Trail exhibit that opened up earlier this year. There you can see bison, grizzly bears, bald eagles, California condors, gray wolves, mountain lions and even jaguars.
Up in the hills above Berkeley, Tilden Park is another go-to place for fall color, especially around Lake Anza (an easy hike for little ones) and on the route of evergreen favorite Redwood Valley Railway. Keep your eye out (not your hands, please!) for the flaming red leaves of poison oak, which add some of the most striking color to the park. In November and December, head downhill to the UC Berkeley campus, when it’s ablaze with lemon-yellow gingko leaves; maples and myrtles also add some flair.
Slip through the Caldecott tunnel to find canopies of yellow leaves in and around the trees of Orinda‘s Community Center Park (perfect for making piles and kicking) and along Camino Pablo. After the kids have exhausted the two playgrounds, the library, and the fountains, head to Piccolo Napoli and tuck into some awesome pizza.
Sunol Regional Wilderness welcomes a kaleidoscope of color as soon as you hit the visitor’s center. Find out if they are offering any naturalist-led hikes while you are there or head out on your own. The Indian Joe Creek Nature Trail is a short, self-guided walk that provides loads of information about the park, it’s animal inhabitants and the foliage there.
9777 Golf Links Road
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda Community Center Park
26 Orinda Way
Sunol Regional Wilderness
1895 Geary Road
Photo: Montalvo Arts Center
Following Skyline Boulevard as it dips, rises and weaves through the Peninsula can be visually rewarding on its own, as you pass by stands of sycamores and big-leaf maples. But 5-point harnesses can only contain kid energy for so long. Happily, there are 26 open space preserves in the mid-peninsula region, offering easy hikes, picnic spots and stunning views. The newest peak to open to the public is Mount Umunhum which will open to hikers and leaf peepers starting on September 18. Mount Umunhum will be the highest point on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and will offer stunning views on non-foggy days.
One of our favorites this time of year is the Rancho San Antonio Preserve, with its maples, oaks and flowering persimmon trees. Accessible from the Foothill Blvd. exit off 280, the preserve’s main attraction for the kiddos is the working Deer Hollow Farm. This historical ranch is home to frolicking piglets (farrowed in August!), sheep, goats, chickens and cows. Note: There is a mile-long walk from the parking lot to the farm, but it’s flat and paved. Strollers welcomed! Self-guided tours are available year-round. Check their calendar for organized tours and festive Halloween events.
While you’re in the neighborhood, a side trip to Los Altos is worthwhile to see the Chinese Pistache trees (donated to the city by Los Altos Nursery in the 1950s) dropping their vivid orange and red leaves on Main and 2nd streets. Stop into the scrumptious Voyageur du Temps (in the renovated train depot on 1st Street) to extend the fall mood with some pumpkin pound cake, pumpkin macaroons or pumpkin pie.
For a view of the whole valley, head to Montalvo in Saratoga and follow the Lookout Trail to Lookout Point. On a clear day you can see all the way to the bay. Walk through the grounds on your way down to see some rare trees like the ginkgo tree that turns a glorious golden in the fall.
Woodside is home to the Filoli Gardens and fall is a great time to plan a visit there. Check their calendar for Nature Docent-guided walks on some Sundays where you can have all your fall foliage questions answered. Fruit trees abound at Filoli, including pears, plums, apricots and apples. Check their website before you go to see what colors you can expect.
15400 Montalvo Road
86 Canada Road
Photo: capt_tain Tom via Flickr
A great spot to find that heady mix of fall colors and evergreens is Samuel P. Taylor State Park, with its oaks, firs, madrones and old-growth redwoods. Throw the bikes on the rack, and take a Sunday drive along bucolic Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the park entrance, 15 miles west of San Rafael. Samuel P. Taylor boasts a few great trails for biking and hiking safely with kids, especially the dog-friendly (and relatively flat) Cross Marin Trail that winds alongside Lagunitas Creek. Bring food and enjoy a relaxing lunch at the Azalea Picnic Area to complete the day. Or better yet, pitch a tent and stay a while.
Head south for an hour and you will hit Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, home to redwood, oak, maples and other deciduous trees. Kids will enjoy some creek romping while they search for the red, orange and yellow leaves that blanket the floor. Adventurous hikers should make Dawn Falls their destination.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park
8889 Sir Francis Drake Blvd
Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve
Blithedale Ridge Road
Photo: Malcolm Carlaw via Flickr
Crush season in the Napa Valley is a not-to-be-missed sight, as the rolling green hills of grape vines turn to blankets of burgundy and orange. It’s also a great time to visit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where the cooler fall temps make the parks wooded trails ripe for exploration. In addition to its namesake trees, the peaceful scene on the Redwood Trail includes autumn-gold maple leaves fluttering down alongside Ritchey Creek.
To quench your thirst after a hike, check out Castello di Amorosa, a medieval castle winery complete with dungeons and a small farm. Kids under 5 are not allowed on tours, but are welcome sample the harvest bounty in juice form. For rumbling tummies, a good bet is the casual Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery, where the popular outdoor dining patio doubles as a roaming ground for young ones.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Castello di Amorosa
4045 North St. Helena Hwy.
Where do you go to see the reds, oranges and yellows? Let us know below!
—Kate Loweth, Sarah Ordódy, Laure Latham and Sarah Bossenbroek