We may not get New England’s full-on heady rush of autumn color, but in the Bay Area, we savor a slow transformation that eases us into winter’s shorter days. Want to get a peek at some autumn color now? Here are some of our favorite spots for you the kids to kick piles of colorful leaves, pluck autumn fruits from the orchards, and watch big leaf maples don yellow colors with the season.
Photo by Seth Lemmons via Flickr
City dwellers in the East Bay know that you don’t have to go deep into the woods to experience fall color. From the tree-lined streets of Piedmont and the Oakland Hills to west Berkeley’s blazing maples, a weekend bike ride down the wooded side streets will offer up plenty of photo ops.
Up in the hills above Berkeley, fall color is visible in Tilden park in the area around Lake Anza (an easy hike for little ones, unless fresh rain makes things slippery) or from the Redwood Valley Railway. Make sure to teach the littles what poison oak looks like, though—the flaming red leaves are some of the prettiest in the park, but you’ll want to avoid collecting them!
A little later in the season (at lower elevations, the most vivid color will be in November and December), the UC-Berkeley campus is ablaze with bright yellow gingko leaves, as well as maples and myrtles. Try and catch them before the first major rainstorm knocks them all off the tree—usually an early November trip is far enough in advance.
Just through the Caldecott tunnel, you’ll see lots of yellow leaves in the trees around 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, walk them over to Piccolo Napoli for some friendly service and awesome pizza.
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Orinda Community Center Park
26 Orinda Way
Photo by Allan Henderson via Flickr
What fruits spell autumn better than apples and pears? To pick them right off the tree with your children, drive to Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol and grab a basket to pluck Asian pears, Fuyu persimmons, or, even pumpkins from the patch. Plan your visit on a Sunday and grab a bite at the charming farmers market in downtown Sebastopol. After lunch, discover Santa Rosa’s Ragle Ranch Regional Park—there’s even a playground so kids can swing and climb to their hearts’ content. Add in the small hiking trail to make this a full nature day trip.
3175 Sullivan Rd.
Photo by verygreen via Flickr
For a dazzling display of maple trees and cherry trees, head over to the Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. These traditional Japanese gardens on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains are choreographed to produce a breathtaking variety of colors and forms in all seasons. From now through the winter, explore the arching bridges over the koi ponds with your kids, walk around the tea house, or relax in the bamboo forest. For a more forest-oriented experience, discover Uvas Canyon County Park in Morgan Hill, where stately oak trees shed their leaves along the creek bed through Uvas Canyon.
Hakone Estate and Gardens
21000 Big Basin Way
After the cultural experience, let the kids loose at Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos, a large community park where kids will find multiple playgrounds and a decommissioned jet plane nicknamed “Shooting Star” in which they can play. In the same park, the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and W.E. “Bill” Mason Carousel are the reason local families keep coming back. Miniature steam train ride anyone?
Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad
233 Blossom Hill Rd., Los Gatos
viaPhoto by Malcolm Carlaw via Flickr
Looking for blushing vineyards and sunny afternoons? Crush season in the Napa Valley is a great time to hit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and explore Ritchey Creek along the Redwood Trail. Despite the name, the trail counts numerous big leaf maples whose leaves turn a golden yellow in the fall. After your hike, check out Castello di Amorosa, a medieval castle winery complete with dungeons and a small farm next to the tasting room. Kids under 5 are not allowed on tours but they get to color and taste grape juice. When stomachs get hungry, drive five miles up the road to Calistoga to sit down at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery where the popular outdoor dining patio doubles as a roaming ground for young ones. To burn off more energy, walk to Pioneer Park, a sweet park with a playground surrounded by meadows and an old-fashioned gazebo. On the way down from Calistoga, take the scenic Silverado Trail rather than Hwy 28 and go pick fresh walnuts, apples, pears and persimmons at Hoffman Ranch.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Castello di Amorosa
4045 North St. Helena Hwy.
Inspired by your autumnal adventures, you may want to further the experience at home by making crafts inspired by the colors of the fall. Have fun!
What other spots in the Bay Area do you know that offer great views of the changing fall colors? Leave us a comment below and share.
—Laure Latham and Sarah Bossenbroek