September in San Diego may not be known for the traditional “sweater weather.” But that doesn’t mean your SoCal kiddos can’t enjoy one of the traditions of the fall season: apple picking. During the months of September and October, many orchards in Julian open up for u-pick apple visits. What better way to kick off autumn (even if it may be sunny 85-degree weather) than some fresh apples the kids picked themselves.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to call the orchards ahead to confirm that apples are still available for picking. Because Southern California was hit with such a bad drought the past few years, many of the orchards are not able to stay open as long as in year’s past.

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photo: Leah Singer

Volcan Valley Apple Farm
Julian’s largest orchard, Volcan Valley Farm, comes alive with 7,000 trellis-grown apple trees of red and green apples ready to pick. Choose between seven varieties of apples, including the famed Gravenstein, Red Delicious and Granny Smith. Grab a bag for $12 and then head into the fields to fill it up. You’re allowed to sample the apples as you pick to make sure you are getting the perfect one.

Date: Thurs. – Mon., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (until season ends)

1284 Julian Orchards Dr.
Julian, Ca 92036
760-302-4574

pear picking

photo: Michelle Berkowitz Photography

O’Dells Pear Orchard
Why stop at apples when you can also pick pears? O’Dell’s Pear Orchard is a certified organic orchard with approximately 400 pear trees ready for picking. You’ll find Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc and more. There are also a few apple varieties if you need to get your apple fix as well. Kids will also love the chickens, goats and horses. Don’t wait too long to visit O’Dell’s — it will be a short season because they’re still recovering from the drought.

Dates: Daily, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

1095 Julian Orchards Dr.
Julian, Ca
760-765-1174

apple pick
photo: Leah Singer

Apple Starr Orchards
This Certified Organic Orchard (CCOF) has been growing apples and pears since 2000. Apple varieties currently available for u-pick include Jonagold and Gala apples, and Bartlett pears. Picking season at Apple Starr lasts until the fruit runs out (typically through early October). The orchard has picking poles available to reach apples way on top of the trees. They also provide red wagons for small kiddos (photo opps!). And families are welcome to bring strollers and wagons. They also have space for picnics, but you supply the chairs and blankets. The cost is $25 for one picking bag (approximately one peck/12 lbs.), with a $15 charge for an additional bag. Make sure you bring cash because Apple Starr only accepts dollars and checks (with ID).

Dates: Weekends through September, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

1287 Julian Orchards Dr.
Julian, Ca
760-305-2169
Online: apple-starr.com

tractorphoto: Leah Singer

Peacefield Orchard
This orchard has a variety of red and green apples available for u-pick. Varieties include Gravenstein, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Jonathon, Red Delicious, Mackintosh, and Transcendent Crab Apple. The Orchard will soon feature French plums and Bartlet Pears too. The sprawling orchard is also home to farm tractors that make for great photo opportunities. Feel free to bring your lunch and use the picnic area, or sit in the Meditation Garden for some tranquility. Be sure to visit the famous Gravenstien Apple Tree, which has been with the family orchard for 115 years. The price is $20 admission for two people, which includes one 1/2 peck farm bag for picking apples and an educational orchard tour. Each additional person is $5. Kiddos under five are free. Peacefield Orchard is cash only. Kids may want to stock up on organic grapes before visiting as the rescue chickens will gladly eat them.

Hours: Weekends by reservation only, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

3803 Wynola Rd.
Julian, Ca
855-936-2775
Online: peacefieldorchard.org

apple rowphoto: Leah Singer

MJ Ranch
This u-pick ranch features an apple and pear orchard. The grounds are ready for kiddos and it’s dog-friendly too. The cost is $10 per bag. MJ Ranch isn’t as large as some of the other Julian orchards, but the friendly owners and less crowds make it an enjoyable day for families.

Dates: Weekends, 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. (opens Sept. 10 until the season ends)

1070 Farmer Rd.
Julian, Ca
760-604-3070

Gastil Mountain Farms Apples & Art Orchards
This u-pick orchard only offers tours and picking for groups of 20 or more pickers. We think it’s a great idea for Scout troops, playgroups and homeschool cohorts. Tours take place daily at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The adventure includes an apple fact lecture and quiz (yikes!), apple picking, group cider making and tasting. The cost is only $10 per person. Gastil never uses pesticides or herbicides either. Be sure to book your reservation soon as they fill up during the fall season and are only open until the apples are gone.

Dates: Call for reservation

1052-1055 Julian Orchards Dr.
Julian, Ca
760-765-1825
Online: applesandartorchards.com

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photo: Leah Singer

Tips for Apple Picking

  • Go early in the season and call ahead to confirm that apples are still available for picking. Once the apples are gone, that’s it until next year. And because Southern California was hit with a drought these past few years, many of the orchards aren’t able to stay open as long as in year’s past. There’s nothing more frustrating than driving the family all the way to Julian for apple picking only to find the apples all picked.
  • Don’t fret about getting tons of apples. Nearly all the orchards have pre-bagged apples available for purchase if you’d rather skip the picking or if your rugrat’s little hands can’t hold too many apples.
  • Don’t expect mountain cold weather. Just because Julian is located in the mountains does not mean it will be jacket-wearing cold. Check the temperatures before you bundle up and make the trip. Since it is San Diego in autumn, it could be as warm as an August day.
  • Make a day out of your trip to experience Julian. This little mining town has so many aspects aside from the apple picking. Drive into Main Street, have lunch at one of the country cafes, and pick up a pie to take home. Julian is best when you allow yourself an entire day to explore.
  • Try cider donuts! Don’t leave Julian without trying a cider donut. They are available at the many pie stores in town. These delectable treats are just not found in the city limits. Be sure to get a few (dozen) to go.

Where does your family like to go apple picking? Did we miss your favorite orchard? Let us know below!

— Leah R. Singer