The air is crisp and the time is right to celebrate the changing seasons with apple cider, hayrides, scarecrows and Oktoberfests. Autumn brings forth an abundance of fun family festivals throughout San Diego. From lederhosen to pony rides, pumpkin patches and German beer, reap the rewards of harvest time. Read on with your calendar in hand and find out why you’ll fall for these festivals.

photo: El Cajon Oktoberfest

El Cajon Oktoberfest

Kick up your heels to the oom-pah music at this traditional fest where you’ll polka and waltz as well as do the chicken dance. Put on by the German American Societies of San Diego, this is the most traditional Oktoberfest in town. Enjoy classic fare like bratwurst, potato pancakes, and sauerkraut, alongside a large variety of German beers. Half-pints can nosh on pretzels, play festival games and create crafts in the Kid Zone. Sunday is chicken hat day. Wear your most outrageous chicken hat and join in the fun.

Good to know: The free shuttle from the trolley has been discontinued this year.

Dates/Times: Oct. 5-7; Fri., 4-10 p.m.; Sat., Noon-10 p.m.; Sun., Noon-9 p.m.
Admission: Fri. & Sat., $10/adult; Sun., $5/adult; children are free.
German American Societies Oktoberfest
1017 S. Mollison Ave.
El Cajon, CA
Online: germanclubsandiego.org

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Carlsbad Oktoberfest & Fall Family Festival

The Carlsbad Rotary Oktoberfest is a family tradition among locals. Join the fun and eat apple strudel, visit a pumpkin patch, try a yodeling or Halloween costume contest. Face painting, a bounce house, fire engine and a stage dedicated to children's music including a puppeteer make this a family-friendly event.

Good to know: No pets allowed in the park.

Date: Sat., Oct. 6; Noon-10 p.m.
Cost: $15/person presale (includes meal); children 9 and under free admission (meal extra). Order presale tickets online. Price goes up the day of the event. 
Holiday Park
3400 Pio Pico Dr.
Carlsbad, CA
Online: rotaryoktoberfest.org

photo: Aaron Fulkerson

Maker Faire

See science in action at the ultimate DIY event in town. The Maker Faire provides a thrilling day of technology and innovation to future engineers. Besides free admission to six Balboa Park museums that day, kids will marvel at Junkcade arcade games made with every day items, build robots and program drones. This creative weekend is sure to inspire your little scientist. Plenty of food trucks are available to satisfy hungry bellies.

Good to Know: Admission is free for Balboa Park Explorer Pass Holders. Park early at Inspiration Point and take the free green tram.

Dates/times: Oct. 6-7, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Cost: Discounted presale tickets online $13-$31; Military discounts available.
Balboa Park
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Online: sdmakerfaire.org

Rendezvous in Poway

Walk back in time to the 1800s as history comes alive at the annual Rendezvous at Old Poway Park. Cowboys and pioneers put on family-friendly reenactments of gun fights and train robberies. Pan for gold and ride the speeder train. An old time craft fair, the Nelson House and the Heritage Museum are open to explore as well. 

Date/Time: Oct. 6, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Oct 7, 10 a.m.-2 p.m
Cost: Free; Nominal fee to ride the train.
Old Poway Park
14134 Midland Rd. 
Poway CA 92064
Online: poway.org

Harvest Festival

Are you a gift giving diva? Find unique gifts and get your holiday shopping off to an early start at the Harvest Festival in Del Mar. Browse through hundreds of artisans selling jewelry, ceramics, toys and art. Strolling musicians, a cowboy on stilts  and free crafts will entertain the kiddos. You’ll find lots of food options with shaded seating just outside the exhibit halls.

Good to Know: Donate nonperishable goods for the North County Food Bank and receive $2 off entrance fees.

Dates/Time: Oct. 12-13, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Oct. 14, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cost: $9/adults; Kids 12 and under free; Parking $13 cash.
Del Mar Fairgrounds
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, CA 92014
Online: harvestfestival.com

photo: Eder Escamilla

15th Annual Point Loma Fall Festival

Only in San Diego will you find a pumpkin patch with ocean views. Point Loma’s fall festival offers the best of autumn fun with wagon and pony rides, a petting zoo and fall crafts all overlooking beautiful ocean cliffs. The kids will build up an appetite as they scale the rock wall and play in the bounce house and inflatable slide. Save time to sample food from the many local restaurants offering delicious bites.

Good to Know: The parking lot fills early, so look for the shuttle if you arrive and the structures are full. 

Date/time: Oct. 20, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. 
Cost: Free.
Point Loma Nazarene
3900 Lomaland Dr.
San Diego, CA 92106
Online: pointloma.edu

photo: Alta Vista Botanical Garden

Alta Vista Botanical Fall Fun Festival

Get the whole family into nature and share a day filled with art and music. Little ones will love relay races, bobbing for apples, a drum circle and face painting. A scarecrow decorating contest is a time honored tradition at this event. For $2, families can create their own unique scarecrow to add to the Garden’s fall ambience and win fun prizes. For the adults, there's live music, a huge plant sale and the Garden’s extensive art exhibits. Ample parking is available in the adjacent Moonlight Amphitheater parking lot.

Date/Time: Oct. 20, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Cost: Free.
1270 Vale Terrace Dr.
Vista, CA 92084
Online: altavistabotanicalgardens.org

photo: Horse Heritage Festival

Horse Heritage Festival

Got a unicorn-obsessed little one at home? For a few dollars, you can enjoy a day outdoors horsing around with the next best thing—horses. San Marcos’ Horse Heritage Festival offers pony rides, a petting corral, and frontier games. There are also horsemanship demonstrations and a pumpkin patch.You’ll feel good knowing that funds raised during the event support the Horse Heritage Conservancy that connects people and horses year round and helps animals in times of emergency.

Date/Time: Sunday, October 21; 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Cost: Pony rides $5; Petting corral $3
Walnut Grove Park
1950 Sycamore Dr.
San Marcos CA 92069
Online:  keepitequestrian.org

Balboa Park’s Halloween Family Day

Can’t wait for Halloween to dress up? Don your costumes a few days early and join in a day of family fun in Balboa Park. Museums will host craft stations, mini-carnival games, and a “Thriller” flash mob. Kids will love free treats, costume contests and the Air & Space Museum’s rooftop pumpkin drop.

Good to Know: Free admission for kids with each paying adult at all museums during the event.

Date/Time: Oct. 27, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Cost: Free
Balboa Park
1549 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101
Online: balboaparkconservancy.org

––Cherie Gough

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