Here in sunny Los Angeles, apple season usually kicks off at the beginning of September and the best place to pick ’em is in Oak Glen, the “mile-high” desert town just 90 miles east of downtown. With bushels of varieties to choose from and lots of outdoor space to spread out, a day trip here just might be the sweet change of scenery everyone needs! Your city pickers will love stretching their legs at any of Oak Glen’s many expansive orchards, and they can even make their own cider or pet some farm animals along the way. Read on to find the perfect apple-picking destination for your mini McIntoshes then grab your masks, and get crunching!
Mom and Pop-Style Apple Picking
Willowbrook Apple Farm
While this apple orchard is small compared with many of the other farms around, it’s a true blue family-run farm that gives you a taste of a small farm experience within an hour's drive of Los Angeles. If you’ve never taken your kids apple picking, and just want to make one stop, this would be our top pick. Less commercial feeling and overwhelming than the other farms, it’s a great place for young farmers to explore, pick, and play. Don’t forget to say “hi” to the bunny, potbelly pig, miniature horse, and miniature donkey.
Insider Tip: Because the farm is small, and they don’t want it to get too crowded, wait times for entering the orchard can get long as the day progresses so make sure to get there nice and early.
Cider pressing and caramel apple-eating starts Labor Day Weekend but check the website for updates when u-pick begins (most likely in the beginning of Oct.). Keep in mind that they’re only open weekends from 10 a.m to 4 p.m.
Covid Considerations: Willowbrook currently requires all staff members to wear masks and gloves. Masks are also mandatory for visitors at the farm entrance and exit, inside the country store, and while in the enclosed cider press station. Masks may be removed while eating or drinking as long as there is a 6-foot distance maintained with other guests. Apple picking tools will be sanitized in between uses and hand sanitizer will be on hand and available for use during the animal meet and greets.
12099 South Oak Glen Rd.
For That Country Fair Feeling
View this post on Instagram
Rileys at Los Rios Rancho
If your family likes the hustle and bustle and activities of a county fair, then a stop at Los Rios Ranch is the stop for you. Established in 1906, it’s the biggest orchard in Oak Glen, so there is plenty of apple picking and cider making and lots of room to remain socially distant. You can wander in a corn maze, take a wagon ride (small groups only), explore nature trails and botanical gardens, and almost always catch some music. This is a great place to stop for lunch at their famous BBQ and bakery (take-out only with lots of spots to get your picnic on!).
Insider Tip: Best to put in your BBQ or bakery order well before you want to eat as there tends to be a long wait.
Gravenstein and McIintosh apples are ready now. Check the site to see which varieties of apples will be ready for you to pick throughout the fall. Open on the weekends, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Covid Considerations: Social distancing is enforced with waiting markers in the BBQ, store, and u-pick lines. Face masks are recommended while exploring enclosed areas of the ranch and there is no indoor seating allowed so be sure to grab a secluded picnic spot somewhere on the grounds to chow down. There are also hand washing stations provided throughout the orchard with a rule of "you touch it, you pick it" when it comes to apple picking.
39611 Oak Glen Rd.
No Fuss Picking
View this post on Instagram
Stone Pantry Orchard
This small, family-owned orchard may not have all the frills of some of the bigger operations, but they do have 9 acres of gorgeous land filled with trees ripe for the picking. If you're looking for more of a straightforward apple collecting experience (without the gift shops and petting zoos), this is the place to visit. If you're lucky, you and your tiny tree huggers may even get a glimpse of a deer or two that tend to visit the property from time to time!
Insider Tip: Since Stone Pantry isn't as well known as it's surrounding orchards, it tends to be a bit less crowded on weekends so it's a wonderful place to check out if the others are uncomfortably full.
The public is welcome here on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and by appointment only during the week. Gravenstein apples are ready now as are blackberries and pears if you're looking for other fruit to take home.
Covid Considerations: Masks are required in the enclosed tent areas of the orchard. They also sterilize the apple picker tools and the cider press in between uses and have hand sanitizer available to the public.
11993 S. Oak Glen Rd.
To Just Chow Down and Stock Up
View this post on Instagram
Calling all squirrels! This may not technically fall under the "u-pick apples" banner, but Snow-Line Orchard is certainly the place to go to stock up for the winter (or quarantine months for that matter). Cider, pie fillings, caramel apples to sweeten any disposition, various house-made vinegar, balsamic and oils, local honey and even hard ciders and wines—it is all here. Not to mention that they sell apples of all varieties including Arkansas Blacks, the classic Macintosh, the sweet Honey Crisp, or even the spicy and unusual D’ Arcy apples.
Insider Tip: Their apple cider mini donuts alone are worth the trip so make sure to come hungry or snag a stash to bring home!
Open daily after Labor Day from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Snow-Line doesn’t offer u-pick apples (though if you gotta get in some picking, they have u-pick raspberries), but they do have apples available for purchase from the end of Aug. through the end of apple season. They also usually offer Orchard walking tours and kids crafting tables on the weekends but best to call ahead to confirm these events as current restrictions may prohibit them from regularly taking place.
Covid Considerations: Snow Line follows state mandates for face coverings and social distancing. Luckily, there is a lot of outdoor space here to enjoy making it easy to spread out in all your apple glory. They no longer offer samples of their apples or ciders so you'll just have to roll the delicious dice before purchasing any of these items! Also, the winery is open but they do not give tastings and instead, you may purchase their hard ciders and wines either by the glass or bottle.
39400 Oak Glen Rd.
It Takes a Village
View this post on Instagram
Oak Tree Village
If you like a side of kitsch with your apple pie, then you'll be in heaven at Oak Tree Village. These days, many of the stores are temporarily closed but there are still a couple of places that are safely open and worth hitting up after apple picking all morning. Best to call ahead of your outing for a more complete idea of operating hours while you're there!
Apple Annies: Any way you slice it, no trip to Oak Glen is complete without a stop here for their 5lb mile-high apple pie. They are currently offering patio dining only so it's a great stop to rest those weary orchard-exploring legs while refueling for the drive home.
Animal Park and Petting Farm: This village hot spot should certainly be on your "must-see" list while in the neighborhood especially if one of your brood isn't into the whole apple picking scene. Fish in the trout pond, bottle feed a baby animal, or simply stroll around the nature trail. There is a little bit of something to satisfy everyone's mood!
38480 Oak Glen Rd.
When to Go: Labor Day to early Nov. is when the apples ripen and are picked, but call before you go to make sure that when you’re ready to pick, the fruit is ripe and either not ready or over picked. Also, keep in mind that the crops are dependent on the recent weather condition (and fire damage fallout). But even if you can’t get up in the trees to pick your own, all season long there are plenty of apples to buy and press into cider—or other u-pick options as well, such as berries, pumpkins, and flowers.
Make It a Day Trip: A totally do-able day trip from the Los Angeles area (Oak Glen is about 90 minutes straight down the 10 freeway barring traffic, bathroom or snack breaks). Bring some jammies, and after a full day of all things apples, get the kids all ready for bed before hopping back in the car. They can sleep while you drive home that very evening.
Make It a Weekend: But if you can, try making this a mini-weekend vacation. Palm Springs is only 45 minutes past Oak Glen, and it gives a marvelous getaway feeling when you can spend the morning apple picking and then an hour later be splashing in your Airbnb pool in the desert heat!
Fresh Picked Tips: While Oak Glen is typically 15 degrees cooler than the valleys below but it can still get hot, and picking is hungry work. Don’t forget to bring water, hats and sunscreen and something to snack on (besides the apples). Again, it gets crowded on good picking weekends, and take-out or patio dining at restaurants can have long waits so prepare your hangry bunch appropriately.
How About These Apples? If you don't mind a slightly longer drive, head south to Julian, our favorite little mountain town in San Diego County, just 150 miles south of LA and is filled with u-pick apple farms, apple pies, and farm tours. Check out our guide to having a perfect weekend in Julian.
—Meghan Rose, Andie Hube, Shannan Rouss & Jenifer Scott