With the kids back to school and fall on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan your trip to a local orchard to pick this season’s crop of apples. Apple picking is great for kids as the fruit is within kid reach and there are no thorns to deal with. Bring home a bushel (especially if you don’t have a CSA box) and make yourself a pie and everyone’s favorite homemade applesauce. Make sure you check the website or call ahead to find out about availability before you make a day of it!
If eating organic is important to your family, head to Gabriel Farm (located in Sebastopol, a town practically synonymous with the fruit) where you’ll get a tour of the certified organic orchard in addition to the opportunity to pick your own apples through mid-November. Varieties include McIntosh, Gravenstein, Gala, Braeburn, Gilbert Golden Delicious, Fuji and Rome. To participate in u-pick at Gabriel Farm, visitors are asked to become members of their CSA by purchasing a case of their asian pear and apple juice for $40. U-pick price is an additional $2.50 per pound of fruit. The farm has a store with juice and jams for sale as well (no CSA membership required to purchase from the store).
3175 Sullivan Rd.
Live Earth Farm
This spot in Watsonville grows a small variety of apples including Gravensteins, Pink Pearls and Macintosh. The u-pick start date is still TBD as it depends on when the crop ripens. Stay up to date on their u-pick schedule via their Facebook page. Expect them in late September or early October. The picking is a bargain at $1.50/pound.
1275 Green Valley Road
photo: Kate Loweth
Swanton Pacific Ranch
Owned and operated by California Polytechnic State University, Swanton Pacific Ranch produces over five tons of apples every year. The two-acre orchard hosts 12 different apple varieties, all with individual ripening periods, meaning that the picking season lasts into October. Nestled in the foothills along the central coast and outlying Monterey Bay, this orchard is the perfect distance away for a family day trip!
480 Swanton Road
The u-pick apple season at Gizdich starts in mid September and lasts about a month. While not all apple varieties are available for picking (you can expect Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Pippins and Galas), they do have many varieties for sale in the barn. Visit their website to see what varieties are in season. Stay for a self-guided tour of the apple orchard and berry farms. If you’re visiting on Saturdays (September-May only), you can watch the apples get pressed for juice! Make sure you make time to head to the bake shop after picking to grab one of their out-of-this-world pies to take home or enjoy a slice a la mode while the kids play behind the barn. If you visit on a hot day, cool down the kidlets with an apple popsicle or apple slush. They are open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily during picking season. Check online for strawberry picking availability and you can get both at one time! Bring your own containers.
55 Peckham Rd.
photo: Kate Loweth
Also located in the beautiful Santa Cruz Basin, Clearview Orchards offers a huge variety of certified organic apples, specializing in Gala and Fuji, Honey Crisp and Mitsu during their early-September through end of October season. Pick some apples and enjoy their beautiful terraced grounds with a view of the Watsonville valley. They also sell delicious local honey and fresh-pressed apple cider. Kiddos can even pick out their own pumpkins, just in time for fall. Open Saturday and Sundays only, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
646 Trabing Rd.
Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch
With a name like that, you know Ratzlaff Ranch is focused on apples! U-pick Gravensteins, Rome and Golden Delicious are a bargain at $2/pound or $50 for 40 pounds (now that’s a LOT of pies!). They are open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. (except Thursdays and Saturdays when they are closed). Check their website for the opening date.
13128 Occidental Rd.
photo: web wileys via flickr
For a bit of a longer trek, you’ll get no better apple selection than in the Apple Hill Region, about fifty miles east of Sacramento. With over 55 ranches offering different apple varieties and activities, you are bound to find the perfect experience for the kids. The Apple Hill Growers Association lists orchard details including U-pick hours, picnic areas, local attractions, and more. The u-pick ranches tend to be very small and very popular, so it is a good idea to call the ranches themselves to make sure they have the apple variety you want and that the fruit is available.
For more farms in the Apple Hill Growers Association, check out their site or call their number at: 530-644-7692.
—Kate Loweth and Erin Feher