It may not be sweater season yet, but fall is on its way in and that means one thing—time to jump in a pile of leaves! The Bay Area may be known for its redwoods and other giants but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to see all the yellow, orange and red leaves we desire. Pack up the kids and the picnic and head out. There are spots from Napa to the South Bay that offer leaves of all colors if you know where to look!
Denizens of the cool, gray city don’t have to look further than Golden Gate Park to find the warm tones of autumn. A stroll around the SF Botanical Garden in November reveals an arresting array of color to observant eyes, from the golden-fanned gingko trees to deep purple vine maples. Ask a docent to point you to the Persian ironwood tree, whose leaves take on a spectacular rainbow of shades this time of year. Different trees peak at different times, so check the garden’s Facebook page for updates.
For lunch, walk out to one of the many kid-friendly restaurants around 9th Ave in the Sunset District. Or bring your own fall picnic bounty and spread out on the lawn next to the Moon Viewing garden, where the Japanese maples are putting on their own quiet show.
Showy maples can also be found across the street in another park gem, the Japanese Tea Garden. While you take in the autumn scene, kids will have fun challenging themselves by walking up and down the famous drum bridge, and finding their fortune in a cookie at the tea house.
Don't forget to book your tickets on the Golden Gate Park Observation Wheel so that you can see all the changing colors for miles.
The Oakland Zoo's gondola is the place to be this fall when the leaves start changing color. Where else can you get a bird's eye view of the zoo and surrounding landscape? Take the opportunity during your visit to view the zoo's California Trail exhibit. There you can see bison, grizzly bears, bald eagles, California condors, gray wolves, mountain lions and even jaguars.
Up in the hills above Berkeley, Tilden Park is another go-to place for fall color, especially around Lake Anza (an easy hike for little ones). Keep your eye out (not your hands, please!) for the flaming red leaves of poison oak, which add some of the most striking color to the park. In November and December, head downhill to the UC Berkeley campus, when it’s ablaze with lemon-yellow gingko leaves; maples and myrtles also add some flair.
Slip through the Caldecott tunnel to find canopies of yellow leaves in and around the trees of 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, head to Piccolo Napoli and tuck into some awesome pizza.
Sunol Regional Wilderness welcomes a kaleidoscope of color as soon as you hit the visitor's center. Find out if they are offering any naturalist-led hikes while you are there or head out on your own. The Indian Joe Creek Nature Trail is a short, self-guided walk that provides loads of information about the park, it's animal inhabitants and the foliage there.
Following Skyline Boulevard as it dips, rises and weaves through the Peninsula can be visually rewarding on its own, as you pass by stands of sycamores and big-leaf maples. But 5-point harnesses can only contain kid energy for so long. Happily, there are 26 open space preserves in the mid-peninsula region, offering easy hikes, picnic spots and stunning views. The newest peak to open to the public is Mount Umunhum which offers stunning views on non-foggy days.
One of our favorites this time of year is the Rancho San Antonio Preserve, with its maples, oaks and flowering persimmon trees. We'd usually recommend a visit to Deer Hollow Farm but it is currently closed to visitors.
While you're in the neighborhood, a side trip to Los Altos is worthwhile to see the Chinese Pistache trees (donated to the city by Los Altos Nursery in the 1950s) dropping their vivid orange and red leaves on Main and 2nd streets.
For a view of the whole valley, head to Montalvo in Saratoga and follow the Lookout Trail to Lookout Point. On a clear day you can see all the way to the bay. Walk through the grounds on your way down to see some rare trees like the ginkgo tree that turns a glorious golden in the fall.
Woodside is home to the Filoli Gardens and fall is a great time to plan a visit there. Fruit trees abound at Filoli, including pears, plums, apricots and apples. Check their website before you go to see what colors you can expect.
A great spot to find that heady mix of fall colors and evergreens is Samuel P. Taylor State Park, with its oaks, firs, madrones and old-growth redwoods. Throw the bikes on the rack, and take a Sunday drive along bucolic Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the park entrance, 15 miles west of San Rafael. Samuel P. Taylor boasts a few great trails for biking and hiking safely with kids, especially the dog-friendly (and relatively flat) Cross Marin Trail that winds alongside Lagunitas Creek. Bring food and enjoy a relaxing lunch at the Azalea Picnic Area to complete the day. Or better yet, pitch a tent and stay a while.
Head south for an hour and you will hit Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, home to redwood, oak, maples and other deciduous trees. Kids will enjoy some creek romping while they search for the red, orange and yellow leaves that blanket the floor. Adventurous hikers should make Dawn Falls their destination.
Crush season in the Napa Valley is a not-to-be-missed sight, as the rolling green hills of grape vines turn to blankets of burgundy and orange. It’s also a great time to visit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where the cooler fall temps make the parks wooded trails ripe for exploration. In addition to its namesake trees, the peaceful scene on the Redwood Trail includes autumn-gold maple leaves fluttering down alongside Ritchey Creek.
Rent a bike from one of the numerous outfits around town and try your luck at Napa's Bikes and Sights Scavenger Hunt!
—Kate Loweth, Sarah Ordódy, Laure Latham and Sarah Bossenbroek