San Diego is famous for its iconic palm trees, but our spectacular city still puts on quite a show for autumn––you just have to know where to look. We’ve set our sights on 14 spots where you can experience the fall season with your family. From apple-picking and beautiful foliage to wildlife camping and perfect pumpkin patches read on to see how beautiful change can be!
Family Fun Days at the San Elijo Lagoon
Spark wonder in nature on the .5-mile nature loop at San Elijo Lagoon in North County. In the fall, the pickleweed and salt-marsh plants turn ruddy red. Even more, to keep little ones interested, go on Sunday Family Fun Days and learn about seeds, spiders, bees or reptiles. On the other hand, you can explore the nature center and loop trail with the crew any day of the week. You'll find restrooms and a nice spot upstairs to have lunch or a snack. Also, parking and the nature center are free.
Family Fun Days: first Sunday of the month, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center
2710 Manchester Ave.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007
Stroll the Japanese Friendship Garden
Littles will sprint to see the giant koi fish swimming in the ponds. You can take a breather and enjoy the beautiful fall colors of the garden. The Japanese maple trees run in shades of red plus you'll see bursts of yellow, orange and green. Stroll the garden and then explore the latest exhibit. (Also, if you can swing it, the third Tuesday of the month is free!)
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: $12/adult; $10/students; free for kids 6 and younger
Japanese Friendship Garden
2215 Pan American Rd. E,
San Diego, CA 92101
Experience the Del Mar Pumpkin Station
Carve out a new family tradition at this local pumpkin station that's good for toddlers. First off, buy tickets for the pint-sized rides. From a swing ride to an antique carousel, who knows when your little one will want to stop? Even more, you'll find a petting zoo, a game zone, a train ride and a sky fighter ride. Lastly, it's time to hunt for that perfect pumpkin to display on Halloween night.
Dates: Sept. 27-Oct. 31
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m
15555 Jimmy Durante Blvd.
Del Mar, CA 92104
Camp at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park
The crowds are gone and the weather cooler, what better time to Roar and Snore at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? From preschoolers to tweens you can sit by the campfire and hear the animals' sounds in the night. Held on Saturdays from Aug.- Nov., this sleepover has fun for everyone. First have a special animal encounter, then ride the African Tram. Further, sleep in a tent, from basic to fancy and all sleepovers include dinner, evening snack and breakfast the next morning!
Dates: Check website; mostly Saturdays, Aug.-Nov.
Cost: From $145+/person
15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, CA 92027
Fall in Love with Balboa Park
Ahhh.. autumn in Balboa Park. Get dazzled by the fiery red of the sweetgum trees on the corner of 6th and Quince St. at the park's edge. (That alone is worth the trip)! Then stroll the park with the littles in tow and see vibrant shades of gold, yellow and green. Make a day of it at The Nat or Fleet Science Center and you've found your fall fun in San Diego.
Read our complete guide to family fun in Balboa Park.
San Diego, CA 92101
Hike Palomar Mountain
Pack a picnic and drive up Palomar Mountain to see fall colors. From the brightly lit golden yellow of the black oaks to the surrounding red shrubs, you'll feel like you've landed right in New England. Take a hike on the two-mile Observatory Trail (it has a doable hill) or drive to the Observatory and walk around. Stop in and check out the telescopes too!
Cleveland National Forest
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Brick or Treat at LEGOLAND® California
Boo-tiful fun! From tons of LEGO family building activities and sweet treats to Halloween costumes and a monster bash, you're little bricks builders will have tons of fun at this autumn fest. Even more, it's not scary. Further, you'll enjoy character meet and greets, performances by The Witchettes, costume contests, special shows and over a million pieces of candy at the trick-or-treat stations. We say let's make this a fall tradition!
Dates: Sept. 28; Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26
Cost: Evening only tickets from $54/person
One LEGOLAND Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Go Apple-Picking in Julian
Say hello to fall with a day trip to the historic gold mine town of Julian––famous for its fall colors, U-pick apples, apple pie and apple cider. Head to a U-pick farm to pluck apples from the trees, then make your way to downtown Julian and look through the adorable gift stores. Miner's Diner is a good place to grab lunch with the tots in tow. Before leaving, stop by a local pie shop for a freshly baked apple or pumpkin pie.
Read our where to go apple-picking guide.
San Diego, CA 92036
Camp at Cuyamaca State Park
Sleep under the stars with the crew at Paso Picacho campground and experience fall up close and personal. This is a great family campground where you can secure a spot through Reserve America. Your happy campers will love the fresh air, the climbing trees and lots of easy hikes from the camp spot. Weekends are busy, so book early.
Paso Picacho Campground
(4 miles North of Julian)
12551 Hwy. 79
Descanso, CA 91916
Behold Fall Colors at Sweetwater River Bridge
This historic East County bridge is a sweet spot for fall color––plus it makes a beautiful backdrop for family photos. Now a pedestrian bridge, it's easy to spot off Hwy. 94 and worth a look-see if you're in the area. Weekends get busy with fams taking pics and strolls. Built in 1929, the bridge is made of iron and has triangular trestles that were popular at that time. Come experience a little history.
2951 Jamacha Rd.
El Cajon, CA 92019
Photo-Ops at Bates Nut Farm
This pumpkin patch is worth visiting as a yearly tradition. You'll find all kinds of pumpkins from Big Mac to Jack O' Lantern (and they're all grown on-site). From hayrides and corn mazes to bounce slides and a petting zoo, there's plenty to do. Bring a picnic lunch to sit under the autumn trees. Shop the central store, then head home and chalk up a cool fall day.
Pumpkin patch: Sat., Sept. 21-Oct. 31
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m; Sat. & Sun. 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
15954 Woods Valley Rd.
Valley Center, CA 92082
Stroll the Market in Old Town San Diego
Love to dig into history? Old Town’s Harney Street Market is perfect for your little pioneers. The air is cooler and all your family’s favorite exhibits are open: stables, school house and blacksmith. You’ll find living history demonstrations from volunteers in period costumes and visit the many museums to learn about the settlement of Old Town San Diego. Then, head to the Fiesta De Reys for a scrumptious outdoor lunch (or dinner) with the crew.
Date: Saturdays & Sundays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. except during special events.
Old Town Historic Park
4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, CA 92110
Explore Mt. Laguna’s Kwaaymii Trail
Hike the easy half-mile loop trail with a small hill. About a 50-minute drive on 8-East, you'll appreciate being surrounded by the black oaks' golden leaves mixed in with the green pine trees. Bring a lunch to munch. The trailhead starts at and loops back around to the Visitor's Center. You'll need to purchase a $5 adventure day pass to access the forest. (Plus, there are restrooms).
Laguna Mountain Visitor Center
Sunrise Hwy & Los Huecos Rd.
(10 miles North of I-8)
Mr. Laguna, CA 91948
Hike Amongst the Black Oaks at Volcan Mountain
This fall, enjoy a guided family-friendly hike courtesy of the Volcan Mountain Foundation. First off, check their calendar to plan ahead. Then view the changing yellow and red leaves of the black oaks that are abundant in that area. Finally, head to Julian for lunch at Julian Beer Company. It's the makings of a perfect fall family day.
Volcan Mountain Foundation
Julian, CA 92036
—Nikki Walsh & Beth Shea
featured photo: Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay