Flip-flops and summer beach days are fading into the distance and we have our sights set on 15 ways to ‘fall’ in love with San Diego come autumn. From apple-picking and beautiful changing foliage to wildlife camping and perfect pumpkin patches read on for where to enjoy the change in season with your family.

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
Online: sanelijo.org/naturecenter


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

Balboa Park
Japanese Friendship Garden
2215 Pan American Rd. E,
San Diego, CA 92101
Online: niwa.org

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 mini-train to small carousel, who knows when your little one will want to stop. Even more, you'll find a petting zoo with goats and sheep to furry bunnies and chickens. Lastly, it's time to hunt for that perfect pumpkin to display on Halloween night.

Dates: Sept. 21-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
Online: pumpkinstation.com/delmar

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 $140/person, ages three and up; $30/child, ages two and younger

15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd.
Escondido, CA 92027
Online: sdzsafaripark.org/roar-snore

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.

Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92101
Online: balboapark.org

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!

Click here for more hiking trails we love.

Cleveland National Forest
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Online: palomarobservatorytrail.gov

photo: Legoland® California

Brick or Treat at Legoland® California

Boo-tiful fun! From tons of LEGO activities and sweet treats to Halloween costumes and monster bash, you're little bricks builders will have tons of fun at this autumn fest. Even more, it's not that scary. Further you'll find a a ghost cruise adventure, costume contests, special shows and trick-or-treat stations. We say let's make this a fall tradition!

Dates: Sept. 29; Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27
Cost: Evening only tickets from $54/person

LEGOLAND California
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Online: california.legoland.com/brick-or-treat

photo: Rachel Cobb

Get Festive at the San Diego Botanic Garden's Fall Festival

Have your little autumn leaf don his/her Halloween costume and paint a pumpkin, pet friendly animals and create cute Halloween crafts (a small fee may apply). There's a costume contest too! Explore nature and climb around the Hamilton Garden afterward. You can take a seat on nearby benches and enjoy the fall colors and blooms from all over the world.

Date: Sat., Oct. 27th
Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Cost: $18/adult; $10/child; children 2 and under free; $2/parking (may be higher at festival)

230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, CA 92024
Online: sdbgarden.org

photo: Kate Loweth

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
Online: visitjulian.com

Camp at Cuyamaca State Park

Sleep under the stars with the crew at Paco 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.

Paco Picacho Campground
(4 miles North of Julian)
12551 Hwy. 79
Descanso, CA 91916
Online: parks.ca.gov

Behold Fall Colors at Sweetwater 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: Leah Singer

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. 23-Oct. 31
Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m

15954 Woods Valley Rd.
Valley Center, CA 92082
Online: batesnutfarm.biz

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: Saturday, Oct. 14, noon-4 p.m.
Cost: Free

Old Town Historic Park
4002 Wallace St.
San Diego, CA 92110
Online: oldtownsandiego.org

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).

Hours: Fri., 1-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (hours may change)

Laguna Mountain Visitor Center
Sunrise Hwy & Los Huecos Rd.
(10 miles North of I-8)
Mr. Laguna, CA 91948
Online: lagunamountainvisitorcenter.gov

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
Online: volcanmt.org/guided-hikes

—Nikki Walsh


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