For some people fall or autumn is the best time of the year. Kids go back to school after a summer season filled with traveling, bbq’s, and beaches (talking to Californians here. lol.) and adults adapt to a more structured lifestyle at work and in home. Besides these personal changes, the wonderful Bay Area turns a lot cooler and residents here begin to see more oranges, red, and yellows in their neighborhood parks and on doorsteps. Fall is my second favorite season after spring. I love it because I can wear layers (think chunky sweaters and boots) and drink Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes. The anticipation of Halloween and seeing kids dressed in costumes is probably the cutest thing next to kittens and puppies. Although fall is not a high touristy time, there are still a ton of fun things tourists and locals can do to enjoy what the Bay Area has to offer. Soo today with Labor Day around the corner, I thought I’d inform my readers of activities and festivities they can participate in during the “most wonderful time of the year” (for me).
If you are looking to get your fall fix, you don’t have to head to the east coast to check out the fall foliage. The Bay Area has many spots where leaves change to all shades of orange, red, yellow and brown. Here are a few of our favorites:
San Francisco Botanical Garden This 55-acre garden in Golden Gate Park is full of fall foliage – from the ginko trees that change to a bright gold to the dogwoods that go deep purple-red. Head to the Moon Viewing Garden to see what color the Japanese maple leaves are. Follow the Garden on social media to see how the leaves are changing on a daily basis.
Filoli Gardens Filoli’s Autumn Festival kicks off the fall season at this world-renowned garden in Woodside. Check the calendar for docent-led orchard walks during the fall when you can experience all the color that Filoli has to offer.
Rancho San Antonio Preserve The maples, oaks and flowering persimmon trees at this spot in Cupertino are a feast for the eyes this time of year. Stop by Deer Hollow Farm to check out the animals before you head off on one of the many hikes that the preserve has to offer.
Tilden Regional Park The hills above Berkeley will call you with their ever-changing leaf colors. Head to the botanical garden to witness the colorful leaves of the cottonwood and dogwood trees, among others. Tilden Little Farm is another attraction that the kids adore.
Napa Wine Country The changing colors of the grape leaves draw visitors to wine country each fall. Head to the Anderson Valley or Dry Creek areas to see some majestic reds and oranges. If you time your visit well, you might luck out and glimpse some of the crush season activities that happen during October.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park This is a great spot to set up a tent and explore during the fall months. Follow the Redwood Trail to find colorful maple leaves in addition to the trail’s namesake giants.
There are so many fall festivals throughout the Bay Area all season long that each weekend is filled with a different themed event. Find the festivals you want to attend and schedule them in now. The best part is most have FREE admission.
22nd Annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival To find the most chocolate lovers in one place, look no further than the much-anticipated annual Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival presented by world renown chocolatier, Ghirardelli. A Bay Area original and still a favorite, Ghirardelli calls all chocolate devotees to enjoy this wonderfully sweet two-day celebration of chocolate in all its many shapes, tastes and culinary incarnations and Indulge for the Cause. The event truly makes life sweeter as 100 percent of the festival’s profits are donated to non-profit Project Open Hand, an organization that provides meals to seniors and the critically ill. What a delectable way to contribute to this hardworking effort, and donating never tasted so good! Come and learn from local culinary experts as they work their magic and spin some deliciousness with — what else? Chocolate, of course. Visit the website for full details.
7th Annual Bay Area Blues Festival Looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. One of the best ways to kick-off Fall in the Bay Area is to head to Martinez for the Bay Area Blues Festival. This free festival is located at historic downtown Martinez and features the best Blues musicians performing on two stages. Plus enjoy the variety of arts and crafts exhibitors, purveyors of quality gourmet food, kids activities and so much more. This event is a must-go to start off an amazing Fall season.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Come out and enjoy three full days of free live music in the open green of Golden Gate Park. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival began in 2001 as a strictly bluegrass music festival, but over time the range of musical genres has expanded, and includes a broad range of artists and music sounds for an incredible diverse and talented lineup of more than 100 music acts on seven stages. This is a family-friendly event and quality festival food will be available for purchase, but not alcohol. You are free to bring picnic coolers, blankets, and low backed chairs.
Annual Art & Pumpkin Festival Celebrate the fall harvest and autumn splendor at the pumpkin capital of the world, Half Moon Bay. Each year, it’s a must to pay tribute to the almighty gourd at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. You’ll have a “smashing” time feasting on all the home-style foods, rocking out with four stages of amazing live music, participate in pie-eating and costume contests and so much more! Get there early as the roads can get pretty packed.
Pick Pumpkins at a Pumpkin Patch
And if there’s a hay or corn maze involved, there are bonus points. And afterwards, when you carve jack o’ lanterns together, Instagram them.
But seriously, Clancy’s Pumpkin Patch in the Sunset, Nicasio Valley Farms in Marin, Speer Family Farms in Alameda, Perry Family Pumpkin Patch in Fremont, and Arata’s Pumpkin Farm and Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay are all great, accessible options.
Go Apple Picking You probably think apple picking in the fall is something that only happens in the the Northeast, but there are actually lots of places near SF that can make this Instagram-worthy dream come true. Also do drink freshly made apple ciders at these farms and maybe buy a bottle to take home.
Go Whale Watching San Francisco Whale Tours offers exciting adventures from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean and into the protected sanctuary of the Farallon Islands. From views of main San Francisco attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge to sightings of Blue, Humpback, and Gray whales, this is a trip you will never forget. Book HERE.
Watch the Blue Angels
Or complain about the Blue Angels. We prefer the former, but accept that everyone will be doing one or the other come Fleet Week (October). You should probably go ahead and pick a side now. But let me tell you, when you see the crowded streets of San Francisco with sailors, the atmosphere becomes more festive. Fleet Week also includes tours of Navy ships at Marina Green, band concerts, a Friday parade of ships under the Golden Gate Bridge, weekend air shows with the Blue Angels, and fireworks Saturday.
Lick a Pumpkin Ice Cream Cone Would a sci-fi blast of liquid nitrogen really make better ice cream? Stroll down to the shipping-container-turned-sweet-shop in Hayes Valley, Smitten ice cream and order up a scoop of Maple Brown Sugar Squash. A hefty spoonful of squash puree, a slug of creamy house-made ice cream base, a sudden burst of chilly, Karl-like fog, and here was our winner, hands down: lusciously smooth, richly flavored but perfectly balanced, like the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever eaten, only better, and glazed with a maple-lemon syrup. But get it now–come November, it will be replaced by Cinnamon Apple Crisp. Once Smitten’s squash has disappeared for the season, restore your necessary pumpkin joy at Mitchell’s, which offers one of the longest-running Pumpkin ice cream experiences in the city. It’s still the gold standard: creamy and full-flavored, with just the right hint of natural earthy sweetness (and nutmeg). It’s a fall/winter mainstay at this 60-year-old neighborhood hangout, since it’s always warmer (and sunnier) in the Mission, and perfect in a double scoop with their cinnamon-y Mexican Chocolate. For something a little different, the mid-October arrival of Bi-Rite Creamery’s Pumpkin Soft-Serve (Fridays only, paired with tangy Creme Fraiche) is always cause for seasonal celebration. The soft-serve window (which also sells popsicles, ice-cream sandwiches, cookies, and often, a very delicious hot chocolate) is the best-kept secret of the Bi-Rite universe. There’s almost never a line, even while the queue at the Creamery nearby stretches to new-iPhone-release-day proportions. (The main Creamery is also offering a stellar regular pumpkin ice cream right now.) The texture is just right for Dairy Queen/Foster’s Freeze nostalgia, but the two daily flavors on offer–like peanut butter and roasted banana, salted caramel and coffee, even plain old vanilla and chocolate–are much, much better. According to the staff, customers go nuts for this flavor, calling every day in early October to find out when it will be back on the menu. But familiarity breeds ennui, and sometime in January, it will have slipped away, quietly, until autumn returns some ten months later.
Plan a trip to the San Francisco Zoo Their ZOOtoberFest (think hay mazes, pumpkins and food) runs every weekend in October, while the popular Boo at the Zoo returns on October 29 and 30 with trick-or-treating stations throughout the zoo.
Winchester House on Halloween As autumn winds swirl, it’s time to join the Winchester Mystery House, one of America’s most legendary haunted mansions. In a chilling and Gothic atmosphere, it’s just you, flickering candlelight and your imagination to guide you through the storied 160-room Victorian mansion noted for its “activity.” On their Halloween tours, candlelight provides the only illumination through the bewildering maze of rooms, frozen in a state of arrested decay or still resplendent in Victorian grandeur. Although touches of festive Halloween abound, the atmosphere is heavy with foreboding as an unseen presence seems to be watching always. Brave souls can experience Hallowe’en by candlelight at Winchester Mystery House during 20 dark nights only in September and October 2017.
Hope this post gives out-of-towners enough reasons to visit the Bay Area during this wonderful time OR if you are a local, just encourage you to get out of the house and explore your backyard (pun intended). Happy Traveling!