Summer is over and fall is finally in the air! Or, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area like I do, you know that fall is in the air somewhere. We don’t exactly have seasons in our part of Northern California. But even though the Bay Area can’t match the breathtaking autumn leaves of the East Coast in September and October, the fall season always has a lot for families with kids to do.
Whether you’re a local looking for a weekend staycation or a visitor to the Bay Area looking for a seasonally appropriate adventure, here are 12 fun fall activities for kids near San Francisco.
Editor’s Note: This year is obviously quite a bit different than usual, with many activities closed or modified for safety purposes. I’ve updated this guide as much as I can to reflect 2020 differences and indicate closures. I certainly hope to be able to update again in 2021 to report that all of these events are all back and better than ever! Note that several photos in this post are from previous years and may not reflect current safety guidelines. Remember as well to check the latest air quality first before going to these activities, many of which are outdoors. Sadly, wildfire seasons is affecting local travel significantly in 2020.
Fun Things to Do in the San Francisco Bay Area in the Fall
Fall means tons of opportunities to take your kids to one of the many apple orchards in the greater Bay Area for a day of apple picking. The most convenient options with pick-your-own fields for San Francisco day trippers are:
- Chileno Valley Ranch (Petaluma): Picking only on Sundays in late August, September, and sometimes also early October, with reservations required. (Modifications for 2020: No self picking available this year, but drive by apples are offered!)
- Apple-a-Day Raztlaff Ranch (Sebastapol): Open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during September and October. (Modifications for 2020: Reservations required.)
- Clearview Orchards (Watsonville): Open Saturdays and Sundays during September and October (Modifications for 2020: No large groups and masks required.)
- Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): Open for apple picking Thursday to Sunday and strawberries Saturday and Sunday in September – call to confirm exact dates. (Modifications for 2020: Masks required, and lines may be longer than usual to limit capacity.)
Lemos Farm (Half Moon Bay)
Lemos Farm is the Bay Area’s most well-known pumpkin patch and with good reason! Families flock from all over Northern California to visit each year. With pony rides, a haunted house, a not-so-haunted train, hay rides, and a petting zoo all in addition to a great pumpkin selection, it’s a Halloween tradition for many Bay Area families.
Modifications for 2020: Reservations are required, with two sessions (mornings 9am-1pm and afternoons 1pm-5pm) offered daily. Masks required for guests ages 10+.
Boo at the Zoo (Oakland)
Head over to the East Bay for the Oakland Zoo’s annual Halloween Boo at the Zoo daytime event in late October. In regular years, kids receive a treat bag, can join a dance party, can get their faces painted, or are able to ride a spooky train. Plus, kids wearing costumes get a free ride ticket.
Modifications for 2020: In 2020, the Oakland Zoo has modified the event to comply with safety regulations. The event will take place for 8 days, October 24-31, 2020, instead of the usual single weekend to space out guests better. Guests must book a ticket in advance online. Kids receive a pre-stuffed goodie bag and can go on a scavenger hunt through the zoo to find costumed pink flamingos.
The San Francisco Zoo usually gets in the spooky spirit as well with an annual Boo at the Zoo event of its own in late October every year where kids can trick or treat around the zoo. The event has been canceled in 2020.
The Oakland Zoo also has previously hosted a Family Sundown SPOOKfari sleepover event for families with kids ages 4-10 featuring trick-or-treating, creepy crawly animal meet and greets, and campfire songs. This event is also not taking place in 2020.
Winchester Mystery House (San Jose)
The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion built by the eccentric widow of the Winchester Rifle Company owner, with doors and stairs that often lead to nowhere. While touring the home is a fun excursion for families year-round, the most fitting time to visit is the month of October. Legend has it the house is haunted by the ghosts killed by Winchester rifles, and its former owner apparently built it in such a haphazard fashion to appease spirits who were haunting her.
Modifications for 2020: The Winchester Mystery House has now reopened with additional safety protocols in place. Masks are required, capacity is restricted, and tours are self-guided only on a one-way path. Guests must purchase tickets online in advance.
Mystery Spot (Santa Cruz)
Another local attraction that is fun year-round but especially during the Halloween season is the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. Kids will be amazed at this “gravitational anomaly” that is said to defy the laws of physics. Water flows uphill and weird phenomena abound. Whether the cause be aliens, the supernatural, or just a good optical illusion, it’s good clean family fun.
Modifications for 2020: Advance reservations are recommended, masks are required, and group tour sizes have been reduced to 14 people.
CuriOdyssey’s Autumn Nights (San Mateo)
CuriOdyssey is a fabulous science playground and zoo on Coyote Point near San Francisco International Airport. In 2020, it is offering the brand new CuriOdyssey’s Autumn Nights, a glowing harvest festival for families. Guests can dance to spooky music, enjoy festive lights, explore a land of creepy and fun jack-o-lanterns, and purchase drinks at a cash bar. Animals are part of the event as well with exhibits available and Halloween-themed wildlife enrichment offered.
The event takes place on Friday & Saturday Evenings in October, 5:30-7pm & 7-8:30pm. Masks are required for ages 5 and up and advance reservations are recommended.
Hit the Wharf (San Francisco)
September and early October are often the sunniest and warmest times in San Francisco proper, so the fall is a great time to get the kids outside for an adventure strolling the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Although it’s definitely touristy, that’s always part of the fun for me and especially for my kids. You can easily spend a full day or more at Fisherman’s Wharf, so check out my Fisherman’s Wharf guide for families to pick the best activities.
And for a really spooky twist during October, add in a trip to Alcatraz while you are at the wharf. The world’s most haunted prison even offers night tours for the truly brave.
Modifications for 2020: Masks are required by city ordinance, even while touring outside, for ages 3+. Many restaurants, shops, and business on Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 are open for business with modifications. Restaurants have expanded outdoor dining in particular, as indoor dining in not yet permitted in San Francisco. Some attractions remain closed, but the Aquarium of the Bay recently reopened which is popular with families. Alcatraz boats are operating (reservations required) but the indoor prison is closed so guests can only visit tour the portions of the island that are outdoors.
Fall Events Canceled for 2020 (But Plan Ahead for 2021!)
Fleet Week (San Francisco)
In early October, the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard descend upon the City by the Bay, bringing lots of visitors with them. The highlight of the week’s celebrations is an impressive air show over the water, with the Navy’s Blue Angels doing stunts and tricks. The noise can be quite deafening, so be ready with some earplugs for the little ones. Although San Francisco Fleet Week is canceled for 2020, plan for the days around October 11 in 2021 (the event always falls over Columbus Day weekend).
Modifications for 2020: Fleet Week is canceled for 2020.
“The Great Pumpkin Fest” at California’s Great America (Santa Clara)
Northern California’s beloved theme park gets in the fall spirit, with a family-friendly Halloween celebration during the daytime before the scary stuff takes over at night. The Great Pumpkin Fest offers trick-or-treating with Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, a hay maze, pumpkin decorating, and even a foam pit. And it’s all included in the price of regular theme park admission.
Great America is open Saturdays and Sundays usually in late September through early November for the event (note that the park may be closed the occasional Sunday when 49ers home games are played). Don’t miss my complete planning guide to California’s Great America with kids before your visit as well as all my tips for visiting the Great Pumpkin Fest at Great America.
Modifications for 2020: California’s Great America has announced it will remain closed for the rest of 2020, so this event is canceled this year.
Gilroy Gardens Halloween Fun (Gilroy)
Gilroy Gardens isn’t as well known of a theme park as some of the big names in Northern California. But it is definitely my favorite for families with young kids (see my full Gilroy Gardens guide). Gilroy Gardens has a Halloween event called “The Great Big Boo” that provides a lot of not-so-scary fun for families.
At night, Gilroy Gardens will light up the park with seasonal decorations and lights. Kids can trick or treat on “The Boo Trail” from 7pm to 9pm, watch “The Great Big Boo” musical show with characters, or ride “The Boo Train.” Costumes are welcome, speciality treats abound, and there’s even craft beer and wine for the grown-ups. The night event runs usually from late September through early November on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 5pm to 10pm as well as on Halloween, October 31.
In the fall, also be on the lookout for Gilroy Gardens’ petting zoo that is open Saturdays and Sundays from late August through early November. The zoo is an additional $5 charge but definitely adds to the fall daytime fun.
Modifications for 2020: Gilroy Gardens has announced it will remain closed for the rest of 2020, so these events are canceled this year.
G&M Farms Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch (Livermore)
What kid hasn’t wanted to get lost in a giant life size maze of corn? Sheer awesomeness abounds every day in October out in Livermore at G&M Farms. There, a field of corn is turned into a work of art that is also a maze that families can explore together. Past years maze themes have included Peanuts, emojis, Charlotte’s Web, and Lady Liberty.
There’s also a pumpkin patch that has a hay bale maze perfect for toddlers as well as a giant sandbox full of corn kernels that is ridiculously fun for kids to dive into.
Modifications for 2020: While G&M Farms is closed this year and is by far the best corn maze in the Bay Area, there are a few other corn mazes in the East Bay that are open in 2020. The blog 510Families highlights a few in its East Bay pumpkin patch guide.
Oktoberfest at Speisekammer (Alameda)
Even with the beer flowing freely, Oktoberfest events are usually quite family-friendly. My little hometown of Alameda hosts quite the celebration at the local German watering hole, Speisekammer. For four Sundays in late September and early October, the restaurant celebrates in family-friendly style with plenty of German food and beer, polka music and dancing, and a jumpy house (haus!) for the kids.
Modifications for 2020: While the Oktoberfest celebrations are on hold in 2020, Speisekammer is still open for outdoor dining and take out. Take Oktoberfest home!