Summer travels are over, the kids are back-to-school, and fall is 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 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 11 fun fall activities for kids near San Francisco.
11 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.
- Apple-a-Day Raztlaff Ranch (Sebastapol): Open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during September and October.
- Clearview Orchards (Watsonville): Opens Saturdays and Sundays during September and October (open Sept. 7 in 2019).
- Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): Open for apple picking 7 days a week for about 3-4 weeks starting Sept. 14, 2019.
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. San Francisco Fleet Week for 2019 is scheduled for October 6-14 (it always falls over Columbus Day weekend).
“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 from September 28 to November 3, 2019 for the event (note that the park is closed on Sunday October 27 due to a 49ers home game). 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.
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 September 27 to November 2 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 August 24 – November 3. The zoo is an additional $5 charge but definitely adds to the fall daytime fun.
Boo at the Zoo (San Francisco & Oakland)
The San Francisco Zoo gets in the spooky spirit with an annual Boo at the Zoo event on October 26 and 27, 2019. Kids can trick or treat around the zoo while the animals get to feast on a few pumpkin treats.
For East Bay centric families, the Oakland Zoo has its own Halloween Boo at the Zoo daytime event on both October 26 and 27, 2019. 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.
If you have kids ages 4-10 up for an overnight adventure, also consider the Oakland Zoo’s Family Sundown SPOOKfari sleepover event Oct 26-27, 2019. It features trick-or-treating, creepy crawly animal meet and greets, and campfire songs. The cost is $80 per person for zoo members ($95 for non-members), with discounts for families of 5 or more. The event runs from 5pm until 10am the next morning.
Lemos Farm (Half Moon Bay)
Lemos Farm is the Bay Area’s most well-known pumpkin patch and for good reason. 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. While the farm is open daily in October, the special Halloween events have often only been offered on the weekends, so call ahead to confirm and plan accordingly!
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.
The fall candlelight tour of years past has been cancelled in 2019 in favor of a new evening event, Unhinged. But this is most definitely only for families with teens – leave the littles behind. Unhinged is described as “a dark, suspense driven walk through experience with state of the art special effects, professional actors and disturbing scenes.”
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.