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. Even without the crisp air and changing leaves of September and October that much of the rest of the country has, the autumn season in San Francisco always has a lot for families with kids to do.
After living in the Bay Area for nearly two decades, my husband and I have experienced a lot of the region’s fall activities with our kids, from pumpkin patches to apple picking to theme park Halloween events. 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 15 fun fall activities for kids near San Francisco.
Last updated: September 16, 2023.
(*Bookmark this post and check back regularly, as local attractions release their fall activities at different times. I update this post multiple times each fall from August through October as new information becomes available.)
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Fun & Family-Friendly 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 apple picking. Apple picking tends to be the first fall activity of the season to get underway. So you may need to start planning an excursion even before the kids go back to school.
Some of the orchards are a farther drive than some of the other activities on this list. As a result, this activity might be more of a day trip depending on your home base. The most convenient options with pick-your-own fields for San Francisco day trippers are:
- Clearview Orchards (Watsonville): Open Saturdays and Sundays September 9-October 29, 2023. Advance ticket purchase for parking and entry required. $7 for a car of up to 8 people.
- Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): Open daily for u-pick apple picking – dates TBD starting September 16, 2023.
- EARTHseed Farm (Sebastopol): Open most Saturdays in late August, September, October and sometimes early November. Reservations open each Tuesday for Saturday times. $35 for a group of up to 4 people.
- Apple-a-Day Raztlaff Ranch (Sebastapol): The season usually starts early/mid September – TBD for 2023. Historically open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during September and October.
- Chileno Valley Ranch (Petaluma): Picking available on Sundays in September and October 2023, with reservations required. $2 per pound picked.
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. We last did this activity when my kids were 4 and 8, and we thought it hits the sweet spot for preschoolers and elementary age kids.
In 2023, the Pumpkin Patch will be open starting September 2 and will remain open until November 19. In September, the patch is open Wednesdays to Sunday (plus Monday, September 4 for Labor Day). In October, it’s open every day, and in November, it’s open weekends only. Timed reservations are required, with two overlapping sessions offered daily – mornings either 9am-2pm or 10am-3pm and afternoons 12pm-5pm.
Tricks and Treats at California’s Great America (Santa Clara)
Northern California’s beloved theme park always gets in the fall spirit, but last year brought something new and pretty enticing for families. And it’s coming back in 2023!
California’s Great America used to offer a daytime kid-friendly fall event and an evening scare-the-living-daylights-out-of-you haunt. The scary stuff is permanently retired, and Great America has gone all in with an even bigger full-time family-friendly Halloween festival, Tricks and Treats.
Tricks and Treats features four themed realms – two “tricks” (Ickyville and Spooky Spires) and two “treats” (Everfall and Sweet Tooth Acres). Most rides are open, costumes are welcome, unique seasonal theme park food abounds, and kids can trick-or-treat as well.
The event is open during regular park operating hours September 22-October 28 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Note that the park is closed one Sunday for a 49ers home game on October 8. Buy daily tickets in advance online for the best pricing.
Don’t miss my complete planning guide to California’s Great America with kids before your visit. And check out my even more detailed guide to Tricks and Treats at California’s Great America – my family attended in 2022 and scoped out all the tips.
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 (as my husband and I know well from our pre-kid years residing in an apartment at the top of Russian Hill), so be ready with some ear protection for the little ones.
San Francisco Fleet Week is back for another year in 2023. The event runs from October 2-10 this year, with the air show taking place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the long holiday weekend. Some of the best air show viewing in available on the waterfront (especially near Crissy Field), but plan for serious crowds at better vantage points.
Children’s Fairyland Halloween Jam (Oakland)
Children’s Fairyland is a beloved kid-friendly local amusement park that was one of Walt Disney’s inspirations for Disneyland. It is holding a seasonal event of its own, Halloween Jam, on the last two weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) of the month of October – October 20-22 & October 27-29, 2023.
The event features not-too-spooky fall fun for younger kids like “decked out sets and rides, spook-tacular performances and activities at the Emerald City Stage, costumed characters, bouncy houses, and plenty of photo opportunities.” Treat stations handing out goodies are back in 2023. Costumes are encouraged and kids can join a “Monster Mash Parade” to show them off. This year, each day of the event has a special theme to mix things up, from pirates to wizards to circus fun.
Advance reservations are highly recommended. Tickets cost $18 for adults and kids ages 1+ and are good for the entire day of admission (10am-4pm). Note that adults can only visit Fairyland with a child in tow.
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.
While the Winchester Mystery House had had some family-friendly Halloween events in the past for all ages, there is nothing planned specifically for younger kids in 2023. But it’s certainly a good time of year for a regular tour to get your fix of the weird and slightly spooky as a family.
And for families with teens who enjoy a good scare, back in 2023 is Unhinged: Housewarming. This walkthrough haunt features spirits and the paranormal as well an an outdoor scare zone and Halloween museum. Note that this event recommends guests to be age 13+.
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 2023, the event takes place during normal zoo hours (10:00am-4:00pm) from October 1-29. Advance reservations are required. Reservations open 28 days in advance of each party date.
New in 2023 is a 500-bale hay maze where guests can come face to face with larger-than-life Halloween decorations. Plus, ther eis a self-guided scavenger hunt throughout the entire zoo to find animal x-rays. !
Guests can wear costumes and enter the zoo’s costume contest by posting on social media for a chance to win tickets to the holiday event at the zoo, Glowfari. There’s a different weekly theme for the online contest plus an in-person contest on Friday, 10/20 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm.
Boo at the Zoo (San Francisco)
No information has been released yet for 2023. Information from 2022 is below.
San Francisco Zoo is getting back in the spooky spirit as well! Its own annual Boo at the Zoo event is where guests can stroll zoo grounds and see their favorite animal get pumpkin shaped treats. There’s a costume contest at noon, a hay maze, and treat bags for kids at the exit. The event is part of the Zoo’s ZootoberFest that features a German beer garden with Oktoberfest style treats and eats as well as live music.
The event takes place on the final Saturday and Sunday of the month, October 29-30 from 11am-4pm. Advance reservations are required.
Howl-O-Ween at Great Wolf Lodge Northern California (Manteca)
Great Wolf Lodge Northern California only just opened in summer 2021 so a lot of families in the area may not yet know about all its offerings in every season. This fall, Great Wolf Lodge is again celebrating Halloween with its appropriately titled Howl-O-Ween event.
The entire lodge is transformed with fall decor, leaves, and pumpkins. The event features a trick or treat trail, a Monster dance party, seasonal trivia and crafts, games like Boo Bingo, and a costume contest.
To participate in Howl-o-Ween with your family, book to stay a night or more in the lodge. Howl-O-Ween takes place from September 28-October 31, 2023 with some offerings limited to weekends only.(Looking for a deal for a stay at Great Wolf Lodge? Save 30% When You Stay 2 Or More Nights with Promocode MOREFUNA)
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.
In 2023, advance reservations are recommend, especially for weekends and holidays as those dates tend to sell out. Parking is an additional $5 fee.
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. A lot of attractions in the area, from Alcatraz boat tours to Aquarium of the Bay, require or recommend advance reservations and can sell out, so plan accordingly.
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. For a less scary treat, stop by Ghirardelli Square for some chocolate. The Square often has a Halloween event the Saturday before October 31 (details for 2023 TBD).
Gilroy Gardens Halloween Boo (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 always has a Halloween event with plenty of not-too-scary fun for families.
The Halloween “Boo” event this year takes place starting September 29, 2023 through the month of October. It offered during the following park hours this year: Fridays: 5pm-10pm Saturdays & Sundays: 1pm-9pm. Plus, the park is also open Halloween night.
At night, Gilroy Gardens lights up the park with seasonal decorations and lights. Kids can trick or treat on “The Boo Trail,” watch “The Great Big Boo” live musical show with characters, ride “The Boo Train,” or see a lounge singer, a storytelling scarecrow, or a mad scientist on “Boo Alley.” Costumes are welcome, speciality treats abound, and there’s even beer and wine for the grown-ups.
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. In past years the 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 cow train and many more offerings.
G&M Farms is open Wednesdays through Sundays from September 30 – October 29, 2023. Note that some of the pumpkin patch activities are only offered on weekends.
Oktoberfest at Speisekammer (Alameda)
Even with the beer flowing freely, Oktoberfest events are usually quite family-friendly. My little hometown of Alameda in the East Bay hosts quite the celebration at the local German watering hole, Speisekammer. For several 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 that kids can enjoy too.
The event this year is taking place on three Sundays – September 21, October 1, and October 8, 2023 from 12-6pm. But even if you miss the event itself, Speisekammer is open the rest of the fall, with an expanded outdoor dining area. Definitely worth a stop to make dinner out into your own Oktoberfest celebration!
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Boo Fest & Oktoberfest (Vallejo)
Like its other Bay Area theme park counterparts, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo has some special fall offerings as well. While you’ll want to leave the little ones at home for the park’s terrifying evening haunt Fright Fest, the park has two family-friendly offerings during daytime hours.
Kid’s Boo Fest is a traditional fall festival with Halloween activities and entertainment as well as trick-or-treating. And the whole family can get in on the Oktoberfest food festival action with German food and entertainment offered (along with beers for adults).
Oktoberfest take place on Saturdays and Sundays from September 9-October 29, 2023 during regular park hours. Starting September 29, 2023, Boo Fest joins the lineup alongside Oktoberfest.
Additional Tips for Fall Fun in the San Francisco Bay Area
Need even more tips and ideas for fall activities? Here are a few additional things we’ve learned over the years from our autumn travels close to home:
- Although the Bay Area proper doesn’t have fall foliage to match the breathtaking autumn leaves of New England in September and October, you can absolutely take a longer day trip or weekend getaway to enjoy some leaf peeping. Our family’s favorite recommendation? Grass Valley and Nevada City up in Gold Country. This area is truly breathtaking and is only about a 2.5 hour drive from San Francisco.
- Sadly, wildfires often affect Northern California travel significantly in fall months in many years. It’s always wise to check the latest air quality when there are fires in the region before traveling.
- Fall in the Bay Area can bring some of the hottest days of the year – especially in September and early October. Check the specific local forecast before setting out anywhere. And pack sunscreen, hats, water and other supplies for hot days.