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 14 fun fall activities for kids near San Francisco.
Editor’s Note: While most fall favorites are operating very close to normal in 2022, some have permanently moved to reservations systems that may not have been in place in 2019 and earlier. Always check the company’s website or social media pages for the latest requirements. Remember as well that wildfires often affect Northern California travel significantly in fall months in many years, so check the latest air quality when there are fires in the region before traveling.
Last updated: September 12, 2022.
(*Bookmark this post and check back regularly, as local attractions release their fall activities at different times. We will be updating this post regularly in September and early October as information becomes available.)
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 a day of apple picking. The most convenient options with pick-your-own fields for San Francisco day trippers are:
- Clearview Orchards (Watsonville): Open Saturdays and Sundays September 3-October 30, 2022. Advance ticket purchase for parking and entry required.
- Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): Open weekends for u-pick apple picking September 10, 2022.
- EARTHseed Farm (Sebastopol): Open most Saturdays in late August, September, and October. Reservations open each Tuesday for Saturday times.
- Apple-a-Day Raztlaff Ranch (Sebastapol): The 2022 season starts early/mid September TBD. Historically open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during September and October.
- Chileno Valley Ranch (Petaluma): Picking available on Sundays in September and October 2022, with reservations required.
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.
In 2022, the Pumpkin Patch will be open starting September 3 and will remain open into November. In September, it’s open Wednesdays to Sunday (plus Monday September 5 for Labor Day); in October, it’s open every day, and in November, dates are TBD. Timed reservations are required, with two overlapping sessions (mornings 9/10am-2pm and afternoons 12pm-5pm) offered daily.
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 2022, the event takes place during normal zoo hours (10:00am-4:00pm) from October 22-31. Advance reservations are required. Reservations open 28 days in advance of each party date.
Visitors can go on self-guided scavenger hunt to trick-or-treat for animal trading cards throughout the zoo. 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.
Boo at the Zoo (San Francisco)
The San Francisco Zoo usually hosts a Boo at the Zoo event of its own, but 2022 plans have not yet been announced. Stay tuned to this space for more information as it is announced.
The following is information from 2021’s event: San Francisco Zoo is getting back in the spooky spirit as well! Its own annual Boo at the Zoo event is also dubbed Sloth-o-Ween in 2021, where guests can take a self-guided slow stroll around zoo grounds to visit haunted houses. There’s a costume contest at noon as well as a German beer garden with Oktoberfest style treats and eats.
The event takes place on two Saturdays and Sundays, October 23-24 and 30-31, 2021. Advance reservations are required, and open for sale exactly 2 weeks prior to the event date/time of entry.
Tricks and Treats at California’s Great America (Santa Clara)
Northern California’s beloved theme park always gets in the fall spirit, but this year promises something new and pretty enticing for families. In previous years, California’s Great America offered a daytime kid-friendly fall event and an evening scare-the-living-daylights-out-of-you haunt. The scary stuff is permanently retired in 2022, and Great America is going all in with an even bigger full time family-friendly Halloween festival, Tricks and Treats.
Tricks and Treats will feature four themed realms – two “tricks” (Ickyville and Spooky Spires) and two “treats” (Everfall and Sweet Tooth Acres). 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 23-October 30 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (note that the park is closed the one Sunday for a 49ers home game on October 23, so Tricks and Treats is open the previous Thursday instead). 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 look for coverage of the event on my site and social media channels later this month, as my family plans to attend one of the first party dates!
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 2022. 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 after two years off is Unhinged: Nightshade’s Curse. This walkthrough haunt features spirits and the paranormal as well an an outdoor carnival with creepy activities. Note that this event recommends guests to be age 13+.
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 21-23 & October 28-30, 2022.
The event features not-too-spooky fall fun for younger kids like “decked-out sets, a creepy crawly scavenger hunt, arts and crafts stations where you can make your own bat costume, and the ghost town formerly known as Old West Junction.” Kids also receive a goodie bag with treats, and costumes are encouraged but not required.
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.
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 2022, advance reservations are recommend, especially for weekends and holidays especially as those dates tend to sell out. Parking is an additional $5 fee – bring cash or check as cards are not accepted and advance purchase for parking is not available.
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 ear protection for the little ones.
San Francisco Fleet Week is back for another year in 2022. The event runs from October 3-11 this year, with the air show taking place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the long holiday weekend.
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.
A lot of attractions in the area, from Alcatraz boat tours to Aquarium of the Bay, require or recommend advance reservations, so plan accordingly.
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 from October 1-30, 2022, with the following park hours this year: Fridays: 5pm-10pm Saturdays & Sundays: 1pm-9pm. Plus, the park is also open additional weekdays the week prior to Halloween: Monday-Thursday, October 24-28: 5pm-10pm.
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 October 1-31, 2022. 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 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 25, October 2, and October 9 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). Boo Fest and Oktoberfest both take place on Saturdays and Sundays from September 24-October 30, 2022 during regular park hours.