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: While many fall favorites were closed in 2020, I’m happy to report that at lot more are now back in 2021! Many are still modified with guest safety in mind, of course. These events may be at limited capacity or require reservations, so plan in advance. I’ve updated this guide as much as I can to reflect the 2021 modifications and will be adding to it as more details are released by each venue. 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, wildfires have been affecting NorCal travel significantly again in 2021.
Last updated: October 6, 2021.
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 11-October 31, 2021. Reservations required.
- Gizdich Ranch (Watsonville): Opening for apple picking TBD in September. Masks required indoors.
- EARTHseed Farm (Sebastopol): Open most Saturdays in 2021 in late August, September, and October. Reservations and masks required.
- Apple-a-Day Raztlaff Ranch (Sebastapol): The 2021 season’s details have not yet been released. Historically open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during September and October.
- Chileno Valley Ranch (Petaluma): No self picking available this year, but drive by apples and pears are offered! (Historically, picking available on Sundays in late August, September, and sometimes also early October, 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 2021, the Pumpkin Patch will be open from September 4 until November 21. In September, it’s open Wednesdays to Sunday; in October, it’s open every day, and in November, it’s only open on weekends. 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 2021, the event is taking place on even more days to space guests out and meet demand. Advance reservations are required. The event is open during normal zoo hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October: October 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, 29-31, 2021.
Kids will receive a pre-stuffed goodie bag and can go on a scavenger hunt through the zoo to find trick-or-treating animals hidden throughout the property. 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.
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 not taking place in 2021.
Boo at the Zoo & Sloth-oween (San Francisco)
The 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. Advance reservations are required, and open for sale exactly 2 weeks prior to the event date/time of entry.
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 Winchester Mystery House has additional safety protocols in place for 2021. Group tours are running again, but masks are required and capacity is limited. Guests must purchase tickets online in advance.
On select nights in September and on Wednesdays through Sundays in October, the house also holds special tours and offerings for All Hallows’ Eve. Some of these are scary and are only for teens and adults, but one that is great for the whole family is the Jack O’ Lantern Trail. Held outdoors in the Victorian gardens, the Jack O’ Lantern Trail includes dozens of hand carved pumpkins and a projection mapped light show, Lost in the Light House, on the front of the house.
Children’s Fairyland Halloween Jam (Oakland)
Children’s Fairyland is a beloved little 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 22-24 & October 29-31.
The event features fall fun entirely outdoors, with decked out rides and sets in the park and isn’t too scary for babies and toddlers. There is a physically distant Monster Mash parade with treats and costumes are encouraged but not required.
Reservations are required and two daily time slots are available – 9am to noon or 1pm to 4pm. Note that Fairyland currently requires masks in all locations (including outdoors) of all guests regardless of vaccination status.
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 2021, masks are required and group tour sizes have been reduced. Advance reservations are recommended but not required. Be aware that weekend times especially will sell out, so buying in advance is smart before you make the drive.
CuriOdyssey’s Autumn Nights (San Mateo)
CuriOdyssey is a fabulous science playground and zoo on Coyote Point near San Francisco International Airport. In 2021, it is offering Pumpkin Days, a harvest festival for families. Guests can conduct Halloween-themed science experiments, explore a pumpkin patch, and spot jack-o-lanterns – all of course while seeing the animals there too.
The event takes place during regular daytime operating hours in October, Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5pm. Masks are required for ages 2 and up. Advance tickets/reservations are recommended.
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 it was cancelled last year, San Francisco Fleet Week is back for 2021. The event runs from Oct 3-11 this year, with the air show taking place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the long holiday weekend.
“The Great Pumpkin Fest” at California’s Great America (Santa Clara)
Northern California’s beloved theme park always 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. It’s all included in the price of regular theme park admission, and it’s back in 2021 after last year’s California theme park closures!
In 2021, the event is offered September 25-October 31 on Saturdays and Sundays during normal park operating hours (note that the park may be closed the occasional Sunday when 49ers home games are played). Reservations are required for all single day ticket guests, and masks are required in all park indoor locations.
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.
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.
Masks are required in the city and county of San Francisco in all indoor locations in the fall of 2021. Many restaurants have expanded outdoor dining in particular. 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 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 always has a Halloween event with plenty of not-too-scary fun for families.
The Halloween event in 2021 takes place every weekend in October, with the following park hours this year: Fridays: 5pm-10pm Saturdays: 2pm-10pm Sundays: 1pm-9pm (Halloween festivities don’t open until 5pm, but the park rides are open earlier on Saturdays and Sundays).
At night, Gilroy Gardens will light 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. 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 cow train and many more offerings.
G&M Farms will be open Wednesdays through Sundays starting October 1, 2021.
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, and a jumpy house (haus!) for the kids.
The event this year is pared back, with events on just two Sundays – September 26 and October 3 – and only music and food. 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!