Fall is here! Just a short drive from the Bay Area are some of our favorite spots to welcome fall. Take in the changing scenery, get lost in these fabulous corn mazes and pick up your decorations from these pumpkin patches while you discuss potential Halloween costumes! We’ve got you covered with all the details below so you can just hit the road!
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Editor’s note: Many towns are open for recreational visitors with social distancing requirements in place. Please check the cancellation policies before you book. Follow county requirements for COVID-19 including wearing a face mask. Keep our community safe!
Gorgeous browns, reds and oranges take over wine country come fall. There are a number of farms in the area that offer apple picking this time of year like Gabriel Farm and Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch in Sebastopol. For tips on family-friendly wineries and other activities in the area, check out this story.
Where to stay: The glamping spot Wildhaven Sonoma is the perfect option for families looking some fall fun in Healdsburg. They have upscale glamping tents right on the Russian River so you can enjoy the lingering warmth well into the fall. Cook up some burgers on the communal grills or head to PiZzando for some tasty take-out pizza. Bonus: They just added some Riverside Tent Cabins with larger porches and more privacy, as well as outdoor showers for rinsing off after a day in the river.
Half Moon Bay
This coastal Bay Area town goes all-out for giant orange pumpkins every fall. Head to one of the many pumpkin farms in the area that offer fields of pumpkins to pick and photo opps galore. Try something new at one of our fav spots—Lemos Farms with their petting zoos and rides for kids and goat yoga. This year’s Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off will be on Oct 11.
Where to stay: There are tons of vacation homes available for rent in Half Moon Bay with water views and privacy. This villa sleeps 5 and has a fire pit that you’ll definitely want to hang out at after a day at the beach. If you have a bigger group, this 3-bedroom home sleeps 9 and is a quick walk to the beach.
More area information: visithalfmoonbay.org
Between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe you’ll find the quaint Gold Rush town of Auburn. We love to stop here for lunch on the drive to Tahoe but it’s also a great destination itself especially on fall weekends.
Families can begin their day by taking in the fresh air and hiking one of the many scenic trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area. As hikers enjoy the beautiful scenery, they can then venture to the vast American River and find the iconic ForestHill Bridge.
After hiking, head to town to grab a bite from the artisan bread bakery and cafe The Baker and The Cakemaker, offering delicious sandwiches and salads that are tasty for both adult and child palettes. The Auburn Alehouse is another family-friendly option with huge pretzels and burgers on the menu.
For more info: visitplacer.com
Autumn days bring harvest season in this gorgeous coastal region north of San Francisco. Ride a horse along the shore or visit the African hoofstock at B. Bryan Preserve where a drive-through car safari tour ends with giraffe feeding. Be sure to stop by Frankie’s Ice Cream and Pizza for a slice of mushroom pizza followed by a cone topped with candy cap mushroom ice cream when you are in downtown Mendocino. Read up on our Covid friendly Mendocino Micro-cation and you are all set!
Where to stay: Reserve a cottage at the Point Arena Lighthouse to hear the waves crashing off the cliffs nearby and possibly see migrating grey whales offshore. If a private vacation rental is more your speed, check out this oceanfront home with hot tub that sleeps 8.
More area information: visitmendocino.com
Before the snow doubles the driving time, head to Tahoe for some fall family time. You’ll be rewarded with gorgeous vistas, perfect hiking weather and lots of seasonal activities. Scarecrows take over downtown Tahoe City businesses during the fall and you can take advantage of the weather and check out the many recreational activities that are available like stargazing and fishing. Nearby Reno doubles the fun of any Tahoe trip with a gorgeous downtown full of public art, restaurants and parks. Read all our Reno recs here.
Where to Stay: You will love the hygge vibe at this cozy cabin in the Tahoe Donner community where you’ll find room for 10 and a fire pit for nights under the stars. Or, go for this woodsy A-frame with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a loft that has a wrap around deck where you’ll want to enjoy some coffee.
Head north past Redding and you’ll make your way to the tranquil county of Siskiyou that extends to the California-Oregon border. Here you’ll find gorgeous hikes like the Hedge Creek Falls Trail in Dunsmuir and the McCloud Falls Trail. Spend some time fishing for trout and exploring all of the outdoor adventure that the area has to offer. Read all our area recs here.
Where to stay: The brand-new LOGE Mt. Shasta is the perfect home base for families visiting from the Bay Area. Book their “Whole Crew” room and you’ll have a king-sized bed and pull-out couch in the main room, and a separate bunk bed room for the kids (plus, an in-room hammock!). We also love the vintage cabooses turned into sleeping compartments at Railroad Park in Dunsmuir.
More area information: discoversiskiyou.com
Characterized by the rolling hill terrain with 360-degree panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Rocklin is the perfect stop for an outdoor family day. Visitors can take in the picturesque setting of Rocklin at Quarry Park, which is filled with entertainment for families and plenty of wide-open space for visitors to social distance. Mini adrenaline junkies are sure to find it a big hit! Read our review of Quarry Park here.
Where to Stay: Families will love this Fair Oaks guesthouse with access to a pool. This family-friendly farmstay in Lincoln offers another great option and you can even help milk the cows and make cream-cheese!
More info: visitplacer.com
Just over three hours from the Bay Area, sits the often-overlooked Alpine County, just south of Lake Tahoe. We love this destination for fall as there are ample hiking and fishing opportunities that are perfect for families.
Where to stay: The newly-renovated Wylder Hotel Hope Valley is the perfect home base for your Alpine County adventures. Wylder Hotel Hope Valley has tons of different lodging options for families. From cabins that sleep up to eight people to campsites, yurts and even a vintage Spartan, you’ll find something that suits your family’s travel style, for sure. Cabins share outdoor spaces with hammocks, swings, picnic tables and fire pits. Read our review here.
More info: alpinecounty.com
Pinnacles National State Park and Hollister
Just two hours south of San Jose lies one of the lesser known National parks with sheer cliffs, condors and hiking trails that go through caves. The park gets its name from the rock pinnacles that are truly gorgeous and the balconies trail is totally doable at 2.6 miles with the kids.
Hike the Balconies Cliff-Cave Loop from Chaparral (West Pinnacles) clockwise with the Cliffs first, so that you’re mostly climbing up the cave steps rather than down and bring a headlamp to enjoy the hands free spelunking experience. Also watch out for climbers attempting the sheer climb on the cliffs.
Where to stay:
Hollister SVRA is open for camping and the bonus would be that you could get your fall fix at the Swank Farms complete with pumpkins, picture perfect photo ops, sunflower fields and something for just about everyone. About 20 minutes away from the Pinnacle National Park is The Paicines Ranch which is another wonderfully serene option. It’s an active farm with vineyard, animals, food cultivation and lots of hiking area with the bonus of a beautiful night sky.
South of the Bay area, this gem offers miles of outdoors activity with beach vistas and lots of culture. Do the walking tour of John Steinbeck’s cannery row, get your vacation photograph’s clicked by professionals for some fabulous memories, take an electric bike tour of the scenic 17 mile drive along the coast or just enjoy the beach. The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is also open (requires prior booking as tickets are not sold in person).
Where to stay:
Santa Cruz and Año Nuevo State Park
An all time favorite, there’s tons to be done around Santa Cruz. Outdoor fun, lots of beautiful sightseeing options and beaches galore. A trip to the Año Nuevo State Park, which is the site of the world’s largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant seal, is a treat indeed. If you are feeling like an eco-adventurous, the Mount Hermon Zip Line over the redwoods is a must try! Enjoy shopping and dining at the outdoor mall in downtown Santa Cruz and end the day enjoying the microbreweries that Santa Cruz has to offer.
Where to stay:
For a beach retreat, stay at the small town of La Selva beach in this garden oasis with its jacuzzi and beautiful outdoor grill. For more of a mountain feel, check out the town of Felton with this lovely cabin. If Santa Cruz is more your feel, this beach house boasts a deck, hot tub and bikes that you can take to the Boardwalk and wharf down the street. Another option is this kid-friendly home opposite the Natural Bridges State Park.
—Shruti Priya Bapna and Kate Loweth