Hayrides and Corn Mazes: The Best Fall Festivals

Fall is on its way (despite the lingering warm weather) and that means just one thing—fall festival season! So grab the kids, dress them up as Elmo or a friendly vampire and head to one of these Bay Area pumpkin, fall or Halloween festivals. And don’t forget to pick up a pumpkin pie to take home!

San Francisco

Scare Grove at Stern Grove
Be here or be square! The most atmospheric Halloween event around, Scare Grove (from SF Rec and Park) is popular among older kids and teens for its genuinely frightening haunted house (they show horror movies on the walls!). There’s plenty for tots, though, like the tamer haunted house, incredible jumpy houses, live music and magic shows, hayride through the woods, and awesome crafts. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Friday, Oct. 23
3-9 p.m.
Enter at corner of Ocean Boulevard and 19th Avenue
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: $8
Online: sfrecpark.org

SuperNatural Halloween at the California Academy of Sciences
The Cal Academy is always more fun at night, and it gets downright creepy at this annual Halloween event. Bring the kids in costume to check out the skulls and specimens and to trick-or-treat their way through the museum. Also features dancing, magic, live animal shows, face painting, and a photo booth.

Friday, Oct. 23
6:30-9 p.m.
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: $50/adults and $35/child ($45/$30 for members). (Purchase tickets in advance.)
Online: calacademy.org

JAMBand Family Halloween Festival
The popular Charity and the JAMBand wrap up their free fall music series at Park Chalet with a Halloween-themed concert. In addition to the usual two hours of tunes on the grass (complete with mosh pit for the kids and dance moves for every song), there will be a costume parade half-way through.

Sunday, Oct. 25
3-5 p.m.
1000 Great Highway
San Francisco, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: jamjamjam.com

East Bay

Ardenwood Historic Farm Harvest Festival 
Experience harvest time on the farm. Kids can help pick Indian corn and popcorn (to bring home) and fill the corncribs. Cider-pressing, magic shows, a climbable hay pyramid and old-time music and crafts will also be available.

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
34600 Ardenwood Blvd.
Fremont, Ca
$8 for adults, $5 for children 5 and up.
Online: ebparks.org

Boo at the Zoo 
The Oakland Zoo gets all decked out for the holiday. Ride the spooky Boo Train, join the costume parade, collect treats, have your face painted, and make treats for the animals. Bonus: Kids in costume get a free ride ticket.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
9777 Golf Links Rd.
Oakland, Ca
Admission: $17.75/ages 15 and up; $13.75/kids 2-14; Free with membership.
Online: oaklandzoo.org

smith farm pumpkins
Photo: Smith Family Farm

Smith Family Farm Pumpkin Festival 
At this genuine family farm, kids can take a hay ride to the patch to pick out their own pumpkin, plus enjoy live music, a replica of a Miwok Indian village, a corn maze, barnyard animals, an observation beehive, an herb garden with explainer, and a country store. (Note: Some activities available only on weekends.)

The entire month of October beginning on Saturday, Oct. 3
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
4430 Sellers Ave.
Brentwood, Ca
Admission: $10/weekends; $9/Mon.-Fri. Admission includes pumpkins and all activities.
Online: smithfamilyfarm or facebook.com/smithfamilyfarms

pumpkins filoli
Photo: Filoli 


Autumn at Filoli Festival 
If you haven’t yet been to Filoli, the stunning, European-style mansion and gardens in the hills of the Peninsula, make this your first visit. For adults, docents lead tours and offer tastings of apples from the orchard, while children will enjoy crafts and face-painting, a special bubble show, a visit from the San Francisco Zoomobile, and more.

Saturday, Sept. 26
10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Admission: $25/adults; $8/children ages 5-17
86 Cañada Rd.
Woodside, Ca
Online: filoli.org

McKinley Elementary Harvest Festival and Haunted Mansion 
This nighttime Halloween extravaganza has become a tradition for families all over the Peninsula. Support a local public school while you check out the incredible games, decorations, food, and haunted mansion.

Friday & Saturday, Oct. 23 & 24
Fri., 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
701 Paloma Ave.
Burlingame, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: mckinleyharvestfest.com

Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival
Half Moon Bay is the pumpkin capital of California, and it defends its rep every year with this ultimate harvest festival. From the delicious pumpkin pancakes and ice cream to the famous parade and pumpkin weigh-off, this is the place to be in October. Tip: Go early to avoid the truly scary traffic, and stop at a pumpkin patch on the way home.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 17 & 18
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Main St.
Half Moon Bay, Ca
Admission: Free
Online: pumpkinfest.miramarevents.com


Half Moon Bay pumpkin festival
Photo courtesy of Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival

South Bay

San Jose Harvest Festival
This Black Friday, skip the big box stores and support local artisans instead. While you shop for holiday gifts, your kids will have buckets of fun at the KidZone, which features gingerbread decorating and eco-friendly art projects. Dance to jams from a Johnny Cash tribute band and take photos with strolling elves and other characters.

Friday-Sunday, Nov. 27-29
Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
San Jose McEnery Convention Center
410 Almaden Blvd.
San Jose, Ca
Admission: $9/adults; $4/kids 13-17; 12 and under free with adult
Online: harvestfestival.com

Calabash Gourd Fest
If gourds of all shapes and sizes are your thing, then head down to Gilroy for a weekend of fun at Uesugi Farm. Make your own gourd crafts, enjoy educational presentations and purchase all sorts of art items made from gourds.

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10 and 11
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Uesugi Farm
14485 Monterey Road
San Martin
Admission: free, $3 parking fee
Online: gourdfest.com

Halloween Scary Boo and Spooky Zoo
Gilroy Gardens hosts this event that includes a hay maze, spider’s lair and spooky zoo. Kids are encouraged to wear their costumes for some trick r’ treating fun. Visit the pumpkin patch and take home a big one!

Saturdays and Sundays, October 3 – November 1
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (except Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 which are 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Admission included with park admission ($37 when purchasing online, children under 3 free)
Gilroy Gardens
3050 Hecker Pass Highway
Online: gilroygardens.org

Martial Cottle Harvest Festival
Learn about our valley’s rich agricultural heritage at this 1st annual harvest festival at the brand new Martial Cottle Park. Enjoy the Master Gardener Fall Garden Market which offers a bounty of winter vegetables and flower seedlings that thrive in our cool winter conditions and will keep your garden producing year round. There will be all sorts of entertainment available for the kiddies plus a watermelon eating contest and petting zoo!

Saturday, October 3
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Martial Cottle Park
5283 Snell Ave.
San Jose
Admission: Free
Online: sccgov.org

Bates Nut Farm

 Photo courtesy of Bates Nut Farm  

Pumpkins in the Park
Celebrate fall and learn about the Guadalupe River Park at this harvest fair with an environmental component. Enjoy great food and fresh apple cider, a costume swap with the Children’s Discovery Museum and a costume parade. Kids will especially enjoy the carnival games and musical entertainment.

Saturday, October 10
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Guadalupe River Park
Woz Way and San Carlos
San Jose
Admission: Free
Online: grpg.org

Spooky Times
Head to Deer Hollow Farm for some spooky good fun! Explore the haunted barns and try your hand at creepy crafts. Plus, meet the residents of the Farm – sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, pigs and Luna the cow.
Saturday, October 24
10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Deer Hollow Farm
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve
Los Altos
Admission: $7/person, $5/person in costume, kids under 1 are free
Online: deerhollowfarmfriends.org

harvest slide ranch
Photo: Slide Ranch


Harvest Celebration at Slide Ranch 
The educational farm Slide Ranch, stunningly located right on the rocky coast of Highway 1, opens up to the public every fall. Churn butter, spin wool, make a scarecrow, meet farm animals, and listen to music, all against one of the world’s most beautiful ocean backdrops.

Saturday, Oct. 17
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
2025 Shoreline Hwy.
Muir Beach, Ca
Admission: $30; Kids 2 and under/free. (15% discount when you buy four or more tickets.)
Online: slideranch.org

Tolay Fall Festival 
Beautiful Tolay Lake Regional Park, outside Petaluma, is the setting for this wholesome harvest festival. No jumpy house here; instead, families can visit animals (including hundreds of rattlesnakes) in the historic Nighttime Creatures Barn, practice archery, and try their hand at traditional crafts such as candle dipping and making cornhusk dolls.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 17 & 18 and 24 & 25
11 a.m.-5 p.m.
5869 Cannon Ln.
Petaluma, Ca
Admission: $5/adults and teens, $3/children 12 and under.
Online: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov

Tolay festival
Photo courtesy of Emma Bland Smith

Marinwood Halloween Harvest Festival
This classic Halloween fair for kids 12 and under takes place on the grass outside the Marinwood rec center in San Rafael. Kids can carve pumpkins, decorate trick-or-treat bags, munch on a caramel apple, and even make potions. Food is available for purchase.

Friday, Oct. 16
5-7 p.m.
775 Miller Creek Rd.
San Rafael, Ca
Admission: Adults/free; $10 in advance and $15 at the door/ kids 2-12.
Online: marinwood.org

Goblin Jamboree at the Bay Area Discovery Museum
You’ll hardly recognize everyone’s favorite kids’ museum after its Halloween makeover. Visit the Haunted Cove and the glowing train table, or check out the pony rides, petting zoo, live entertainment, and the Witches and Wizards School.

Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 17 & 18
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
557 McReynolds Rd.
Sausalito, Ca
Admission: $16.95/general; $13.95/members; children under six months/free
Online: baykidsmuseum.org

–Kate Loweth & Emma Bland Smith


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