The Best Bay Area Spots to See Pretty Fall Foliage

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Fall is here and it’s the perfect time to pack a picnic and the kids, head out for some outdoor fun and great seasonal pictures! The Bay Area is known for its redwoods and other giants, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to see the yellow, red and orange hues of Autumn. You just need to know where to look! Keep an eye on the California Fall Color Map and our list of spots from Napa to the South Bay to know where to find fall colors and roll in some leaves.

photo: Ajay Anthony

San Francisco

The SF Botanical Garden offers an array of colors in the fall, with golden-fanned gingko trees, deep purple vine maples and the Persian ironwood tree with leaves that take on a spectacular rainbow of shades at this time of the year. Be sure to check out the garden’s Facebook page for updates on changing leaf colors.

The Moon Viewing garden with its Japanese Maples is a great spot for a picnic. Or, walk to one of the many kid-friendly restaurants around 9th Ave in the Sunset District.

Showy maples can be found across the street in another park gem, the Japanese Tea Garden. While you take in the autumn scene, the kids can have fun challenging themselves by walking up and down the famous drum bridge, and finding their fortune in a cookie at the tea house.

And don't forget to book your tickets on the Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse, Skystar Wheel. Each gondola can seat up to 6 and you can see the changing colors for miles.

photo: Ajay Anthony

East Bay

The Oakland Zoo's gondola is the place to be this fall when the leaves start changing color. Where else can you get a bird's eye view of the zoo and surrounding landscape? During your visit, take the opportunity to view the California Trail exhibit, where you can see grizzly bears, bald eagles, California condors, gray wolves, mountain lions and even jaguars.

Up in the hills above Berkeley, Tilden Park is another go-to place for fall color. Stroll through the Botanic Garden to find changing colors, or hike around Lake Anza. Keep your eye out (not your hands, please!) for the flaming red leaves of poison oak, which add some of the most striking color to the park. In November and December, head downhill to the UC Berkeley campus, when it’s ablaze with lemon-yellow gingko leaves; maples and myrtles add some flair. 

Slip through the Caldecott tunnel to find canopies of yellow leaves in and around the trees of Orinda‘s Community Center Park (perfect for making piles and kicking) and along Camino Pablo. 

Another great East Bay spot is the Sunol Regional Wilderness that welcomes a kaleidoscope of color as soon as you hit the visitor's center. Find out if they are offering any naturalist-led hikes while you are there or head out on your own. The Indian Joe Creek Nature Trail is a short, self-guided walk that provides loads of information about the park, it's animal inhabitants and the foliage there.

The Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont is another great spot for leaf peeping. Make sure to check out their Naturalist Program page for a variety of seasonal activities including apple cider pressing. 

photo: iStock

Peninsula/South Bay

Driving along Skyline Boulevard as it dips, rises and weaves through the Peninsula can be visually rewarding on its own, as you pass by stands of sycamores and big-leaf maples. But 5-point harnesses can only contain kid energy for so long. Happily, there are 26 open space preserves in the mid-peninsula region, offering easy hikes, picnic spots and stunning views. Mount Umunhum offers breathtaking views on non-foggy days. In the Santa Cruz mountains, the Sanborn County Park offers shaded and picturesque trails. And while there, you might catch sight of wild turkey and deer. 

A favorite at this time of year is the Rancho San Antonio Preserve, with its maples, oaks and flowering persimmon trees. Make sure to visit Deer Hollow Farm for self-guided tours to see cows, chickens and other farm animals, historical buildings and a barnyard. 

While you're in the neighborhood, a side trip to Los Altos is worthwhile to see the Chinese Pistache trees (donated to the city by Los Altos Nursery in the 1950s) dropping their vivid orange and red leaves on Main and 2nd streets. 

For a view of the whole valley, head to Montalvo in Saratoga and follow the Lookout Trail to Lookout Point. On a clear day you can see all the way to the bay. Walk through the grounds on your way down to see some rare trees like the ginkgo tree that turns a glorious golden in the fall.

Woodside is home to the Filoli Gardens and fall is a great time to plan a visit there. Fruit trees abound at Filoli, including pears, plums, apricots and apples. Check their website before you go to see what colors you can expect.

photo: Ajay Anthony

Marin

A great spot to find that heady mix of fall colors and evergreens is Samuel P. Taylor State Park, with its oaks, firs and old-growth redwoods. Throw the bikes on the rack, and take a Sunday drive along bucolic Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the park entrance, 15 miles west of San Rafael. Samuel P. Taylor boasts a few great trails for biking and hiking safely with kids, especially the dog-friendly (and relatively flat) Cross Marin Trail that winds alongside Lagunitas Creek. Pack a picnic basket and enjoy a relaxing lunch at the Azalea Picnic Area to complete the day. Or better yet, pitch a tent and stay a while.

Head south for an hour and you will hit Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, home to redwood, oak, maples and other deciduous trees. Kids will enjoy some creek romping while they search for the red, orange and yellow leaves that blanket the floor. Adventurous hikers should make Dawn Falls their destination.

Wine Country

Crush season in the Sonoma Wine Country and Napa Valley is a not-to-be-missed sight, as the rolling green hills of grape vines turn to blankets of burgundy and orange. 

It is a great time to visit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where the cooler fall temps make the park's wooded trails ripe for exploration. In addition to its namesake trees, the peaceful scene on the Redwood Trail includes autumn-gold maple leaves fluttering down alongside Ritchey Creek. Rent a bike from one of the numerous outfits around town and try your luck at Napa's Bikes and Sights Scavenger HuntTake in extraordinary views of the county and vineyards at the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Reserve. Big leaf maples and oak woodlands can be found at Spring Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County, and the kids might enjoy riding their bikes or boating on the lake. 

—Amy George, Kate Loweth, Sarah Ordódy and Laure Latham

 

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