10 Best Outdoor Fall Activities in California

By Susan Brown

10 Best Outdoor Fall Activities in California

From the ocean to the mountains to the desert, California is full of possibilities at any time of the year, but fall brings with it some unique experiences in the Golden State. Whether you’re looking to explore Joshua Tree National Park or find the perfect jack-o’-lantern at a local pumpkin patch, here are 10 excellent autumn activities to enjoy in California. 

Hey Punkin’

If orange is the new black, then pumpkins reign this time of year. There’s no better place to find the perfect Jack-o-lantern than at Cool Patch Pumpkins in Dixon. While you’re there, find your way through their beloved corn maze that has been featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. Coming or going, make a pit stop just down the road at the Nut Tree, a legendary road stop, now shopping complex, that’s been drawing travelers since 1921.

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Put Your Clam Diggers On

This iconic mollusk put Pismo Beach on the map, so what better way to appreciate them than by throwing a festival in their honor?! The Pismo Clam Festival celebrates with three days of festivities—so expect to indulge on some seriously delicious clams. The Pismo clam is making a comeback, but they’re still too small to harvest. If the festival doesn’t satiate your clam craving, stop by Splash in downtown for a bowl of award-winning clam chowder.

Walk in a Glorious Garden

For more than 100 years, Filoli, a country estate in Woodside, has been home to magnificent gardens that capture the Golden Age of American garden design. This time of year, there are a number of fall festivities that showcase the garden’s autumn beauty. The house and garden are managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After the garden party, have a tea party at Lovejoy’s Tea Room in nearby Redwood City.

Apple-pie Order

Pick a peck of apples at Stone Soup Farm and Heritage Orchard in Oak Glen, home to a 130-year-old heirloom apple orchard. Their signature apple is Stayman-Winesap, a late harvest variety. Before pickin’, visitors are treated to the history and information about the farm. Just down the road, wind up at your apple time at Los Rios Rancho. On the weekends, this orchard offers hay rides, free packing house tous, and a turn at cranking the antique cider press fors ome fresh apple cider. Yummy! 

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Camp Under the Stars

The fall’s cool evening air settles over the desert, making camping so much more enjoyable. With 600,000 acres of desert landscape, you’ll have plenty of room to breathe in the crisp fall air at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The crystal clear skies make stargazing accessible with the naked eye. To identify even more at this International Dark Sky Park take a Borrego Night Sky Tour and you’ll spot stellar clusters, planets and distant galaxies. 

Follow the Color

Drive up Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada to Bishop, a jumping off spot for a parade of gold, orange and russet colors from the aspen, cottonwood and willow trees that line the creeks, circle the lakes and climb up the mountain summits. Pick up a picnic lunch at Schat’s Bakery, a landmark in town since 1938, and home of the original sheepherder bread that makes one heck of a sandwich.

Say Oom-Pa-Pa

Traditional Bavarian fun is the on display at Alpine Village which hosts the oldest and longest running Oktoberfest celebration in Southern California. They’ve been hosting it for 50 years, so they’re spot on when it comes to brats and beer. A German market, bakery and Beerhall onsite helps keep the fun going year-round. If the magic of Bavaria starts to wear thin and you’re hankering for something other than Paulaner beer, try a craft beer at the nearby Smog City Brewing’s beer garden. The Devil Up a Tree sour ale is frightfully good. 

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What’s a Yucca?

Find out at Joshua Tree National Park where the Mojave and Colorado desert merge northeast of San Diego. Autumn brings the temperatures down a notch and a hike in the Park is a reasonable option. Personalize the outing with a single, multi-day or backcountry guided tour from Joshua Tree Excursions. The morning and evening glow in the desert environment is ideal for picture-taking. Unleash your inner photographer with a photography workshop with Joshua Tree Workshops. Not only will you discover what a yucca is, you’ll get up-close-and-personal with one.

Catch a Wave

Yes, you can surf the California coast just about any time of year, but fall brings with it really great cross swells, excellent offshore wind conditions and a few less people. Huntington Beach claims the moniker “Surf City USA.” So hang ten here and take a surfing lesson with Banzai Surf School. Lessons include surfboards, wetsuits and “all the sand you can eat.” If getting in the water is not your thing, grab a table at Ruby’s Diner at the end of Huntington Beach Pier to see all the ocean action.

Wine and Dine

Harvest is underway and crush is happening at wineries throughout the state. The vineyards in Monterey County’s Salinas Valley, though, are a best, little known secret. Drive The River Road Wine Trail past vineyards aglow in crimson, orange and yellow. Take a tour with Monterey Guided Wine Tours and leaving the driving to them. They’ll even pack a picnic lunch to take along. The area is well-known for its Pinot Noir grapes, growing more than any other region in the state. Check out the beautiful Mazoni Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands and snag a bottle or two for keepsake. 

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