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Where to pick apples in the Bay Area and Northern California

SF Gate 8/21/2022 Douglas Zimmerman

Who knew picking apples was also a fall pastime in Northern California? Growing up in New England, my family would head to the apple orchard every fall to pick our own apples. I discovered there is nothing quite like eating an apple picked fresh from a tree. They're so juicy and crisp that you may swear off buying an apple at the grocery store again.

After moving to California, I wanted to collect my own fresh-from-the-tree apples. To my dismay, I discovered apple orchards are not widespread in the Bay Area. Sonoma county once had 17,000 acres of apple orchards and was famous for its Gravenstein variety. But when the region turned towards more lucrative crops like wine, the number of acres dedicated to apples dwindled. Now about 2,300 acres of apple trees remain in the county.

Only a handful of apple orchards in the San Francisco Bay Area offer the chance to pick your own apples. The closest are in Petaluma, Sebastapol and Watsonville. Just outside the Bay Area is Lucky You Orchards in Ripon or a little further in the Sierra foothills to Apple Hill.

Here are the available options to pick your own apples in the Bay Area and Northern California.

Chileno Valley Ranch - 5105 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma, Calif., 94952

This year, the orchard outside Petaluma will have a pick your own apple option only on Sundays starting on Sept. 4. Reservations open at 9 a.m. on August 22. Visitors can also meet some of the animals on the farm. The ranch also has pears that can be picked as well as grass-fed, grass-finished beef available for sale. Check out Chileno Valley Ranch's Facebook page for the most up-to-date information.

Clearview Organic Orchards - 646 Trabing Road, Watsonville, Calif., 95076

Picking season starts Sept. 3 and runs through the end of October. $7 advance tickets are required and are good for one car and up to eight people. You can purchase tickets on the orchard's website. Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The orchard has organic Fuji, Gala, Honey Crisp, and Mutsu apples. They also feature fresh-pressed organic apple juice, fresh-baked apple turnovers, organic squash, pumpkins, dried lavender, and honey. You can also message them via their Facebook page with questions.

Gizdich Ranch - 55 Peckham Road, Watsonville, CA 95076

This orchard in Watsonville will offer pick-your-own apples starting in mid-September. Varietes include Fuji and Golden Delicious. It is also famous for its the homemade fresh-fruit pies, apple dumplings, and apple slush.

EARTHseed Farm - 3175 Sullivan Road, Sebastopol, Calif., 95472

EARTHseed Farm is the first all-African American-owned permaculture farm in Sonoma. It is already open for picking your own apples on Saturdays by appointment only between 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Currently available on the farm are Gala, Fuji, and Gravenstein apples. The farm also grows Gilbert Golden Delicious, Braeburn apples available in September, and Rome apples in October.

A reservation is required, which includes a $25 nonrefundable fee. The group size is limited to six people.

Apple-a-Day Ratzlaff Ranch - 13128 Occidental Road, Sebastopol, Calif., 95472

This local, family-run orchard has apples and pears available for picking. Apple varieties include Gravenstein, Golden Delicious, and Rome apples. They also make their Apple-A-Day apple juice with no added sugar. They haven't announced their opening date for picking your own apples yet. Check their website for the latest updates.

Lucky You Orchards - 21611 Carrolton Avenue, Ripon, Calif., 93566

A close-by option in the Central Valley between Stockton and Modesto is Lucky You Orchards in Ripon. A fourth-generation family farm, their apples and produce can also be found at the S.F. Ferry Plaza and Alemany farmers' markets. Chinchiolo Family Farms opened their organic apple orchards to the public in 2020, and one of their specialty apples is Early Fuji.

You-pick apples will start the first weekend of September. Guests of all ages can take a free tractor ride while picking apples, and staff will educate visitors on how California apples are grown. Walk-in and reservations are welcome.

Check out Lucky Your Orchard's Facebook or website for the latest information.

Apple Hill - 2952 Carson Rd #1, Placerville, CA 95667

If you're willing to drive a few hours or looking for a stop on the way back from Lake Tahoe, head to Apple Hill in Camino in the Sierra Foothills. It has the largest selection of apples in Northern California and a few pick-your-own options.

Apple Hill is an eclectic collection of family-owned apple orchards in the Sierra Nevada foothills off Highway 50 just east of Placerville. Apple Hill is renowned for its variety of apples (and apple cider and doughnuts). Several apple orchards in the area are pick-your-own:

Harris Family Farm - 2640 Blair Road, Pollock Pines, Calif., 95726

Harris Family Farm lets you pick your own apples. They are available for picking from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Smokey Ridge Farm - 2160 Carson Road, Placerville, Calif., 95667

This farm's orchards are open to pick-your-own customers. Currently, open Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pine-O-Mine Ranch - 2640 Carson Road, Placerville, Calif., 95667

The ranch has apple picking, pumpkins, and apple cider shakes with outdoor seating and picnic areas. For the latest updates, look on its Instagram @pineomineranch.

Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Goodness Orchard - 4341 Pony Express Trail, Camino, Calif., 95709

Certified organic since 1990, Goodness Orchard has a selection of you-pick heirloom apples (including the best Golden Delicious apple I have ever tasted) and pears. Reservations for picking are required. Call (530) 644-6448 to reserve a time. Hours are Mon-Sat 9-4 and Sun 1:30-4:30.

Other Apple Hill Orchards that allow you to pick your apples include 24 Carrot Farm, Argyres Orchard, Denver Dan's Apple Patch,  and Sloan Winters Mountain Orchard & Garden. Contact each orchard individually for more information.

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