Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma is as picturesque a place to pick apples as any quintessential East Coast farm. But happily it’s only an hour drive north of Oakland. So this is an ideal Sunday activity for young families who want to experience the bucolic beauty of the North Bay without going the wine tasting route. And best of all, it’s not overly kitschy or exceptionally busy, perfect for a low-key family day trip.
Getting To Chileno Valley Ranch for apple picking
We set out from Berkeley mid-morning after snack time for our 11 am reserved time (reserve your time two weeks in advance). It took about an hour without hitting any traffic. The last half of the trip took us along some quaint side roads with lovely views of the countryside (nothing too twisty if you have motion-sick-prone kids in the back).
The Pickings at Chileno Valley Ranch
Upon arrival there was ample parking in a large dirt field, and not too much of crowd. From the parking lot we strolled past some happy sheep and chickens and the beautifully restored Victorian ranch house. At the barn the friendly staff directed us to the orchard. They explained how to pick the apples (cup them and gently twist; if they’re ready they’ll come right off). Then they pointed us in the direction of the trees with the best pickings. There were a bunch of varieties we’d never heard of (Zestar!, Candy Crisp, Senshu). So it was fun for the kids to try new types of apples other than the grocery store Fuji’s they always eat (here are all the apple varieties they grow).
Paying, Picnicking, and Playing at Chileno Valley Ranch
We picked apples for maybe 20 minutes, with some tasting along the way. At this point the kids were getting hungry for lunch and the novelty of picking apples was starting to wear off. So we paid for our apples ($2/lb) and added some olive oil and cheese for good measure (they accept cash or credit, though were running low on change). There was also fresh apple juice and other artisanal offerings on hand, but the line was too long for the hangry kids. Instead we set up our lunch in the cool shade of the ranch house and let the kids meander among the roses and chickens.
The bottom line on our trip to Chileno Valley Ranch:
This was our first apple picking trip as a family and Chileno Valley Ranch was the perfect place to make this memory. I highly recommend making the short trek with your family this fall. It’s a simple, wholesome weekend adventure your kids will surely remember for years to come!
Plan your visit to Chileno Valley Ranch
- Make reservations to make sure you get a spot
- Pack sunscreen and hats as you’ll be picking in the sun without much shade
- Bring some grocery bags or baskets to carry your apples
- Pack a lunch and blanket; throw in some ice packs in case you want to buy cheese or beef
- There’s a port-o-potty available, but bring hand wipes
- Dress everyone in some cute fall clothes and ask someone to take a family photo: Holiday Card, done
If you’re looking for other family-friendly apple picking options in the Bay Area check out this handy round-up of apple picking spots.
If you’re already driving north and want to make a weekend out of it, read through this handy guide first: Best places in the Bay Area for camping with little kids
[All photos by Julie Herson at Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma, CA]