Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Two weeks ago, San Francisco’s Chinatown kicked off the fall season with the Autumn Moon Festival. With my girls, I walked up and down historic Grant Avenue, pedestrian for two days, looking up at rice paper lanterns hanging on blue skies.
Streets were more crowded than usual but the bountiful moon cake displays, mystery herbal remedies in cellophaned packages, lion dancers and the China Dance School & Theatre show of rare ethnic dances, totally made it worth the parking nightmare.
Energized, I left summer behind and am now looking forward to my favorite season of the year and some fantastic Bay Area fall festivals . On top of my list come two outstanding celebrations of the fall. Autumn at Filoli will take place this coming Saturday October 3rd from 10am to 3.30 pm when one of the most gorgeous gardens and orchards of the Bay Area will open its doors to the public. This 1917 property, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is Woodside’s glory and a short 20 minute-drive down 280 from the city. True to October, Filoli volunteers will organize children’s activities including Halloween crafts in front of the Georgian mansion. Expect pumpkins, hay stacks and face painting. The horse-cart hay rides in the field adjacent to the house are also a family favorite. Hopefully Filoli’s beekeeper will be there to show pictures of Filoli’s beehives and bees, and give a taste of honey to the young ones. On an autumn note, there is always a long line for children eager to make apple juice on an old-fashioned wooden apple press.
However to me, the highlight of the day is a stroll through the historic apple and pear tree orchard and gardens decorated with whimsical scarecrows and gentle witches. I’ve never seen such well-crafted garden creatures anywhere else. Explore the walled garden, look for flowers around the sunken garden and southwest terrace, say hello to the birds in the garden and by all means, don’t miss the pool. No you can’t swim in it, but you’ll sure wish you could.
Ardenwood Historic Farm’s popular Harvest Festival on October 10 and 11 from 10am to 5pm comes pretty close to farm heaven for rustic life lovers and corn-picking maniacs. This Victorian ranch turned into an educational farm about 1870s farming practices is a peaceful oasis in the sun-drenched East Bay. As you come in and walk through the park, you follow the path on the right and get to the beating heart of the farm: the farmyard. Listen to folk music, pay a visit to the blacksmith, card and spin some wool, go pet the sheep, or take advantage of the crafts and activities. There’s always something fun to do and my girls’ favorite is sneaking to the outdoor kitchen and raising their hand just high enough above the table to snatch a freshly-baked cookie coming out of the wood-burning stove. The best thing about these cookies is that they are made with corn and wheat grown and ground on the farm directly – and the cookies are prepared under your eyes by volunteers in period costumes.
For my friends, the highlight is always the corn field. Sure you’ve seen corn fields before, but … have you ever picked jewel-like indian corn off the stem or dried corn that you’ll be able to pop in your kitchen next month? Now, that’s heaven. If you feel like baking with locally-grown whole grains, buy a bag or two of the corn or wheat flour to bring home. They come in charmingly quaint fabric sacks and you might even see them ground in front of you.
If you can’t make it to either of these two, there are loads of great options for fall festivals and I will mention a few here, but don’t hesitate to let me know about yours in the comments section. I’m always looking for non-strictly-pumpkin harvest & fall events.
Other Bay Area events:
Hoes Down Harvest Festival at Full Belly Farms in Capay on October 3 from 11am to 11pm. What better place to celebrate rural living than at a farm? The 22nd annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival at Full Belly Farm offers educational farm tours, a magical children’s area, hands-on workshops, farm products and an abundance of organic food, live music and good times!
Harvest Festival at Slide Ranch on Saturday October 10 from 10 am to 4pm. Take a hike in this wonderful coastal and educational farm part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin. There, breathe in the sea breeze and spin some wool, milk a goat, make bread with herbs you pick in the garden, or participate in craft activities. Slide Ranch is always a hit with my girls.
High Grounds Organics Harvest Fair in Watsonville on October 10 from 10 am to 4pm. A few years ago, it would have seemed impossible to conjugate strawberries and pumpkins in the present tense. And yet… this unique harvest event takes advantage of Watsonville’s gentle climate and abundance of strawberries and apples.
Fall Masquerade Festival at Green Oaks Creek Farm and Retreat near Ano Nuevo on October 17 from 1 to 11pm. Suggested by a member of GreenMoms, this event promises to be great. Here is the description: Local art, live music, farm fresh crepes, local brew, u-pick tomatoes, raffle prizes, farm tours, workshops, fun for kids and more.
Harvest Festival and Halloween Mask Workshop at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center on October 25 from 1.30 to 4pm. The Marin Headlands is possibly San Francisco’s best green idea over the Golden Gate Bridge and I never fail to take my girls to the Marin Headlands for nice coastal hikes – sometimes on iffy twilight hikes. This festival will have your family make masks for the season using non-native materials found around the Headlands and sample heirloom apples.