Fall is here, which means Halloween is just around the corner and local pumpkin patches will soon be open! For those seeking that that true Halloween pumpkin patch experience, we present our annual roster of pumpkin patches in Marin and southern Sonoma counties. In Marin County, Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch offers that on-the-farm experience and old favorites like the St. Vincent's Pumpkin Patch (Godmothers of Timothy Murphy School Pumpkin Patch) offer an exciting Halloween experience for families.
To seek out real live farms offering pumpkin patches this season, head up north a short distance to rural Sonoma County, where you'll find them in relative abundance.
We visited as many of these pumpkin patches as we could last year, and have posted links to our reviews of them below. We'll certainly make an effort to visit again this year, and we'll add our updated reviews when they're written.
We've included dates and hours for pumpkin patches when available. As a rule, most pumpkin patches are open throughout the month of October, although some open in September and some run through early November. Admission to pumpkin patches is free unless otherwise noted.
Nicasio Valley FarmsPumpkin Patch
(Lafranchi Pumpkin Patch)
5300 Nicasio Valley Road (1/4 mile north of Nicasio square)
Open daily October 1–31,10 am–6 pm
The Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch offers organic pumpkins, hay rides, farm animals, bounce house and slide, a farm stand, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company (Thursdays–Sundays) and BBQ and ice cream for sale on the weekends. Popular children's recording artist Tim Cain performs every Sunday (October 6, 13, 20, and 27) from 11 am to noon. Six-piece Western band Manzanita Moon performs Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 12:30 to 4:30 pm. Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) Day is Sunday October 21 from 10 am–6 pm, with kids' games and crafts; barn animals; local food, beer, and wine; educational exhibits; and more. Read our review of Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch.
We've been experimenting with a lot of pumpkin recipes this fall. The hands-down favorite of all our pumpkin creations has to be these pumpkin waffles. With a subtle spice flavor, they're moist on the inside with a crisp exterior.
Serve them for breakfast with butter and maple syrup, or even for dessert topped with vanilla ice cream. They're a great fall treat that's so good we'll probably start making these year-round!
They're easy to make, too, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry.
Every family has their favorite place to pick their Halloween pumpkins. What's yours? Tell the world by voting for your favorite pumpkin patch below in Marin Mommies' third annual Pumpkin Patch Poll. You don't need to be a registered user to vote, so make your choice known!
Yesterday we made our annual trek to the Tolay Fall Festival at Tolay Lake Regional Park outside of Petaluma. The festival, held over two long weekends in October, is the successor to the popular pumpkin patch held at the site's former incarnation as Cardoza Ranch. Tolay Fall Festival is much more than a pumpkin patch, however. It's a down-to-earth celebration of fall with tons of fun activities for the whole family, and one of our favorite fall happenings in the Bay Area. It's a fantastic autumn event that has plenty to do for kids of all ages.
Of course there's a pumpkin patch—it's huge and located way out in the back 40 of the park, and you need to take a tractor-drawn hay ride to get there. But there are also plenty of other other attractions, exhibits, and hands-on activities. Our children enjoyed making old-fashioned corn husk dolls, carding wool, spinning yarn, and dipping candles.
There's also an animal area with the opportunity to pet some friendly donkeys and goats, scarecrow-making, a world championship pumpkin-seed-spitting contest, lawn games, a giant straw maze, a demonstration of old farm equipment and early gas engines, a firefighting display, archery for all ages, an astronomy display, a Native American village, and more.
McClelland's Dairy, a family-run certified organic dairy located just west of Petaluma, is a relative newcomer to the North Bay pumpkin patch circuit. Actually, that's only partly true—they last had a pumpkin patch on the farm a decade ago, and decided last year to revive this October tradition.
Compared to other pumpkin patches around Petaluma, McClelland's is a low-key affair, but that doesn't mean it isn't a lot of fun. It's just a slower, gentler fun.
Keep an eye out for their signs as you head down Bodega Road into the Two Rock area west of Petaluma. Turn into the dirt driveway and follow over a little bridge to the dairy farm. On your left you'll see a three-acre pumpkin field where you're welcome to go hunt for that perfect Halloween pumpkin.
In addition to u-pick pumpkins, there's a small bounce house, a hay maze, a big box full or oat seeds (perfect for digging—buckets and shovels provided) and a pen where you can meet some gentle and friendly farm animals, including goats, calves, a bunny, and chicks. Don't miss the large arrangement of pumpkins, squash, gourds, and straw bales—it's perfect for a family photo op.
Many families in Marin and the North Bay have fond memories of visiting the popular pumpkin patch at Cardoza Ranch outside Petaluma. In 2005, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department acquired Cardoza Ranch, also known as Tolay Lake Ranch, turning its 1,737 acres of farmland into a county park.
Tolay Lake Ranch is a unique spot, with a freshwater lake, wetlands, diverse wildlife, and 8,000 years human habitation with extensive archaeological and historical sites. Tolay Lake Regional Park is currently under development and access is restricted, although the public can now make use of the park through a day-use permit program.
However, I'm sure what's on many people's minds is "What happened to the pumpkin patch?" The Sonoma Regional Parks Department has kept the spirit of the old Cardoza pumpkin patch alive by holding the annual Tolay Fall Festival, now in its seventh year. This popular event takes place over two long weekends in October; the Tolay Fall Festival 2012 happensThursday–Sunday, October 11–14 and Wednesday–Sunday October 17–21. The Festival is open on weekdays from 9 am–3 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am–5 pm.
Fall's weather is some of the finest of the year in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area, so make sure you take some time to hit the trail and take in a hike before the weather turns really rainy. The coastal areas in Northern California are particularly nice in the fall, and are often warmer and clearer than it is inland.
Here are five of our favorite fall outdoor excursions in Marin County that are perfect for families.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park, with its towering redwoods and rushing creeks, is a favorite spot for outdoor activities in Marin. Located off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard near Lagunitas, it offers hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and camping. Look for spawning coho salmon in Lagunitas Creek later on this fall and winter.
Take a hike among the majestic trees of Roy's Redwoods Open Space Preserve near San Geronimo, especially before the trails get really muddy. This small preserve features some of Marin's largest coast redwoods and is a great place for a family hike.
Bring your family to come celebrate fall this Saturday, September 29, from 10 am to 3 pm at Blackie's Hay Day. This annual fundraiser is reminiscent of an old-fashioned country fair and helps raise money for children's and youth programs at the Belvedere-Tiburon Library.
Blackie's Hay Day takes place, naturally, at Blackie's Pasture off Tiburon Boulevard near Trestle Glen. Blackie's Pasture is named after Blackie, a swaybacked horse who stood in the pasture for nearly 30 years and became a Tiburon mascot, after stints in the rodeo and the US cavalry. The family fun on Blackie's Hay Day will include pony rides, a petting zoo, a rock climbing wall, jumpies, face painting, a tot hay ride, and more. The event will also include live musical entertainment, including local favorite Dream Circle with Tim Cain.
Fall is here, and what is a better way to celebrate its arrival than with a good book? My kids and I love to go to the library and pick out some great seasonal children's books to share, and fall is definitely one of our favorite times of year. Here are some of our favorites that we've enjoyed over the years. You can look to see if your local library has these titles available at marinlibrary.org.
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert: Fall is here, the wind is blowing, and Leaf Man is on the move. With a body made of leaves and acorns for eyes, Leaf Man soars with the wind above the orchards, meadows, ponds, ducks, and cows. The illustrations in this charming book are made from actual fall leaves and die-cut pages on every spread curve and arc to reveal beautiful landscapes. It's a playful and whimsical look at fall and the changing of the seasons.
The Apple Dollby Elisa Kleven: Lizzy is a shy little girl who loves the apple tree in her yard and ends up making a doll out of an apple and twigs that she names "Susanna". She ends up getting teased by other kids for carrying around her apple-and-sticks creation at school. Ultimately, Lizzy's mom takes Susanna and makes an apple doll out of her, which inspires a class apple doll project and friendships and happiness ensue. This is one of my daughters's favorites, and we end up making an apple doll every fall.