Old-Time Family Fun at the Tolay Fall Festival

October 12, 2014

Tolay Fall FestivalYesterday we made our annual visit to the fantastic Tolay Fall Festival at Tolay Lake Regional Park outside of Petaluma. The festival, held over two weekends in October—this weekend and October 18 and 19, is the successor to the popular pumpkin patch held at the park's former incarnation as Cardoza Ranch. The Tolay Fall Festival is much more than a pumpkin patch, however. It's an old-fashioned, down-to-earth celebration of fall with tons of fun activities for the whole family, and one of our favorite autumn happenings in the Bay Area. It's a wonderful 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, and more.

There's also an animal area with the opportunity to pet some friendly 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, archery for kids and grownups, an astronomy display, a Native American village, and more.

Tolay Fall FestivalTolay Fall Festival

Park staff give kids stamp books when they enter. Kids can stamp an area in their booklet for each activity they do, and if they fill up the book they'll get a sticker upon exiting the festival.

Our favorite attraction at the Tolay Fall Festival is the Nighttime Creatures Barn. It's housed in a huge old wooden barn, and families can get up-close-and-personal with owls, snakes, a touchable sea creatures display, and a large array of (stuffed and mounted) local animals from the Petaluma Wildlife Museum. There's also a creepy-crawlies exhibit featuring a variety of snakes and other crtitters—including venomous rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas. Make sure you go into the black light room to see the glow-in-the-dark scorpions!

Tolay Fall FestivalTolay Fall Festival

Other highlights of the barn include raptors from Sonoma County Bird Rescue and the display from the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District, where you'll learn more about mosquitos, ticks, and other pests than you ever thought you'd want to know. Those with patience and keen eyes can sometimes spot one or two of the barn's resident barn owls hanging out up in the rafters, too.

There's almost too much to do at the Tolay Fall Festival, so you'll probably end up spending most of the day there. The entire event is very well organized and staffed by friendly park employees, rangers, and volunteers. You can bring your lunch and eat at one of the many picnic tables on the grounds, or you can buy reasonably priced food from a variety of booths and food trucks.

Tolay Fall FestivalTolay Fall Festival

Offerings at the festival include burritos and tacos from a taco truck, kettle corn, a hot dogs, BBQ, organic pizza, and shave ice.

Tolay Fall Festival is also a great place to get your pumpkins, with the added adventure of a hay ride thrown in to the mix! Pumpkin prices are inexpensive when compared to other pumpkin patches in the area, ranging from $3 to $13 depending on size. Wheelbarrows are available to help you get your pumpkins back to your car. You can also buy a variety of different pumpkins, gourds, squash, and other autumn produce.

Tolay Fall FestivalTolay Fall Festival

If You Go

Admission to the Tolay Fall Festival is $4 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under. As with all Sonoma County Regional Parks, there's a $7 parking fee (free if you have an annual Parks Pass). It's well worth the price!

To get there, take Highway 101 to Highway 37 east in Novato, and follow Highway 37 until you get to the intersection with Lakeville Highway. Turn left onto Lakeville Highway at the stop light and head north until you get to Cannon Lane (you'll see signs for the festival). Turn right onto Cannon Lane, and follow it up the hill and over until you get to the park gate. The paved road ends here; follow the signs downhill into the park.

Note that the dirt farm road here can be pretty rough in spots, so take care, especially on exiting the park. On the way out, you can take in a sweeping panorama of the Petaluma River and the surrounding wetlands.

There are plenty of port-a-potty restrooms, complete with hand-washing stations (a must-have, especially after petting donkeys and goats). A nice touch are the numerous water coolers placed throughout the park, keeping everyone hydrated. There are plenty of shady spots, too, in case you're feeling the need to get out of the sun, as well as places to have a seat and just take it all in.

The Tolay Fall Festival takes place today from 11 am to 5 pm, and again next Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19. More information: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov or (707) 565-2041.