Hands down, fall is my favorite time of year in Northern California. Summer fog is a distant memory and clear, sunny days showcase this area’s phenomenal landscape. Our fall foliage is not as dramatic as other parts of the country, but the color we do get lasts for months. Literally, trees start changing in September and continue to do so through December.
What makes the San Francisco Bay Area so kid-friendly is the plethora of outdoors-oriented things to do. From the beach to city parks to protected wilderness areas, there are limitless places to explore.
Here’s my list of favorite activities and events over the fall months in and around San Francisco.
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is a coastal city in San Mateo County. You are less than 45 minutes from the San Francisco Airport here yet the ocean setting is a world away from urban noise and stress. Glorious warm days mean you can actually sit on the beach without bundling up. Beware: the surf and undertow are strong here so kids need close and constant supervision while on the beach.
For walking, there is fantastic coastal walking trail that extends through The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Although this Ritz is a favorite San Francisco weekend getaway for families, if a luxury hotel exceeds your budget, cocktail hour on their terrace is a joy for all and you can participate without spending the night. When the sun goes down, families gather round fire pits overlooking the ocean to roast s’mores.
If you visit in October, the Half Moon Bay pumpkin farms and festival are a blast for young kids with pony rides, haunted houses, hay rides, and games. There are limited roads in and out of the coast and traffic can be heavy this time of year – plan accordingly.
Fleet Week in San Francisco is a time when the entire city seems to be in a state of celebration. This year’s festivities run from October 7-12. There are events throughout the week – see the full schedule on the Fleet Week San Francisco website – but the highlight is always the Blue Angels air show.
Watching planes weave in and out of San Francisco landmarks never cease to thrill locals and visitors alike. Note: the Blue Angels can be very loud depending on where you are in the city. If you or your kids are sensitive to noise, this is not the event for you.
See my post covering Fleet Week in San Francisco on Ciao Bambino for my list of favorite places to watch the show.
September is the beginning of the harvest season in Napa Valley and there are a flurry of activities and events throughout the area (in fact, I just read that the 2010 harvest has already begun for some vineyards). I’m a huge fan of bringing kids to the California wine country for weekend getaways when the weather is beautiful and everyone can be outside.
Swimming pools at our recommended family-friendly Napa hotels are wonderful for parents and kids alike. Plus, there are plenty of excellent venues for all-family excursions that don’t involve wine like Safari West, Playground Fantastico, the Charles M. Shultz Museum, and Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga.
Visit the NapaValley.com website for a full list of fall events. The list is amazing and many of the activities involve kids.
Get on the Bay
Everything looks different from the water in San Francisco and boating is much more enjoyable without fog. Even just a simple ferry ride from San Francisco to Tiburon for lunch will do the trick. For more active excursions, bike riding on Angel Island is fabulous with school age and up kids or visit Alcatraz.
If you catch a ferry from the Embarcadero, be sure and leave time to stroll through The Ferry Building Marketplace for a “best of” array of local organic food and locally sourced products (a great place to pick up regional gifts for anyone left at home).
Hike or Bike the Nimitz Trail
Hiking or biking the Nimitz Trail in Tilden Regional Park in the East Bay is great for all ages. The path is paved with gentle hills. The first few miles are filled with strollers and young kids on bikes. As you get further down the path, the crowds thin quickly. School age and up kids can do practically the entire trail (4 miles each way); only the very last part of the trail is steep.
What makes this trail such a pleasure is the panoramic views looking back towards the San Francisco skyline. You can easily make a full day excursion out of a visit; there are picnic areas throughout Tilden Park, as well as other activities kids love including a mini-steam train and merry-go-round. Click here for hours and information.
Start planning your Bay Area vacation with great offers on hotels, airfare, packages, and more using our Travel Search price comparison tool. For general trip-planning info, see our San Francisco Travel Guide and Napa Valley Travel Guide.