There is something that satisfies the soul about picking a harvest and turning it into delicious treats for the family. In the spring we take our family out to Brentwood to u-pick cherries, apricots, and peaches. Most of our spring harvest gets chomped for snack time or converted to jam to take us through the summertime PB&Js. Every hike during the summer is an opportunity to forage for blackberries and thimbleberries. And in the fall we love apple and pear season because most of the harvest gets turned into delicious baked goodies! Apple pie filling turns out be extremely a versatile pick-me-up during the wet winter months. A few dollops nestled in puff pastry make for amazing apple turnovers. A few more dollops on top of slow oatmeal turns a hearty breakfast into an exciting start to the day. We first wrote about picking Gravenstein apples in Sonoma County “way back” in 2018. It feels like ages ago because so much has changed since then.
We just went on our annual apple picking adventure and despite the COVID-19 situation, it was still great! So here is an update for you with the most current information we could find as of September 2020.
Bodega Apple (and Puppy?) Adventure
No less than thirteen wriggling, wiggling, squirmy puppies swarmed us upon opening the car doors. The welcoming party at Casari Ranch is about as heart warming as you could possibly imagine and for two city kids with no pets, clearly we had just parked our car in heaven! It’s not in Sebastopol like most of the others apple farms, but is nearby in the town of Bodega in a beautiful forested valley along the banks of the Salmon Creek. Bodega is closer to the coast and has cooler weather than Sebastopol which was fortunate because we unwisely chose the first day of a heatwave for our adventure. Though I am pretty sure that even if we picked the first day of a cold snap there would have been enough puppy love there to warm the whole valley.
The orchard at Casari Ranch is an antique orchard from the days when the farmers would prune the trees up to into a majestic spreading overhead canopy. As with most of the u-pick orchards in Sonoma, the farm is still family run and the farmers gave each of the kids a colorful basket to fill and showed us how to use the fruit pickers on the end of a very long pole. We needed them to reach the best, juiciest apples at the tops of the trees. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed this challenge but it took some dad height and some back-seat apple picking direction from kiddos to get the biggest ones at the top. One major advantage to picking fruit from tall trees is that it takes longer! Usually when we go fruit picking in Brentwood, the fruit is so easy to reach that we spend only about 15 minutes picking. Then we scratch our heads and wonder what to do to keep busy after driving 2 hours for only 15 minutes of picking.
Another unique feature of Casari Ranch is that they will let you use their apple press if you want to make juice from the apples you just picked from their trees. It might just be the only place in Sonoma County where you can press apples in 2020 because the apple press at the Luther Burbank Experimental Farm is not available to the public this year.
We most definitely recommend this farm for U-pick because it is small, uncrowded, and the farmers were incredibly friendly. Casari Ranch doesn’t only have apples, either. They also have pears, peaches, and other fruits. Just ask them what they have when you call! To schedule your own visit to the farm you can call 707-338-9817 or email ArianaMazzucchi@gmail.com.
Make it an Adventure!
If you want to enjoy the area for the whole day, you can also visit Bodega Bay. For more ideas on what to do in Bodega Bay check out our blog post from earlier this year. We made it a farm day and stopped by Monte Bellaria di California Lavender Farm on the way. Late June and July are peak color season (peak instagram season?) and right now, August and early September, are peak fragrance season. We’ll have more about this in an upcoming blog post about how to take your family vacation in France without leaving Sonoma County!
East Green Valley Apples
For another adventure option, you can go picking in the beautiful Green Valley, off Highway 116 between Sebastopol and Forestville. Hales Apple Farm offers a roadside stand open daily 9am-5pm. They have over 30 different varieties of heirloom apples and have a great selection gourds and pumpkins too. You can do U-Pick but you have to call ahead to make arrangements. Hale’s is located at 1526 Gravenstein Hwy North, Sebastopol (707) 823-4613.
Make it an Adventure!
After a visit to Hale’s Apple farm, you can make it a whole day adventure by adding in some more activities that are very close to Hale’s. You can visit Horse & Plow for cider and wine tasting, Iron Horse Vineyards for sparkling wine tasting, Bohemian Creamery for gourmet cheese to take home, and stay for dinner at Backyard in Forestville.
West Green Valley Apples
To the west of Highway 116 and closer to the town of Occidental Apple-A-Day U-pick is a popular and beloved apple farm in Sonoma County and we wrote about it on our original blog post back in 2018. Their cider blend is legendary. They were not open in time for our adventure this year but plan to open in mid-September after they sort through the necessary COVID-19 precautions. The farm is located at 13128 Occidental Rd, Sebastopol. (707) 823-0538.
While Walker Apples Farm Stand does not offer U-Pick, they are the hidden gem of the Sebastapol/Graton area for their extensive selection of rare varietals. They grow a whopping 27 different varieties of apples! Their farm store is located at the end of a scenic country dirt road and is open daily 9 am to 5pm. Due to COVID, no apple tastings are offered at this time. Walker Apples is located at 10955 Upp Rd, Graton (707) 823-4310.
Nearby Gabriel Farm is open for U-pick in 2020, but as always, only for their CSA members. The annual membership fee is $40 and once you join, you can make an appointment to come pick your fruit and veggies. The farm is located at 3175 Sullivan Rd, Sebastopol. (707) 829-0617
Make it an Adventure!
Apple-A-Day, Walker Apples, and Gabriel Farm are very close to each other so you could easily visit all on the same day. To make your trip to west Green Valley a whole day adventure you can visit the nearby Marimar Estate Winery after. I have been there myself and the views are fantastic! Be sure to make an appointment for your tasting. On your way back home you can stop for dinner on the patio at Underwood Bar and Bistro located in downtown Graton. If you do this loop backwards and end at Apple-A-Day, then we highly recommend stopping at Hazel for dinner; our kids love sitting at the dining bar so they can watch food be prepared and gaze into the wood-fired oven.