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It’s so much fun to get your apples right off the tree branches. Head north to Sonoma County or south to Santa Clara County for apple picking within two hours’ drive from the city. Each farm offers a different type of experience and sometimes, a different variety of apples. Most are family-run farms, and it’s always best to call ahead to confirm that they are open on any particular day.

Chileno Valley Ranch
5105 Chileno Valley Road
Petaluma, CA 94952
(707) 765-6664

The 600-acre cattle ranch run by Mike and Sally Gale is open for U-Pick apples on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m, usually through October. Organic varieties are Orin, Pinova, Molly’s Delicious, Candy Crisp and Jonagold. Reservations are required at $6 per carload in advance on the website. The fee also includes a farm tour of cows and sheep. Call ahead, as they’ll remain closed if there aren’t enough ripe apples. The farm shop has items for sale too: apples and pears at $2 per pound, grass-fed ground beef, lamb sausage, free-range eggs, honey and apple juice.

Gabriel Farm
3175 Sullivan Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 829-0617

Every weekend during October, apples are on the picking schedule for this West Sonoma orchard where a membership policy balances over-demand at the 14-acre ranch. Annual memberships are $36 for a three-gallon case of juice, which provides access for U-Pick and purchase in the orchard. Apple varieties grown on the farm are Golden Delicious, Rom Beauty, McIntosh and Fuji. They’re also big fans of the persimmons and nine varieties of Asian pears grown here.

Clearview Orchards
646 Trabing Road
Watsonville, CA 95076
(408) 472-1958

Certified organic (CCOF), the beautiful terraced orchards have been producing delicious fruit for more than 15 years. Located only a mile from the ocean and with views of the Watsonville Valley, the varieties of Fuji, Gala, Cameos, Johnagold and Granny Smiths come into season right through the first of November. Open on Friday afternoons and weekends, they also sell fresh Fuji apple cider, frozen apple pops and a lovely local honey. Double the fun with white, red and pink pumpkins available throughout the entire month of October.

Swanton Pacific Ranch
125 Swanton Road
Davenport, CA
(831) 458-5410

On a ranch run by Cal Poly, the public is invited for an extended U-Pick season beginning in August and continuing through late fall. California Certified Organic Farmers orchards produce five tons of apples every season across the ranch’s two acres, with 16 distinct varieties. Mid-season harvest in October are Fox Orange Pippin, Newton Pippin, Fuji, Jonagold and Fameuse, while late season crops are Golden Russet, Granny Smith, Suntan and Yellow Newton Pippin. The ranch is 20 minutes north of Santa Cruz on scenic Highway 1.

Gizdich Ranch
55 Peckham Road
Watsonville, CA 95076
(831) 722-1056

Open seven days a week, the family-owned ranch has a picnic area, pie shop and a deli. Kids will enjoy the juice room, where apples go through the pressing process before your eyes. Pick-yourself apple season extends into October, but call to be certain of the dates. Mid-season and late season crops include Winesap, Braeburn, Mutsu, Fuji and Prime Gold. The website has tips for uses of apples in salads, applesauce, pies, breads, baked apples and for munching anytime. Pick up a half-bushel while you’re there and ask about tips on storage to keep apples fresh for up to three months.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on Examiner.com.