A Short List of SoCal’s Best Places For Pumpkin-Picking

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It was the first weekend of October. We were decorating the house for fall. But the kids and I were at odds as to what should come out of the boxes just yet.

“I’m not ready for the actual Halloween decorations,” I told my eight-year-old son. “Let’s just put out the fall stuff for now. It’s too early in the season.”

My eleven-year-old daughter gladly brought out leafy wreaths and a string of orange lights for the staircase. Several craft pumpkins already adorned the dining room table.

But every time I set up another orange, red, and yellow something-or-other, my son would drag out another plastic skeleton or giant pose-able spider. It was a losing battle. So I decided to meet him halfway.

Three mini ghosts hung on kite strings (at his insistence) from the balcony above the foyer. I had just taught him how to loop the ghosts through their long strings from the balcony banister with no need for tape. Picking up quickly on the technique, he had carefully strung them without a word. Then he’d used the same method to hang an over-sized rubber bat.

“If you put back the zombies, we can leave up the ghosts and the bat. I’ll even throw in the electric jack-o-lantern. Deal?” I asked.

“Deal,” he said.

I promised him we’d fully decorate the place like the fun haunted house that we usually do, in just a few short weeks–cobwebs and all.

“When are we going to get our pumpkins, Mom?” my daughter asked casually.


It was our tradition to visit a pumpkin patch in the countryside every fall, to spend the day soaking up the autumn colors–as much as this was possible in Southern California–and bring home pumpkins for the doorstep, which we’d ultimately carve for Halloween.

The question is where are we going to get our pumpkins? I thought. The choices were plentiful, all of them good ones.

Close to home there were pumpkin patches which set up shop for a month or so in an empty lot, provided bounce houses as well as the usual enticements, like carnival games. Choosing our pumpkins at one of these was certainly more fun than shopping at the local grocer’s.

But Temecula Wine Country, just minutes away, offered Peltzer Farms Pumpkin Patch, which had gem panning, a corn maze, a petting zoo, and locally famous pig races. It was a fantastic close-to-home option.


And of course there was the Big Horse Corn Maze and Harvest Festival, also right here in town. We’d done the maze last year, and had a blast.


Big Horse & Feed’s Festival also had the highly unique giant sandbox full of corn kernels, which the kids liked.


But I wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t in a few years. And within just an hour’s drive from home, give or take, we had plenty of choices in every direction.

We could go to the mountains and visit the town of Julian. Julian provided a lovely day trip, only an hour’s drive from San Diego. Besides the U-pick apple farms, there were charming shops to browse, affordable bed-and-breakfasts for an overnight stay, and pleasant restaurants.

Gold was discovered in Julian in 1869, and tours of its gold mine were available, as was gold panning. There were also hiking trails that beckoned from right outside of town in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park if we wanted to work up an appetite. Roadside pumpkin stands and shops made for an easy stop on the drive home to get pumpkins.

Besides its status as an Official California Historic Landmark, Julian was of course, world famous for its apple pie. Bonus!

But if we wanted to venture a little higher into the mountains, we could head to mile-high Oak Glen. Oak Glen is generally ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the surrounding valleys so it gets a little snow in the winter, and its leaves actually change color in the fall a bit more than in most regions. Another bonus.

For countryside-seekers living in Southern California, this little day trip is legendary. More than thirty ranches, farms, orchards and other pleasant stops dot the map along the five-mile loop of Oak Glen Road.

We could visit Riley’s At Los Rios Rancho, with its bakery, BBQ, hayrides, and pumpkin patch. Also, beautiful hiking trails within the Wildlands Conservancy held a cluster of actual Redwood trees along the beautiful, very kid-friendly two-mile loop that was accessible from Los Rios parking lot.

There was also Oak Tree Village, a ranch with an Old West motif, train rides, extensive petting farm, multiple eateries, and live entertainment.

There was also Riley’s Apple Farm, with its U-pick apples and pumpkins, not to mention Riley’s Colonial Farm, with its living history educational programs. There was also Law’s Cider Mill and Ranch and Snow-Line Orchards, just to name a few.

But no list of autumn harvest spots in Southern California would be complete without the mention of Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center, about a forty-minute drive from San Diego. Famous in the region for its giant pumpkins called Big Macs, the farm hosts a fantastic autumn festival. There’s a straw maze scavenger hunt similar to the one featured in my book, Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch, as well as tractor hayrides, a petting corral, pony rides, and the farm store full of nuts and candy. On most weekends during the fall, food trucks and BBQ are offered along with all-day family entertainment.

With so many options to choose from for picking out those pumpkins, my question now was exactly what my daughter had started with–when can we start???

A loud screech jolted me from my busy contemplation. I looked up and saw that my son had set up our three-foot-high, motion-sensitive, battery-powered, skeleton-faced, shroud-wearing ghoul. My son jumped heavily in front of the figure again, and its head shook violently as again it bellowed its formidable cry.

“Eh-heh heh heh heh hehhhhh!”

We all laughed. He jumped again. More screeching.

Oh boy. Who was I kidding? Halloween might as well come a little early, at least at our house.


Please check out my book, Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch, for the 6-10 year old child in your life. It’s a great way to revisit the pumpkin patch long after you’ve gone home.

$1.99 ebook/$4.25 paperback

Happy fall pumpkin picking! Here are some helpful links:








All photos copyright©Shana Gorian


  1. I don’t think there’s much of anything you CAN’T find in California. It surprises me sometimes, too! The corn mazes aren’t anywhere near as tall or wide as the east coast’s or midwest’s pumpkin patches, nor are the fields as green or ‘rolling’, but we have lots of them all the same. Thank you, Marcia! We had a fun autumn season leading up to Halloween. I hope you did too.


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