Apple Picking in Southern California's Apple Country

Photo by Linda Ly

You wouldn't know it from the weather, but fall has officially begun. And with fall comes cooler evenings, drier afternoons, decorative gourds outside the grocery, and sweet, ripe apples. Sure, apples are something you see year-round in the store, but nothing is quite like taking a bite into a freshly picked apple from the heart of Apple Country.

Welcome to the real apple season.

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Photo by Linda Ly

Just 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles, in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, lies the quaint village of Oak Glen, and acre after acre of apple farms.

The five-mile loop through Oak Glen takes you past private ranches, orchards, restaurants, curio shops, and a handful of U-pick farms, where you not only get to pick apples, but also berries, melons, pears, pumpkins, and fields of flowers. As you head into town on Oak Glen Road, the scent of fresh baked apples and smoky slow-cooked barbecue lingers in the air and it's hard not to simply stop at the first farm you see. But if it's your first time in town, it's worth circling around to get a sense of this rustic community.

At Riley's Apple Farm, you'll find row after row of apple trees, all pruned to perfect picking height. A pumpkin patch sits against picturesque rolling hills. Families can get some hands-on harvest fun by picking their own apples to carry home, or pressing their own cider with the farm's old-fashioned wooden press.

Another Riley's operation (not affiliated with Riley's Apple Farm, but run by different members of the original frontier family) is Riley's at Los Rios Rancho. Aside from U-pick apples and pumpkins, Los Rios Rancho also runs a barbecue restaurant, deli and bakery (serving everything from fresh apple pie to chicken apple sausage), as well as a country store and petting zoo.

And not to confuse things further, but there's also Riley's Farm (talk about a prolific family!) — which, though it doesn't have the word "apple" in its name, offers plenty of heirloom apples for the picking, as well as pears, pumpkins and strawberries. (Quick tip: Save a few pears to mix with your U-press apple cider!) They also hold living history events, where you can take a tour of the old homestead or reenact a mock Civil War battle.

In the center of town is Oak Tree Village, a 14-acre pocket community with a petting zoo, animal park, trout ponds, pony rides, train rides, restaurant and bakery, and artisans and crafters selling all sorts of wares from handmade soap to handcrafted jewelry. If you want down-home family fun, the Village is where you'll find gold to pan, goats to milk, fish to catch, and piglets to race. Looking around, it's hard to believe that 50 years ago, this property started as just a small apple shed.

And if you're glancing at the weather thinking there's no way you'll go apple picking when it's still 80 degrees outside, rest easy — the higher elevation in Oak Glen means it's generally 10 degrees cooler than the rest of L.A.

Did you come home with a glut of apples and pears? Try our recipes for Baked Apples, Pear Tartelettes Tatin, and Apple Clafoutis!

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About the Author

Linda Ly runs the award-winning blog Garden Betty, which chronicles her adventures in the dirt and on the road. Her first book, The CSA Cookbook, will be out March 2015.
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