Travel Blog

How to Celebrate Fall in Santa Cruz County

All Photos by Garrick Ramirez

Though we’re never quite ready to bid adieu to summer, we’re always eager to welcome fall. The magical season sees life’s pace begin to slow, the air turn crisp, and sunlight bathe everything in golden hues. We love scouring pumpkin patches for the perfect jack-o-lantern, and watching masked, pint-sized ghouls wander streets with trick-or-treat bags held wide open. A noticeable uptick in baked goods doesn’t hurt either. Below we share some ideas for how to celebrate autumn in Santa Cruz County with plenty of frights, food, and fall color to last the season.

Spooky Rides at the Boardwalk

This October, get in the Halloween spirit at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk where the thrills-and chills-run year round. You’ll hear plenty of screams coaxed from the Giant Dipper’s first drop, but we think the shrieks are louder inside Fright Walk. The haunted subterranean maze forces friends to cling to each other as they cautiously tiptoe through darkened rooms inhabited by terrifying ghouls and other things that go bump in the night. At the Haunted Castle, mini black hearses transport fearful riders through an eery landscape of graveyards, medieval dungeons, and a haunted swamp. Just don’t lose your head at the giant guillotine! Kiddos will love Ghost Blasters, a fun black-light enhanced dark ride where riders zap mischievous spooks with laser guns in a variety of spooktacular settings.

Explore Evergreen Cemetery

Fall is the ideal time to explore historic Evergreen Cemetery, a forested pioneer resting place oozing with rich graveyard goodness. Go after a good rain and relish the deep color of its leaf-blanketed grounds and dramatic 19th century tombstones. On the Day of the Dead, the cemetery is bedecked in festive decor, serving as the destination for a lively street procession that originates at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. For more background on Evergreen and its notable residents, check out our previous blog post on the enchanting cemetery.

Visit a Pumpkin Patch

Throughout fall, many of the county’s scenic farms are transformed into idyllic pumpkin patches that would feel right at home in a Peanuts cartoon. In addition to the perfect carving pumpkin for your holiday display, you can navigate a winding corn maze at Rodoni Farms, enjoy organic pumpkin pies at Swanton Berry Farm, and score flowers and honey harvested onsite at Post Street Farm.

Enjoy Fall Treats

While everyone is poking fun at Pumpkin Spice Everything, we’re secretly stuffing our faces with pumpkin cheesecake from The Buttery, pumpkin ice cream from Mission Hill Creamery, and the secret, off-menu Pumpkin Spice Latte at Whale City Bakery. Cookies are more fun in fall when you can nibble iced pumpkin and autumn leaf cookies from Gayle’s Bakery. And lest we forget, fall is the official kick-off to pie season. We get our fix with the overstuffed apple pies from the aromatic bake shop at Gizdich Ranch. For more seasonal goodies, check out our guide on where to cozy up with the best fall treats.

Go Apple-Picking

After you’ve polished off an apple dumpling à la mode at Gizdich, wander their atmospheric orchards and fill a bag with fruit for your own holiday confections. At Swanton Pacific Ranch, you’ll learn to tell a Jonagold from a Cox Orange Pippin thanks to a dizzying variety of apples dotting their organic orchard. A helpful pocket guide details which varietals are best for baked goods, salads, or simply sinking your teeth into on the spot. For more U-Pick spots, check out the Country Crossroads Map, a map of direct-sell farms in Santa Cruz County.

Drink Local Cider

You’ve likely swirled our wine and brought home growlers of our beer, but have you explored our flourishing cider scene? Santa Cruz County was once one of the nation’s largest apple growers, and new cider producers such as Tanuki, Santa Cruz Cider Co. and Everett Farms are honoring that legacy with small-batch ciders produced in a variety of styles. At Bonny Doon’s tasting room, ask for a sample of their Querry, a delicious French-style cider made with apple, pear, and quince. Kids can share in the fun with sparkling, alcohol-free ciders from Martinelli’s, the original cider experts that have encouraged folks to drink their apple-a-day since 1868.

Peep Fall Colors

We admit it: we’re leaf peepers! Every fall, we go goo-goo for ginkgos and loopy for liquidamber, two of the many deciduous trees that brighten our streets during scarf season. For a dazzling fall display, take a stroll down Walnut Avenue, an achingly picturesque, Victorian home-lined lane that transforms into a kaleidoscope of fiery colors in autumn.

Eat Too Much Chili (Plus Other Fall Festivals)

Yep, we love cozying up at home making crescent-wrapped mummy dogs and rewatching Nightmare Before Christmas too, but sometimes you need to get out and join your fellow spoon-wielding chili lovers for a proper cook-off. You’ll find spicy bowls of chili and other things to warm your heart this season with our guide to upcoming fall festivals.

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