While grapes may be Sonoma Valley's most enticing draw, another crop steals the spotlight late summer into fall. Apples—which were a popular crop here before vineyards supplanted many of the orchards—offer an alternative to wine-tasting, especially in August, when an annual festival celebrates the Gravenstein, the area's best-known variety.
Due to their soft skins, sweet-tart Gravensteins don't ship well, so the best place to taste them is at the source: plucked from a U-pick farm, baked into a homemade pie, or fermented into cider.
This summer, rethink your typical wine-tasting trip, and time a visit to Sonoma County to coincide with the Gravenstein Apple Fair (August 13-14) in Sebastopol, or plan your own itinerary to pick, shop, sip, and taste your way through apple country.
U-Pick: Where to Pick Apples in Sonoma County
(Courtesy of @appleadayranch)
Most of the U-pick farms are concentrated around Sebastopol and welcome visitors August through early winter, depending on the harvest. Make an appointment to pick at EarthSeed Farm(3175 Sullivan Rd., Sebastopol), a 14-acre solar-powered organic farm rooted in AfroIndigenous permaculture principles. // Just west of Sebastopol, family-run Apple-A-Day Ratzlaff Ranch(13128 Occidental Rd., Sebastopol) offers U-pick at $2 a pound starting in September, but call ahead to ensure someone's at the ranch. You can also pick up fresh-pressed juice while there. // Near Petaluma, Chileno Valley Ranch (5105 Chileno Valley Rd., Petaluma) grows a variety of organic apples, including Orin, Pinova, Candy Crisp, and Jonagold. They are open for U-pick on Sundays starting in August.
Buy: Where to Purchase Farm-Fresh Apples in Sonoma
Hale's Apple Farm.
(Courtesy of @jchampaign)
If picking your own apples sounds a little too much like work, Hale's Apple Farm(1526 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol) grows and sells more than three dozen varieties of apples from an orchard-adjacent stand right off the Gravenstein Highway. While most flock for the Gravs, keep an eye out for the Pink Pearls, which have pretty blush-hued flesh. // Across the street, Andy's Market(1691 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol) sells an extensive selection of local fruit and vegetables, plus an array of grocery items, fresh-baked goods, and wine and beer. // Or head to Walker Apples (10955 Upp Rd., Graton)—open seven days a week from late July through December—for close to 30 varieties of apples that you're welcome to try before you buy. You'll often find multiple generations of the Walker family doing everything from the picking the apples to working the line.
Sip: Where to Drink Local Hard Cider in Sonoma
(Courtesy of @drinkgoldenstate)
If you've got a taste for cider (the alcoholic kind), there's no shortage of Sonoma County businesses crafting suds that are infinitely more sippable than their syrupy-sweet mass-produced counterparts. Since 1993, family-owned Sebastopol cidery Ace California Cider(2064 Gravenstein Hwy N., Sebastopol) has independently produced its cider varieties, now totaling twelve, which you can taste on Fridays from 1pm to 5pm at its pub. Fill up a growler with one of the ciders, or try all 12 for $15. // Horse and Plow(1272 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol) offers both wine and cider flights to taste Friday through Monday, plus plentiful outdoor shaded seating. The winery-cidery works exclusively with local orchards, fermenting as many varieties as possible separately before blending into unique bottles. // At Windsor's Tilted Shed Ciderworks(7761 Bell Rd., Windsor), husband-and-wife team Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli produce small-batch ciders and offer tastings Friday and Saturday afternoons. Even if cider's generally not your jam, the barrel-aged and smoked varieties are known to convert the most reluctant of cider drinkers. And if it's in stock, make sure to try the Inclinado Espumante, a California take on a Basque sidra, which traditionally gets its carbonation from intricate pouring techniques. // Next door, Sonoma Brothers Distilling(7759 Bell Rd., Windsor) deals in the boozier stuff—aka hard alcohol—but highlights the area's prized fruit with a seasonal apple brandy made organic, local Gravenstein apples. // At Golden State Cider(180 Morris St., Sebastopol), where they use both local Gravensteins and apples from orchards across the West Coast to make a variety of ciders and apple brandy, the taproom is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and pick-up is available Monday and Tuesday afternoons. // If you're seeking something to suit teetotalers or tots, head to Luther Burbank Experiment Farm(7777 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol), where you can take a self-guided or docent tour of the grounds, purchase plants from the nursery, and visit a historic cottage.
Taste: The Best Apple Pie + More Fall Dishes in Sonoma
Mom's Apple Pie.
(Courtesy of @girlists)
At local institution Mom's Apple Pie(4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N. (Sebastopol), flaky-crusted pies beckon from the display case, and visitors come from miles away for their sugar rush. Welcome your impending diabetes by balling out on a whole pie (the only way you can score the Gravenstein version of the apple pie which is available from August to November), or exhibit some restraint by ordering a slice of rotating flavors, ranging from apple to chocolate pecan to coconut cream. While a sugar-free version of the apple pie is available, you're not at Mom's to count your calories. // Sebastopol's Gravenstein Grill (8050 Bodega Ave.) not only serves up apples in its name, but 100% of the produce they use comes from local farms, ranchers, and foragers. Kick it all up a notch with daily happy hour from 3pm to 7pm. // And while best known for its seafood, counter service, and drive-through sensibility (it is housed in a former Foster's Freeze), Handline(935 Gravenstein Ave., Sebastopol) highlights farm-fresh produce—alongside guilty pleasure fries and soft serve. // A mainstay at the SF Ferry Plaza's farmers market, the new brick-and-mortar cafe by The Farmer's Wife (6760 McKinley St., Sebastopol) crafts beautiful Sonoma produce into sandwiches and salads. For a real harvest season treat, order up the Gravenstein Apple Melt made with aged cheddar, blue cheese, wildflower honey, and, of course, the local apple extraordinaire.
Celebrate Apple Season at Gravenstein Apple Fair
(Courtesy of @angelinejodonnell)
Dubbed "the sweetest little fair in Sonoma County," the Gravenstein Apple Fair has been celebrating more than just its namesake fruit for more than four decades. On August 13-14, 2022 the annual fundraiser will feature live music on two stages; arts and crafts vendors; both a craft cider and microbrew tent, plus wine, specialty cocktails, and lots of local food made just for the occasion.
Learn to make your own hard cider or plant a pollinator garden in the Farm Bureau Arena, where you can also see demonstrations like sheep shearing and goat milking. Plus, discover the secrets of all things farming at the Life on the Farm Arena and meet cute animals at Richard & Saralee's Farm Yard. You can even throw your hat in the ring at the tractor pedal pull, egg run, piglet race, and other wholesome games. // Aug. 13-14, 2022 at Ragle Ranch Park (Sebastopol); $18/13-years+, $10/ages 6-12; gravensteinapplefair.com