There something magical about autumn. Shopping for school supplies, enjoying a few (if not rare) cooler days, and seeing all my favorite pumpkin treats in the stores- what’s not to love about fall? Especially now that I’m a mom, I want to share my love of the season with my littles. I have so many seasonal outings on my autumn bucket list that I’ve had to create a calendar for the fall months just to squeeze it all in. In particular, here are a few of the events penciled in for this year…
The Orange County Model Engineers are hosting a fall event in Costa Mesa October 17th-18th called the “Scarecrow and Pumpkin Festival”. Throughout the year, they offer monthly free train rides on their model trains (note: children must be able to walk and must meet height requirements). For October, they’re continuing the free train rides along with other seasonal activities: face painting, fire truck rides, pumpkin picking, and snacks galore. Check out their website for location and times.
Fall Picnic and Nature Walk
Now that my little guy is almost three, we’ve started to really enjoy exploration and adventure-based outings. Orange County has pristine beaches and awe-inspiring parks that would be the perfect location for this fall activity. Pack up your picnic basket with some yummy fall treats, spread your cozy blanket, and spend some time observing God’s glorious creation together. And once your bellies are full, stroll through your locale and get into nature. Gather some souvenirs of your trip- a pinecone, acorns, fall leaves, seashells, or my son’s favorite, twigs and rocks of all shapes and sizes. You could even turn your nature walk into a fall scavenger hunt, seeking out leaves of different colors, types of insects, or varieties of trees and flowers.
The Environmental Nature Center in Costa Mesa is hosting a Fall Faire on October 18th from 10:00-3:00. They features pumpkins, face painting and henna tattoos, native plants sale, pony rides, a petting zoo, and other activities to entertain visitors of all ages. You can check out a video promo for the event here.
Decorate for Fall
I love pulling out my box of harvest decorations in mid-September and bringing a little of the fall ambience into our home. Decorating for fall has two huge perks: for one, I only have one box to unpack and so I’m done relatively quickly. And secondly, I get to enjoy it twice as long as my Christmas decorations! Of course, decorating with fresh pumpkins always does double duty: our array of pumpkins entertained J for hours (see Pumpkin Playtime below for some ideas).
I love buying fresh pumpkins in the fall, but sometimes can’t bring myself to pend the money on a decoration that I cannot use again and again. However, if I can use those pumpkins a few times to entertain my littles during the season, it’s money well spent. One idea is to fill a large bin with water, and let your littles explore using small pumpkins. See how dense pumpkins sink and dried out or plastic pumpkins float. Measure splash size based on mass, or just let them have some unstructured water play! Another idea is to wrap up a variety of pumpkins and gourds in tinfoil. Before unwrapping, have your kiddos look at each one and talk about its shape, weight, and possible other uses. Then, let them unwrap (and rewrap) the pumpkins. It’s the simplest things, but they provide tons of entertainment. Since my littles are too small for pumpkin carving, you can let them decorate pumpkins with paint instead. You can even use pumpkins to create pumpkin print art (just slice pumpkins in half, dip in paint, and stamp shapes onto paper). These would make a great thematic pumpkin play date, too!
Visiting Irvine Park is one of my son’s favorite activities. They have a little of everything: the Orange County zoo, a duck pond, paddle boats, train rides, playgrounds, pony rides, acres of grassy fields to run and play, snack bars, bike rentals, and a weekly farmer’s market (Tuesdays 9:00-1:00 which also boasts free parking for market visitors). And around this time of the year, they also deck out the train depot and surrounding area with a fabulous pumpkin patch. You can purchase one of the many varieties of pumpkins on display, make your way through the hay maze, take a picture in their many hand-painted photo props, or buy tickets for a number of fun activities, like face painting, cookie decorating, or a bounce house. It’s definitely a must-do this time of year. And if you sign up for Irvine Park’s e-newsletter, you’ll receive coupons for the park and patch in your inbox (including $ off a pumpkin and a bogo train ride). Previously the coupons had to be printed and presented to be valid, but Irvine Park just added a QR code to each one, so just show the attendant the coupon on your smartphone, and you’re good to go. All aboard!
Note: Parking is $3 cash every day except Tuesdays, and if you exit the park you have to repay to reenter.
Tanaka Farms in Irvine is another great stop on your fall adventures. It is open September 26th through October 31st, though I recommend not waiting until the end of October. We did last year, and ended up walking among some pretty smashed and broken pumpkins. Tanaka Farms is a working farm, and visitors can walk up and down the rows upon rows of pumpkins growing still on the vine. Prices for activities and admission are located on their website (link above), and parking is free. We loved the hay ride around the farm, seeing the different produce the farm has to offer. At their petting zoo, we were lucky enough last year to see a newborn alpaca only a few days old. They offer a corn maze and u-pick pumpkins and vegetables, and on the weekends you can check out their harvest festival, complete with a pumpkin cannon and ATV rides.
Apple Picking & Apple Pies
We cannot forget about autumn’s sweeter food faire, the apple. One way to enjoy the fruits of the season is to head to a (somewhat) local apple orchard and pick your own apples. There’s plenty within an hour of Orange County, and each farm has its own unique features and draws for visitors. Then, bring your stash back home for a baking lesson and cook up a traditional apple pie (or crisp). The warm aromas of cinnamon sweetness will fill your home and family with memories they will want to revisit year after year.
Who knew (I didn’t) that just an hour’s drive from Orange County were a bounty of working farms and ranches that allowed visitors to pick their own produce? We’ve visited Oak Glenn the past few years, and it has become one of my absolute favorite fall traditions. Each year we try to visit a different orchard to check out their apple varieties and specialties. Apple cider, mile-high apple pie, apple sausages, and hand pies are just a few of the seasonal treats you can grab. Then, head out to the orchards to pick a pound (or two) of some amazing varieties of apples. There’s always something happening on the weekends, from live entertainment and demonstrations to pony rides and inflatable jumpers. Check out their website for each farm’s particular hours, availability of crops, and list of special events.
A few words to the wise- wear comfortable clothing and shoes (you’ll be doing a lot of walking), come hungry, and dress in layers (it can get pretty warm out in the orchards).
Other fall fun ideas at and around home:
- Make pumpkin play dough for some hands-on pumpkin fun (click here for a recipe – and it’s edible & gluten free!)
- Bake a pumpkin pie or apple pie
- Make caramel apples
- Learn to distinguish between the spices of fall (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc)
- Roast pumpkin seeds
- Campout (in the backyard or living room) and roast s’mores (in your fireplace or fire pit)
- Brew some apple cider and visit your local bookstore or library to read some amazing stories on thankfulness
- Read up on the life cycle of a pumpkin
- Make some chili (this one from the Barefoot Contessa is a family favorite) and watch a football game
- Make a thankfulness tree for your home, and have each member of your family add leaves telling what they are thankful for. Add to it throughout the season and share at your Thanksgiving feast. (example 1 and example 2 )
- Collect leaves and make leaf garlands to decorate your house or yard
- Make popcorn strands and pinecone bird feeders for your fine feathered friends
- Pull out your costumes from years past and host a fashion show or costume parade
- Don’t save your favorite Thanksgiving dishes for one day a year. Build up anticipation to the main event by making one a week or try out some new recipes before the big day!
- Host a Friendsgiving Potluck (here are some rules and ideas to inspire you)
- Fall Photo Shoot (5 tips for amazing fall photos)
- Fall Scenic Drive (we love driving through the canyon from Orange to Robinson Ranch; the trees overhead are so beautiful).
I hope you enjoy the beauties of the fall season, and find many ways to celebrate and be thankful.
With love and gratitude,