Those on the other coast like to tell us we don’t have seasons here in Southern California. They romanticize images of red and golden leaves, bright orange pumpkins on the vine and the sudden nippiness of the weather after a humid summer. That is all lovely, but those of us who have lived in the Southland long enough pick up on more subtle changes- the askew slant of the once direct sunlight and a heavier feeling to the air. For those who enjoy a deeper taste of autumn’s potential there is always the town of Oak Glen. Nestled up in the foothills of San Bernardino County, 90 minutes east of L.A. and a long winding road up in altitude from Yucaipa, it is a different climate and a step back in time.
Billing itself as Southern California’s largest apple growing region where apples grow a mile high, Oak Glen has been farming the fruit since 1867. Situated along one mountainous loop of Oak Glen Road there are 7 apple orchards, several cider mills, a half-dozen quaint restaurants, more than a dozen little speciality gift shops and the kitschy-cool 14-acre Oak Tree Village full of artisan shops, a petting zoo, a stocked trout fishing pond and a bizarre museum filled with taxidermy animals and live reptiles.
Between September and the end of November five of the aforementioned orchards open their gates for U-Pick apple season. On weekends these are lively affairs, with square dancing, hay rides, bands playing, barbeques, civil war re-enactments and crowds of families. On weekdays it is much quieter, with none of the above activities and only two U-Pick orchards to choose from. This Offbeat L.A. author ended up at Riley’s Los Rios Rancho, one of the weekday U-Pick options. Los Rios was straight forward and friendly, weighing apples that day for $2.50 per pound. Their orchard stretched as far the the eye could see, but apple varieties were limited to what was currently ripe. The day we arrived it was Granny Smith and Rome.
After picking 3 pounds of apples each, we left Los Rios and explored the strangeness of Oak Tree Village. Much of it was quiet because it was a weekday, but we heard tales of the crowds that haunt the place on weekends. We pondered the signs warning the danger of approaching wild bears and chose to eat at a cafe attached to the Village called Apple Annie’s. There we had amazing pie made from locally grown apples with extremely friendly hospitality from our waitress Syndi. We took a short walk and sampled deliciously sweet cider at Law’s Cider Mill where cider could be pressed to order before your eyes.
All in all it was an incredible, relaxing and fun day. Definitely make the effort to visit Oak Glen in the fall. You have until the end of November to pick apples. After that Oak Glen apparently turns into a winter wonderland, often with enough snow to build a snow man and go sledding. Who says Southern California has no seasons?
Complete information about the various orchards, restaurants and activities in Oak Glen can be found on the town’s website www.oakglen.net.