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Fall fun in the 209
20 ideas to make the season memorable

By Sabra Stafford

F is for Football

Football and fall go hand in hand, whether it’s a family pick-up game after Thanksgiving, a tailgate party at an NFL games, or checking out the local high school talent on a Friday night. One option for enjoying this fall tradition that has the benefit of being budget-friendly, is to check out a college game and the 209 area happens to have three teams — the Modesto Junior College Pirates, the Merced College Blue Devils and the Delta College Mustangs.

Smells of the Season

Bring all the magnificent aromas of fall into your home with a scented soap or candle. At Seven Sisters Soap and Candle Co. in Columbia guests can not only shop a wide array of products, but can also watch the crafters as they make the pillar candles, goat milk soap, and bath bombs right in the store on a daily basis. The shop also has everything needed for guests to make their own soaps or candles at the shop. They offer candle dipping at their Courtyard, on the main street of Old Town Columbia, where guests may dip a base candle into colored wax and make their own creations. For more information on the shop visit


Decorate for the Season

There are so many great options when it comes to adding fall décor into the home that the real challenge is knowing when to stop. Outside of pumpkins, acorns, leaf garlands and wreaths, some other less-used ideas for fall decorating include reclaimed wood, quilts, antlers and plaid.

Chili Cook-off

When the air starts to chill there’s nothing better to toast up your insides than a warm bowl of chili, and if that chili can bring you home a blue-ribbon prize than all the better. Woodbridge Winery in Acampo will be hosting their 16th annual Woodbridge Chili Cook-off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 13. This event will be sanctioned by the Chili Appreciation Society International and the winning cook plus the top three California-resident cooks will automatically qualify to compete in the legendary Terlingua International Chili Championship in November 2019. There are also Best Salsa and Best Guacamole categories and a special People’s Choice award where the public gets to vote for their favorite chili. For more information visit


U-Pick Farms

One of the quintessential fall activities is apple picking, but let’s be honest, that might work for places in cooler climates, but here in the 209 region the apple harvest usually is complete at the end of September, possibly stretching into early October. But that doesn’t mean 209 residents have to miss out on this fall tradition, we just have to pick a different fruit. Pomegranates are glistening red on the trees in October and November and there are a few locations in the 209 region where guests can pick their own, like Arya Farm Produce. This farm in Tracy gives guests an opportunity to grab a bucket and fill them with the fresh fruits, which are best when eaten soon after harvesting because they stop ripening once they are picked.

Mountain Drive

A wonderful day can be found on some of the mountain backroads in Amador, Mariposa and Tuolumne counties. This time of year allows for some splendid views of fall’s array of beauty and colors. A particular pleasant drive is on Apple Hill Drive in Sonora. This winding road delves you right into a forest full of fall foliage, complete with a covered bridge and some wandering wild turkeys. As an added bonus the road will lead you to Indigeny Reserve Cider, where you can enjoy tours, hikes, and crisp locally made hard apple cider.

Raise a Glass

If it’s fall, then there surely must be an Oktoberfest to celebrate. The history of Oktoberfest dates back to 1810 and was held in celebration of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. Now days, it’s mostly a reason to try different beers and maybe a bratwurst or two. In the 209 celebrants can mark the occasion at the Lodi Oktoberfest on Oct. 27. Hosted by the Lodi Tokay Rotary, the festivities include American and German beers, and German dishes like chicken schnitzel, bratwurst, pickled red cabbage, sauerkraut, cheese buttons and hot German potato salad. There will be Oktoberfest-themed games and music from the Gruber Family Band. The event is from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Lodi American Legion. For more information and for tickets visit


All Aboard

Perhaps the only thing better than traveling by train through the picturesque foothills is to add a spooky twist to it. California State Parks, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park and the California State Railroad Museum Foundation offer family-friendly “Harvest Haunt Express” train rides on all four weekends in October. With the train whimsically decorated for Halloween and staffed by a “skeleton crew,” the popular train rides take place aboard an excursion train that departs at 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. On Saturdays, the excursion train will be pulled by Sierra No. 3 and on Sundays by a vintage diesel locomotive. Train ride guests are encouraged to get in the spirit and dress up according to these fun weekly themes: Critters & Creatures (October 6-7), Superheroes & Villains (October 13-14), Pirates & Princesses (October 20-21) and Witches & Wizards (October 27-28). Tickets for “Harvest Haunt Express” train rides (which include park admission) are $15 adults, $10 youths ages 6 to 17 and ages 5 and under ride free.

Visit a Nursery

If you don’t have the time or inclination for a mountain drive, then visiting a local nursery is one way to inject some fall color into your life, and maybe you’ll find some inspiration for your own fall landscape. Some spectacular fall flowers include chrysanthemum, pansy, purple fountain grass, aster, and viola.

Get Lost in a Corn Maze

Somehow between summer and fall corn stalks go from harbingers of a savory side dish to something slightly more foreboding. That feeling is amplified all the more when you’re standing in a corn maze and are unsure of which path will lead you out. But let’s admit that it’s also pretty fun and definitely a favorite fall activity. Dell’Osso Family Farms in Lathrop is home to the world’s largest corn maze, so there are plenty of ways to get lost and found here. They also have hay rides, pumpkins, games, zip lines, and pony rides. The farm is located at 501 S. Manthey Road in Lathrop.

Cabin Living

The air is crisp and the leaves are turning, which means it is a fantastic time to idle away a few days and nights in a cozy cabin. Whether it’s for one night or a couple of days, they are plenty of cabin rental options in the 209 region that can facilitate a rustic retreat, leaving you able to curl up in a comfy sweater with your favorite book or magazine.

Giddy Up

Exploring the 209 backcountry on horseback is a fantastic fall adventure to undertake. Sitting atop a steady stead at a slow saunter gives a stunning view of the changing season. The 209 area has several companies that offer guided horseback tours and while some close down at the end of summer, others, like Kennedy Meadows will continue into the fall as long as the weather permits.

Pick Up a Paintbrush

Unlock your inner creative side with an art class over the fall season. Not only will the class allow for untapped creativity, but also helps with stress levels and will make for a memorable experience that comes with a memento of your own design. Some options for classes include the community enrichment classes at community colleges, paint nights, classes at art galleries, and the art class at Yosemite Conservatory, where the lush landscape should give plenty of inspiration for any budding artist.

Fall Festival

Celebrate the bounty of the harvest season with a bounty of fun at a fall festival in the 209 area. There is a plethora of options in October, including the Bloomingcamp Ranch Harvest Festival in Oakdale. The two-day festival on Oct. 13 and 14 will feature live music, kids activities, food and an array of arts and crafts. The Ranch is located at 10528 Highway 120.

Take a Hike

The temperature drop that harkens fall’s arrival means it’s an ideal time to take to one of the numerous hiking trails that can be found in the 209 region. One option for a hike that is sure to include impressive views and signs of wildlife is at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. In October the Aleutian cackling geese arrive and the Tule elk are still around. November will see the arrival of more than 15,000 sand cranes. The refuge is located at 7376 S. Wolfsen Road in Los Banos.

Anyone up for pie?

So, it should be stated here that pie is good no matter the season, but there’s just something about coming in from a cool autumn day and smelling the sweet aroma of a freshly baked pie. Apple, pumpkin and pecan are seasonal favorites, but there are other varieties like sweet potato, pear, cranberry, and shoofly. If you’ve got a particularly skilled hand at baking delicious pumpkin pies consider entering one in a local pie contest, like Dubyak Family Chiropractic’s annual pumpkin pie contest. Typically held the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the contest at the Turlock office crowns the best tasting and best looking pie and donates all the entries to the Turlock Gospel Mission. For more information visit

Have a Frightful Good Time

If you’re the type of person that delights in experiencing a good scare, then a visit to a haunted house might just be in order this season. In October haunted attractions spring up all over the region. One particularly popular attraction in the 209 is the Ranch of Horror in Turlock. This year’s feature attraction is the self-guided tour through the House of Dystopia, “where nightmares become reality.” The attraction will be open every weekend in October at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. For more information and prices visit


Find the Perfect Pumpkin

There is nothing more synonymous with fall than the favored orange gourd. If you haven’t spent your summer growing your own, then head out to a pumpkin patch to find your perfect pick. The 209 region has several pumpkin patches that are far from ordinary, like Fantozzi Farms Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch at 2665 Sperry Avenue in Patterson. They have a bounty of pumpkins, plus hay rides, mazes, Zombie paintball, pig races and a petting zoo.

Backyard Bonfire

Sitting by a warm fire on a crisp autumn night is a superb seasonal experience made all the better if it’s shared with friends and family. Put out a few blankets, pillows, mugs of hot cocoa, warm apple cider, or mulled wine and all the fixings for s’mores for a fun fall night.

Be a Kindness Ambassador

The fall season is an opportune time to volunteer or show some goodwill to someone and be their reason for being thankful. Some options to show your fellow 209 residents some kindness is to volunteer to serve meals, visit seniors, donate blood, donate to a food pantry, participate in a park or river clean up day, or take pet supplies to an animal shelter.