Hard to believe, but fall is almost upon us. And for many San Franciscans, this is prime time for being outdoors, with sunnier-than-usual weather, occasional hot days, and the promise of adventure around every turn, whether it’s harvest season in wine country, the ear-blasting aerial acrobatics of Fleet Week, or any number of outdoor-centric events and festivals.
To whet your appetite for all the goodness to come, here are seven picks for things to do in San Francisco in fall. Put them on your calendar now, and thank us later.
1. Visit Alcatraz—at night.
Sure, San Francisco’s most beloved tourist attraction is a little, well, touristy. But battling the fanny-packed crowds is well worth it for the super creepy experience of exploring America’s most famous prison after dark: a guaranteed great way to get into the spirit of the season. Reservations for night tours at Alcatraz are harder to come by than day tours, but attendance does drop off in the fall.
So what makes the experience so irresistibly spooky? Well, Alcatraz becomes infinitely more foreboding at night, with its shadows and alleged spirits—the prison is reportedly haunted. And then there’s the on-site hospital, which is only available for the night tours. Creaky old wheelchairs, gurneys, and operating rooms, lit by sickly yellow light, are sure to give you shudders for a long time to come.
2. Revel in patriotic glory at Fleet Week.
It’s impossible to miss the annual arrival in San Francisco of the Navy’s most bad-ass pilots, the Blue Angels: These aerial acrobats blast into town every October in a full blaze of patriotic glory, setting off car alarms, sending wee ones crying into their parents arms, and firing legions of snooty SF residents into a frenzy over noise pollution. All of which is precisely why we love Fleet Week so much. Find a friend who's throwing a rooftop bash, arrive way earlier than you think you need to (biking to your destination is highly recommended), and settle in for yet another display of over-the-top amazingness against the most beautiful backdrop in the world. Extra points if you take in the action from a prime viewing spot like Angel Island .
3. Run over the Golden Gate Bridge in a half-marathon.
It’s always a thrill to run over the world’s most famous bridge, and even more so when it’s during an actual race. The half-way point of the highly respected Golden Gate Half is at the Marin side of the bridge, meaning that you’ll barely notice the usual out-and-back drudgery while you’re gazing at Alcatraz, the Marin headlands, and the city skyline. Bonus? You’ll have the smug satisfaction of knowing that you can run over the famous span anytime, unlike the folks who come in just for the race.
4. Go gaga for gourds in Half Moon Bay.
Starbucks and its Pumpkin Spice Latte got nothin’ on the longstanding pumpkin love of the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival , which has been running strong for 45 years. Every October (the festival is Oct. 17-18 this year), the self-described World Pumpkin Capital shows off its orange awesomeness to thousands of visitors, who marvel over carvers creating amazing pumpkin artwork, enjoy pumpkin beer, and pick out their own pumpkin from one of the many patches. Join the fun, but make sure to arrive early, as traffic coming into town is notoriously snarly this weekend.
5. Explore Mammoth Mountain on two wheels.
Whether you ride road or dirt, two epic bike events in Mammoth Lakes are more than enough reason to make the five-hour road trip to this stunning mountain town. There’s still time to sign up for the Mammoth Grand Fondo , which was named as one of Bicycling Magazine’s best in the country. Starting and finishing at 8,074 feet all but guarantees sensational views, with a whopping 6,463 total feet of climbing. Dirt lovers, meanwhile, are flocking in increasing numbers to the Kamikaze Games , which in recent years has become one of the biggest events on the U.S. mountain biking calendar. Scheduled for September 24-27 this year, the event celebrates the legacy of Mammoth Mountain, the site of the first Mountain Biking World Championships, and MTB pioneer Bill Cockcroft.
6. Take a fall ride through wine country.
For lovers of wine and two-wheeled adventure, not much can top the delight of pedaling through world-renowned vineyards followed by a glass (or several) of wine. The annual Clif Family Club Peloton wine club will take its annual ride around Howell Mountain on October 4, followed by tastings and revelry. You’ll have to be a club member to partake, but there’s no better wine club to join for cycling enthusiasts, as the folks behind the events form the essence of the cycling community in these parts. Arrive a day early to enjoy the Clif Family Farm Fest , which features live music, food and wine pairings, wine tastings, local artisan food demos, tours of the farm, and the chance to rub elbows with Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, Clif Bar co-founders and co-owners of Clif Family Winery and its Velo Vino tasting room, the hub for local rides and a must-visit stop for any biking aficionado.
7. Take a drive along California’s most famous stretch.
Summer crowds have thinned out, which makes it prime time to load up the car with your toys—or none at all, if you’re up for just kicking back—for a stress-busting cruise up Highway 1 . It’s a choose-your-own adventure kind of experience: camping along any number of coastal sites, bedding down in the sleepy fishing town of Bodega Bay , or simply taking a relaxing day trip while taking in the unparalleled beauty of the rugged Pacific coastline at every mile.