By Greg Aragon
Fall is here and that means it’s time for pumpkins, apples, turkeys and scary things. This week I would like to look at a couple of my favorite Southern California destinations to celebrate the season. They are Fillmore and Oak Glen.
Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, Oak Glen is the apple capital of Southern California. The area has been growing fruit and other crops for more than 150 years. And not only is the place great for fresh fruit and family fun, but it also makes a great escape from the heat of Los Angeles County. Because it sits 5,400 feet above sea level, the town is usually about 15 degrees cooler than the cities below.
On my last trip to Oak Glen, a friend and I had a great time browsing around old stores, apple orchards, a small petting zoo and a pumpkin patch. The town can be experienced via a five-mile loop of more than 30 ranches, farms and businesses that encircle it. Our getaway began at the Parrish Pioneer Apple Ranch where we walked around a general store full of unique items, including apple butters, jams, jellies and ciders, wines, local recipe books, hot sauces, peanut brittle, fresh-made food and much more. While here we relaxed with a cold apple cider and purchased a pumpkin from the store’s patch.
We then walked across the street and found a farm teaming with cute little goats and sheep and furry llamas, grazing on a hillside. Near them was a pen full of rosters, peacocks and a large turkey. Next to the birds we wondered around the Parrish House, an actual 1876 farmhouse that is now an antique store/gift shop. The house is surrounded by an old west saloon and cemetery built for cowboy stunt shows, fake gun fights and pirate shows.
For lunch we had a couple burgers and an incredible slice of homemade apple pie at Angus McCurdy’s restaurant and bakery. We then drove up Oak Glen Road, past wooded hills, apple orchards and New England-type landscape, to Oak Tree Village, a 14-acre outdoor complex of shops, restaurants, old west “gun fights,” and other family fun. Highlights in the village include the fresh baked five-pound mile high apple pie, a hand dipped caramel apple at the Village Candy Kitchen; and a chance to see animals in the animal park or fish for trout in the trout pond.
Continuing our whirlwind tour of town we drove to Los Rios Rancho, Southern California’s largest historic apple ranch. Growing 20 different varieties of apples, the 115-year-old farm is a popular “you-pick” spot, where the public can pick the fruit off the tree themselves. Current apple varieties include Fuji, Gravenstein, Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Macintosh, Mutsu, Red Delicious, and Spartan.
Fillmore is another great spot for fall fun. It is located, about 55 miles northwest of Los Angeles. On my last visit to the town, we drove north from L.A. on the 5 Freeway until exiting onto historic Highway 126. It was then that the journey got interesting, as the road was lined with vegetable stands and crops, open fields, and valleys flanked by the San Cayetano Mountains of Los Padres National Forest.
Once in town, we found a quiet, pre-WWII styled city, with lots old buildings. We also found the Fillmore and Western Railway, an historic rail yard full of vintage trains used for Hollywood movie shoots and for dinner and specialty train rides.
In October, the highlight of the Fillmore and Western Railway is the Pumpkinliner. This vintage locomotive takes passengers from the station in Fillmore to “The Patch,” a private pumpkin patch in Santa Paula. Along the way, it passes by citrus and avocado groves, back yards, sports fields, warehouse packing plants, horse ranches, orchard farms and more.
The train offers open-air cars with bench seating and indoor seating in antique Pullman-type trains from the 1920s and ‘30s. On our journey we sat inside on comfortable reclining chairs, sipping pumpkin ale, listening to the old-fashioned train whistle, and watching beautiful scenery drift bye. The outdoor car was packed with kids and their parents.
After a 40-minute ride, the train rolled into the hidden pumpkin patch, where we disembarked and wondered around a mini fairy tale land of pumpkins, jolly jumpers, a carousel, a haunted hay maze, arts and crafts, and a snack bar. At the patch we bought a pumpkin, and then rode back to Fillmore for lunch at La Fondita Bakery and Restaurant. Currently, riders are required to wear masks and social distance.