Crisp air, color-changing leaves, sprawling apple orchards, pumpkin patches and cozy sweaters do not usually scream “California,” but my friend Stefani and I found our little piece of autumn heaven tucked away in some hidden corners of Southern California.
On a sunny Friday morning, I picked Stefani up from her home in Riverside and we were off on a leisurely drive to a farm in Oak Glen. With an Autumn-themed playlist in the background, the scenery around us began to change as we drove the winding roads in increasing altitudes.
After about an hour, we arrived at Stone Soup Farm and Heritage Orchard. If you are at all familiar with Oak Glen, there are quite a number of farms to choose from. However, after some research, I picked this particular farm because I loved their aesthetic, their philosophy, and the wonderful season events they were offering.
I’d also like to make a note here: We intentionally did not visit Riley’s Farm after discovering their blatant, public disregard for government mandates related to Covid-19 precautions. On their Facebook page, they were berating and belittling any patrons that expressed concern or disappointment in the lack of safety protocols. I realize Stone Soup Farm is operated by the Riley Family, and while I respect the Riley family legacy, I do not agree with what was posted on their facebook page, which gave me a poor impression of Riley's Farm. I felt more comfortable visiting Stone Soup Farm - purely my personal choice based on my own findings and experience.
When we arrived at Stone Soup Farm and Heritage Orchard, we entered a cottagecore dream - vibrant overgrown wildflowers, rustic signs, and rows of heirloom apple trees. We checked in at the entrance, received our wristbands, then began to wander the property.
The property was much larger than we'd anticipated - there was so much space and there were so many different apple trees!
We were allowed to roam freely amongst the trees, admiring the different types of apples and taking in the beautiful scenery, mountains included. At one point, a staff member approached us as we were under one of the trees. I immediately assumed we were too close to the trees, etc. but it turns out the staff member just wanted to say hello and let us know where everything was. He was so kind, and it became obvious that the staff mirrored the more subtle, genuine, low-key vibe of this farm.
A delightful hum filled the farm as more and more guests appeared, picking apples and enjoying the fresh air. The apple orchards came alive in the warm sunlight - a perfect California autumn afternoon was beginning.
Charming, rustic details were almost as ubiquitous as ripe apples waiting to be picked. We admired the mountainous background while we wove in and out of the trees, snapping countless photos trying to capture the warm, autumn magic we had stumbled upon.
Since I am allergic to apples, I was unable to pick them, but thankfully Stone Soup Farm offers several types of organically grown pumpkins. I selected my pumpkin and headed to the farm shop to purchase it.
After I picked my pumpkin, I also took some time to do some painting on-site. The gorgeous orange hues were a perfect subject to paint.
As our time at the farm started to end, we squeezed in one last hurrah and took quite a few pictures at the front of the farm, where the apple trees are larger, and there are several beautiful patches of wildflowers.
“The heat of autumn is different from the heat of summer. One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.”
- Jane Hirschfield
Around 1:30PM we decided to move onto our next destination. While it was extremely difficult to leave this autumn paradise, we were hungry!
A short 10-minute drive later, we pulled into the newly renovated Oak Tree Mountain for lunch. Oak Tree Mountain has been a long-time favorite of Oak Glen visitors, and recently it has undergone quite a face lift. The area has been completely transformed into a modern, country-chic activity area with shopping, good eats and fun activities. And of course, Apple Annie's is the must-do lunch spot! At first glance, the line was quite long, but we checked in and braved the estimated 40-minute wait.
We visited the stylish candy shop, complete with a quirky soda wall and ice cream counter.
Unfortunately for us, Oak Tree Mountain is still under construction, but I look forward to visiting when everything is up and running!
Despite being told the wait was 40 minutes, we ended up waiting only about 20 minutes, which gave us the perfect amount of time to stop at the bakery and buy some treats to take home. Apple Annie's has taken wise Covid-safe measures, including social distancing, face shields for servers, limited capacity and plexiglass dividers.
It was lunchtime but I absolutely could not turn down an opportunity to have breakfast. When I was informed that breakfast was still being served, I squealed before ordering a delicious steak and eggs, while Stefani went with a more traditionally lunch option, a French dip.
I finished up my comfort food extravaganza with a huge scoop of cookie dough ice cream from the local shop. Stefani and I sat outside, baked goods in hand, getting ready for another long drive to our next stop.
Our next drive was estimated to be an hour, through quite a bit of fire damage from the recent fires. I was surprised to see just how close to the freeway the fire had burned. The damage went on for miles, and many firefighters were still out there, pouring fire retardant over the remaining plants and brush.
Eventually, the remnants of the fire faded away, the altitude began to climb, and we were surrounded by lush vegetation. Tall pines towered over us as we chased the endless road ahead.
It was my first time driving up to Big Bear, though I'd been a passenger many times before. I was concerned about the difficulty of the drive, but thankfully there were no other cars on the road, so we could take our time.
Soon, we arrived at our cozy Airbnb cabin and began to unwind. I was already completely swept up in the quiet neighborhood, complete with our own color-changing tree out front. When we entered the cabin, both of us immediately sank into the comfortable living room furniture and admired the adorable bear-centric decorations. Before we got too comfortable, however, we headed into town to find some takeout to enjoy while we watched a movie, courtesy of our Airbnb hosts who provided a wide variety of movies for us.
We parked in a central parking lot and decided to venture to the lake before picking up dinner. I'd seen Pine Knott Park on Google maps, so we decided to explore and give it a try. I'm incredibly glad we did - it was a short walk from the Village, and the view was gorgeous! There was a walkway down to the 'beach,' where some people were fishing, and others were enjoying a leisurely stroll during the sunset.
The temperature was dropping, the air sharpened, and the warm glow of the setting sun bid us adieu as our perfect autumn day was truly beginning to end.
The restaurant we wanted to go to was not doing takeout on weekends, but luckily there was a wine bar across the street that was offering a special takeout menu. Barrel 33, a wine tasting bar and shop in Big Bear, was a lifesaver for us. I was incredibly tempted to purchase some of their witty merchandise, but I refrained and instead spent my money on charcuterie and artisan flatbread.
We returned to our cabin, enjoyed our dinner and watched Because I Said So. It had been a long day, and we were very happy to sleep comfortably in our quiet cabin, ready for the next day's adventures.
A crisp, cold morning greeted us on Saturday. I made us white chocolate pumpkin spice lattes, mixing coffee and the pumpkin spice white hot chocolate I had brought up with us. I brought my mug outside, and while still in pajamas, let the morning wake me up. I loved seeing the morning light through the trees, a sight I knew I would miss once we left.
Once we ate our breakfast burritos and had enough caffeine, we threw on our jeans and were ready for some adventures. I snapped some last minute pictures of our cabin, mostly capturing the details that made it so special, and also earned it its namesake: Bearwood.
Our first order of business was the Big Bear Ropes Course at Snowplay. I'd always wanted to do a ropes course, so I was totally excited when I found out there was one just a few minutes from our Airbnb!
Unfortunately pictures and videos were not allowed, even though I had my action camera with me and it would have attached to my harness. The good news though, is that we had a great time! We had 20 minutes to walk across tightropes, maneuver through obstacles, and even ride the "sky rail," up to 35 feet in the air! It was definitely scary, but it the adrenaline rush was really fun.
Please note that the ropes course accepts cash only, and prices are per 20-minute session.
Next, I wanted to take Stefani to one of my favorite Big Bear attractions, the Alpine Slide. To our dismay, when we arrived, it was extremely crowded. The line to sign release forms was longer than we were willing to wait - our time was limited and precious. Disappointed, we left after a few minutes and decided to go on a scenic drive and 'get lost' in Big Bear.
I turned a left on a scenic lake drive, and we drove, not knowing where we would end up. We 'oohed' and 'ahed' at the beautiful lakeside cabins, and with childlike excitement, we pointed out every beautifully transformed tree.
Eventually, we used Google maps to direct us to a nearby RV park, where we were able to find parking and snap some fun pictures by the lake.
Once we had our last fix of photos and beautiful leaves, we stopped into town again to have a meal before our drive down the mountain.
In town, we stopped at Amangela's Bagel and Sandwich House for some of their legendary sandwiches. The inside of the shop was adorable, but because of Covid precautions, we ate our sandwiches outside.
Of course, I once again needed to finish off such a comforting meal with something sweet. We stopped by North Pole Fudge and Ice Cream Co. to pick up some sweet treats. They have the cutest tiny cones for just $0.99, plus a great selection of chocolates and candy.
And for one last treat, I quickly stopped by An Ran Ju Teahouse for some pumpkin pie boba. yes, you read correctly: PUMPKIN PIE BOBA. You may be wondering why, as someone who lives so close to Cerritos, I would even consider getting boba up in the mountains. I reiterate: PUMPKIN PIE BOBA.
I knew it was a risk, but it totally paid off! An Ran Ju knows how to do tea. My boba wasn't too sweet, the tea flavor was wonderfully strong, and the pumpkin did not taste artificial. It actually complimented the black tea perfectly.
With our bellies full, we got back in the car for our last long drive. We had just experienced the most wonderful autumn getaway, and we were sad to return to reality, where the trees were still green and it was too warm to wear sweaters.
We enjoyed the views while we drove, breathing in the last bit of clean, mountain air that we could. It was a privilege to get away for a weekend in such beautiful locations - it is a blessing to live in California! I am beyond grateful that even during Covid, I can explore my home state and have adventures.
Will you be exploring locally any time soon?
Until next time,