Goodbye, watermelon. So long, corn on the cob. Zip up your fleeces and cradle a pumpkin spice latte: Autumn is nearly here. So, of course, you want to take your kids apple-picking! But where to go? Some places are hideously crowded with parking that rivals a Phish show in 1997. Others are too intense (you want doughnuts, tractors and scarecrows, not creaky ladders and flimsy paper sacks!). Others are sprawling and overwhelming.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions for orchards that go beyond apples. Remember to double-check hours and rates before you head off on your autumnal adventure.
Belkin Family Lookout Farm
Core perks: This Natick farm is close to Boston, and it’s one of the oldest operating farms in the country (it opened in 1651). Today, there are modern-day amenities like house-brand hard cider served at an on-site tap room (you earned it!), kids’ activities (train rides, face-painting), hay rides and pony rides. Price: $12 for children; $15 for adults.
89 Pleasant St., South Natick, 508-653-0653
Core perks: This Peabody farm stand is known for antique car meets (old minivans don’t count) and a rambling general store, which sells everything from “beer brittle” to glass-bottled chocolate milk to stuffed farm animals. Of course, they have apples, too. Prices vary.
54 Felton St., Peabody, 978-531-7456
Core perks: Not only does this 50-acre orchard sell an enormous variety of apples, fans are also known to drive for miles for their toasty apple crisp, topped with whipped cream. Enjoy a nice sugar high before visiting their pumpkin patch.
115 Oak Hill Road, Harvard, 800-286-3916
Honey Pot Hill Orchards
Core perks: This bucolic expanse in Stow, an area known for orchards, stands out with warm and mealy cider doughnuts, jams and jellies, fresh-pressed tart apple cider and a seriously scary hedge maze that takes up to an hour to complete. Lose your kids there and go pound some cider. Price: $18 per peck; extra for other activities.
18 Boon Road, Stow, 978-562-5666
Nashoba Valley Winery
Core perks: For a more sophisticated experience, visit Nashoba Valley Winery’s orchard. Their barn-style property restaurant, J’s, serves a big Sunday brunch buffet. Eat, drink and then run loose in the orchard, which is also home to Bolton Beer Works, which sells hard apple cider. Cheers! Price: $20 per peck.
100 Wattaquadock Hill Road, Bolton, 978-779-5521
Core perks: This North Andover farm is kid central: They throw kids’ “festivals” every weekend in the fall (Saturdays and Sundays), complete with bounce houses, a petting zoo, a playground, face-painting, corn mazes, hay rides and fall-flavored ice cream (candy apples, too). Swing by the gift shop on your way out for farm-themed toys: trucks, tractors, animals…and sweet-smelling candles for grown-ups. Price: $15 per child.
315 S. Bradford St., North Andover, 978-687-4029