Most sane people, I think it’s fair to say, love fall; anyone who doesn’t, I simply don’t trust (same goes for people who don’t love pickles, the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Kylie Minogue’s “Love at First Sight”). Fall in our old home of New York is a beautiful-yet-fleeting time, usually a week long, in terms of weather, at best; here in Los Angeles, it’s less established in terms of traditional timing (this week, mid-October, it’s regularly in the mid-80s), therefore even more important to replicate in other, more controllable facets of life, like, say, giant, heavily themed pumpkin patches.
Flash back to the fall of 2014—we’d just moved from Brookyln to Los Angeles and, being longtime samhainophiles (kind of a word), we sought the best of pumpkin patches in a town that we realized was equally samhainophilic. Our search brought us pretty definitively to Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch, a very well-curated patch in Beverly Hills (it’s since moved to Culver City) that verged on tiny Halloween-themed amusement park, with games, rides, way too many celebrities, set-decorator-caliber staging, and refreshments (we enjoyed the snow cones, as you can see). Oh, and pumpkins. One thing they didn’t have at the time—a petting zoo.
Cut to today—we have an adorable kid (no, it’s proven, we had him tested; also, see above) who we now want to introduce to the over-the-top LA pumpkin experience. But checking Mr. Bones’ Instagram feed, we learn that they now DO have a petting zoo. And that the celebrities seem to bring along professional photographers, makeup artists, and lighting crews, judging by the photos (ah, 2014 Instagram vs 2018 Instagram).
Our beef (pun kind of intended) with petting zoos? By and large, they’re sourced by meat and/or dairy farms, which we’re morally opposed to supporting, being longtime ethical vegans. But even more so in this particular context: How fucked up is it to take you kid—who you’re constantly exposing to these books and stories personifying animals and empathizing children with them from an early age—to meet, pet, appreciate, look in the eyes of all these real animals that are going straight to slaughter and/or cruel confinement as soon as this adorable pumpkin patch calls it a season? Very fucked up is the answer.
So we embarked on a mission to suss out the few area pumpkin patches and general purveyors of these emblematic autumnal gourds that don’t include amongst their attractions petting zoos, pony rides, pig races (no really), or anything else we felt unfair to our voiceless friends. We’re sharing our findings herein but if you’re reading this and have any additions or edits, let us know—this is far from an exhaustive list. And a huge thanks to Jordyn from PETA Kids who gave us so much initial information about some of these places when we reached out.
Mr. Bones Pumpkin Patch, Culver City, CA
Oct5-30, Sun-Thu 9AM-8PM, Fri+Sat 9AM-9PM
I know, I know—they were the whole reason for this journey of animal-friendly pumpkin patch discovery in the first place. But, turns out, while they do indeed feature a petting zoo this year, the company’s owner was raised vegetarian and they went out of their way to not source animals from a meat or dairy farm, instead tapping friends in Ventura who have a farm where the chicken, sheep, and goats roam free—”the ranch is essentially a sanctuary and they are basically family members of the people who own and operate the ranch,” they told us (you can see our full back-and-forth here). Some hardliners take the ‘animal use is animal abuse’ stance, but, for us, that’s pretty good and much more faithful to the whole animal-bonding idea behind these petting zoos.
Photo: Ksenia Moore.
Irvine Railroad Park, Orange, CA
Sep15-Oct31, weekdays 10AM–5PM, weekends 8AM-6PM
The top feature photo was taken here this past weekend and, though it is indeed a hike from Los Angeles proper (about an hour and a half, depending on traffic and from where you’re coming), it’s pretty great. As the name implies, there’s a miniature railroad that runs around the park with narration that sheds light on some history of the park and surrounding area and some holiday-specific decor, in this case including a not-very-scary (in a good way for tiny kids) haunted tunnel the train runs through. The overall park theme is pretty old west, with wanted poster stands you can pose behind for photos, themed building facades, and even an area where kids can pan for gold and strike it rich! As mentioned above, we went on the weekend and it was indeed pretty packed, so be forewarned—expect crowds and a potentially full parking lot if you go on Saturday or Sunday. Their pumpkin selection (and photo ops) are pretty stellar though. The park is adjacent to the Orange County Zoo but is totally unaffiliated with it, so your dollar isn’t going to support them if zoo’s aren’t your things either (same goes for the pony rides which the zoo operates right next to the pumpkin patch).
Riley’s Farm, Oak Glen, CA
Oct1-30, weekdays 10AM-4PM, Saturday 9AM-4PM (closed Sundays)
Riley’s Farm is heretofore unknown to us working apple orchard + living history farm, featuring pick-your-own fruit, living history education, dinner theatre, group banquet facilities, and extended, historically-themed overnight stays. So, yeah, awesome. For any fellow east-coasters who grew up taking yearly field trips to Colonial Williamsburg, this sounds like our new local version. The farm let’s you hike out into their acres of pumpkin fields and pick your own or you can purchase pre-picked pumpkins (say that five times fast) in the farm store if you’re not looking to haul it all the way back. The farm does have some resident farm animals that they sometimes use in their public house in terms of dairy; other than that, we were told they just kind of hang out on the farm.
Your Local Farmers Market
If you’re not looking for a themed experience and are good without all the rides and games but still want something more locally minded, check your local farmers market—many vendors make an effort this time of year to bring their own locally grown pumpkins to market.
Like we said, if you’ve got more tips for us, let us know; otherwise, we hope this list helps you celebrate compassionately this autumn.