In most parts of the country, apple season doesn’t happen until fall. But the Gravenstein Apple Fair, a pioneering agritourism event held every August in Sebastopol, offers more proof that Sonoma County is naturally inclined to be on the culinary cutting edge.
Gravenstein apples, known for their sweet-tart flavor and red-and-orange striping, are ready for harvest during July and August. Opinions vary on whether they were introduced to Sebastopol and this region by Spanish settlers or Russian fur traders, but either way the apples were flourishing here by the mid-1800s, helped along by the area’s sandy soil and cool summers. And they have a certain exclusivity: Their delicate peel makes them harder to ship, so they tend to be less common outside the region. In recent years, too, the growing cider trend has further boosted demand for them.
All of these factors make excellent excuses for a festival, which first started in the 1970s and happens at the oak-tree-shaded Ragle Ranch Park (and it’s for a good cause, too: All event proceeds support the Sonoma County Farm Trails nonprofit, which has the goal of keeping farms forever viable in Sonoma County). About 15,000 people typically attend over the course of the weekend to experience the festival’s classic country-fair appeal, which features lots of apple pies, fritters, and applesauce on offer in the Apple Alley “neighborhood” near the entrance, as well as exotic delights like caramel apples with goat’s-milk cajeta. Pre-dessert options include fried chicken sandwiches and barbecued turkey legs, and the fair has a running soundtrack of live music on two main stages. Kids activities typically include cow-milking, beekeeping, and sheep-shearing demos, along with the Agrarian Games, where you can take apple-juggling lessons or watch the Ugly Produce Beauty Contest.
Serious foodies will also find plenty to do, too, from sampling organic ciders to learning how to press juice. Visit the craft cider, local beer, and wine tents, or go to the Artisan Tasting Lounge for cider and cheese pairings, specialty cocktails, and bites from local restaurants. If you feel like splurging, opt for the VIP experience to relax in luxury tents with complimentary food and libations; chat with producers in the Artisan Tasting Alley; and enjoy prime views of the North Coast Apple Stage.
On your way out, pick up a bag of Gravenstein apples, along with other local farm goodies such as artisan olive oils, jams, honeys, and sauces.