April to May to June is U-Pick cherry picking season in the Bay Area
When I was a child, I remember apple picking in New England with my dad. My memory is fuzzy now and I don't remember if we just went once, or multiple times, but I still remember climbing a ladder to pick, and watching cider presses. I was confused when the cider came out brown when apple juice wasn't. It seemed odd, but I still enjoyed drinking it.
There's so much locally grown produce in California, and I wanted to create a similar experience for our family. Especially after friends at a picnic shared some of their u-pick cherries with us.
Last June, we went cherry picking at a u-pick farm in Brentwood for the first time. Brentwood is the place to go for cherry picking in the Bay Area. There are ~20 farms on the official Harvest Time website. We don't have a car, so we made it work by train and by bike. It was a great experience last year, so we decided to do it again this year.
A note: Cherry picking season varies from year to year. I think it started in early May this year. Most of the farms were out of cherries by Memorial day. The farm we went to said they'd be out after the 2nd week of June.
Can you go cherry picking in Brentwood by bike?
We didn't want to rent a car, so I started looking into transit/bike options to get to Brentwood. It's about a 45-60 minute drive. As usual, transit options are not great. It's 2.25 to 2.5 hour ride taking BART and Delta Transit. The trip by bike alone is long. It's 55-60 miles each way, which is maybe a 6.5 hour ride if you include breaks.. so not suitable for a day trip with a kid. An e-bike probably wouldn't have the range for both legs of the trip and would still take ~3 hours each way.
Mixed-mode / Multimodal transit
The options above didn't seem attractive. I looked into taking BART to Antioch and then riding our bikes to our chosen cherry farm (G&S Farms, this time). It takes about 55 minutes to get to Antioch BART from Oakland. And then, it is about a 10 mile ride to the farm. This makes for about a 2 hour and 30 minute ride (including riding to BART and 30 minutes for a coffee/lunch break). This was pretty acceptable if it meant that we got a bike ride adventure in along the way. BART allows bikes on their trains, and I was able to verify that bikes are fine on the Antioch extension also. At the extension, you have to transfer to a different type of train.
I mapped out our route and was happy to near that the Delta de Anza Regional trail for a good chunk of our ride. The bike lanes looked adequate for the rest of the way. A side note: bike route planning takes forever because unlike following directions in a car, one needs to verify the safety of nearly every part of the route. This involves a lot of Google satellite view and street view to verify the conditions of bike lanes and infrastructure. I'm thankful for these tools. Bike directions aren't yet good enough, unless you're a rider who is comfortable riding in a lane shared with automobiles.
How safe is this bike route to the cherry picking farm?
There's a paved regional trail separate from automotive traffic for a portion of the ride. But much of the rest of the route is in unprotected bike lanes. I don't recommend this route for children on their own bikes due to lack of protected lanes for part of the way, and the overall length (10 miles each way). We towed our child with the trail-a-bike. For us adults, the route felt okay. There are portions of the route where the bike lane is uncomfortably narrow and where there is fast automotive traffic. I'll share photos of parts of the route below.
Update for 2023:
This year, we had a great time getting cherries - our 3rd year in a row. We took a slightly longer bike route - about 13 miles - but avoided some of the less pleasant stretches of Hillcrest Avenue, and we got to ride on the Marsh Creek trail. It was well worth the extra miles.
Getting to the cherry farm
Preparing for the ride
We prepped by bringing snacks, sunblock, water, and our Clipper cards. We also brought an extra pannier to bring the goods home after cherry picking!
Taking BART to Antioch
Our BART ride was fairly normal, but made a little more complicated by our trail-a-bike setup. When the BART faregates are configured incorrectly and close too quickly, they can get stuck on longer bikes. Luckily this wasn't a problem. The bike was a little harder to lift up stairs, but it wasn't too bad. I opted to skip the elevator because sometimes it smells bad and sometimes it's hard to fit a bike plus trailer inside.
On a standard BART train, our bike + trailer fit okay despite its length. The trailer attaches to my bike at the seatpost, and I was able to pivot the trailer the opposite direction, so that the rear wheel was next to my front wheel. This fit fine in the bike parking area of the train.
Transferring at the Antioch Transfer platform was ok. The new trains are smaller but nicer. They were less crowded and I didn't need to "fold" the trailer to save space. The Antioch station thankfully has a functional bathroom, which is helpful when traveling with kids.
On the way from Antioch to the U-Pick cherry picking farm
Antioch BART to the Delta De Anza Trail
Leaving the Antioch BART station is a little disorienting at first. The station is right next to a highway, and not immediately close to any residential or retail. To be more specific, it's only 0.2 miles away from a shopping center, but the walk/bike ride there is 0.7 miles because one must navigate around the highway. It would have been awesome if there were an easier way to go over or under the freeway.
You start by riding west along Slatten Ranch Rd so that you can take Hillcrest Ave south to get to the other side of the freeway. This part of the route has new green bike markings. It's a anxious intersection because there are 6 lanes of automobile traffic on Hillcrest Ave. And many are driving fast because they are about to enter or have just left the freeway.
The bike lane on Hillcrest Ave has a lot of debris from all of the automobiles, and people drive fast on that road. But it is reasonably wide on the overpass. Once you cross the freeway, the bike lane narrows and is of low quality. Half of your bike lane is cement, half is asphalt. The bike lane marker is somewhat humorously painted on both. I don't think it meets the 4' or 5' requirement for a 1 way bike lane, but I did not stop to measure. Maybe it just felt narrow because of the edge in the middle of the lane. It felt a little more precarious because of the trail-a-bike. My child made riding a little more wobbly than usual, so I wasn't as confident in my ability to maintain a straight line.
We made a box turn left to continue onto Hillcrest Ave, and the situation improved somewhat. Half a mile in, there's a turnout onto the Delta De Anza Regional Trail on the right side.
On the Delta De Anza Regional Trail
The Delta De Anza trail is nice. There aren't many trees, so it's exposed to the elements. But you're free from having to ride your bike near automobiles. There are a few crossings where you have to navigate intersections, but they are at stoplights and you can use the crosswalk.
We rode with tailwinds for much of the way, which made the journey faster! There are two hillier sections where the trail winds up and down the hills. Most of the trail looks like this. The canal is fenced-in, and you ride along grassy hills with some trees, some residences, and some vineyards on the side. It is pretty peaceful. We only encountered 2 other humans on the trail. We saw a lot of chipmunks.
If you continue to follow the trail, you get some nice riding, but it doesn't take you to a cherry picking farm. We turned onto Neroly Rd, then O'Hara Ave. Neroly and O'Hara have decent-sized bike lanes, but with only paint as protection. Both roads are wide, flat, and without many curves, so cars drive fast on it. But the bike lanes are also wide, which makes riding a little easier. O'Hara Ave had particularly wide bike lanes and nice pavement. There are nice-looking residential areas and more trees, so it was nice to ride a bike on.
Coffee and Lunch Break
O'Hara Ave eventually becomes 2nd street, which leads you to downtown Brentwood. There are a couple of shopping centers, some cute smaller stores, and some equally cute houses. We had a coffee and quick lunch stop at Big House Beans.
It is a short 1.5 mile ride from downtown Brentwood to G&S Farms. The parking lot is made of dirt and gravel, so be a little cautious if riding a bike with skinny tires.
Arriving at G&S Farms and Cherry Picking
There weren't a lot of people at G&S Farms, and there's ample space to leave your bikes. The staff members said they'd watch the bikes, and you can lock your bike if you'd like to something near the farm stand. We had some friends drive out and meet us there. You fill out a waiver when you first come in (If you haven't already done so online) and then you can either walk to the cherries or catch a ride on their golf cart. The walk is only a 5 minute walk, so we elected to do so.
We were late in the season, so many trees were bare. But there were also plenty more cherries to pick. The corner of the orchard that was still untouched had trees so loaded with fruit that branches were touching the ground. The kids loved running around and searching for and picking loads of cherries.
We were fortunate to have a partly-cloudy day. We still wore sunblock, but didn't receive as much direct sun as we did the year before. It felt a little humid and warm, but not uncomfortable outside.
We stayed for about an hour and a half then went back and paid for our cherries (we bought 6.5 pounds: a modest haul). We said bye to our friends, then rode to the Safeway in Brentwood to get some snacks for the ride home. Our cherries filled up about half of one of our panniers. It was good to know that we had the capacity to carry more. But buying more would have meant that we'd have to be more creative with how we used and stored the cherries when we got home. (Last year, we had to pit and freeze some. This year, we might be able to get through all of them fresh, from the fridge..)
On the way back to Antioch BART
It must have been right when school got out, because there were a lot of kids walking on the sidewalks away from school. An enthusiastic crossing guard was helping kids navigate one of the intersections. We got our drinks and snacks from Safeway, and then headed back on O'Hara Ave.
There were headwinds on the way back, and my kid was tired and wasn't pedaling much at all. I later learned that they were also waving side to side and sort of dancing on the bike. Very cute but a little less fun for me up front.
We stopped to watch a wild turkey for a bit at one of the intersections.
There is a short climb on the Delta De Anza trail on the way back that my kid helped me pedal up.
BART on the way home
There were a few more people at Antioch BART on the way back, since it was approaching rush hour on a weekday. Even then, the train didn't feel very crowded. We transferred, and I took a short nap on the regular BART train back to Oakland. The trickiest part of taking BART were the stairs (not too bad, I just took them slowly), getting on and off the trains (not too bad either), and getting through the faregates (not bad at all this time either). So I guess nothing was that tricky.
Would I do it again?
Yeah, absolutely. We want to make this an annual tradition. Maybe we can invite some other families to ride with us next time.
What would I change?
I'd like to see better bike lanes on Hillcrest Ave, specifically. Other bike lanes could use improvement too, but they felt the most sketchy on Hillcrest. I don't know of another way to get out of the Antioch BART station area. I don't think any other way is possible. While looking at the map though, I noticed that there's a bike shop right near the BART station, Bikes 4 Life. Good to know in case you need something for your bike-cherry-picking trip!
The Delta De Anza Regional Trail was really nice to ride. I'd like to ride more of it sometime. We'd also like to head back to pick more stone fruit. Maybe a bike ride to Brentwood for peach picking is next.