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Celebrate Autumn at the Tolay Fall Festival in Sonoma County

Enjoy a tractor-drawn hay ride at the Tolay Fall Festival.

The Tolay Fall Festival — held each October at Tolay Lake Regional Park near Petaluma — invariably attracts people from around the Bay Area, making it one of the most popular events on Sonoma County's annual calendar. 

Much more than just a pumpkim patch (although you can pick out the perfect pumpkin), this family-friendly event offers plenty of high-fun, low-key, hands-on educational activities.

Begun in 2005, the festival runs for two weeks each October; school groups attend on weekdays, with the public invited on the two weekends. The festival offers wholesome fun for everybody, no matter what their age. 

Activities include:

  • The “Nighttime Creatures Barn,” full of creepy critters (owls and other birds of prey, native snakes galore, tide pool animals and taxidermied wildlife).
  • The “Creepy Crawly Room,” featuring tarantulas and scorpions glowing under a black light.
  • A tractor-drawn hay ride to the huge pumpkin patch, where families can pick out the giant pumpkin that’s right for them. The hayride is fully accessible.
  • A replica of a Native American village, with kotchas built from bark and reeds.
  • The World-Record Pumpkin-Seed Spitting Contest.
  • Hands-onemonstrations of archery, solar viewing, and fly fishing by experts.
  • Gunnysack races, a straw maze, and petting barnyard animals.
  • Food vendors (but you’re also welcome to bring your own picnic)

Previously known as the Cardoza Ranch and located between Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma River, the 1,769-acre Tolay Lake Regional Park offers a unique combination of farm and grasslands, ridges, a seasonal freshwater lake, ponds, wetlands, and other natural resources. It’s home to a few species that have special status, including the burrowing owl, the California red-legged frog, the golden eagle, and the white tailed kite.

The park also has a long and rich history, with human activity dating back at least 8,000 years. It was the site of seasonal settlement by Coast Miwok, Pomo, and other tribes. The lake was considered to be sacred, and thus it became an historic spiritual center for Indians across California. Sacred stones, often called “charmstones,” were deposited in the lake — some date back thousands of years.

What you need to know:

What: Annual Tolay Fall Festival

When: Two consecutive weekends in October. For 2016, the public is invited to attend Oct. 15, 16, 22, and 23; school groups will attend Oct. 12, 13, 14, 20, and 21.

Where: Tolay Lake Regional Park, 5869 Lakeville Highway (at the end of Cannon Lane), Petaluma, 707-565-2041.

Admission: $5 for teens and adults, and $3 for children 12 and younger. Admission is free for Regional Parks' members, which includes one-time admission for two adults and two children with free parking when they present their parks membership card at the entrance. Parking for non-members is $7. Activities inside the Festival are free. Become a Regional Parks member.

Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.