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It’s mushroom season in the Bay Area. Here’s how to forage and not die

A mushroom sprouting.
Often guarded by poison oak, chanterelles, the popular funnel-shaped fungi, grow at the base of oak trees. | Source: Getty Images

It’s that time of year in the Bay Area when a world of wonder starts to grow at our feet in the form of wild mushrooms.

With another wet winter approaching, according to the National Weather Service, mushroom purveyors hope for a follow-up to last year's “epic” foraging season

READ MORE: You Can Get Magic Mushroom Chocolates Over the Counter in San Francisco Now

From the psychedelic to the poisonous to the Michelin-star-restaurant-worthy, the “fruit of the root” is likely to flourish in the Bay Area in the coming weeks, say mycological experts, or biologists who study mushrooms. 

Here’s how to find and enjoy the weird little umbrella-shaped fungi without dying.

Mushrooms grow in damp soil from the roots of oaks and pines in the Bay Area. | Source: Shohtaroh Iwasaki/Getty images

What Not to Pick

Any novice mushroom picker is cautioned to seek out expert advice, whether through a foraging tour, a trusty book such as Mushrooms Demystified, or online guides such as and

For additional expertise, contact the Mycological Society of San Francisco, which in December is hosting the Fungus Fair, where experts from far and wide will gather. 

Most edible mushrooms have look-alike species, and eating the wrong fungus can result in terrible sickness—or even death. If you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does before munching on mystery mushrooms.

Just reading this story won't cut it. 

Colloquially called the Santa mushroom, the fly agaric is known for its iconic red-and-white cap and because its psychedelic properties are rumored to be the origin of the legend of Santa Claus. | Source: Getty Images/Jen Marquez Ginn

Book a foraging tour with one of the following companies for the safest way to find and identify edible mushrooms. If you’re up for the trip, Eating Wild offers mushroom tours from Mendocino to the Sierras. Forage SF also curates expeditions to harvest wild treasures, from clams to seaweed as well as mushrooms.  

Mushrooms You Can Pick and Eat

There are two types of mushrooms, according to Ken Litchfield, a cultivation expert at the Mycological Society of San Francisco.

“Either it goes in the frying pan, or it doesn’t go in the frying pan,” Litchfield said, referring to mushrooms you can eat versus mushrooms you should never eat. 

He explained that a simple taste test of a fingernail-sized clipping of a mushroom may tell you whether it's edible. However, he warned not to swallow when doing such a test and warned these mushrooms have poisonous look-alikes.

“Right off the bat your taste buds will tell you whether something could be edible or not,” he said. 

Porcinis grow from the roots of pine trees and are best harvested when they're young. | Source: Getty Images

Porcinis: A delicious staple of Bay Area mushroom culture and Italian cuisine, porcinis have a meaty texture and grow from the roots of pine trees. Porcini means “little piggy” in Italian, and it’s best to pick these piglets when they’re young. 

Morels: These delicious little acorn-shaped mushrooms are home to springtail bugs, which provide an added snack in every bite. In the springtime, you can find morels growing amid the aftermath of the summer wildfires and the winter snowfall near Lake Tahoe. If you don’t like eating bugs, soak your mushrooms in salt water first, and the little critters will float to the surface.  

Chanterelles: Often guarded by poison oak, chanterelles, the popular funnel-shaped fungi, grow at the base of oak trees. Infamously difficult to cultivate, the fruity-smelling, peppery-tasting mushrooms can also be wildly expensive. 

Fly Agaric: The ubiquitous fly agaric mushroom is known by many names, including the Super Mario mushroom, the emoji mushroom and the Santa mushroom, the latter both for its iconic red-and-white cap and because its psychedelic properties are rumored to be the origin of the legend of Santa Claus. You can boil them to extract their psychedelic properties if you’re into that, but be careful–they’re considered toxic and have been known to cause symptoms from nausea to sweating and twitching.

Candy Caps: Candy caps are one of the few mushroom varieties that pair well with dessert. Identified by its scarlet color, the fungus is also known for its strong, heady fragrance when dried. Submerge these mushrooms in sugar to make a homemade syrup.

Where To Go

Santa Cruz

Mushrooms are found anywhere with oak and pine trees in Santa Cruz, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find on most hikes. Get lost in the forest of Enchanted Loop Trail and keep your eyes on the ground.  


Last year’s burn areas make for this year’s delicious morel mushrooms in Tahoe during the springtime.

Near Lake Tahoe, morel mushrooms tend to grow in areas burned by summer wildfires. | Source: Getty Images

North Bay

Salt Point State Park and the Mendocino Headlands offer plenty of hiking trails to scour for fungus along.


The hills of Mori Point offer plenty of shade, elevation and rain for mushrooms to grow.

David Sjostedt can be reached at