From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all, California farms produce over a third of the United States’ vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts—not to mention a lot of wine. Behind all of those bushels and cases of goodies are many California-grown stories of family farms, plenty of which invite you to come and take a look—and taste.
No matter where—or when—you are in California, there is a farming experience to be had. Take a road trip along the Fresno County Fruit Trail for peaches and cherries in the summer, or tour a farm outside San Francisco and learn about artisanal bread-making and beekeeping. Time your trip for May and take part in a variety of strawberry festivals, or come in July for the famed Gilroy Garlic Festival. During the winter season, you’ll find weekends devoted to local dates, crabs, and even tamales.
Plenty of farms around California also offer hands-on experiences during the year, from u-pick strawberry farms to overnights where you can milk cows and gather eggs—or just sit down to an artfully-rendered farm-to-table feast. Even if you’re road-tripping around the state, there are countless classic farm stands in small towns (some with wine-tasting), while the big cities pull out all the stops at their farmers’ markets, lined with producers, food trucks, gourmet coffee, and live music. Read on to start planning your farm-loving trip to California.
Country roads, shady orchards, gnarled wine vines—these trails provide gorgeous agricultural scenery as well as places to stop and taste the bounty.
Tehama Trail (Tehama County). Follow country roads through picturesque olive groves and vineyards, stopping for wine tasting near Lassen Volcanic National Park, olive (and olive oil) sampling in Corning, and other farm-fresh foods along the way.
Sonoma County Farm Trails (Sebastopol). Take a self-guided tour of artisanal family farms and food producers dotting this celebrated wine region. Find out where to take a farm tour at places like First Light Farm in Petaluma, or enjoy ultra-local ingredients at Zazu Kitchen and Farm in Sebastopol.
Marin Agricultural Land Trust (Marin County). Join guided tours of farms and ranches north of San Francisco; learn about artisanal cheese-making, organic farming, and balancing nature with agriculture.
Hidden Villa (Los Altos Hills). Part working farm/education center/summer camp, this farm south of San Francisco welcomes all ages with tempting programs—from bread baking to raising bees and chickens.
Happy Acres Family Farm (Templeton). In coastal hills near Paso Robles, meet baby goats and other farm animals on this 12-hectare organic farm. Shop for fresh produce, eggs, and artisanal products like creamy-rich skin lotion made from goat’s milk.
Fresno Country Fruit Trail (Fresno County). Follow farm roads through shady orchards to dozens of farm stands, local food producers, and friendly Central Valley towns.
China Ranch Date Farm (Tecopa). Learn how dates are grown and harvested—and get plenty of free samples—on this family farm, nestled in a real oasis just south of Death Valley National Park.
The Flower Fields (Carlsbad). March through mid-May, walk among 20-hectares of brilliant ranunculus in full bloom, capped off with ocean views just north of San Diego.
Get a real sense of what makes farm life tick, and lend a hand collecting eggs and tending vegetables, or just sit back and enjoy the picturesque landscape and enjoy the fruits of the farm when meal time rolls around.
Mar Vista Cottages (Gualala). Families love these 12 housekeeping cottages nestled in dramatic coastal hills along the North Coast; kids can collect eggs and harvest berries for breakfast.
Willow Creek Ranch (Mountain Ranch). Try your hand at milking cows, quilting, and other farm tasks at this pretty ranch in rolling Gold Country foothills (day visitors also welcome).
Naylor’s Organic Farm Stay (Dinuba). This family-run orchard southeast of Fresno in the sunny Central Valley invites guests to pick and eat their fill of juicy, organic peaches and other stone fruits (in season mid-May to mid-August).
Mariposa Creamery (Altadena). Visit this creamery on the historic Zane Grey Estate, northeast of L.A., to learn about artisanal cheese making. Lucky guests who book early can bed down in a retro-chic Airstream trailor.
Flip Flop Ranch (Lucerne Valley). Full days of feeding chickens, making soap, and helping with other homesteading activities keep overnight guests busy at this family-friendly guest ranch on the east side of the San Bernardino Range.
Apples and berries abound for intrepid travellers willing to pick their own. These farms offer trees and patches for you to harvest yourself, as well as tastings and even food made from the produce at hand.
Apple Hill (Placerville). In the heart of the Gold Country, choose from more than 50 farms and ranches offering old-fashioned pumpkin patches, apple picking, and delicious cider donuts.
Phipps Country Store and Farm (Pescadero). Stop by this inviting destination, about 80 kilometres south of San Francisco, to fill your baskets with strawberries in spring and juicy olallieberries in summer.
Cover’s Apple Ranch (Toulumne). Take a side trip on your way to or from Yosemite to harvest crisp apples, visit with barnyard critters, and picnic on fresh deli items and homemade baked goods.
Villa del Sol (Leona Valley). Plan a spring or early summer agri-road trip to pick your fill of five varieties of sweet cherries at this expansive orchard, about an hour’s drive north of L.A. Get local raw honey too.
Kenny’s Strawberry Farm (Temecula). They grow sweet, hearty strawberries “hydrophorically,” which means in containers above the ground, And that means the whole family can have some good, clean fun in these mud-free and stroller-friendly strawberry fields.
Go where the top chefs and locals go for their produce to see the amazing bounty that is California agriculture in a single swoop. Here are some great ones to visit.
Marin Farmers Market (San Rafael). Local chefs, foodies, and families flock to this huge market jam-packed with the best of Marin and Sonoma County farms and ranches; open Thursdays and Sundays year-round.
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (San Francisco). The city’s 1890s ferry terminal has been reborn as a remarkable food hall focusing on local artisan food purveyors. It also hosts a huge farmers market (Tues/Thurs/Sat), a favourite of local chefs in this ultimate foodie city.
Davis Farmers Market (Davis). This wildly popular twice-weekly market has incredible produce (look for unusual Asian fruits and vegetables), entertainment, and cooking demos. The “Picnic in the Park” market (Wed evening from mid March through October) includes a wine and beer garden.
Santa Monica Farmers Market (Santa Monica). Celebrity sightings are almost as common as just-picked strawberries at this party-like market-cum-street-fair with three locations (Wed/Sat/Sun).
These spots take the local harvest and get it on the table in delicious fashion for guests to enjoy in situ - perfect for those who prefer to eat rather than harvest or cook.
Outstanding in the Field (multiple locations). The original roving culinary adventure, this California-based company now serves its unforgettable meals at farms and orchards nationwide—even at special events like Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April.
Fork, Cork, & Paddle/O.A.R.S. (Angels Camp). Take a whitewater raft trip down the S. Fork American River (spirited but fun Class III rapids), followed by a gourmet meal featuring locally grown products and paired with Sierra Foothills wines.
Full Belly Farm Dinners (Capay Valley). Seasonal dinners gleaned from locals farms and fields are served at this family-run organic farm west of Sacramento, especially lovely in spring when the region’s almond orchards are in bloom. (February brings the Capay Valley Almond Festival).
Celebrate California agriculture with like-minded fans at these gatherings centering on specific edible (or simply visual) delights or simply hyper-local areas with something special to celebrate.
FEB: Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival (Indio). Lovers of this sticky-sweet treat can get their fill of date-filled treats, as well as family-friendly entertainment and carnie rides.
MAR: Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tour (Santa Barbara). Stroll through greenhouses and flower fields at this beautiful event.
APR: California Nut Festival (Chico). Come sample locally grown foods and watch nut-inspired cooking demonstrations at this outdoor festival held on the historic grounds of the Patrick Ranch Museum.
MAY: California Strawberry Festival (Watsonville). Enjoy the obligatory strawberry shortcake, ice cream, and pie-eating contest, but also sample strawberry beer, deep-fried strawberries, and even strawberry pizza.
MAY: Castroville Artichoke Festival (Castroville). These nutty-sweet edible thistles get fried, added to soups, marinated, pickled, grilled, and more at this celebration of everything artichoke along the Central Coast.
JUL: Gilroy Garlic Festival (Gilroy). You can actually smell this popular festival before you see it. Enjoy chefs cooking up garlic specialties, a garlic cook-off, and dozens of vendors selling garlic-y goods.
SEP: Sample the Sierra (South Lake Tahoe). Watch chefs pair up with local farmers to create exciting dishes showcasing local produce. Wine pairings and entertainment too.
OCT: Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Capay Valley). Kids flip over this family-friendly festival’s countless activities, like making ice cream, climbing giant hay forts, and sheep shearing. Farm tours and special dinners too.
This fertile valley stretches for some 724 kilometres from roughly Chico south to Bakersfield—the pancake-flat belly of California. Farms and ranches unfurl to the edge of the horizon— blooming fruit trees in spring, head-high corn and brilliant yellow sunflowers in summer, russet grapevines in fall, lush lettuces in winter.
"Farms and ranches unfurl to the edge of the horizon— blooming fruit trees in spring, head-high corn and brilliant yellow sunflowers in summer, russet grapevines in fall, lush lettuces in winter."
Farm stands dot the region, especially in summer; look for hand-painted signs proclaiming what’s fresh and in season, then pull over to buy a pint of just-picked strawberries, or perfect peaches for your picnic, or maybe a jar of local wildflower honey for a sweet souvenir.
And with this bounty comes a big crop of farmers’ markets too—many of them year-round. These pop-up gatherings, with market umbrellas shading an incredible array of fruits and vegetables, have become weekly rituals for many Californians—the gathering place where locals not only get ultra-fresh foods and support farmers, but also meet friends, listen to live music, let the kids explore and learn, and find handmade crafts and gifts. Standout markets include the twice-weekly festival-like market in downtown Davis (Wednesday evening markets in summer include wine and beer tastings), and Stockton’s San Joaquin Farmers’ (Sundays year-round), known for unusual Asian produce like bitter melon and lotus root.