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 centre/summer camp, this farm south of San Francisco welcomes all ages with tempting programmes—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 30-acre 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. Example?
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). From March to mid-May, walk among 50 acres 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 self-catering 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 south-east 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, north-east of L.A., to learn about artisanal cheese making. Lucky guests who book early can bed down in a retro-chic Airstream caravan.
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 doughnuts.
Phipps Country Store and Farm (Pescadero). Stop by this inviting destination, about 50 miles south of San Francisco, to fill your baskets with strawberries in spring and juicy olallieberries in summer.
Cover’s Apple Ranch (Toulumne). Take a detour on your way to or from Yosemite to harvest crisp apples, seefarmyard animals and picnic on fresh deli items and home-made 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 eve from mid March to 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 white water rafting 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 north 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 centring 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 carnival 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 and 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 specialities, 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 love this family-friendly festival’s countless activities, like making ice cream, climbing giant hay forts and sheep shearing. Farm tours and special dinners too.
The fertile Central Valley stretches some 450 miles from roughly Orland 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.
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. Some bigger farm stands have become year-round destinations in themselves, with petting zoos, on-site bakeries, and irresistible gift shops—and even wine-tasting rooms. Here are some worth a detour, listed north to south.
Manas Ranch, Esparto
This Yolo County stand is open only from June until November but is acclaimed for its six varieties of peaches. The ranch also grows apricots, cherries, peppers, and more, but peaches rule, with an assortment of all-peach cookbooks, T-shirts, and hats. Watch through the big window as peaches get sorted into “first,” “second,” and “soft” rankings (the latter is prime for cooking or canning), then pick up some local jams (like the popular Triple Berry) and honeys to take home.
Soul Food Farm Stand, Vacaville
This olive orchard and farm stand in Solano County specializes in olive oils and hydrosol lavender, the latter made from the sweet-smelling herbs grown on the family farm. It also hosts regular farm-to-table diners and occasional Vintage Marketplaces, lined with local antiques dealers and food vendors.
This farm store and cafe is known for its fresh produce and tall fruit pies, but it’s aligned with another great Central Valley crop: Lodi wines. The store is affiliated with Michael David Winery, on the same property, which produces such Syrahs and Zinfandels as the Freakshow Red and Seven Deadly Zins.
The Fruit Bowl, Stockton
The Lucchetti family farm has been growing peaches—now 60 varieties—and more since 1947. Choose among dried fruits and nuts, or pick up baked goods like muffins, breads, and pies. The Lucchettis also salute their Italian heritage with on-site biscotti, panini, and gelato.
Simonian Farms, Fresno
This family farm goes back four generations, and now grows 180 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Its barn-style store has a huge variety of dried fruits and nuts, along with a wine-tasting saloon and a “Route 66” shooting gallery.
Fresno State Gibson Farm Market, Fresno
Sample the wares of tomorrow’s farmers and producers at this store stocked with goods grown and created by students and faculty at Fresno State University. Taste jams, nuts, coffee, and the university’s own TailGate wine (it’s the first college in the nation to have winemaking as part of its educational plan).
Hudson Farms, Sanger
Located along the Fresno County Fruit Trail, this family farm stand specializes in peaches, plums, and nectarines—including some varieties you won’t find in your local supermarket. It’s open from June through September, also offering lots of tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, and ornamental cut flowers. If you can’t cart away a bushel, you can at least take home some of their recipes, like those for Blushing Peach Pie and Lemon Blueberry Tea Bread.
Bravo Farms, Traver
This store and restaurant started in Traver as a place to buy the family’s artisan cheese. Now it has four locations—also in Visalia, Tulare, and Kettleman City—and offers a variety of produce and products from the Central Valley as well as barbecue, antiques, and an acclaimed house lemonade. Regulars love the cheese curds to go.
California Fruit Depot, Bakersfield
This farm store outside “Bako,” as many locals call it, specializes in their own sweet navel oranges and Coachella Valley-grown Medjool dates. The stand is open year-round, but peak sweetness for the oranges starts in December and lasts well into May. You’ll also find a variety of nuts, olives, licorice, and Jordan almonds.