Milk cows, wake up to roosters crowing, feast on farm-to-table foods served in the shade of a blooming orchard—California has a bounty of ways to have hands-on fun at a farm or ranch—especially for families. Here’s a sampling of great (and often delicious) offerings statewide. For more ideas consult these helpful resources.
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.