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 and gnarled wine vines—these trails, drives and unique farm tours provide close-up looks at California farms, gorgeous agricultural scenery, and plenty of places to stop and taste the bounty. Make these detours across the Golden State, listed north to south.
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.
Sierra Oro Farm Trail, Butte County
This Shasta Cascade county is dotted with wineries, but is also home to dairy farms, olives and even Harrison’s California Chestnuts, known for their jumbo size.
Yolo County Farm Trail, Yolo County
A drive though this Central Valley region—focusing on the towns of Davis, Woodland, Capay and Esparto—is rich with olives, peaches, and lavender. Don’t miss the Séka Hills Olive Mill & Tasting Room, where you can sip olive oil like it’s Chardonnay.
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 programs—from bread baking to raising bees and chickens.
Fresno County Fruit Trail, Fresno County
Follow farm roads through shady orchards to dozens of farm stands, local food producers and friendly Central Valley towns. During the early spring, you can see a rainbow of fruit blossoms and by summer, feast on the peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots, as well as their resulting pies, jams and dried fruits.
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.
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.
The Flower Fields, Carlsbad
March through mid-May, walk among 50 acres of brilliant ranunculi in full bloom, capped off with ocean views just north of San Diego.
Cheese lovers can go pretty much anywhere in the state to find well-rendered fromage: There are 42 producers on the map, spanning from the North Coast to the Central Valley and down to Southern California. Pick your region and look for tastings, cheese-making classes and events.
Get a real sense of what makes farm life tick at a California farm stay. Lend a hand collecting eggs and tending vegetables, or just sit back and enjoy the picturesque landscape. Listed north to south, these unique accommodations feature one of the Golden State’s best assets—its abundant produce.
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, and owners encourage you to use the produce on the property to prepare meals in your cottage’s kitchen. Good news for Fido: Mar Vista Cottages are dog-friendly (with a fee).
Willow Creek Ranch, Mountain Ranch
Try your hand at milking cows, gathering eggs, quilting and other farm tasks at this pretty ranch in rolling Gold Country foothills (day visitors also welcome for the ‘get-your-hands-dirty’ tour).
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). Every day starts with a home-cooked meal by owners Mike and Nori, which includes fresh-squeezed orange juice (while in season) and warm muffins.
Rancho Dos Amentes, Monterey County
This Central Coast property offers everything you’d hope for in a farm stay—goat milking, egg gathering, u-pick fruit trees—with touches of modern comfort. You can learn how to master farm-to-table dining at of the ranch’s cooking classes and end your night with a fireside glass of vino from nearby Paso Robles.
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 anyone willing to pick their own fruit at many California farms. These seven U-pick farms, listed north to south, 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.
Cover’s Apple Ranch, Tuolumne
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 pies, which change seasonally based on the freshest fruit.
Swanton Berry Farm, Pescadero and Davenport
Typically, between May–September, you can pick the organic strawberries at one of this farm’s two locations between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. Depending on the season, you might also get to pick your own juicy Olallieberries or try some of the farm’s other unique fruits like Tayberries and Loganberries.
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 Los Angeles. You can also purchase the local raw honey on site.
Kenny’s Strawberry Farm, Rainbow
They grow sweet, hearty strawberries ‘hydrophorically’—in containers above the ground—in these family-friendly strawberry fields in Rainbow, five minutes from Temecula. You can also pick watermelons, pumpkins, and other vegetables during your visit, depending on time of year.
Carlsbad Strawberry Company, Carlsbad
Near the region’s famous flower fields, pick your own big, juicy berries, or stop by a trio of stands to buy these locally grown beauties.
Go on the grower-led ‘all you can eat’ tour to see and taste how produce grows at this pesticide-free natural farm in historic Julian. Afterwards, you can fill a bag with a variety of apples, pears, and plums. If you have kids in tow, bring some organic grapes so they can feed the farm’s rescue chickens.
The Golden State’s farms may stretch well into the countryside, but many of California’s best farmers' markets sit right within the bustle of the biggest cities. On any day of the week, go where the top chefs and locals go for their produce—and see the amazing bounty that is California agriculture in a single swoop. Here are the don’t-miss farmers' markets in California’s 10 biggest cities (year-round, unless otherwise stated), listed north to south, along with a few notable smaller-city markets.
Central Farmers’ Market, Sacramento
The biggest market in California’s capital city—with over 120 vendors, offering countless peppers, fruits, mushrooms and rainbow-hued cauliflower—convenes year-round at the underpass of U.S. 50 (look up to see how the ceiling has been emblazoned with a blue-sky mural). Other markets happen in Sacramento almost every day during the summer; one is the Capital Mall Market, which features food trucks at lunchtime.
Temescal Farmers’ Market, Oakland
The market in this restaurant-filled neighbourhood is foodie favourite: While you peruse the produce, get a coffee from Blue Bottle and a croissant-like kouign amann from Starter Bakery, which has earned a cult following.
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays
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, a favourite of area chefs in this ultimate foodie city. Come on Thursdays for street foods like tacos and pizza; on Saturdays, sample wares from local restaurants.
Downtown and Japantown Markets, San Jose
Fridays and Sundays
The Friday market (May through November) at San Pedro Square offers fresh produce, artisanal breads and gifts and some offbeat Silicon Valley tech—like the occasional Blender Bike, which you can pedal to make your own smoothie. On Sundays the Japantown Marketoffers diverse veggies—like great daikon (white radish), won bok, and bok choy—along with artisanal breads and barbecue.
Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings
Even Alice Waters has claimed to be a fan of this twice-weekly Central Valley market, which resides under a cathedral-like canopy of trellises. Look for local peaches, plums and nectarines, along with heirloom tomatoes, artisanal cheeses, and pastries.
Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays
Celebrity sightings are almost as common as just-picked strawberries—plus basil, quince, snowpeas and more—at this party-like market with three locations. Word is that L.A.’s A-list chefs tend to shop at Wednesday’s market on Arizona Avenue between 4th & Ocean.
This L.A. County market runs as late as 8 p.m. during the summer—a nice way to catch a sunset and also take in some Long Beach history: The coastal location was the site of the 1932 Olympic rowing competition and the 1968 Olympic rowing trials. These days you’ll also find local produce, prepared food and live music.
The Orange County city’s Center Street Promenade is closed to cars for this lunchtime and afternoon market. It truly becomes a stroll-able promenade through produce vendors—lots of avocados, citrus and herbs—crafts, and prepared foods like tamales, barbecue and roasted corn.
Little Italy Mercato, San Diego
Tucked on one side of downtown, the San Diego neighbourhood of Little Italy is already a foodie magnet (with such restaurants as Juniper & Ivy and Craft & Commerce), and this market may feature as much prepared food as produce. After looking over the fruits and veggies, don’t miss the artisanal breads, gourmet guacamole, vegan bacon and greens-rich smoothies.
The Valley Farmers’ Market, on Golden State Avenue, is the biggest and oldest market in this Central Valley hub; it stretches beyond produce into jellies, olive oil, soy candles and jewellery. Brimhall, meanwhile, focuses on small farms and more gourmet fare.
Want to go a little more small-town? Here are cool markets in four smaller cities:
Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons
This wildly popular market has incredible produce (look for unusual Asian fruits and vegetables), entertainment and cooking demos. The “Picnic in the Park” market (Wednesday evenings from mid-March through October) includes a wine and beer garden, music and kids’ activities.
Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, San Luis Obispo
This Higuera Street market is a weekly street fair, with more than 120 farmers and vendors: Come to look at the Central Coast fruits and veggies, and stay for the live music and dinner choices like sushi, pizza or barbecue.
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Markets, Santa Barbara
State Street is the city’s main shopping street any day, but Tuesday it comes alive with chef-magnet produce—like local olives, pistachios and seasonal fruit pies from nearby Solvang—and live music. The city has five others days’ worth of markets, too.
Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays
The desert metro area has a trio of markets—in Palm Springs as well as Palm Desert and La Quinta. (Good news: The markets move indoors, with air-conditioning, during the summer). Look for local dates, avocados and grapes, as well as lavender and fresh-made tamales.
These California destinations 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. Past California locations have included a secret spot in Big Sur, a Catalina Island Sea Cove, and a variety of ranches and vineyards and new ones are announced every year.
Wild Kitchen, San Francisco Bay Area
Whether you’re dining on a Sausalito houseboat or on a roof deck in the Mission, you and around 100 guests will experience eight courses using sustainable ingredients during a Wild Kitchen meal. The concept is to take local ingredients and share them with a community, and the result is a fun, unique way to enjoy a menu filled with surprises.
Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel
The Wine Dinner Series brings together the expertise of Executive Chef Tim Wood and Sommelier Mark Buzan to create a farm-to-table dinner—using ingredients from the on-site organic garden—paired with local Monterey County. Each event carries a different theme, such as focusing on one winemaker, and the dinner location varies around the 500-acre property.
Fork, Cork, & Paddle/O.A.R.S., Angels Camp
Take a white-water 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 local 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).
American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour, Carlsbad and Carpinteria
This roving company creates its own restaurant amongst colourful fields of flowers for its farm-to-table dinners, including locations in Carlsbad and Carpinteria. Each dinner includes a farm tour, flowers to take home and plenty of interaction with the chef and flower farmers.
Celebrate California agriculture with like-minded fans at these gatherings centring on specific edible delights or simply hyper-local areas with something special to celebrate. Below is a list of 12 events—one per month—but when it comes to California food and beverage festivals, there are plenty more festivals where that came from.
JANUARY: Mendocino Crab, Beer & Wine Festival (Mendocino). The fisherman, winemakers and brew masters of the North Coast show off their bounty at this festival, which features family-style crab feeds, winemaker dinners, surprising wine and crab pairings and the popular Crab Cake Cook-off & Wine Competition.
FEBRUARY: 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. Don’t miss the camel and ostrich races, which are—as expected—unpredictable and hilarious to watch.
MARCH: Latin Food Fest (Santa Monica). The L.A. version of this spicy festival is hosted next to the Santa Monica Pier and features cooking demos and tastings of Latin cuisine. There’s more here than just tacos, though—expect dishes with an influence from Salvador, Cuba, Bolivia and more. There’s also an event in San Diego in August and an Orange County event in November.
APRIL: 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. The festival also features live music, an art show and a competition for the annual title of Nutty Chef.
MAY: California Strawberry Festival (Oxnard). Enjoy the obligatory strawberry shortcake, ice cream and pie-eating contest, but also sample strawberry beer, strawberry popcorn and even strawberry pizza. Strawberries are celebrated in multiple California regions in May, including at the Watsonville Strawberry Festival and Vista Strawberry Festival.
JUNE: 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.
JULY: 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 garlicky goods.
AUGUST: Chula Vista Lemon Festival (Chula Vista). Celebrate Chula Vista's title of lemon capital of the world by partaking in one of the festival's juicy contests: pie eating, sour tasting or lemon peeling. Or simply kick back in the beer garden where, in addition to craft brews, you can sample flavours from Mike's Hard Lemonade—the premier sponsor, of course. Yellow outfits encouraged.
SEPTEMBER: Sample the Sierra (South Lake Tahoe). Watch chefs pair up with farmers, brewers and winemakers to create exciting dishes showcasing local produce, with wine pairings and entertainment too.
OCTOBER: 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. There are farm tours and special dinners too.
NOVEMBER: Springville Apple Festival (Springville). Sample all-things apple at this annual event held in Springville, about 90 minutes northeast of Bakersfield. The festival also ties in an apple-themed 5K run and beginner-friendly 8-mile fat-tire bike race.
DECEMBER: Indio International Tamale Festival (Indio). Just south of Palm Springs, you can eat your way through plenty of authentic tamales in Indio. The festival includes a recipe competition, tamale-eating contest, mariachis and a car show.
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, specialises 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, liquorice and Jordan almonds.