From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in the 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.
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 emblasoned 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.
Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, San Francisco
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 Market offers diverse veggies—like great daikon (white radish), won bok, and bok choy—along with artisanal breads and barbecue.
Vineyard Farmers’ Market, Fresno
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.
Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets, Los Angeles
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.
Marine Stadium Farmers’ Market, Long Beach
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 jewelry. 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:
Davis Farmers’ Market, Davis
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’ Market, 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.
Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Market, Greater Palm Springs
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; 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.
Wine Tasting on the River Adventures/O.A.R.S., near Yosemite National Park
Take a whitewater raft trip down the Tuolumne River (spirited but fun Class IV rapids), followed by a gourmet meal featuring locally grown products and paired with Sierra Foothills wines.
Seasonal dinners prepared with produce and livestock 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.
Dickinson Farm, San Diego County
Specialising in organically grown heirloom fruits, vegetables, and herbs, this small husband-and-wife-run farm and farm stand offers quarterly dinners, classes teaching such skills as pickling and herb smudge making, fresh-air yoga, and farm tours. At their larder, you can buy such house-made treats as pumpkin butter and green tomato jam, as well as insect-repelling herbal smudges.
Celebrate California agriculture with like-minded fans at these gatherings centering 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 brewmasters 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 12-kilometre 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.
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.