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 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 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.
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 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 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 Californian farms. These seven pick-your-own 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 doughnuts.
Cover’s Apple Ranch, Tuolumne
Take a side trip on your way to or from Yosemite to harvest crisp apples, visit farmyard animals, and picnic on fresh deli items and homemade pies, which change seasonally based on what's freshest at the time.
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 be able to pick your own juicy Olallieberries or try some of the farm’s other unusual fruits such as Tayberries and Loganberries.
Villa del Sol, Leona Valley
Plan a spring or early summer agricultural road trip to pick your fill of five varieties of sweet cherries at this extensive orchard, about an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles. You can also purchase 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 the 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 children in tow, bring some organic grapes so that 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 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 Californian 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 US 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 vans at lunchtime.
Temescal Farmers Market, Oakland
The market in this restaurant-filled area 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 local chefs in this ultimate foodie city. Come on Thursdays for street foods such as tacos and pizza; on Saturdays, sample wares from local restaurants.
Central and Japantown Markets, San Jose
Fridays and Sundays
The Friday market (May to 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 pak choi—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, mange tout and more—at this party-like market with three locations. The word is that LA’s A-list chefs tend to shop at Wednesday’s market on Arizona Avenue between 4th & Ocean.
Marine Stadium Farmers' Market , Long Beach
This LA County market is open as late as 8 pm 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. This means you can truly wander through the produce—lots of avocados, citrus and herbs—crafts, and prepared foods such as tamales, barbecued meats and roasted corn-on-the-cob.
Little Italy Mercato, San Diego
Tucked in on one side of the city centre, the San Diego district of Little Italy is already a foodie magnet (with restaurants such as Juniper & Ivy and Craft & Commerce), and this market may feature as much prepared food as produce. After looking over the fruit 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 jams, olive oil, soy candles and jewellery. Brimhall, meanwhile, focuses on small farms and more gourmet fare.
Want to find even smaller-town markets? 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 to October) includes a wine and beer garden, music and children's 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 fruit and veg, and stay for the live music and dinner choices which include sushi, pizza and barbecued meat.
Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market, Santa Barbara
State Street is the city’s main shopping street every day, but on Tuesdays it comes alive with chef-magnet produce—including 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 freshly made tamales.
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 carni 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.