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.