Chances are that no matter where you live in the country, you’ve taken a bite of delicious California fruits. Exploring California farm country is a great way to take in some beautiful bucolic views while appreciating the hard work that goes into bringing food to your table. Many farms also offer you-pick, u-pick, or pik-yor-sef opportunities to select your own produce at the perfect ripeness straight from the fields.
Over the years, we’ve visited a number of fruit farms in Northern California, all within a couple of hours of the Bay Area. In this blog post, we’ve highlighted four regions where we’ve picked fruit, mentioning some of the farms we’ve visited and other experiences we’ve had during our road trips.
- May-July: Brentwood, in Contra Costa County
- May-October: Watsonville, near Monterey
- August-October: Davenport, off Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz
- September-November: Apple Hill, past Sacramento in Placerville
Summer – Brentwood (1-1.5 hour drive from the Bay Area)
- One-stop shopping
We’ve been to Brentwood several times to pick fruit, including this past weekend with our friends Jon and Michelle! Brentwood is only about 1.5 hours from Mountain View, and it’s a pretty drive, with views of the golden hills and wind turbines around Livermore and of the Diablo mountain range over the farms in the area.
One of the main highlights of going to this region is the incredible variety of fruits on offer within a very small radius – you could think of Brentwood as being the Napa Valley for U-pick fruit farms. For example, one of our regular stops in Brentwood is Pomeroy Farm, and on our most recent trip, we picked about 9 pounds of peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries within a span of an hour. The price was also $2.50/lb for all of the fruits we picked, so for items like cherries, this was quite a bargain!
Each time we’ve visited, Steve Pomeroy has been there to greet us as we signed in and grabbed our buckets. We’ve then wandered off into the orchards, looking for softer fruits that come easily off the stem. Our friend Michelle noticed that the peaches on the north sides of the trees seemed to be ripening first (this may have been a coincidence, but it was consistent across several trees), and I discovered that the best apricots were accessible by using ladders to climb to the very tops of the trees (make sure your ladder has a nice wide base, have someone spot you, and don’t lean over too far if you choose to use a ladder).
Like many other farms in the area, there is a minimum weight at this farm (5 lbs per family), but there are many more varieties of fruits here than you’ll find at other places, so it is very easy to meet the minimum. The most up-to-date information for Pomeroy Farms is available by phone, so make sure you call them to see what fruit is available during the coming weekend and which location is open for u-pick ((925) 634-7712)!
We’ve also been to two strawberry farms in the area: Chan’s (which has a minimum pick of 2 pounds per person), and Best Berry Farm (which has no minimum but charges a $1 admission fee per adult), and we’ve had good experiences at both! At $2/lb, the strawberries are a great deal! It was actually super easy to pick strawberries in Brentwood compared to some other farms we’ve visited. Last weekend, we got a five pounds of beautiful berries in a matter of minutes. We’d recommend wearing light gloves to avoid irritation since you have to dig through the leaves a bit to find the best strawberries, and watch out for pollinators as you pick (i.e. beware the bees)!
Summer/Fall – Watsonville (1-1.5 hour drive from the Bay Area)
- Berries (strawberries, Olallieberries, Boysenberries, blackberries)
- Pie shop
- Picnic area
One of our favorite spots to spend an afternoon picking fruit is Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville. We’ve visited the ranch both in the summer to pick strawberries, Ollalieberries, and Boysenberries, and in the fall to pick apples, and both types of fruits were reasonably priced.
The big thing that differentiates Gizdich from some of the other farms is that it is more of a “resort” experience. In addition to the u-pick fields, there is a shop that serves cider and pie, an antique shop, nice bathrooms, and picnic tables, making it much more desirable to spend a couple of hours here rather than just a few minutes picking. There are also plenty of cute picture opportunities and activities for kids and kids at heart, so this farm is among the most family-friendly we’ve visited.
Summer-Fall – Davenport (1-1.5 hour drive from the Bay Area)
If you are looking to pick fruit as part of a longer road trip with amazing scenery, Davenport makes a pretty awesome destination. Davenport is located along a particularly pretty stretch of the Highway 1 coastline between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. We love checking out the coastal views at Shark Fin Cove and walking along the old railroad tracks through the Coastal Dairies State Beaches.
Besides the beautiful coastal walks, there are two great locations to pick fruit here! The first is Swanton Berry Farm, which offers u-pick strawberries in the summer. The Coastways ranch location offers amazing ocean views, and the farm stand on Swanton Road offers u-pick, fruit for sale, as well as baked goods and a board game area, all housed in a really lovely rustic building. We have gone to Swanton on a date, to take visiting friends on a fun outing, and just because! Note that the strawberries are expensive here at $4.50/lb, so it’s more appropriate to pick for a picnic rather than to fill a pie or make jam.
Further down Swanton Road is the Cal Poly U-pick Apple Orchard (you have to drive further than you think, to 480 Swanton Road, to reach the U-pick area). The orchard is used by the university for research and teaching (as well as to engage the public through school trips and other activities). We love this orchard because it features 16 different varieties of apples that grow progressively through the fall, some of which we’ve never seen before! You weigh and pay yourself at this location, like many of the roadside farm stands on the East Coast. The apples we picked in the middle of the season were excellent for making pie (and, of course, for eating directly).
Fall – Apple Hill (2.5-3 hours from the Bay Area)
- Fall foliage
Before stopping in to visit some friends in the Sacramento area last November, we visited the Apple Hill region in Placerville (which is also a great stop on the way to the Sierra Nevada Mountains around Lake Tahoe). We went a little too late in the fall to take advantage of U-Pick opportunities, but many of the farms were still open, offering samples from their apple harvest, as well as delicious baked apple goods.
We started our visit with apple samples as well as an awesome apple doughnut from Boa Vista Orchard (which feels like the Disneyland of the area – lots to offer but very, very crowded). Next, we went off the beaten path to try a pie from Apple Pantry Farm (the server was super friendly and gave us a discount on the per-slice price. They also offer take-and-bake options!) And finally, we took in the great views of the vineyards turning color and experienced a working blacksmith shop at Boeger Winery. Apple Hill was a super fun place to visit, especially during the fall when the colors on the hillsides were incredible.
What are some of your favorite U-Pick farms in the Bay Area? And do you know of any winter U-Pick opportunities? We’d love to have your input! Please leave your comments below or send us a message if you have any questions.