There is something magical about picking your own food. If you want to "get back to the land" within an hour of Los Angeles, there are myriad opportunities to go live a farmer's life for just a few hours and come home with your basket overflowing with berries. Whether you prefer strawberries, cherries, or stone fruit, picking your own berries is a fun (and tasty!) family activity that keeps on giving. Just three caveats: 1. Be sure to check the farm's hours and availability before heading out, as current conditions dictate the seasons; 2. Farms may charge small admission fees, and 3. Bring cash to pay for your harvest, because many places don't accept checks or credit. Then slather on the sun screen, don a wide-brimmed hat, and don't wear white, and bon appetit!
Cherries and Stone Fruit
Cherries do best in the high desert, and there are several pick-your-own orchards up in the Leona Valley, near Palmdale, off the 14. It's a pretty ride up there: high desert horse country. Recent years of drought have been hard on the region, and some farms have sold up and left the business. The Leona Valley Cherry Growers Association has the complete list of farms for the season; check each farm's website for opening day and operating hours updates.
Cherries in the Leona Valley. Photo by Konrad Summers/CC BY 2.0
Ambers Farm is a pick-your-own cherry farm that offers about 20 varieties of the fruit from late May through June or July. It offers a family-friendly environment with easy-pick dwarf trees, small wagons to haul the kids as you pick, and picnic/barbecue/play areas to relax after gathering cherries.
9300 Leona Ave.
Leona Valley, CA 93551
Villa del Sol, at 25 acres, says it's the largest you-pick cherry orchard in Southern California. It has about 3,000 trees with cherry varieties that include Bing, Rainier, Brooks and Tulare. The season generally begins from late May to early June and can go through early July. It does accept debit and credit cards.
6989 Elizabeth Lake Road
Leona Valley, CA 93551
Windy Ridge Ranch is a family-owned orchard with Bing and Rainier cherries growing on dwarf trees. It trims the trees seven feet, making all the cherries within easy reach from the ground, which is great for kids. A tractor-pulling tram, another attraction for little ones, takes you from the base of a hill to the orchard. There's a shaded picnic area from which you can enjoy the farm's top-notch views of the valley. Opening day for cherry picking season is generally in early to mid-June.
9811 Leona Ave.
Leona Valley, CA 93551
All the aforementioned cherry orchards also carry local honey and other farm-fresh products. And if you're looking for autumn apples, be sure to check our recommendations for pick-your-own apple orchards, too.
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No one ever went hungry picking chrries. Photo courtesy of Villa del Sol
Just as beautiful as the trip up the 14 into the high desert is the route down into Orange County—and at the end of the road? Strawberries!
Parents rave about Tanaka Farms in Irvine. From 9:30am to 2:30pm on weekends from March to June, "Strawberry Tours" go out every half hour, no reservations required; contact the farm through its website to book a weekday tour. After waiting in a covered area that has lots of hay to play in, visitors get on the wagon with about 20 other people and get driven all around the farm while a farmer explains organic practices, drip irrigation system, and why certain crops are grown together. Throughout the tour, you stop by water-filled buckets with all the various veggies that have been pulled from the field, having been put into the buckets moments before each wagon arrives, and stuff is handed out for you to taste--carrots, celery, cilantro, sweet onions--whatever is growing. Then, at the end, the driver stops the wagon at the strawberry field, and you get out and pick a basket full. The farm stand has everything the farm grows, which includes peanuts, grapes, corn, tons of different veggies, and fruit and nuts.
5380 3/4 University Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
Get ready to earn every juicy bite. Photo courtesy of Tanaka Farms
For less formal farm tours and all organic produce, try picking strawberries at South Coast Farms. Contact the farm through its website to find out what days it offers "pick your own." 2017 UPDATE: The "you-pick" is closed until further notice because "the recent hot weather and severe winds significantly damaged the strawberry crop." The farm will post updates about the situation on its website.
32701 Alipaz St.
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
If you want to drive up toward Ventura (another lovely drive as long as there's no traffic), McGrath Family Farm is certified organic, and the pick your own selection is great. Picking hours are 10am-5pm.
1020 W. Ventura Blvd.
Camarillo, CA 93010
Berry cute overload! Photo courtesy of Underwood Family Farms
Every year, the entire kindergarten class at our school flocks to Underwood Family Farms for the kids' favorite field trip. Not only do they pick their own fruit, they also get a full tour of a working farm. And a hay ride! Because Underwood Family Farms is a field trip and birthday party mecca, it's easy to forget that it also is a place to visit without a big group. Be warned, though, that during peak birthday party and school group hours, Underwood can get crowded. A fully functioning farm, Underwood is a place where children can see animals at work and get a real sense of a day in the life on a farm. And, of course, come home bursting with fresh, sustainably grown berries. It's open 9am-6pm daily during PDT and 9am-5pm during PST.
3370 Sunset Valley Road
Moorpark, CA 93021
If you're looking for a wider array of "pick your own" options, there's an app for that (or at least a website). Pickyourown.org lists open orchards and farms across the country. A whole family vacation could be built around visiting farms, picking produce, and feeling what it's like to live off the land for a while. Chances are, when you get back, you'll find a little land in the city to plant a little plot or few trees of your own.
Top photo by drmama/CC BY 2.0
Originally published June 15, 2012