What better way for kids to learn how foods grow than to visit a working farm and pick their own fruits and vegetables? In Southern California, there are farms open year round with opportunities to pick everything from strawberries and watermelon to lettuce and corn.
Here’s a list of some of the best spots to visit during spring and summer. (A second list just for fall picking is clearly in order, too!) Before you visit any farm, call ahead to see what’s available.
3370 Sunset Valley Road
reviewed on: September 14 2009
Underwood Family Farms is a working farm where you and your little ones can pick your own fruits and veggies or shop at the farm’s market. What makes this place so spectacular is that in addition to the pick-your-own fun, the Farm also has an animal center where kids can see chickens, cows, goats, sheep and the like. You can purchase tickets to enjoy a variety of other activities, including electronic mini tractors (which I couldn’t get my son off!), cow train, pony rides and feed for the animals. The Fall Harvest Festival runs from the end of September through the end of October, when each weekend is full of special events, including an antique tractor weekend and western heritage weekend, plus a pumpkin patch and tons of food. There is always plenty to do here and even your youngest will find something fun to do during your visit. Underwood Family Farms actually have two locations, this one and another smaller place in Somis. They recommend that you call ahead to find out how weather might affect your visit. Get out to the farm for an inexpensive and fun way to spend the day outdoors!
5380 3/4 University Dr
reviewed on: May 18 2011
What’s not to like about seeing how fruits and vegetables grow right on the farm? The Tanaka family has been farming for some 100 years and this 30-acre location features 40 different types of vegetables, plus fruits like strawberries, watermelons and honeydew.
"Yummy Summer Watermelon Tour"
What left the biggest impression on me about our tractor-led tour is the effort Tanaka Farms makes to teach you about their farming processes (all organic, by the way). We learned natural ways to fend off bugs, how to tell when a watermelon is ripe and why certain vegetables are grown next to others. (For instance, we learned that squash and zucchini are grown amongst corn to hide from them from the bugs.)
Best of all, each tour includes plenty of fresh-from-the-field taste testing. I watched my 5-year-old devour carrots, corn, zucchini, watermelon and more like it was Halloween candy.
About 45 minutes into our tour, we stopped at the watermelon patch. We weren’t able to pick any for ourselves; field experts had already selected the ripest for our choosing.
But we were able to walk through the fields and take a close up look at the watermelons growing, which was a real treat.
The farm generates most of its income from these tours, so I feel good about where my $13 fee per person is going.
Farm tours are available year round; watermelon tours run in July and August only. Tours lasts about 1 ½ hours, which includes a stop for taste testing several yummy fruits and veggies, plus perusing the watermelon patch. The Farm’s Produce Stand is open daily year round with fresh produce for purchase.
A few planning essentials: Parking is plentiful and free. There are no flush toilets, but several portable potties are available near the Produce Stand; another is located in the fields adjacent to the watermelon patch. No restaurant facilities are available, but you are welcome to enjoy your own lunch under any of the tented areas.
My biggest piece of advice? Be prepared for the heat! July and August in Irvine are hot months. Come prepared with hats for everyone, sunscreen and more water than you think you’ll need.
15954 Woods Valley Road
Valley Center, California
Cannon Road and Paseo del Norte
just east of I-5 Carlsbad, California
39700 Cantrell Road
40376 Brookside Ave
Cherry Valley, California
13120 Willow Road
39300 Bouquet Canyon
48745 Three Points Road
Lake Hughes, California
11212 Elizabeth Lake Road
1012 West Ventura Blvd.