California feeds the world, they say, and local farms feed us. If you’ve been paying attention to the state crop calendar, or just wandered the produce department at Von’s, you know there’s a huge array of fruits and veggies now being harvested in SoCal. Lucky for us, some farms let you go in and pick what you want. While cherry season is effectively over, other fruit is just getting started, like fist-sized apricots and peaches, rosy on the outside and gold on the inside. Late-season strawberries, corn, tomatoes and fat watermelons warming in the sun, ready to devour. If you haven’t ever eaten just-plucked fruit, you’re missing a great foodie experience. Here are some pick-your-own orchards and glean-your-own locations in L.A., Orange and Ventura counties.
In Ventura County, venerable Underwood Farms offers two locations for your picking pleasure. The Somis location lets you pick strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, plus it has an “animal center” for the kids, with no admission charge. Somis provides a pleasant, old-fashioned day in the country. The Moorpark location does charge admission, depending on day of the week or whether there’s a “festival” going on ($3 to $20), but it also boasts a gigantic array of u-pick fruits and vegetables. Check the crop calendar for specifics. The Moorpark location has more going on in terms of family-type activities, farm camp, tours and so forth; it’s also 9 miles closer to L.A., and within yelling distance of the Reagan Library, should you require additional stimulation.
3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark; (805) 529-3690; and 5696 E. Los Angeles Ave., Somis; (805) 386-4660; underwoodfamilyfarms.com.
Tanaka Farms is famous for its strawberries and free farm tours, and it's currently offering cantaloupes, watermelons, corn, tomatoes, carrots and basil through August. Availability changes day to day, but there’s always a good range of edibles to choose from. Weekday tours can get busy with school groups, but it can usually squeeze in extra people.
5380 University Drive, Irvine; (949) 653-2100, tanakafarms.com.
M&M Peach Ranch
Starting in late August, red-fleshed Ryan Sun peaches will become available for picking, followed by aromatic yellow-orange Last Chance peaches through mid-October. Call ahead to make sure they’re ready — M&M won’t sell until those peaches are perfect.
48745 Three Points Road, Lake Hughes; (661) 724-1398, mmpeachranch.com.
Orcutt Ranch Horticulture Center
This historic park in the West Valley is having its annual public orange pick Saturday and Sunday, July 9 and 10, 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Bring your own bags and boxes to fill with Valencia oranges ($4 and $6, respectively.) You can also rent a picking tool for $1. If you miss this pick, there will be another one for grapefruit in January.
23600 Roscoe Blvd., West Hills; (818) 833-6641, laparks.org/horticulture/orcuttranch.
You may have noticed those shiny new fruit tree planters at Los Angeles State Historic Park downtown. These are part of the ongoing Fallen Fruit project, which maps places to find free fruit and provides an app where you can add your own trees to the list. Download fruit maps here.
Cal State Northridge Orange Orchard
There’s a historic 8-acre orchard of Valencia oranges at the southeast corner of the CSUN campus, used mainly to supply fruit to local food banks twice a year. While public picking is not forbidden, it is probably better to scoop up a handful of recently dropped oranges — you’ll find plenty going to waste underfoot. Pluses: There’s a charming duck pond next to the grove that’s full of red-eared slider turtles, two mini-observatories and a handy bistro for lunch. There’s public parking on campus off Zelzah Avenue, but you can usually nab a spot right across the street.
18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.
Charlie Brown Farms
Arid Littlerock in the high desert is home to a surprising number of fruit orchards — check the Google Maps satellite view and you’ll see the whole territory is a patchwork of farms. In summer, hand-drawn signs sprout up along Highway 138, pointing the way to this or that u-pick farm or fruit stand. Rule of thumb is, if you see a sign, turn and go to that place; you’ll probably discover more than one unadvertised farm along the way. While you're up there, stop at Charlie Brown Farms for Route 66–style refreshments and souvenirs (date shakes, jerky, fudge — you get the idea).
8317 Pearblossom Hwy., Littlerock; (661) 944-2606, charliebrownfarms.com.
You won’t find much information about this orchard online, but the Youngblood family has been growing stone fruit in the Antelope Valley for years and years. Around the first of August, they’ll be offering delicious Alberta peaches for picking.
7624 E. Avenue U, Antelope Valley; (661) 944-5823.
Better-known Yingst Ranch typically offers at least three varieties of peaches — Babcock, Alberta and Suncrest — plus flavor-bomb Satsuma plums, pears and apples (in season). Get some of each kind to savor, slice for salads and baked goods, stew for hot cereal and jam.
35349 80th St. E., Littlerock; (661) 944-2425.
A half-mile north of Yingst Ranch, you may spot a rustic farmhouse with a hand-lettered sign reading “apricots” next to the driveway. Go in! There’s a dusty old orchard out back loaded with heirloom peaches and apricots, plus sun-ripened plums that are to die for. You just fill your bucket and the man in the packing shed weighs them for you. (If you end up picking too many, freeze your fruit to make stovetop jam later on.)
35864 80th St. E., Littlerock.
Crop availability changes with the weather, when possible. call ahead before heading out. For directions, maps and tips, visit pickyourown.org. Happy picking!