For the second year in a row, my daughter and I loaded up the car with snacks and drove to Fresno County, California to visit the largest agricultural area of California (and possibly the United States!). Our end destination: visiting local farms on the Fresno Fruit Trail in Central California.
Although I’d been to Fresno before, it was always driving through that general area to get to somewhere else, like Yosemite. It wasn’t until a conversation with my friend Luci, who travels to the area with her family every year, that I started thinking of the greater Fresno County area as a travel destination unto itself. And as spring turned into summer this year, my daughter and I started talking about going back.
Like our trip last year, we decided to use Visalia as our base camp and go on our day trips from there. We love taking the I-198 from Visalia toward Sequoia National Park. It’s a pretty drive (much of it famland or driving along a river or lake) and we hit up some of our (now) favorite roadside fruit stands.
If you are traveling this road to Three Rivers or the entrance to the Sequoia National Park, you’ll be driving through the town of Exeter. Make sure to stop at Pinky’s. We love their smoothies! And their produce selection, while not huge, is always the tastiest. I couldn’t buy enough of these Ruby River plums. The best I’ve ever had.
Another favorite off the I-198 in Exeter is the Sequoia Flowers Produce and More shop. The owner carries a nice variety of local produce and flowers, as well as locally produced preserves, honey, and other food items. There’s also a sprinkling of antiques and cute gift shop items blended throughout the store. We’ve bought jam from here both times, as well as produce and a few knick knacks.
Just outside Visalia and to the north off of I-99 is Bravo Farms in the city of Tulare. This has also become a favorite of ours. Bravo Farms is huge! It’s equal parts tourist destination and local hangout, with their delicious restaurant/bar, gift shop, produce stand, and cases of their own line of artisan cheeses, Vintage Cheese Company. It’s right off the freeway and a perfect spot to stop and have lunch on your way north. (We always pick up some locally-produced Rosa Brothers strawberry milk for my husband here.)
Cutting through back roads is a great way to travel the greater Fresno Country area. You get to drive by so many farms, both big and small – sometimes it’s grape vineyards, other times peach orchards. One of the roads we took this time cut through a huge walnut farm. We stopped to explore and to take some photos, of course. I couldn’t find a farm sign anywhere, but the fields went on forever on all sides of the road.
Before driving to Fresno, we detoured into Kingsburg for a visit to Berry Lady Farms. The owner, Gayle, gave us a great tour of their facility last year and we love picking up berries from here. As you drive up to the property, you drive right by some of their fields. In the photos below, you’ll see some new varieties they are trying out. This is a four generation farming family, by the way! We bought a few pounds of blueberries from Berry Lady Farms this year. (I made some scrumptious blueberry jam with some of them.)
One of our stops I was freakishly excited about in Kingsburg was Sun-Maid Growers. We tried to go there last year but they were closed. I grew up with the Sun-Maid raisin boxes! I equate those little red boxes to my care-free days on an elementary school yard and I couldn’t wait to go to their ginormous operation. Although the facility is closed to tours, there is a gift shop (which I’m always a sucker for) and that was good enough for me. (As a side note, Gayle the Berry Lady noticed I was checking out an old black and white photo in her store while we were there. It was of a man on a horse-drawn wagon. She told me it was a photo of her grandfather delivering Thompson grapes to Sun-Maid for their raisins! They were the last grower to use horses to delivery grapes to them! How cool is that?)
There are 31 places listed on the Fruit Trail map this year and tons more fruit stands in and around Fresno not on the official list. Here are a few others we visited that I had photos of…
Enzo’s Table: A 100 year old family farm in Clovis, California specializing in olive oil.
Simonian Farms: A family farm started in the early 1900’s. We bought quite a few things from here including a case of stone fruit, some fresh salted butter from a local diary, a fantastic old wooden fruit crate (see photo below) and, yes, more raisins!
Wawona’s Peach Tree Stand: This was the cutest little stand of them all! It was the original packing shed for this 50 year old peach orchard and packing facility. We picked up peaches, of course, and some preserves as well.
If you haven’t seen the article about the trip from last year, click here for Fresno Fruit Trails 2016. I’m looking forward to going back next year and making this a tradition. We’ll definitely hit up our favs again and seek out some new farms to support as well.
Here are a few recipes you can try with the produce we found in the Central Valley:
- Blueberry Jam
- Blueberry Limeade
- Creamy Fruit Smoothie
- Peach Apricot Smoothie
- Grilled Peach Parfait
- Gluten Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (can be made non-GF)
- Apricot and Fig Tapenade