If you think you have to head inland to enjoy a day on the farm, think again. California's rich agricultural heritage extends all the way to the coast, with numerous farms and ranches dotting the seaboard.
Go berry picking, learn about cheese making, or take part in a real barn dance at four farms in Pescadero. Located off Highway 1, between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, Pescadero is home to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel and 25 miles south of the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel.
In addition, the farms listed here focus on sustainable agriculture, organic practices, labor rights, and/or food system reform, so you can feel good about the food you bring to your table.
Phipps Country Store and Farm
Established in 1978 as little more than a garage fruit stand, the Phipps Country Store and Farm is now a day-trip destination in and of itself. For a modest entry fee, visitors can stroll through creekside flower and herb gardens, feed farm animals, and pick their own strawberries, olallieberries, and boysenberries.
All berries on the farm are hand-planted and pesticide-free, and guests are invited to grab a basket at the store's counter and head into the fields to reap the bounty for themselves. The harvest is weighed upon return, and costs $3 per pound.
Strawberries are typically in season from late April or mid-May through the end of September, with olallieberries and boysenberries following from late June through the end of July. Availability is dependent on the weather, so call ahead before planning a picking mission.
The heart of the farm is the Country Store which, aside from selling fresh produce, offers jams and preserves made from the farm's fruit; a wide selection of dried beans, lentils, and other legumes grown on the premises; and dried herbs from the farm's gardens.
Swanton Berry Farm
Swanton Berry Farm -- the first organic farm in the U.S. to sign a contract with the United Farmworkers of America -- offers visitors the chance to pick their own organically certified strawberries, olallieberries, and blackberries at two locations on the Northern California coast.
The Coastways Ranch location, near Ano Nuevo State Reserve, offers "U-pick" olallieberries from mid-June through late July, and (new this year) blackberries starting in July. Berries are $2.50 per pound. In the winter months, Coastways also offers U-pick kiwis and Christmas trees.
If it's strawberries you're after, head further south to the flagship Farm Stand location, where visitors can pick their own from mid-April through October. The site is also the home of the Swanton Berry Farm Stand, which is open year-round. Offering a plethora of sun-ripened, organic treats from homemade jams to berry cobblers, the store also boasts historic photo displays and old-fashioned table games. Guests can arrange for tours of the premises (fee applies), and visitors who bike to the Farm Stand receive 10% off their purchases.
Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Nestled in the Pescadero farmlands, Harley Farms Goat Dairy creates award-winning artisan goat cheeses, and offers tours of the grounds every weekend.
Take a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a goat dairy farm, and follow the flow of milk from the goats to the cheese making. Meet the friendly goats (including the numerous baby goats born this spring), see the edible flower garden, milk a goat yourself by hand, and learn how to make goat cheese. Finish off with a cheese tasting in Harley Farms' refurbished hayloft.
The tour lasts about two hours, but often runs longer. Tours tend to sell out quickly, so book in advance. Private tours for larger groups are also available.
Weekday farm visitors who can't make the tour can still stop in to Harley Farms' cheese shop, open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., to sample fresh goat cheese and other culinary treats.
Pie Ranch is a complex place with a simple mission: to teach people where their food comes from.
A hands-on farm and food system education center, Pie Ranch is located on a 14-acre plot of land above the historic Steele Ranch. Using the ever-popular dessert pie as a model, the ranch teaches visitors -- many of them urban youth -- about the full cycle of food production.
The farm grows or raises almost every element needed for the pie, including wheat for pie crusts, berries for filling, bees for honey, goats for milk, and chickens for eggs. Tours are available for school groups by appointment.
With a place like this, the best way to experience it is to get your hands dirty, which visitors can do every third Saturday of the month when Pie Ranch hosts a community work day, potluck dinner, and barn dance. Join in the celebration as farmers, volunteers, and "food system change makers" gather to work and play, and learn a thing or two for yourself about where your food comes from.
The work party begins at 2 p.m., potluck at 6 p.m., and dancing at 7 p.m. Dance tickets are $7-20 sliding scale ($5-15 for work day volunteers) to compensate the band, the County Line Pickers, and a live dance caller. Children under 12 dance for free.
The ranch's Roadside Barn Farm Stand is open weekends year-round for folks who just want a peek at the farm and to purchase its goods, which include handmade pies, fresh local produce, and eggs from the ranch's free-range hens.
If you're in San Francisco, drop by Mission Pie in the Mission District. A corner bakery and cafe, Mission Pie collaborates closely with Pie Ranch, by utilizing fresh ingredients from the farm in their baking, and also training and employing city teens who have completed Pie Ranch agricultural programs.