The name conjures up images of crunchy apples and juicy pies on crisp fall days. All of that – and more – is true. But the Apple Hill region in California’s Sierra foothills not even an hour east of Sacramento has much to offer most of the summer, fall and winter too.
To be sure, the fall is the high season with apples ripening, pumpkin patches sprouting, and hot cider brewing. So a trip to the Apple Hill area – celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2014 — between about September and November is a highlight for adults and kids alike.
HI Travel Tales ventured out to Apple Hill in October (Camino is the name of the town there, just east of Placerville). We found the variety of apples, sausages and wine tastings combined with the scenery, winding roads, and friendly folks an enjoyable escape.
We have a few favorite places at Apple Hill for different reasons. Certainly if you have kids, you may want to hit up the more kid-friendly places with sprawling games and crafts booths.
Here are our Apple Hill travel tips:
- Apple Hill may be country, but its modern app will tell you all you need. Free to download. Or, if you must, print out a map or any lists you need from the thorough website – applehill.com. If you are in search of a particular variety of apple, consult the lists so you can pick a time to visit when your faves are in season.
- Speaking of back roads, get off the main drags of Carson and Larson roads to find a few little gems and just enjoy the drive and scenery while avoiding what can be a bit of a zoo on weekends, especially holiday weekends.
- Keep an open mind about what you’re there for. So, go for the apples, stay for all the other good things! At Smokey Ridge Farmstand and Charcuterie on Carson, you don’t find carnivals. You find real people, homemade sausages, and apple tastings that don’t leave you wanting … or begging. If you hit the season right, you’ll find their Arkansas Black apples that are crispy like you’ve never experienced – sweet-tart, and juicy. Buy more than you think you want – you’ll be eating every one!
- Wofford Acres Vineyards takes a little effort to find but so worth the effort. And, yes, that narrow road called Hidden Valley Lane IS the right way! This ain’t fancy stuff but it’s real stuff. Do NOT forget a picnic since the small lawn with tables has some of the best views in the area. Taste the wine – and buy a bottle to share with lunch.
- Mother Lode Orchards on North Canyon Road is another real apple experience sans games and crafts – but plan ahead since hours may be more limited.
- Yes, Larsen Apple Barn is a sprawling complex, very busy and pretty commercialized. Still, it is the longest family-operated farm there, established in 1860! Take a few moments to visit its Larsen Family Museum. Now, don’t get your hopes up too high here, but it’s a charmer and an authentic experience – grandma may be at the door collecting the small donation to visit! The “museum” is a barn filled with all kinds of old implements, clothing and kitchen and farming tools from the past 150 years of their time there. If you are on a multi-generational visit, the older members of your group are bound to love this.
- Rainbow Orchards is fun because of its specialization in squashes and gourds of all types, colors, shapes and sizes. This ain’t your momma’s squash store!
- Now for the families heading out with the kids, we thought Apple Ridge Farms was pretty pleasant – less of a circus but pumpkin patches, petting zoos, games and a maze … not to mention apple treats … OF COURSE.
Map of California
In the map below, pins mark the exact location of all the sites mentioned in our articles on California. Zoom in or out on the map using the controls. Switch easily from map to satellite view. Click on each pin to pull up a tooltip with the name and any additional information.
Villagio Inn and Spa
Feather River Fish Hatchery
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
Table Mountain Preserve
Spring Wildflowers - Foresthill Divide Loop Trail
Lynch Canyon Open Space Preserve
Wofford Acres Vineyards
Apple Ridge Farms
Larsen Apple Barn
Smokey Ridge Farmstand and Charcuterie
Allez French restaurant
UC Davis Arboretum
Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History
Alhambra Theater Historic Site - Sacramento
Today, the former movie showplace is not much of a show. And not many folks seem to even be aware of the meaning of these palm trees, and non-functioning fountain as they dash in and out of the store for groceries. A plaque that was said to be placed there was nowhere to be found when I visited. Read our story here.
Palo Corona Regional Park - Carmel
South Yuba River State Park - Bridgeport
Underground Gardens - Fresno
The Underground Gardens is what it sounds like: A weaving labyrinth of caverns, rooms and passages all dug underground and filled with fruit trees, vines and plants in spaces that open to the sky. This oddity was built – or shall we say, dug – by Italian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere for about 38 years starting in 1906.