Get outdoors and experience agri-tourism at its best in towns like Visalia, Calif., and Exeter, Calif., where farms that roll up to the towering Sierra Nevada mountains to the east are filled with the intoxicating scent of peaches, table grapes, nectarines, kiwis and oranges.
“Many families are looking to enhance their national park trip by exploring the gateway communities just outside the parks,” says Suzanne Bianco, tourism marketing director of Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting that the area is nestled against Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. “Not only can visitors learn where their food comes from and in some cases how it's made, they can taste fresh-from-the-farm meals cooked by local chefs who partner with the farmers for the freshest ingredients.”
Farm to Table in Tulare County
Start at Pita Gastropub or Fugazzis Bistro before heading to McKellar Farms, an orange and mandarin farm established in 1927 by the McKellar family in Ivanhoe. Bob McKellar offers tours by appointment only. You also can spend the night on the farm in Hummingbird Cottage, a farm-style home (mckellarfamilyfarms.com).
Next, head to Bravo Farms’ cheese factory off Hwy. 99 in Traver to sample cheese and Californian wine, watch staff make artisanal cheese, climb the award-winning treehouse, visit the petting farm and get a scoop of gourmet ice cream. You can even dine at Wild Jacks restaurant. There are locations in Visalia and Tulare, as well.
Stop at the Bari Olive Oil gift shop and tasting room in Dinuba to discover infused and organic olive oil. Owners Ryan and Kyle Sawatzky are the fifth generation to farm the property founded in 1936. And don't miss Stafford Chocolates in Porterville.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
But there's also a fascinating agricultural history to discover in the area. In Earlimart, Calif., you'll find Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park where Allensworth, a former slave, and a handful of families established a town in 1908 governed by African Americans. While its prominence faded after Allensworth's death in 1914, tour his house, a historic schoolhouse, Baptist church and library.
Murals and Botanical Gardens in Tulare County
Beyond, you’ll find outdoor shopping at the Tulare Outlets in Tulare and beautiful flowers and produce at Woodlake Botanical Gardens, California’s first agricultural botanical garden in Woodlake.
Amid all the agriculture, you’ll find an artistic bent. In Exeter, 31 vibrant murals tell the story of the quaint town where restaurant names like Monet’s Wine Bistro are a tribute to the arts, as well as to the farm-to-fork movement. Check out the “When Emperors Ruled” mural that captures an era before the county’s popular Emperor grapes were upstaged by seedless varieties.
In Visalia, bring the kids to Sequoia Springs at Visalia Adventure Park that has water slides and a water-based play structure for younger kids. Or head to Kaweah Oaks Preserve and hike through one of the last remaining oak riparian forests in the valley.
You can also check out Fox Theatre, one of many built by Fox Film Corp. in the 1920s, is home to the town’s symphony, comedy shows, old movies and big-name acts like Dwight Yoakam. The Tulare County Museum houses one of the state's largest Native American basket collections.
“Vacation is meant to be a time to explore and experience,” Bianco says. “Slow down and enjoy the journey.”
Visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
Yet, the scenery, mountains and sequoia groves are just as inspiring if not more so, especially because you are not rubbing elbows with flocks of tourists the whole time. Highlights include the General Sherman Tree, the world's largest tree, in Sequoia National Park. The General Grant tree in General Grant Grove at Kings Canyon National Parks is the second largest sequoia in the world.
For More Information:
Sequoia Tourism Council
Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tulare County Tourism & Film Commission
Exeter Chamber of Commerce