When you consider that California’s San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, it’s not surprising that it’s a good place to eat well.
You might, however, surprise a native Angeleno or a friend from the Bay Area if you said you were headed to Clovis for dinner. Truth is, they might not even know where it is.
Eat Farm to Table in California’s Central Valley
California produces over 400 crops and more than 250 of those grow in the San Joaquin Valley aka the heart of the state’s Central Valley.
The San Joaquin Valley is like the donut hole of the Golden State in that it lies smack dab in the middle of the state with the Tehachapi Mountains to the south, the Coast range to the west, and the Sierra Nevada to the east. It averages 50 to 60 miles wide and runs more than 450 miles if you account for the whole Central Valley.
Fresno and Madera counties are right in the heart of the region, which means they’re the heart of the state too. Look for the landmark aptly named “Where The Palm Meets The Pine,” which is said to be the exact center of the state (measured lengthwise) and mark the divide between Southern California (the palm) and Northern California (the pine).
Whether you’re visiting the region to stock up on produce, to see Yosemite, or as part of a Golden State road trip, here are the best spots to score farm-to-table goodness, plus some great choices for shopping online anytime.
Start At The Roadside Farm Stands And Farmers Markets In Central Valley
As you can imagine in a place with so much agriculture, roadside farm stands and farmer’s markets abound in Fresno and Madera, and locals all have their favorites. Here are a few to visit:
Vineyard Farmers Market
Look for every kind of fresh produce imaginable, honey, jams & jellies, nuts, flowers, artisan pastry, and freshly roasted coffee.
Vineyard Farmers Market, NW corner of Blackstone & Shaw, Fresno
Saturday morning & Wednesday evenings
Clovis Farmers Market
Head here for fresh produce, dried fruit and nuts, food vendors, live music, and artisan crafts.
Clovis Farmers Market, Pollasky from 3rd Street to 7th Street, Clovis
Friday evenings, April to October
Look for: fresh produce, dried fruit & nuts, candy, cold drinks, jams & sauces, wine, and more displayed around antiques and farming history.
Simonian Farms, 2629 South Clovis Avenue, Fresno
Daily 9 AM-6 PM
Look for: the best strawberries, cherries & blueberries, fresh onions + garlic, fruit & veggies. Cash only.
Strawberry Stand, Highway 145 just past Storey Road, Madera
Spring-Fall, Daily 9-3 (sometimes later)
The Blossom Trail
Fresno is also home to the “Blossom Trail” — a self-guided tour of the fruit and nut orchards that produce much of the state’s crop. The trail is home to many small, family-owned fruit stands during harvest seasons.
The Madera Wine Trail
Madera has a trail of its own: aptly named the Madera Wine Trail. Several family-owned wineries welcome guests year-round and offer a variety of wine styles. Try the sparkling wines and Epix red blend at San Joaquin Wine Co., and the Dolcetto and Tempranillo at Birdstone Winery.
Dessert wine fans will be in heaven, since acclaimed Ficklin Winery, known for Port, and Quady Winery, known for Muscat wines (get a slushie!) and Vermouth are located in Madera.
If you’re headed towards Yosemite or just want a trip into the foothills, don’t miss Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst, where the wines are made with native yeast and Viognier is exceptional. Idle Hour has a small restaurant on-site with seasonal dishes and is also located with the Queen’s Inn, an intimate inn with a view of the valley.
If you venture to Oakhurst, you’ll want to visit Oakhurst Spirits for a taste or two. This small-batch distillery offers several types of whiskey, along with rum, vodka, and brandy. We’re fans of the spiced rum and vodka flavored with locally grown lavender.
Oakhurst Spirits, 40300 Greenwood Way, Oakhurst
Dine At The Local Restaurants
The restaurant scene is rich with farm-to-table dishes too. Here are some of our favorites, along with our must-order recs:
The menu changes daily at Trelio Restaurant in Clovis, CA, where Chef/Owner/Sommelier Chris Shackleford works directly with local growers. You can try to score one of the few bar seats or walk-in, but your best bet is to make a reservation to secure your table at this dinner-only establishment.
The charcuterie is housemade and the fresh pasta is exceptional, but you may want to find out if the lemon pots de creme or flourless caramel fudge cake are on the dessert menu and order accordingly. There are tons of options for vegetarian and gluten-free diners here too, so feel free to take your friends.
Trelio Restaurant, 438 Clovis Avenue #4, Clovis
The Vineyard Restaurant
An institution in the San Joaquin Valley for over 40 years, The Vineyard Restaurant menu is a fabulous mix of modern dishes and old-school classics. The same farmers mentioned on the menu are often eating in the bar, where you can score a perfectly mixed cocktail or a glass of wine and a plush seat. Great vegetarian and gluten-free options are available, plus a killer (and large!) burger.
Check the specials and the menu for in-season dishes, including an ever-changing presentation of Mary’s Chicken (she’s from Madera) but know this: The California Raisin Grower’s Sandwich, Braised Lamb Shank, and Signature Lasagna never leave the menu, with good reason.
The Vineyard Restaurant, 605 South I Street, Madera (just off Highway 99)
A Few More Food Options
A few more to try: Patio Cafe in Fresno for the best breakfast + brunch, Annex Kitchen for housemade pasta and wood-fired pizza, The Elbow Room for a fabulous steak and a perfect cocktail on the patio or in a leather banquette, Tijuana’s Taqueria for exceptional Mexican food, ice-cold beer, and big margaritas.
Locally Grown Food Products From San Joaquin Valley
It wouldn’t be farm-to-table if you couldn’t take it home, right? Here are some of our favorite products from the San Joaquin Valley, and where to find them:
Sierra Nut House
Sierra Nut House has a huge selection of dried fruit and nuts, along with local honey, jams, sauces, olive oil, vinegar, and more. They also make their own line of soup mixes from dried local vegetables and beans – the Fresno Fog Split Pea sells out regularly.
Sierra Nut House and Bistro 7901 N Blackstone Ave, Fresno (Villagio shopping center)
Sierra Nut House: 3034 E Sierra Ave, Fresno
Enzo’s Table features olive oil, almond butter, olives, jam, granola, and more made from the region.
Enzo’s Table, 1959 N Willow Ave, Clovis, CA 93619
El Cap Coffee
El Cap Coffee (named for Yosemite’s El Capitan) is a small-batch roaster of single-origin coffee with a sizable central valley following. You can find them at farmers’ markets or online, and a tasting room is coming soon. Order online:
Amber Balakian is a Harvard grad and fourth-generation California farmer, who takes her family’s organic heirloom tomatoes, blends them at peak ripeness and jars them so we all can enjoy them all year long. Don’t skip the orange variety! Order Balakian Farms tomatoes online direct from the Fresno farm.
Rosenthal Olive Ranch
Rosenthal Olive Ranch olives are grown and processed with care by a family in Madera – in fact, if you decide to call in your order instead of ordering online, you’ll talk to Mrs. Rosenthal herself. (Tell Karen we said hi if you call!) If you love flavored oils, try the garlic or basil-infused oil – and the orange makes amazing vinaigrette. If buttery EVOO is more your speed, opt for the 100% Arbosana variety, if you like peppery oil, the 100% Koroneiki EVOO is for you.
Extend Your Trip Into Yosemite
Fresno is a major starting point for traveling to Yosemite, so you could extend your trip with this itinerary. Or, cross through the park and exit to the east through Tioga Pass, and head on to visit Mammoth Lakes.
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Photo Credit: All photos by Paprika Studios