Autumn is upon us, and, in the Sacramento region, that means that Apple Hill is in full swing! Apple Hill in Camino, California, is a large apple growing region in Northern California. Prior to 1960, the area was well known for pear production, but a pear blight in that year encouraged growers to move to apples. Later in the 60s the growers hosted a “press picnic” where each of the growing families hosted a member of the local press for a meal and showed them around the area. That was the beginning of the huge tourist industry that has become the foundation of the Apple Hill economy.
Today, Apple Hill is a nearly year-round attraction. It is a gigantic crafts fair and farmers’ market with seasonal fruits and vegetables offered up as they are available. Additionally, starting the day after Thanksgiving Day, Christmas tree farms open throughout the region, making Apple Hill a prime destination for the search for the perfect Christmas tree.
The Apple Hill Map
In order to have a complete Apple Hill experience, be sure to secure an Apple Hill map early in your visit. The Apple Hill Growers Association publishes an easy to read map of the hill, showing locations of all the registered member growers and what features each location has to offer. Some of the growers just offer apples, which may be purchased in any quantity that the buyer chooses. Others have collections of crafters and artists, entertainments and food. Growers that offer kids’ activities are highlighted too. The Apple Hill map may be viewed on the Apple Hill Growers website and it is also available at any of the member growers for free – it is published as a standalone sheet or in the center section of the free Apple Hill Cider Press magazine.
Apples & Apple Products
As the name indicates, Apple Hill is an apple growing region. Many of the growers on the hill produce at least some apples, and most produce a large selection in numerous varieties. Most western states varieties are represented on Apple Hill. Buyers have the option of purchasing single apples for out-of-hand eating, or cases of apples to take home.
Do not miss the limitless variety of apple products available on the hill. In the various shops the determined apple searcher will find traditional and flavored apple butters and jams, apple chips, apple wine, apple teas, apple-faced dolls, apple doughnuts and spectacular apple fritters made fresh and eaten hot.
Perhaps the best single product available on the hill is the fresh apple juice. Applers, as visitors are often called, can view the process of the apples being crushed and bottled, unfiltered. They can sample icy cold fresh cider, and they can buy bottles and jugs of it to take home. Shoppers need to be cognicent of the fact that the fresh, unfiltered apple cider has no preservatives of any type, and it is unpasteurized, so it will go bad pretty fast. Glass jugs of pasteurized juice are also available for those who want to keep it in the fridge a bit longer, but it never has the fresh taste that the fresh-crush has.
While the focus of Apple Hill is apple production, and is very kid friendly, there are also some great adult activities here too. In addition to the fun apple wine, there are full-fledged wineries on the hill, as well as the famous Jack Russell Brewery for beer aficionados. In addition, there is an elegant day spa on the hill, open year round, to relieve the stress of all the wine and beer tasting and appling that you will surely be doing.
Throughout the month of October, pumpkin patches come to dominate the hill. All over applers will find pumpkins and gourds ranging from tiny apple-sized examples to ginormous thousand-pounders! Gourds and winter squashes of every sort are also available, both in typical varieties and in exotics.
And then, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree farms open for business. All varieties of Christmas tree are available all over the hill. When you go, be sure to get off the main drag, and search higher up for your trees – there are all sorts of cute little tree farms that really make the Christmas season visit special! Warm your hands over an open fire while they are securing your tree to the roof of the Mini.
The Foodie Experience
Though high cuisine is not present on the hill, there are several excellent barbecues that feature chicken and tri-tip sandwiches in delectable apple-sweetened barbecue sauces. Snack foods are limitless and mostly apple-based and on a cold tree-hunt, nothing goes down better than a cup of hot, spiced cider.
Craft and Art
Several of the larger growers host art and craft fairs throughout the autumn and winter seasons. At these venues applers will find just about everything imaginable at a craft fair. Flavored olive oils, handmade leather belts, oil lamps, craft clothing, hiking sticks and bath salts are just the beginning. Hundreds of vendors offer thousands of spectacular products.
Planning and Traffic
Apple Hill has grown exponentially in popularity over the past couple of decades. In order to keep the homespun, country feel of the area, locals have resisted road improvement, and, as a result, some times see major traffic jams. To get avoid this, go on weekdays. Some of the craft purveyors will not be present, but the light crowds more than make up for it. If you go on Friday, most weekend places are open, but the crowds are still much lighter.
Another alternative is to make use of one of the shuttle parking areas towards the bottom of the hill and grab a free shuttle. These shuttles wind around the roads on the hill and stop at many of the major producers.