Can you even really call the pale hothouse imposters our supermarkets stock "fruit"? A visit to one of the local pick-it-yourself orchards might be in order to score you some succulent goodies at unbeatable prices. All of them are local, beautiful, and 100 percent organic so make sure to bring your camera as well as your work ethic (and a few friends to help you carry it all).
A trip north to Sebastopol on Highway 101 brings you to Gabriel Farm (3175 Sullivan Road, Sebastopol; 707-829-0617, www.gabrielfarm.com), a u-pick where a fruit seeker can find 15 varieties of apples, blackberries, and Asian pears. The family-run farm uses solar energy, and each visitor receives a tour of the entire facility free. Call ahead to set a time.
An official site honored by the Landmark Society of Napa, Hoffman Farms (2125 Silverado Trail, Napa; 707-226-8938) offers a daily u-pick from August until early December. Originally the farm grew only pears, but now visitors can pick sugar prunes, peaches, persimmons, quinces, and walnuts. Though the farm is not certified organic, the Hoffmans do follow organic practices. Visitors should call ahead to make certain the owners are home.
The 200-acre spread at Swanton Berry Farm (Highway 1 at south end of Swanton Road loop, Davenport; 831-469-8804, www.swantonberryfarm.com) offers two kinds of berries for the intrepid u-picker: strawberries and olallieberries, which are a blackberry-raspberry crossbreed. Both are organically grown and both a steal at $2 a pound. These u-pick sites are run by unionized workers, and biking to either will earn you a 10 percent discount off their already low price. Strawberry seekers should report to the Swanton Berry Farm Stand, while those on the hunt for olallieberries or, in the fall and winter, fresh kiwis and Christmas trees, need to go to the Coastways Ranch (640 Cabrio Highway, Pescadero), across from Año Nuevo State Park.
Since 1922, Webb Ranch Farm (2720 Alpine Rd., Portola Valley; 650-854-5147, www.webbranchfarm.com) and the Webb family have been supplying San Mateo County with fresh produce. They now operate a weekends-only u-pick in the spring. Produce available during the summer includes raspberries, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and melons, ranging from $1$2.50 a pound (eggplants, $2 each).