Northern California’s cool weather welcomes deliciously sweet & tangy mandarins to the orchards, east of Sacramento. Our favorite orchards offer mandarin picking, and it’s one of our top-rated activity to usher in the season. It’s an activity that’s affordable, close to home, and a great way to spend time outside.
Sacramento is lucky to have incredible produce all year round. We’ve got abundant berries during the spring and summer, ripe peaches and nectarines in summer, pitted fruits, persimmons and chestnuts in the fall, and citrus during the mild winters. Some orchards even offers pick-yourself days, which is a great activity to do with kids, families, and guests. If you want to find out more about you-pick-farms in the Sacramento area, check out our posts on apple picking & chestnut picking!
In Japan, Mandarin oranges (we call them Mikan) are a popular winter fruit. During Japan’s cold winter season, we wedge ourselves under the Japanese kotatsu, a low table with an attached heater, which is then covered with a futon. It’s kind of like a ridiculous looking sleeping bag with a table top that’s lugging along an electric heater. We’ll sit under our Kotatsu, watching tv, drinking green tea, and eating Japanese mikans all day long. Of course, getting situated under your Kotatsu is such an ordeal, that once you’re situated underneath all the layers, it’s hard to leave. We often fight about who will get out first, if we need to grab something – like the tv remote. But being under the Kotatsu is such a typical Japanese winter scene that I get warm memories thinking about it.
Of course, Northern California doesn’t get as cold as Japan does, so I don’t need to use my Kotatsu; however, I still enjoy my green tea and mikans. Since the Mandarin is such a rich part of Japanese culture, I was thrilled to discover the fruit locally.
Sacramento Mandarin Farms…
To the east of Sacramento, Loomis-Penryn-Newcastle area, there are nearly 40 mandarin orange farms. Mandarin season starts around mid to late November with a type called Satsuma Owari. In mid-January, varieties like Pixie, Tango and Clementine are ready to pick. (See S&J farm page for more details.) They are all delicious, but my personal favorite is the Satsuma Owari, for it’s robust citrus flavor that’s tangy and sweet. The flavor is so good that it rivals the flavor of the Mikans I remember in Japan. I love them so much that we can eat 20 pounds of mikans in a week! Because of my healthy obsession with mandarins, we’ve tried several farms over the past few years. They’re all great and they all have impeccable service. However, for you-pick mandarins, we love visiting Sunset Ridge.
Mandarin Picking at Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits
Mandarin picking is one of the activities we look forward to when winter arrives. We love picking our own oranges, and then sending them to family out in the east coast. It’s such a great way to spread some California sunshine and it’s such a personal gift, since each mandarin is hand picked.
Our kids just had so much fun picking oranges. Even though we were only there for two hours, by the end, they were all professional mandarin pickers.
While Aki and I enjoy the beautiful view, the kids picked nearly 20 pounds of mandarins!
The kids also enjoyed running around.
Great job, kds! After measuring the weight, you go pay inside their shop.
The little store sells mandarins, jams, olive oils, juice and more. We purchased the mandarin marmalade, which is uh.may.zing on sourdough bread. The tangy sweet marmalade compliments the thick and sour bread. It’s such a morning treat, especially with our coffee!
Our Favorite Mandarin Farms in east Sacramento area:
- S&J Mandarin Grove – Organic mandarin farm that’s managed by a very cute family in Newcastle, CA. The owners are so kind and will remember you every year. At the beginning of each season, their mandarin shipment sells out really fast. If you’re interested in a shipment, sign up to get email notifications to stay in the loop. But if you live around Sac area, you can visit their farm or find them in Sacramento Farmer’s Market on Sunday (info as of 2020, call them to check the availability & open information before visiting them). The picture below is from 2018 . The kind owner let us walk in the mandarin farm. Plus, click here for more details!
- Snow Citrus Court – They offer delicious Mandarin oranges and other citrus in their large farm through-out the year. Not only their Manarins but also Valencia oranges (spring-summer) & Mayor lemons are really delicious! They also can ship mandarins, and they can be found at many locations including the Roseville Farmer’s market at Fountains on Tuesdays. Check their website for more information!
- Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits – They are the only farm (that we know of) that lets their customers go mandarin picking! Their farm is very close to S&J Mandarin Grove, though the Sunset Ridge Farm is farther down the long dirt road. This year (2020) because of Covid, they require appointments to help manage the number of visitors, to comply with social distancing requirements. Check their website for available dates & book your reservation. Even though slots book out super fast, check back periodically to see if there’s any cancellations (our friend got a same-day cancellation). There’s also a cute tiny store on the farm, which sells jams and marmalade, cold-pressed mandarin juice, dressings, honey, and pre-bagged mandarins. Most years, in mid-December, they have a Mandarin Day in which they offer yummy ribs and chili, mandarin drinks, and live music! Sadly, due to the pandemic, it was canceled this year…but we’re looking forward to it being open in 2021!
This is how delicious cold-pressed mandarin orange juice is made! Taken on Mandarin Festival 2019 at Sunset Ridge!