Artificial or real?
Better yet why is that question being asked even though the traditional start of the holiday season is still about four weeks away?
The answer is simple. If you answer “real” and want to turn it into an adventure, you can start planning a family day trip now. A trip to a cut-your-own farm can be a memorable experience as well as a chance to turn it into a day of adventure complete with lunch and more. Arguably the best time to visit tree farms is right when they open the day or two after Thanksgiving when the selection is the greatest and you may be itchy for some family activity over the holiday weekend to help work off some of that turkey.
According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 80 percent of us that put up Christmas trees will be artificial this year.
And if you opt for real the odds are you are going to drop by a big box retailer to select your tree, and not an independent tree lot with the traditional trappings such as a fire pit that went the way off the dodo bird in California due to air quality rules.
That said hardly anyone seems any more bundles up the kids, piles the family in the station wagon, and heads to the hills in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
It’s an experience that’s worth doing at least once with your kids — or grandkids.
Selecting a Christmas tree in a fenced off area on a parking lot isn’t the same magic as running around a Christmas tree farm in the hills looking for “the perfect” tree. Granted it is a Christmas tree farm so it isn’t like venturing out into the woods for a Currier & Ives moment. But there is a lot to be said about making a Christmas tree search a half day or a day-long family outing.
While independent Christmas tree lots around communities like Turlock and Manteca were once a dime a dozen, Christmas tree farms were more like a dollar a dozen.
But the shift to artificial trees and big box retailers didn’t just whittle down the independent tree lots but it also slashed the number of Christmas tree farms left in California. The last drought didn’t help things much.
There are still four major Christmas tree farms in this neck of the woods of the 209. And if you travel just a tad, you can head up to the Apple Hill area east of Placerville north of Highway 50 where you will find a healthy sprinkling of Christmas tree farms where owners have expanded on the outdoor experience to make it even more of an adventure. Apple Hill also has other options still open this time of year for everything from handcrafted chocolates and fresh apple cider and homemade pies to wine tasting rooms.
The following are five options — including a tree farm that has been judged one of the state’s best that is located in Apple Hill — where you can cut down your own Christmas memories based on information gleaned from their respective websites.
Hay Family Tree Farm
LOCATION & CONTACT INFO: 5406 Milnes Road, Modesto, email firstname.lastname@example.org
*DIRECTIONS: Take Highway Santa Fe Avenue out of Modesto and turn right on Milnes Road
*HOURS: Opens the day after Thanksgiving Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. until Dec. 20 or until trees sell out
*TREE OPTIONS: Primarily Monterey pines although they have some other varieties such as cedar, Leyland cypress and giant sequoia
*NOTES: There are over 4,000 trees from 4 feet to over 10 feet
Twain Harte Tree Farm
*LOCATION & CONTACT INFO: 21730 Moore Drive, Twain Harte, call 209-586-7666, website is TwainHarteTreeFarm.com
*DIRECTIONS: 1½ miles south of Twain Harte on Tuolumne City Road
*HOURS: Opens the day after Thanksgiving until they sell out from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends
*TREE OPTIONS: Douglas Fir, White Fir, Sierra Redwood, Scotch Pine, Incense Cedar
*NOTES: Trees over 10 feet available, free candy canes, reserving trees, free garland/boughs, Christmas gift shop, apple cider/refreshments
ALTO TREE FARM
*LOCATION & CONTACT INFO: 839 Spink Road, West Point, email Gregcooper108@gmail.com
*DIRECTIONS: From Jackson, Take Highway 88 east 15 miles to Highway 26 (Red Corral Road), to West Point Main Street. Turn right on Spink Road, 2/10ths mile to farm. Follow signs to 839 Spink Road
*HOURS: Open Nov. 22 through Dec. 22 on Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. By appointment only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (days they are closed)
*TREE OPTIONS: Douglas Fir, White Fir, Cedar, Redwood, Scotch Pine, White Fir, and Blue Spruce
*NOTES: You can enjoy a ride with Santa, trees over 10 feet available, picnic area, hay/wagon/tractor rides, free candy canes, free coffee, free garland/boughs, apple cider/refreshments
Cal Sierra Tree Farm
*LOCATION & CONTACT INFO: 438 Stanley Road, West Point, call 209-293-7939, website www.calsierratreefarm.com
*DIRECTIONS: Highway 88 to Highway 26 to Stanley Road
*HOURS: Open: day after Thanksgiving to Dec. 24, hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays or by appointment
*TREE OPTIONS: Tree Varieties: White Fir, Red Fir, Silvertip, Incense Cedar, Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir
*NOTES: Trees over 10 feet available, wreathes and garlands for sale, picnic area, free candy canes, reserving trees, free coffee, maps and brochures available to callers, free garland/boughs, apple cider/refreshments, snack bar featuring soup, hotdogs and hamburgers
EL DORADO COUNTY
Indian Rock Tree Farm
*LOCATION & CONTACT INFO: 3800 North Canyon Road, Camino, call (530) 622-4087, email IndianRock@directcon.net or visit the web site at indianrocktreefarm.com
*DIRECTIONS: Take Highway 50 east to Camino exit, right on Carson Road, left on Larsen Drive. 1 mile, then left on North Canyon Road. At that point it is 1.6 miles to Indian Rock Tree Farm
*HOURS: Opens Nov. 23. Open daily subject to weather and farm condition daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
*TREE OPTIONS: Douglas Fir, White Fir, Silvertip, Incense Cedar, Spruce, and Exotic True Firs
*NOTES: Dogs on leashes welcome, trees over 10 feet available, wreathes and garlands for sale, picnic area, free candy canes, maps and brochures available to callers, free garland/boughs, freshly cut trees of other species available, Christmas gift shop, school tours available by reservation, apple cider/refreshments