I pass by Watsonville on the way to Monterey Bay and Carmel at least twice a year but never actually stopped by until recently. Located in Santa Cruz County in the Central Coast of CA, it is surprisingly close to my other regular summer day trip destinations Santa Cruz, Aptos, and Capitola. So close that we stopped by our favorite Capitola food spot, Gayle’s for food to go on the way down.
Watsonville is famous for growing sweet delicious strawberries that start hitting our local Farmer’s Markets around late April and with a very reasonable $15 for a flat for conventional strawberries, I seldom had a need for U-picks. Organic on the other hand is a different story so when I found myself finally stopping vs. driving by Watsonville, I chose Crystal Bay Farms to pick my own.
There is a $2 per person admission fee and $4 per lb of strawberries picked.
Unlike tree fruits where I like to sample one to confirm sweetness before picking most from that specific tree, that is not the case with strawberries which I find are pretty consistent.
Strawberries that are darker red are sweetest and ripest so ready to eat immediately since they are so soft.
Brighter red strawberries are firmer but also ready for picking and require no additional ripening as long as it is red throughout the entire fruit.
Much quicker and cooler to pick strawberries than blueberries, we were done before noon
and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at their picnic table up front with our Gayle’s sandwiches
followed by the freshest strawberries, just picked minutes before.
A quick stroll after for a glimpse of their raspberry patch,
the upcoming squash or pumpkin patch in the making,
and their farm animals before leaving.
Our next stop was one I never even knew existed, the Martinelli Company Store, put on my radar by my Boston transplanted nephew and his girlfriend who unfortunately will be leaving the area soon for even warmer pastures. The good news is they have only been open about 3 years so I do not feel so bad as if it took me 25 years of living out here to discover it.
My first memory of Martinelli Apple Juice was during the summer right before high school when I was visiting my grandparents from back East for a week and laid my hands on that apple shaped glass bottle of pure sweet ambrosia. A big difference from those Mott’s Juice boxes in my lunch bag. Such a treasure I brought some back to Jersey in my carry-on bag (pre-9/11). Fast forward over 25 years, most of the juices are now in plastic bottles readily available at Costco and we tend to fall into a bad habit of taking it for granted.
Walking into the Company Store brought me back to the days of awe and wonderment over something as simple as apple juice.
Opened as a way for customers to learn more about the history and company and taste the different varieties, it is their alternative to a factory tour. Pictures along the wall gives you an insight to their history and how prohibition affected them.
Did you know they use to make sparkling hard ciders before hard ciders were trendy?
Afterwards, grab a seat at their tasting area just like a winery
where you can sample one, two, three, or all of their varieties offered on the tasting menu.
Their newest item which quickly became one of my favorites, the blush has a splash of raspberry to give it its pink hue reminiscent of a rosé.
With new items, others like the blood orange (available only at the Company Store) and prickly passion lemonade has been discontinued and selling for just $10 for 6 bottles.
Just like wine tasting, do not be afraid to ask questions to give you a deeper appreciation for their products
1. Apple juice, sparkling, and ciders are all made with 100% apple juices
2. Sparkling apple juice and apple cider is basically the same with the exception that cider has full carbonation (like sodas) whereas sparkling is lightly carbonated
3. Apple-wild berry in the smaller bottles are actually the same as the apple-marionberry you find in the larger bottles. Since kids tend to drink the smaller ones, saying marionberry might be a mouthful and may sound too exotic for them. Wild berry just sounds more kid-friendly.
I found the now harder to find apple juice in the glass bottles here for the same price as the plastic, $20 for a case of 24 that brought me right back to that summer with my grandparents. Speaking of family, as we were getting ready to leave with our cartful of juices and sparklings, we ran into that same nephew and his girlfriend returning from a dive for their own Seasons To Taste YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNyKgr6HbAg0LDljVj36I1A. Talk about coming full circle and a reminder that the journey is sometimes as beautiful as the destination and to stop and smell the “rosé” in this instance.
Crystal Bay Farm - http://www.crystalbayfarm.com/40 Zils Road, Watsonville, CA 95076
Martinelli Company Store - https://www.martinellis.com/visit-us/345 Harvest Drive, Watsonville, CA 95076