May 22 2012
When visiting California, our family’s goal was to learn about some of the history and culture of the state as well as visiting attractions like Disneyland and Legoland. As Minnesota farmers, we also hoped to learn a bit about agriculture in California. We found the perfect stop for this at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside.
California Citrus SHP exists to preserve the history of the citrus industry that is shrinking in Riverside and its surrounding areas. While our children explored the exhibits and worked through the children’s brochure in the visitor center, my husband and I visited with the knowledgeable docents, learning about the citrus industry’s history in California and how it is changing in a time of population growth and urbanization.
After we’d had our questions answered and browsed the gift shop, the docent took us to the patio behind the visitor center, where we were offered tastes of a variety of citrus fruits.
We had our first experience with kumquats (little tiny oranges that are eaten like grapes, skin and all), really sweet clementines/mandarins, lemons, and juicy, red-orange Cara Cara navels. Even the choosiest eaters in our family were adventurous enough to taste the fruits.
The docent then led us down the sidewalk and showed us some of the other varieties growing near the visitor center. The rule was that we, as visitors, could not pick any of the fruit in the park, but our ranger could pick things and share them with us. It was a new and tasty experience to eat oranges that had just been picked from the trees.
After trying several of the varieties, the ranger left us to wander through the rest of the park on our own, and we walked the many paved paths through what is an actual working orchard. Throughout the park, signs indicate the varieties of the trees, from the Meyer lemons that are common in California backyards to the spiky Flying Dragon seedling that is good for root stock but does not bear good fruit.
Our kids liked learning about the trees and how they grow,
as well as just walking between the palm trees, which were originally grown in the orange groves as a navigation aid, so workers could find the roads among the acres of orange trees.
Displays along the paths explained things such as the importance of the local canal to the citrus industry and the citrus heritage of the area.
The orange trees were just beginning to bloom and I found that their sweet smell now rivals lilacs as my favorite scent.
The visitor center is only open on weekends, but the park is open daily for walking its tree-lined paths.
After leaving the park, we stopped at the Gless Ranch stand, conveniently located just outside the entrance, and purchased some fresh California oranges to take home with us. Sadly, they did not make it home, as we ate 16 pounds of oranges in a week’s time. Even worse, we cannot find anything that tastes nearly as good now that we are back in Minnesota.
We made one more stop before heading back to our hotel in Anaheim, at the ranger’s suggestion: We drove through Riverside to the corner of Magnolia and Arlington to see the Parent Navel Tree. If you’ve ever eaten a navel orange grown in the United States, it is likely a descendant of this tree that dates back to the 1800s. How’s that for a piece of history?
I highly recommend California Citrus SHP for visitors to California who want to learn about this type of agriculture or to taste a variety of citrus fruits, or to California residents who may know little about the citrus industry and its history in the state.