An almond tree shows off a cluster of blossoms in springtime.
In early spring, Fresno County, Calif., flaunts its pretty side. In orchards along the Blossom Trail, a 62-mile loop on back roads through a particularly lush region of California's Central Valley, thousands of fruit and nut trees flower with fluttering, lacy petals. To celebrate the close of winter, you can take a drive though their sweet scent.
Beginning in late February—Mother Nature permitting—the landscape blazes with the white blooms of almond, apple, and plum trees along the trail southeast of Fresno. In the first weeks of March, peach, nectarine, and apricot orchards line the byways with pink bouquets. You can stop along the route for a picnic and winetasting, or even a ride on a miniature steam train, but mostly you'll want to roll down your windows and enjoy the scenery.
Pick up a map at the trail's official start, Simonian Farms, a 107-year-old fruit stand some six miles east of Highway 99. (Take Jensen Avenue to Clovis Avenue.) You can follow the complete route clockwise and end here also, or make a partial loop ending at the point where Rose Avenue meets the highway again near Selma. For snacks, stock up on citrus or local dried fruits and nuts; Simonian has a Blossom Trail Mix, a tasty mélange of almonds, raisins, and dried apricots, peaches, and nectarines. Check out the collection of vintage pedal cars, bicycles, and farm equipment, and explore a red 1949 Santa Fe caboose. 2629 S. Clovis Ave., Fresno, (559) 237-2294, www.simonianfarms.com.
Need more than a snack? Try the Blossom Trail Café, 11 miles down the road from Simonian Farms and north of the town of Sanger. You'll find rib-sticking fare: homemade waves for breakfast or the Trail Blazer Sandwich of shaved prime rib, a lunchtime favorite. On Thursday through Saturday nights, chef Peppino Caracciolo cooks up hearty Italian dishes such as homemade lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, and angel-hair pasta with lobster and tomatoes. 922 N. Academy Ave., Sanger, (559) 875-2500.
About eight miles east of Sanger, take a five-minute side trip through olive and orange groves to Tivy Mountain Vintners (2523 N. Pederson Ave., Sanger, 559 -787- 9657, www.tivymountainwinery.com) to sip unfiltered wines, including such unusual varietals as the fragrant, dry orange muscat. Or stay on the Blossom Trail and pull over on Frankwood Avenue—a prime petal-viewing area, especially for almond, nectarine, and peach blossoms—at Cedar View Winery. Ask about the rare alicante bouschet as well as southern European varietals, like a rhônestyle viognier. Linger at the winery's patio tables to enjoy a panorama of nearby Jesse Morrow Mountain and distant Sierra peaks. 1384 S. Frankwood Ave., Sanger, (559) 787-9412, www.cedarviewwinery.com.
Kids will love riding the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Steam Railroad at Hillcrest Farm about 1.5 miles from the trail's eastern boundary. The 15-minute excursion aboard an open miniature steam train affords expansive vistas of the snowcapped Sierra and neighboring peach and plum orchards. 6943 S. Reed Ave., Reedley, (559) 638-2762, www.5inchsteam.8k.com.
Two miles south of Hillcrest Farm, you can take a detour into old-fashioned downtown Reedley. Visit the restored 1903 opera house on 10th Street or the Mennonite Quilt Center at 1012 G Street (559-638-3560), where you can peruse fair-trade handicrafts including Sri Lankan wooden puzzles and Peruvian arpilleras (storytelling quilts). Across the street at Uncle Harry's (1201 G St., 559-638-5170), you might think about having a bite of traditional Armenian fare such as savory shish kabob.
A mile south of downtown on Reed Avenue, stop at Reedley's Cricket Hollow Park, which overlooks the snow-fed Kings River. It's a scenic spot for a picnic before you continue your springtime foray along the resplendent back roads.
Photography courtesy of Gemini2525/Wikipedia
This article was first published in March 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up the AAA Northern California & Nevada TourBook and Fresno-Clovis and Fresno & Kings Counties maps. For Blossom Trail maps and guides, visit www.driveblossomtrail.com. For more information, contact the Fresno County Office of Tourism, (559) 262- 4271, www.gofresnocounty.com. For bicycle routes, visit www.blossombikeride.com.