California Citrus State Historic Park Is No Lemon

By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

It's bright, shiny, orange and yellow, and it's drawn many people to California with hopes of striking it rich. What is it? Why, citrus fruit, of course. While oranges, lemons and grapefruits might not quite command the value that gold does, these commodities have quietly done their part to shape California life. Between the Gold Rush and beginning of Hollywood’s golden era, the citrus industry was one of the state’s biggest. At Riverside's California Citrus State Historic Park, visitors can stroll around the grounds, learn about how fruit helped influence life in California, and enjoy the fragrance of the orchards nearby. March is an ideal time to visit: it is near the end of the citrus growing season, so the fruits are at their ripest, and their heady aroma is likely to hit you as soon as you step out of your car. The weather is still fairly cool, with the heat of summer several months away.

There's quite a bit to see here. A mile or so of walking trails (some of which are wheelchair accessible) provide nice views of the park's orchards and the surrounding Riverside area, including Mt. Rubidoux. On clear days, the view includes Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio Mountain and more. A small hill provides a 360-degree panorama, while a dirt trail in the back of the park takes in the shade of a eucalyptus grove. There are picnic areas and interpretive displays, featuring pictures of the hand-painted designs that used to adorn the crates in which the fruit was shipped. You can see the Gage Canal, which was completed in 1890 and still provides water to this dry area.

Perhaps the most interesting attraction is the "Varietal Grove", which features almost a hundred different citrus fruits, including Setsuma oranges, tangelos, pomelos, and the "Buddha's Hand" (aka the Fingered Citron.) Unfortunately, there are no free samples—although a fruit stand right around the corner from the park sells 25 pound bags of oranges for only $6.

There aren’t many parks in California that offer a glimpse into the state’s history, while also providing opportunities for recreation and nice scenery. The park isn’t far from north Orange County, and can even be done as a day trip from Los Angeles. California Citrus State Historic Park is open from Friday through Monday, 8am - 5pm (from April to September, it's open until 7 pm on weekends). Admission is $5 per vehicle. The park is located off of highway 91 on the Van Buren exit. Head southeast on Van Buren for 2 miles and turn left on Dufferin, into the park. For more information about the park, visit http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=649.

One last bit of advice: don’t go hungry. As tempting as the fruit on the trees may look, it’s protected under state law. Take comfort, however, in the fact that when you’re enjoying a nice glass of lemonade or orange juice during the hot summer months, there’s a pretty good chance that the fruit might have come from the orchards at this park.