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San Diego Grown -- San Diego County Agritourism

Agritourism is defined as any business conducted by a farmer for the enjoyment or education of the public, to promote the products of the farm and to generate additional farm income. Agritourism can be an effective tool to educate consumers about local agriculture, its issues and its importance for the county's economy and quality of life. Agritourism also showcases the diversity and uniqueness of local agri-culture, thereby increasing the visibility and the appeal of locally grown products.

Agritourism opportuities are increasingly available in San Diego County, such as agricultural festivals, farm visits, farm tours, demonstration farms, farm stays, wineries, nursery trails and agricultural museums. In addition, there are more than 20 Certified Farmers' Markets that operate in most incorporated communities of the county.

  • Agritourism helps generate diversification opportunities for local farmers to increase revenues and enhance the viability of their operations.
  • It can be an excellent tool to educate the public about the importance of agriculture and its contribution to the county's economy and quality of life.
  • It provides economic incentives and reduces friction in the agricultural-urban interface, thus helping to preserve agricultural land in San Diego County.
  • Agritourism enhances the appeal and demand for local products, foster regional marketing efforts and create value-added and direct-marketing opportunities that may stimulate economic activity and spread the benefits to various communities in the county.

San Diego County's agricultural industry ranks in the top 10 statewide. It generates nearly $1.2 billion in direct sales and an estimated annual impact of $4.12 billion for the county's economy (San Diego County 1999). However, growth, urbanization, rising water costs, high land prices, competition for resources, increased market competition and other issues present in the agricultural-urban interface have changed local agriculture. The county's agriculture has changed from the production of a few major commodities to a highly diversified, responsive industry that serves not only local needs but national and international markets as well.


The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, is a popular agritourism attraction in San Diego County.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad is a working farm where ranunculus and other flowers are grown for the production of bulbs. As a by-product, the bloom of the ranunculus plants produces a marvelous display of color that attracts thousands of visitors annually.

The farm is located in Carlsbad, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific shoreline and surrounded by houses, shopping malls and office buildings. Decreasing profit margins in the bulb-growing operation led The Flower Fields to add a visitor services enterprise to capture revenues from the large number of people attracted to the site. As a result, The Flower Fields opened to the public as an attraction in 1993. Since then, visiting this site has become a tradition for local residents and a popular springtime attraction for travelers to Southern California. The site attracts over 200,000 people annually during the 10-week blooming season and has stimulated economic activity in the area.

According to The Flower Fields records, an estimated 200,000 people visited the site during the spring of 1998, with approximately 150,000 paid admissions. These visitors often traveled in groups, with an average size of 3.77 people per group, for an estimated total of 53,028 visitor groups for the season. Visitors engaged in various activities and visited many tourist attractions in San Diego County, including the San Diego Zoo, the Wild Animal Park, Sea World, Balboa Park, downtown San Diego and several local beaches.

Visitors traveled an average of 132 miles each way to get to The Flower Fields and spent an average of 8 hours in Carlsbad during their trip.

The economic development benefits of an agritourism operation such as The Flower Fields benefits the entire community. A recent study by UC Davis found the following results:

  • 200,000 visitors to The Flower Fields, and the estimated 53,028 visitor groups reported expenditures of $2,363,853 in the city of Carlsbad.
  • Recreation activities were the most reported expenditure (58% of respondents),
  • Food and drink (53.4%)
  • Gasoline and automobile-related (24%).
  • Overnight lodging (6.29%),
  • Groceries and toiletries (5.22%) and "other expenditures" (3.42%) complete the list.

In terms of average expenditure per category, overnight lodging was clearly the highest, at $204.63/group, followed by groceries and toiletries at $52.69/group, and food and drink at $34.77/group.

In addition to The Flower Fields, San Diego County has an existing base of agritourism attractions that includes harvest festivals, demonstration farms and Certified Farmers' Markets. However, the potential for agritourism is far greater and largely untapped.

Agritourism involves the exchange of services as well as products. It also requires different skills and abilities than those needed to produce and sell raw commodities. Finally, agritourism also requires an entrepreneurial approach driven by an understanding of market trends, consumer behavior, consumer attitudes and consumer preferences.

Visitors to The Flower Fields and their willingness to buy local products and to support local growers make this a very large and accessible market. This may allow growers to be innovative and to explore new crops and new marketing methods.

UC Davis Agritourism Research Results

San Diego County Agritourism Opportunities for Ecotravel in Southern California

Known as a premier resort destination for its beautiful beaches, ideal climate, and popular tourist destinations such as Legoland, the Birch Aquarium and the Wild Animal Park, many visitors to San Diego County are adding side trips to area farms to their itinerary as a way to connect with county agriculture while on vacation. There are more than 100 Ag Tourism findings in San Diego County in the Small Farm Center database found at:

San Diego County Ag Tourism Database

Here's a sample of the options in San Diego County:

Bates Nut Farm (Valley Center) - experience a hands-on educational tour based on the Bates family history and role in the agricultural community. Valley Center's oldest working farm provides visitors with a knowledge of nut histories, how they are grown, harvested, and their nutritional values while touring the roasting and packaging rooms. Hayrides and a petting zoo are on the premises.

The Lavender Fields (Valley Center) - this certified organic lavender farm in the foothills of Palomar Mountain grows dozens of varieties of French and English lavender. Tours of the farm include the history of The Lavender Fields, a description of the planting process and growing cycle, and a tour of the essential oil distillery.

The Flower Fields (Carlsbad) - this 50-acre ranch of colorful ranunculus flowers overlooks the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the famous rainbow of ranunculus flowers, the Flower Fields also offers thematic gardens, tractor driven hayrides and a 1,500 square foot greenhouse filled with world-famous Ecke poinsettias.

Quail Botanical Gardens (Encinitas) - located on over 30 acres, this garden features rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, Mediterranean climate landscapes, and a subtropical fruit garden. Tours, nature walks, lectures, landscape advice and instructional programs are offered.

Orfila Vineyards (Escondido) - in the rolling hills of the San Pasqual Valley this 70-acre hillside vineyard is situated within a 10,000-acre agricultural preserve. The winery offers tours and an annual grape stomping festival for visitors.

The Butterfly Vivarium (Encinitas) - discover butterflies such as Anise swallowtail and California dogface during tours covering such topics as gardening for butterflies and charting migration patterns while feeding the butterflies.

For more articles about California Nature

California Beach Communities
Common Native Plants of Southern California Uplands
Natural Los Angeles Resources
Common Native Wildlife of Southern California
Common Native Birds of Southern California
Attracting California birds with native plants
Los Angeles Urban Forest
There's a Park Near You in Los Angeles
News about the SoCal Environment
Least Terns Preserve on the LA Beach
Visiting California Beach Communities - An Overview
Los Angeles Area Nature Link List