Really good pie. That's why I recently hit the brakes on a drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. The ocean views along Highway 1 were stupendous, but here's what really caught my attention just north of the main entrance to Año Nuevo State Beach.
No, you won't find cowboys wrangling herds of berry pies at this ranch. Since 2005, Pie Ranch has been a working organic farm and educational center that also operates a friendly farm stand in a cozy, roadside barn complete with puzzles and toys to keep the kiddies occupied.
Inside the building with a worn wood floor and exposed wood trusses, you can shop for seasonal veggies and fruit that the ranch grows. Depending on the time of year, the selection might include chard, lettuces, peas, fava beans, and just about the sweetest, crunchiest carrots in the world.
In summer, strawberries rule. And throughout the year, you'll find the ranch's own eggs (chicken or duck) and dried beans, local wheat milled on premises, and products like jams and pickles made by small outfits from around the region.
During regularly scheduled programs and classes, Pie Ranch immerses visitors—sometimes large groups of city youth—in the day-to-day operations of an organic farm. Volunteer for a community work day and stay on for the rip-roaring barn dance afterward, which is open to the public only on a limited, reservation-required basis. You can also sign on for a guided tour, or simply show yourself around the nearby fields and the historic farm buildings when you drop by the farm stand.
And then there are the pies. Year-round offerings include chocolate and lemon-buttermilk, while strawberry and then apple cover the summer-to-fall months.
I can report that the lemon-buttermilk was well worth the stop. Can't wait to return during strawberry pie season.