Picking your own citrus means choosing your own adventure at these family farms across the Sunshine State.
These days, orange groves and the fruit they produce are iconic symbols of Florida’s natural splendor and bustling agricultural industry, but many people don’t realize that citrus is not native to the Sunshine State, nor even the United States. As the Florida Department of State reports, oranges are native to southeast Asia, and they first reached American soil in 1493, when ships commanded by Christopher Columbus brought the fruit to Florida.
Despite encouraging growing conditions created by Florida’s sandy soil and subtropical climate, the citrus industry didn’t experience its first boom for another 300 years. In the mid-1870s, white Americans and formerly enslaved African Americans flocked to Florida in droves to provide the often back-breaking labor needed to gather, package, and ship citrus across the world.
Today, the Sunshine State’s citrus industry brings in $9 billion each year and employs nearly 76,000 people who work in growing, packing, processing, and selling this beloved fruit, according to the state’s tourism industry marketing corporation Visit Florida.
Luckily for Floridians, the owners of many orange groves and their related facilities across the state swing their doors open wide, welcoming any and all guests who want to taste fresh, just-picked citrus and learn first-hand the love and care that goes into growing and selling the fruit. Here are seven orange groves and farms that offer guests a wide variety of treats to sample, as well as entertainment and activities for the whole family.
Countryside Family Farms
There’s one stretch of Florida’s Atlantic coastline that proudly remains synonymous with the state’s citrus industry: Indian River County. Only a 90-minute drive from Orlando, this tiny, two-city area due south of Florida’s Space Coast boasts a variety of citrus growers, many of whom allow guests insiders’ access to where the magic happens. Countryside Family Farms in Vero Beach stands out from the pack with its inventive offerings fit for the whole family: take a train tour of the groves, hike along their nature trails, test your skills with a game of giant chess, or take an exhilarating zipline ride through the farm. End your adventure with the perfect treat: a “slushee” made from soft-serve ice cream and real fruit.
The Showcase of Citrus
Citrus lovers come from near and far to pick the freshest fruit at this 2,500-acre estate in Clermont, just southwest of Orlando. This family-owned and -operated farm has been growing more than 50 varieties of citrus for over three decades, and The Showcase of Citrus remains devoted to allowing visitors to pick their own each November through May. Selecting your own fresh fruit is only part of the fun—hop into a monster truck driven by Showcase of Citrus park rangers and take a tour of the groves, their surrounding woodlands, and the farm’s menagerie of exotic animals like zebras, water buffalo, and bison.
Al’s Family Farms
There’s no building more emblematic of Florida’s bustling citrus industry than the historic red barn packinghouse and citrus shop at Al’s Family Farms. Upon entering this time-honored institution located in Fort Pierce, just south of Indian River County on Florida’s Atlantic coast, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose which treats to eat now and which to eat later among Sharon’s Homemade Fudge, smoked fish dip made in-house, locally famous Sunshine Shakes, or gift boxes stuffed with fresh Valencia oranges, ruby red grapefruits, and Western honeybells.
In Arcadia, near the banks of the Peace River, lies a Floridian citrus grove with deep historical roots. Joshua Citrus traces its origins back to 1887, when a Texan named James Shelfer settled here and planted an orange grove. Though he only lived in Florida for four years before dying in a horseback riding accident, the seeds he planted continue to grow tall. Today, the Shelfer family operates the public-facing Joshua Citrus Grove Stand, selling fresh squeezed juices, jams, jellies, sauces, and Florida-themed gifts.
Only 30 miles south of Tampa’s crowded roadways and high-rises, Dooley Grooves in Ruskin offers a slice of uniquely Floridian tranquility. Listen to the wind rustling through the leaves and breathe in the sweet smell of orange blossoms as you traverse the Enchanted Grove hunting for the perfect fruit to take home. Dooley Groves staff will even provide you with colorful baskets, sharp clippers, carts, and wagons to make your you-pick experience a breeze.
Ridge Island Groves
This family-owned and -operated farm in Haines City, 30 miles east of Lakeland, proudly takes visitors on farm tours to showcase the techniques and wide variety of produce that they’ve devoted themselves to over the last three decades. After picking some of your own, visit Ridge Island Groves’ open-air market to try freshly squeezed juices made from oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits, and pick up some raw, unfiltered orange blossom honey to quell your spring allergies. Don’t be alarmed by the massive alligator resting on an awning above the cash registers—it won’t bite.
Florida Orange Groves Winery
Though this St. Petersburg hotspot is in no way, shape, or form an orange grove, it’s worth mentioning to Florida’s citrus fans, as it’s one of the state’s leading purveyors of citrus, tropical, and berry wines. Florida Orange Groves Winery products are the only wines permitted to carry the Florida Department of Citrus’ mark of superior quality, and their wines made from oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and mangos often require more than nine pounds of fruit to make just one deliciously intoxicating bottle.