I made the 2 hour drive from the OC to pick cherries in the Leona Valley on Saturday. I was almost discouraged to do so, because it seemed like most of the orchards were either sold out or open to members or for limited hours only when I called the night before. We took the gamble and made the trek - I tried to get up at 5:30 but it was just too painful. We arrived around 9:15am. The drive up went quickly (probably due to the anticipation factor), but the drive back made it almost not worth it. Let me clarify...
I definitely recommend heading up there for the experience and the wonderful cherries you can pick for $2-$2.50/lb. The weather was gorgeous; the people friendly and social; the cherries plump and so sweet.
We lucked out and made it into the supposed last u-pick weekend at Hobart's Orchard. We scored huge, fat, deep purple Bings for only $2/lb! Of the 2 orchards we hit, the job was a bit more tedious at this one. The trees were fewer in number than Windy Ridge, but larger in size (as were the fruit), though not as spacious or "clean." By clean, I mean that there were more insects and "creatures." I was bitten by a fire ant which made me stop climbing into the bushes and up into the branches. I was too freaked out by spiders, fire ants, and lizards. The battle wounds were worth it though, because man, those Bings were huge! Damage - 16lbs between the 3 of us. They closed 30 min. after we left and prob. for good for the season. Close one.
I was determined to find Rainiers, so we headed to Windy Ridge, the only orchard I could find that was open all day. Their hours for last weekend were 8-4pm, and they claimed to have 600 trees, Bings and Rainiers. This was more fun of an orchard to visit, because there were tons of people there of all ages, horses, a nice breezy hillside, spacious grounds, low trees, and clusters and clusters of adorable Rainiers. My mom, who's the real hunter in the group, found possibly the only tree with HUGE Rainiers. Most of the trees had small fruit. I think she picked all of them. Sorry guys. The Bings at this orchard were far smaller and not as sweet as Hobarts, so we didn't add many to our buckets. The cherries were $2.50/lb here, same price for both types. Damage - 15lbs for 3 ppl. We were so tired, dusty, and grimey from the trees, that we headed back with that carload of berries.
Because of the gorgeous weather on Saturday, traffic coming back made the glory of the find almost not worth it - almost. It took almost 2 hours to get into LA, so we spent the afternoon there to "avoid traffic." Suckers. Driving from LA to OC took almost another 2 hours at 6pm.
Traffic aside, I recommend you head up there if you can because it's worth it. Hopefully there are still some orchards open for u-pick. Make sure you call the night before to get hours and policies.