AUCTION - The Big Olive Processing Plant

Oleotourism on The Rise in Central California

Riding the wave of the state's post-Covid recovery, olive farms and mills are increasingly popular destinations on California’s Central Coast.

Agritourism is surging on the Central Coast of California, and visitors are swapping the trek to Greece, Italy or Spain for California to sample award winning extra virgin olive oils.

The area’s tourism industry is soaring, with visitors spending US$2.15 billion (€2 billion, AU$3.29 billion), and local producers are responding to the growing interest in educational agrotourism by offering tastings, tours and on-farm experiences.

“In the last few years, we are getting many more requests to have what’s best described as a ‘farm experience,’” Shaana Rahman, co-owner of Boccabella Farms and chair of the board of directors of the California Olive Council, told Olive Oil Times.

“We’re fielding calls from RV groups and people who love camping and want to be immersed in farm life, albeit for just a night or two, and get to know how olive oil is made,” she added.

Rahman said olive oil tourism is evolving from olive oil tastings to more immersive learning opportunities about farming and milling.

“They are excited to have a tour through the orchard, touch the trees, see the fruit, and listen to the steps we take from tree to table to make extra virgin olive oil”, she said.

After a significant decline due to the Covid-19 pandemic, officials believe the industry fully recovered in 2023 based on various tourism related indicators.

According to Visit California, a nonprofit, travel spending in the Golden State exceeded $134 billion (€125 billion, AU$205.27 billion) in 2022, nearly double the low watermark in 2020 and slightly below the levels reached in 2018 and 2019.

Some producers are capitalizing on increased interest in their regions. “Paso Robles and San Miguel have become a tourist destination,” Richard Meisler, the co-owner of San Miguel Olive Farm, said.

Indeed, Visit California data indicate that 2022 was a record year for tourism in San Luis Obispo County, a hotspot for high-quality olive oil production, with overnight visitors spending more than $2.1 billion (€2 billion, AU$3.21 billion), exceeding the previous record set in 2019 by seven percent.

“Our tours have increased along with the sale of our oils, both indoors and outdoors,” Meisler said. “People are cruising in the areas and stop where something looks good. Years ago, one car on the road was exciting. Yes, tourism is on the rise.”

Meisler and his wife, Myrna, hope to take advantage of another good year for travel in 2024 with their tasting room, which offers views of their farm and olive grove.

“The quiet atmosphere, soft afternoon breeze, blue skies, and an occasional bunny rabbit running around are also free,” Meisler said.

In downtown Paso Robles, Ruth Mercurio confirmed that the area has seen a noticeable increase in agritourism.

They come in excited to taste, learn, and ask questions,” We Olive’s owner and managing partner told Olive Oil Times. Many are keen to seek out local olive farms, especially ones with an olive press.”

Mercurio has actively embraced the role of an oleotourism ambassador for the county and said she recommends a range of local olive farms to visitors. More