I recently enjoyed a five-day stretch that included visits to Napa, Oakland, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe. Sure, it was still snowing on the pass between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, but on either side of the divide, I found stunning spring produce, sun-soaked grapevines and brilliant wines made from those very plants, progressive craft beer and specialty coffee preparations, and some truly satisfying food at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These indelible tastes, images and aromas further cemented what I’d already been thinking: California is the best place to eat and drink, anywhere, and The Golden State is now the clear focus for Food GPS coverage.
California has long been an influential hub for innovation. L.A. gave rise to the film and television industries. The San Francisco Bay Area brought us companies like Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Industrial Light & Magic and Pixar, which have reached billions of people with their products, platforms and productions. Still, this is Food GPS, so I’m more interested in what we’ve cultivated in The Golden State’s fields, production facilities, and kitchens, which is continually inspiring.
I’m not going to bemoan the East Coast bias, which is inevitable given the relative mountain of Manhattan media outlets. Instead, I’ll focus on the facts. California clearly has the best produce and growing cycles of any state, with fruits and vegetables like Delta asparagus, Gaviota strawberries and Castroville artichokes that could all qualify for some kind of farming hall of fame. From the Pacific Ocean, we source sea urchin, sardines and squid that would be the envy of any aquarium. In California fields, cows are raised with exacting standards, yielding premium steaks, dairy and cheese. At the highest levels, pigs, lamb and chickens are lavished with similar attention to detail.
California dominates the rest of the nation when it comes to wine production, with American Viticultural Areas like the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and Santa Ynez Valley that would all be the envy of any other state.
My adopted state’s breweries are some of the nation’s best, with sizeable groupings in San Diego and the Bay Area, craft beer powerhouses like Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada situated away from urban cores, and L.A. breweries coming on strong, helping to sure up Southern California taps, bottles and cans.
Specialty coffee is also washing over California, with innovators at Cali-grown companies like Ritual Coffee Roasters, Four Barrel Coffee, G&B Coffee/Go Get Em Tiger, and Blue Bottle Coffee, which Slate writer Will Oremus recently labeled “the Apple of coffee.” High praise, but in time, with acquisitions like Handsome and Tonx, he might prove right.
This is not to say that California is the be all and end all of the food and drink world. Of course I’ll continue to travel throughout the U.S. and abroad in order to build my experiences, knowledge base, and points of reference. With immediate family living near Miami, Charleston, and Atlanta, it’s inevitable I’ll be on planes from LAX several times a year, at least. Still, we do have the eighth largest economy in the world, if California were to separate from the rest of the United States (a distinct possibility if you’ve felt the recent tremors) and more than a small percentage of California’s economy revolves around agriculture and culinary endeavors.
Given that it would be impossible to tell every meaningful story contained within California’s borders, there’s not much need to look to the great beyond for content. I’ve been a proud Californian for over 15 years, and will now focus on the most compelling foods, drinks and people that this state attracts and cultivates. I look forward to sharing this continued evolution with you through Food GPS.