It’s that magical time to fill your home with the scent of fresh-cut pine––by taking your family to a nearby tree farm to cut down your Christmas tree. These fantastic, family-owned U-cut tree farms are just a short drive away––so chop, chop–go find a Fir to call your own and enjoy the sweet smell of the holiday season.

photo: Joseph Gonzalez via Unsplash

Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm 
Tree cutting + wine = yes, please! Instead of going to a Temecula winery in Dec., check out this Ramona farm where its owners also claim stake to a whimsical winery, the Principe di Tricase Winery. Families can come for the wonder of the property and to stroll through the groves to find the prettiest tree to cut and take home. Be on the lookout for the Farm’s very special Italian wishing tree. This tradition that crossed the Atlantic with the farm’s family will delight your holiday guests: the tree’s piney limbs become host to the written wishes. You’ll find Monterey Pine or Leyland Cypress, but you supply the wishes. Choose your tree and they’ll come cut, shake, net and even drill a hole in the trunk for your stand at no additional cost. The kids will love the hot cider, the little present they’ll receive and on occasion, Santa Claus even stops by for a visit. There’s also an an aviary for watching the birds, a special price wine tasting and there are tables and chairs at the Winery if you’d like to have a picnic and sip your wine.

On weekends kids can participate in ornament making workshops––painting pine cones!

Good to know: Prices start at  $15/ft. with 10% off for military families and senior citizens. Call or email the farm for special orders.

Open: Nov. 29-Dec. 22; check website for hours
18425 Highland Valley Rd.
Ramona, CA
760-315-8872
Online: pineandwine.com

ChritmasTreeCar-cc-Frank Guido via Flickrphoto: Frank Guido via Flickr

Family Christmas Tree Farm
Mark your calendars for opening day! This ten-acre, family-owned farm in El Cajon kicks off the season the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29th. Pick from an array of native California Monterey Pine trees––they provide the saw for cutting and the twine to secure the tree to your car. In addition to the u-chop experience, there’s an abundance of pre-cut tree varieties (Douglas, Grand, Noble & Nordman Fir) as well as potted trees (including Rosemary!) and wreaths to choose from. Though the folks at the farm recommend cutting your tree during daylight hours, they suggest bringing a flashlight if you’ll arrive after dark. Your freshly cut tree may be flocked and picked up after it has had time to dry, which shouldn’t be a problem since the hay wagon rides, farm animals and straw-bale playpen most definitely merit a second visit. Saws and twine are provided, while shaking is free, netting is $2 and stands are available as well. Pick up your mistletoe and cinnamon brooms here too!

Good to know: This family farm’s first Christmas tree season was in 1972 and generation after generation come to cut their tree here each year. It’s a wonderful place to partake in this holiday tradition, given the Farm’s friendly, small town community vibe that can’t be beat––and you’re supporting local agriculture by picking your perfect tree here.

Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m., 7 days a week (starting Nov. 29)
300 Pepper Dr.
El Cajon, CA
619-448-5331
Online: familychristmastreefarm.com

photo: Julie Campbell via Creative Commons

Rancho Noel Christmas Tree Farm
This farm’s Monterey Pines are fresh for the picking on November weekends and select hours Nov. 29-Dec. 15. The focus here is on trees, trees, trees––which means your little forest-dwellers will love weaving in and out of the evergreens. Pack your own holiday cookies and cider for sipping on nearby at the adjacent Potrero County Park.

Open: Weekends in Nov. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Nov. 29-Dec.15 closed Mondays, Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

25655 Potrero Park Dr.
Potrero, CA 91963
760-583-5287
Online: ranchonoeltrees.com

photo: Family Christmas Tree Farm

Tips For a Successful U-Chop Experience
If you usually get your tree from a lot but are ready to head out into the field, we’ve got a few tips for you.

1. If it’s an option, leave the compact car at home and instead bring the family truck or SUV to accommodate your freshly chopped tree. Bring a tarp, old sheet or blanket to put in the trunk to catch the needles and sap. You can also use this on the roof of your car if you are going to tie it down.

2. Most farms have some rope or twine but it never hurts to bring your own to make sure you can tie it down securely before you head home. Even if it costs extra, spring for the wrapping on-site if the farm has it.

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3. Bring snacks and water. Cutting down your own tree is some serious business, so be sure to bring snacks and drinks to keep those little tummies going and to stay hydrated.

4. The farms usually provide a small hand saw for your use. If you have a better tool at home, bring it.

5. Don’t forget to charge your phones and cameras because you’re going to want to snap a family photo or several!

— Jeannette Swanson & Beth Shea

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