With its high real estate values and urban sprawl, Southern California doesn’t have a lot of roadside attractions anymore, especially right off major interstates. However, one exception is Tom’s Farms, which has been a fixture in Riverside County’s Temescal Valley since 1971.
History of Tom’s Farms
Tom’s Farms was started by Tom Barnes, who was born in Kansas City, MO, and moved to California in 1970. When he got to California, he leased some land in Lake Elsinore to open a produce stand, and the stand did so well that the owner of the property refused to renew the lease so he could take over the produce stand himself.
In 1971, Barnes found a new location for his stand, right below the Cleveland National Forest in Temescal Canyon. He called his new stand Tom’s Farms. Barnes eventually bought the land and, in 1974, opened a new 3,500 square foot produce stand.
Located right off Interstate 15, just north of Lake Elsinore, Tom’s Farms predates the interstate by several years. Interstate 15 was completed in the area in 1978, which led to an increase in visitation to Tom’s Farms.
In 1977, Tom’s Farms added a hamburger restaurant. Over the years since, Tom’s Farms has continued to grow and now is on 46 acres and has 16 buildings.
Tom Barnes died from cancer in 2001 at 55 years. In 2017, the property was purchased by Sunny Hwang from Barmes’ family. Hwang has stated he planned on continuing to improve the experience at Tom’s Farms and has added things such as live music and increased shade since his purchase.
What is there to do at Tom’s Farms?
Since its beginning as a fruit stand, Tom’s Farms has greatly expanded over the years. The fruit stand is still there, but now the property has a number of attractions, shops, and restaurants as well.
There is a small amusement park called the Family Fun Zone at Tom’s Farms. The amusement park is only open on weekends, and the admission cost is $1.00 as of June 2022 (children under 2 are free). Each individual attraction at the amusement park has a separate fee as well. Live entertainment such as the magic show and live music had no additional cost beyond the $1.00 admission.
The amusement park definitely skews towards the younger side. There is a small Ferris wheel, a train ride, a small drop tower, a bounce house, and a carousel. The amusement park also has a petting zoo, pony rides, and a shooting gallery.
If you have children with you, the amusement park is a nice place to eat lunch while your kids have some fun. Otherwise, we’d recommend just eating at one of the restaurants or their patios.
There are currently two restaurants at Tom’s Farms, Tom’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and Patio Pizza.
At Tom’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, you will find your normal burger stand items; different types of hamburgers, fries, fish & chips, chicken tenders, etc. They also have a small selection of hot sandwiches and salads. There is a beer and wine list as well. On the weekends, they also serve breakfast.
Patio Pizza features hand-tossed pizzas, spaghetti, and surprisingly a larger hot sandwich selection than the hamburger stand. We think this is the better choice of the two restaurants at Tom’s Farms.
The hand-tossed pizzas are pretty good and are made to order, certainly better pizza than you’ll get at most chain pizza places. If you sit on the patio, you can also enjoy the live music from the amusement park while eating.
There used to be a Mexican food restaurant at Tom’s Farms as well, but it closed a couple of years ago. It’s not a huge loss, to be honest.
The number one reason to stop at Tom’s Farms, in our opinion, is to check out all the shops. Walking around them is a good way to stretch your legs after driving for a bit, and a couple of the shops are surprisingly fantastic.
Tom’s Farms began as a produce stand, and the Farmers Market is still their marquee store. The Farmers Market says that they get fresh produce delivered daily, and they always have a pretty large selection when we stop. In addition, to produce, they have a pretty good selection of fresh breads.
Attached to the Farmers Market is the Candy Shoppe, one of the real gems at Tom’s Farms. They have pretty much every type of candy you can imagine, and we always find something there we never knew existed before (my son was blown away by a combination of Fun Dip and Pop Rocks). If you have a sweet tooth, the Candy Shoppe is definitely worth making a stop for.
The most surprising store at Tom’s Farms is the furniture store. This isn’t the type of store you normally see at a roadside stop like this. We have never bought furniture there, so I can’t really comment on the prices, but they also have a selection of other gifts such as signs and such.
The other store at Tom’s Farms that is a must-visit every time we stop is the Cheese & Wine Shoppe. Having first opened in 1984, the Cheese & Wine Shoppe also runs the Pizza Patio. This store has a fantastic selection of cheeses, and I’ve been told they have some craft beers here that are hard to find anywhere else. In addition to their cheeses, they have a great bread selection (try the garlic sourdough) and desserts such as pies. The prices are pretty reasonable, too.
Every weekend Tom’s Farms also has a craft fair that features a variety of local artisans and vendors. The number and quality of vendors vary, on our last visit, there were only a couple set up, so there isn’t a whole lot we can say about it.
When to Visit Tom’s Farms
Every shop and restaurant at Tom’s Farms seems to have different hours, but the latest any of them stay open is 8:00 pm, with most shops closing by 6:00 or 7:00. We recommend visiting earlier in the day, especially if you want to take advantage of fresh produce or fresh bread.
There is plenty of parking at Tom’s Farms, and we’ve never seen it so busy that we couldn’t find a space. The weekends are much busier than weekdays and can get pretty crowded, but the operating hours are shorter on weekdays, and the amusement park isn’t open.
Summers in the area can be scorching, easily topping 100 degrees. There are a number of shady places to sit, but the shade can only do so much in extreme heat. The stores all have air conditioning. Spring or fall is a much more pleasant time to visit.
Is it worth stopping at Tom’s Farms?
Personally, I wouldn’t go out of the way to stop by Tom’s Farms, but if you are driving through the area and aren’t in a hurry to get to wherever it is you are going, I think it is worth stopping by, especially if you’ve never been before. It’s certainly not a place we stop by every time we go by, but we do stop a few times a year to see what’s new and grab a bite to eat. If we were local to the area, we’d probably stop by the Cheese & Wine Shoppe and grab a pizza on occasion.
Tom’s Farms is located at 23900 Temescal Canyon Rd., Temescal Valley, CA 92883. It is located right off Interstate 15, exit 88, and can be seen from the freeway.