Cut your own Christmas Tree at Hidden Springs Tree Farm
NORTH COUNTY — Believe it or not, there was a time when families would venture into the woods and cut down their very own Christmas tree. Imagine bundling up your family with a thermos of cocoa in tow, a wagon, and scurrying around the snowy woods for the perfect pine tree.
What if I told you that you can cut down your very own Christmas tree right here on the Central Coast? And don’t worry, you won’t end up with frostbite and a squirrel in your tree like Clark Griswald.
At one point, there were more than 20 Christmas tree farms in North County alone. The first tree farm in the area was Hidden Springs Tree Farm in Atascadero. Fred and Wanda Frank, farmers from Minnesota, moved to Atascadero and purchased the property in the 1930s. Initially, they farmed hay, wheat, and fruit. Christmas trees were an unplanned venture.
The Franks’ driveway was lined with Monterey Pines and one year, during the holiday season, they decided to cut the trees and leave them at the end of the driveway for people to take. It was then, in 1959, when Fred Frank Jr. (Freddie), their only son, convinced his parents to plant the first Christmas trees.
“We have this cool old sign over here that says ‘honk if you want a Christmas tree.’ People would just come up and honk, and they would just come out of their house and take their money and get a saw,” Craig Dobbs said.
After the Franks began their tree business, several others started their farms. The 80s seemed to be the peak for tree farmers in North County. But due to the intensive year-round care required and temporary tree lots now in every parking lot, tree farms slowly went out of business. The Franks started with one lot, which has grown to 10 acres, more than 2,000 trees, and nine varieties for your choosing.
Freddie, at 83 years old, is still as active as can be.
“His favorite thing is cutting trees,” said his daughter, Auraly Dobbs. “So he’s the chainsaw guy, he loves that. Still will go out there… because of trees falling and stuff and he’s been milling. All the wood on the barn is all from him.”
Beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving, customers are welcome to the farm to search for their favorite tree.
Auraly Dobbs recalls her favorite part of the season.
“It’s just really fun to see all of the customers that keep coming back, and you feel like it’s a community again, it feels small town-ish again,” she said. “People are chatting and having fun… they slow down, and it’s nice.”
Apple cider, popcorn, and chestnuts harvested from the property’s trees are available for guests to enjoy. They also offer services such as shaking, drilling, netting, and sell stands to make your tree cutting a breeze.
If you travel further north to Bradley, you will find what was once Beard’s Circle Pine Ranch. After purchasing property in Bradley, Linda and Jim Beard decided they would plant pine trees to sell during the holiday season. Jim had a daughter who sadly passed away from asthma in her late 20s. The trees were Jim’s way contributing to cleaner air in honor of his daughter.
The Beards began selling trees on the weekends in 2007. Like most tree lots, they open on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Linda would get up early in the morning before opening to make hot chocolate and set out cookies.
“Every year we had fruit trees,” she said. “I’d make jams, and we would sell the jam, and my husband made things out of horseshoes.”
Jim would hook his tractor up to a trailer loaded with hay bales to tow around kids from local schools, and whoever else wanted to enjoy a little hayride.
“Our favorite part was when we opened up and the families would come, and the kids would just scatter and look for their favorite tree,” Linda said.
On cold days Jim would start a fire in the burn pit for everyone to huddle around.
Even on rainy days, someone would show up to pick out their tree. Linda fondly remembers a family with three little girls.
“They all came with their little boots on, their raincoats and their umbrellas,” she said. “They came and sat on the hay bales and got a ride and picked out their tree all in the pouring down rain.”
Sadly, Jim had a stroke, and the Beards moved away from the farm earlier this year. Regardless of the circumstances, Jim Beard remains proud of his tree-farming days.
Besides the fact that cutting down your tree is about as traditional as it gets, tree farms are also sustainable and contribute to cleaner air. Visiting a tree farm is a unique opportunity to make beautiful memories with your family. So let us get our coats and cocoa together and take a trip to the tree farm!