How San Diego Became the Avocado Capital of the U.S

Avocado toasts | © Marco Verch/Flickr
Avocado toasts | © Marco Verch/Flickr
The avocado—known for its creamy texture, healthy fat, and long-standing partnership with toast—is one of California‘s most beloved fruits. But just how did San Diego become the avocado capital of the U.S?

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom named the avocado the state fruit in 2013, alongside the new state vegetable (the artichoke), state grain (rice), and state nut (almonds). It’s not a bad pick, as California grows more avocados than any other state in the U.S., and 60% of those avocados are grown in San Diego County. The region’s climate is suitable for growing avocados, which accounts for its success.

The avocado, native to Mexico, was introduced to Californian soil in 1871 by Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara. The Hass avocado was discovered by postman and avocado grower Rudolph Hass in the 1920s, using seeds purchased from avocado enthusiast A.R. Rideout of Whittier. Rideout would collect seeds from multiple sources, so the origin of the seeds Hass purchased remains unknown.

Hass planted the seeds in his La Habra Heights grove, then attempted to graft Fuerte branches onto the strongest seedling, as Fuerte avocados were then the most popular variety. After several failed attempts, he considered chopping the tree down, but was dissuaded by a grafter, who pointed out that the tree was hearty. When the tree matured, Hass found many people preferred the taste of his avocados to that of the Fuerte avocado.

Today, the Hass avocado is the most common type of avocado grown in California, accounting for 95% of the state’s crop. It is larger than other varieties of avocados, and has a longer shelf-life.

Avocados Kjokkenutstyr Net/Flickr

The Hass avocado mother tree lived in La Habra Heights for over 70 years until 2002, when it succumbed to a battle with root rot and was cut down. A plaque remains in its honor, while the tree itself is stowed in a nursery.

According to Hass’ granddaughter Cindy Miller, some of the wood from that tree has been used by Hass’s nephew to make various items, which he has gifted to relatives and members of the Avocado Growers Association. Though today’s avocado toast craze is credited to millennials, Miller wrote that her grandfather enjoyed avocado on wheat toast nearly every morning until his death in 1952. He was 98-years-old.

For those who really love avocados there’s a whole festival in San Diego County dedicated to the fruit. An estimated 70,000 people attend the Fallbrook Avocado Festival each year. Fallbrook is located about 55 miles north of San Diego, and is where Hass planted an 80-acre avocado orchard in 1948. This festival has been going on for over 30 years, and features avocado-themed food, drinks, gifts, clothes and more.