Foraging for chanterelles on the California Central Coast


This post is about foraging for chanterelle mushrooms, but frankly the word forage makes it sound way too hard.  We’re having such a great mushroom season around here, so wet and cold, that you could just go out to a good spot and call out “here…mushroom, mushroom” and the chanterelles practically leap into your open arms.  That’s how easy it was.  Not to mention plentiful – nearly 40lbs worth on one foraging trip alone.

Wait, what’s that I’m hearing?  Is that you, mumbling something under your breath about mushroom toxin and people dying each year from eating mushrooms they foraged?  It is scary, I know.  Really, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger coward than me when it came to that.  So, what was I doing foraging for mushrooms death-in-a-bite, you asked?  Well, that’s because there is help yet, even for the wimpiest of us.  I went hunting for chanterelles, you see?

Chanterelle is a good mushroom variety for beginning foragers.  They’re quite distinctive and easy to identify.  The only poisonous variety that may be confused with them are the Jack-o-Lanterns, and even those are not going to kill you.  Jack-o-Lanterns and chanterelles are pretty easy to tell apart, especially here on the Northern California coast – the Jacks are more orange, with deeper gills, and when you tear one in half you’ll see that the inside is also orange, while chanterelles are white inside, have shallow gills that look more like veins, and more golden in color.)


Another good trick for a beginning forager is to hitch a ride with a seasoned forager.  You may have to ply him/her with gifts and drinks and food, or be required to swear an oath not to divulge their secret spots.  Or you can join your local mycological society when they go hunting.  As for me, I’ve got a secret spots or two myself, alas I’m not at liberty to tell you where they are.  Something about that blood oath I took the first time someone took me out or something like that…

Or perhaps not really.  Before I let you think I shed my city girl’s cred so thoroughly I went hiking for hours looking for mushroom, I should confess.  We knew exactly where the mushroom were – at a usual spot on a friend’s property well off the beaten path.  We even took his Gator out there so we didn’t need to walk!


Then again, I think I deserve just a little credit. Just because we knew the spot didn’t mean we could just walk around picking up mushrooms like we do flowers.  These chanterelles are great at hiding in plain sight.  It takes a measure of skills to spot them, and more importantly, not to trample all over the ones you haven’t seen.  After all, we want to pick chanterelles, not chanterelle purée.

Up here in the Northern and Central California coast, chanterelles are often found under oak trees, but on the ground and not right on the trees (Jack-o-Lanterns are the ones that grow on tree trunks).  So you look for suspicious mounds on the ground.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to see a bit of bright, telltale orange peeking out from under the leafs and twigs.


To pick them, you slide your hand under the chanterelle, holding the base between your fingers like you do a wine glass, and give it a gentle pull to get it out of the ground.


This particular shot (above) shows the distinctive shallow veins on the chanterelles, which are very different from the gills on the underside of the poisonous Jack-o-Lantern.


Our loot grew, and grew, and grew, until we were tired of picking them.  We ended up with two full containers, probably 40lbs.


One cardinal rule about picking mushrooms, never pick anything you don’t know.  Like this one.  I picked it with my camera instead.


…and another rule, appreciate the beauty around you.


Don’t mean to get all philosophical on you, but this season is perfect for finding beauty in decay.


…more anon

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44 Responses to “Foraging for chanterelles on the California Central Coast

  • Joan said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 9:25am

    Beautiful photos, Pim. I love chanterelles!

  • Barbara said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 9:35am

    Such fun! We used to forage for morels!
    Your photos are wonderful.

  • Drama said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 10:21am

    Great photos,thanks! I haven’t found chanterelles yet in Northern California, only Oyster mushrooms, but we sometimes get chanterelles from a friend (who has promised under oath not to reveal her spot).

  • The Rowdy Chowgirl said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 1:40pm

    I don’t know if I’m ready to go out and forage my own mushrooms yet, but this post does increase my confidence about the box of chanterelles at my local produce stand. I usually give them a longing but suspicious glance and keep moving. But now I’ll just look for the white insides. Thanks!

  • EB said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 2:21pm

    That’s an experience I’ve always wanted to have.

  • said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 6:26pm

    Great post! I’ll keep my eye out for them on my next hike.

  • the lacquer spoon said:
    January 12th, 2010 at 8:55pm

    Great gift from our planet! That’s why I like winter too…albeit the cold :)

  • Maureen Demar Hall said:
    January 13th, 2010 at 2:38pm

    We had some unknown mushrooms sprout from a bag of mulch in our garage… my research led me to oysters but I was afraid to eat them. They did look big and beautiful though and thought “what a waste” to let them go.

  • Katie said:
    January 14th, 2010 at 10:07pm

    Best post ever! Love it! I’ve got mushrooms on the brain so this was just perfect.

  • leslie said:
    January 15th, 2010 at 6:27am

    Great post — and great blog ( found through chain of links on Help for Haiti). Thanks for all of it.
    Chanterelles and other wild mushrooms are big favorites here on the East Coast too, of course, and my mycologist husband has done a whole series of quite thorough collecting guides. The one on chanterelles, complete with images, diagnostic key and many hunting tips, is here:

  • Jennifer C. said:
    January 15th, 2010 at 1:02pm

    I am living in Totnes, Devon ( south England) and they are all about foraging here. I can’t wait to forage! Pim, you are great :)

  • Jamie said:
    January 15th, 2010 at 6:51pm

    Wonderful post! I honestly have no idea what type of mushrooms we have around the piedmont of North Carolina, but I’m tempted to start Googling! No worries though, I’m not about to start picking wild mushrooms :-) You have inspired me to get out with my camera though. There is so much beauty in nature!

  • Julie said:
    January 17th, 2010 at 6:55pm

    Just got back from a short backpacking trip up to the Sierra Club’s Hikers Hut in Sam McDonald County Park near Pescadero Creek. We found both yellow and black chanterelles as well hedgehogs and candy caps. My first bug foraging event. Now that I know the conditions and what I am looking for I can’t wait to explore on my own property here in the Santa Cruz Mountains!

  • Julie said:
    January 17th, 2010 at 6:57pm

    oops – typo. I meant BIG foraging event, not bug. ;-)

  • Christie Bishop said:
    January 20th, 2010 at 2:07pm

    Wonderful post and excellent knowledge about chanterelles! I’ve always wanted to go mushroom “hunting” but it’s not a big foodie sport in Los Angeles (at least that I know of). I stick to the farmers markets for the freshest varieties of mushrooms but may have to try and find a seasoned mushroom picker to take me out!
    Christie Bishop

  • IT Jobs Training said:
    January 21st, 2010 at 2:54am

    Always be alert and on the lookout for not all mushrooms are safe to eat.

  • SEO Los Angeles said:
    January 21st, 2010 at 5:49am

    Haven’t really tasted mushrooms that are grown in the wild but if it is safe then I would definitely love to give it a try.

  • TripleScoop said:
    January 21st, 2010 at 4:15pm

    That was really cool. I get the feeling I was there with you smelling the fresh scent of the woods…..

  • Bridal Registry said:
    January 21st, 2010 at 11:22pm

    I think that these mushrooms would be a great addition to my mushroom collection.

  • tiffanyfree said:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 12:01am

    I think that these mushrooms would be a great addition to my mushroom collection.

  • Chin said:
    January 27th, 2010 at 2:09pm

    Wow, this is an interesting account of your mushroom hunt… I bet those mushrooms are delicious. Mushrooms are definitely one of the best delicacies the mother nature has afforded us.

  • sara said:
    January 27th, 2010 at 5:06pm

    wow, amazing, wild mushrooms from outside, I was always afraid of the poisonous ones

  • Shawn said:
    January 28th, 2010 at 11:55am

    Great post! We get them here in VA as well,but not until summer. Fortunately, only another two months or so before morels pop! As an avid mushroom hunter, I hate the waiting, but your post gave me my mushroomy fix! Thanks!

  • Wholesale NFL Jerseys said:
    February 4th, 2010 at 11:05pm

    Wow, this is an interesting account of your mushroom hunt… I bet those mushrooms are delicious. Mushrooms are definitely one of the best delicacies the mother nature has afforded us.

  • tashland said:
    March 21st, 2010 at 8:13pm

    Just found your blog. Love it! Look forward to browsing the archives. Just a quick thing… my mother-in-law gave me an invaluable tip when we were harvesting near Melbourne. Always rest the gathered mushies with the stalk downwards so that any dirt falling off doesn’t go straight into the gills and give you a mouthful of grit.

  • dual sim card mobile said:
    March 23rd, 2010 at 3:01am

    As an avid mushroom hunter, I hate the waiting, but your post gave me my mushroomy fix! Thanks!

  • Eva said:
    March 25th, 2010 at 7:51pm

    I used to do a lot of mushroom hunting when my husband and I lived in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland. Two things the experienced local mushroom hunters there do and are emphatic about when they give advice to newbies: 1. They never pull up mushrooms, but cut them off; this preserves the mother-fungus of which mushrooms are simply the fruiting bodies and 2. They carry their booty in a basket, so stray spores will fall through and help spread the fungus. They will also cut off, cut up and spread around over-ripe mushrooms they come across. Again, this is to ensure a good harvest in the future!

  • Cool mushroom said:
    April 6th, 2010 at 3:34am
  • GHD said:
    April 12th, 2010 at 11:36pm

    Thank you for sharing, O (∩ _ ∩) O ~,This is Amy. Message from:

  • Tiffany said:
    April 12th, 2010 at 11:36pm

    Thanks for share,great article!^^
    More messages from:Amy’s homepage

  • fıkralar said:
    June 11th, 2010 at 11:49am

    Great photos,thanks!
    I haven’t found chanterelles yet in Northern California, only Oyster mushrooms,
    but we sometimes get chanterelles from a friend (who has promised under oath not to reveal her spot).

  • angelitacarmelita said:
    June 21st, 2010 at 12:53pm

    I’m afraid I’d lose my mind if I picked and had at my disposal that many chanterelles… great photos, I can’t wait to try this recipe. Love me some pickeled mushrooms.

  • Brianalexander said:
    December 29th, 2010 at 9:28pm

    Hi All Fellow Shroomers,

    We found a motherlode of Chantrelles in the Central California Coastal Range. (Cantharellis Cibarius)A “true take your pick of the best you see and do move carefully”.

    I harvested about ten pounds in 5 minutes in a circle no bigger than twenty five fee across. We will return to that spot when the floods abate. Happy Shrooming to you all!

    • Henry said:
      January 11th, 2011 at 7:51pm

      Type your comment here. Can you be kind enough to provide location or physical address or at least name of the park where you picked them . It would be very helpfull as I am very much interested in picking mashrooms and I am an expert. Please contact me via e-mail as follows: or call me at work (408)746-8605.

      My name is Henry.

      Thank you very much and looking forward to your response.

      • Lucas_green551 said:
        January 22nd, 2012 at 10:39pm

        Hey come on henry. No ones that dumb. This guy is a big time broker, he’ll send a crew in to poach the whole area. Watch out.

      • Ian Buie said:
        November 27th, 2012 at 9:40pm

        First rule never ask where someones spot is let them tell you,offer a trade of something for fresh chanterelles or other mushrooms. Get to know them gain their trust then find out where their spot is with their permisson and push them into the wood chipper like the rest of us.

  • Volker4532 said:
    February 21st, 2011 at 10:17am

    I used to find them in fir / spruce forests at autom time in Germany. Pity that they are not in Melbourne. Erwin,

  • Emanuel said:
    April 6th, 2011 at 10:56pm

    Your article about picking chanterelles evokes that awesome sensory experience of getting out into the natural world and being reminded of how we fit into the grand scheme of things. As an Oregonian, I am constantly reminded of how the decay creates regeneration.

  • Jlewis said:
    November 18th, 2011 at 4:56pm

    Hi Pim,
    I’m writing a press release for a winery on foraging on the Central Coast, and I’d love to find out who guided you (if anyone) on your excursion.  Please contact me at jlewis at parkersanpei dot com to share…And thank you!

  • Lucas_green551 said:
    January 22nd, 2012 at 10:59pm

    There is responsible ways of picking these. If you go in and pick every mushroom they won’t grow back. Also, you don’t pick them, you cut them at the base with a stainless steal knife, wiping with alcohol each time to not spread disease. Pulling them out of the ground invites disease into their root system. When you see a patch, they’re all connected. Pick no more than 1/3 and don’t tell anyone where you got them.

    • Islandangler said:
      October 10th, 2013 at 2:23am

      Sorry to say,but that’s a bunch of bs,except the part of telling where they are!

      • June Bug said:
        December 21st, 2013 at 6:30pm

        yep, total BS. Just pull the mushroom straight out of the ground or cut it with a regular ole mushroom knife at the base. Cover the hole with soil and move on. Pick as many mushrooms as you’d like, because it doesnt affect the mycorrhizal network underneath. Its just like picking apples from a tree wont harm the tree, regardless of whether you pick 1/3 or all of them. And please dont use alcohol to wipe the blade. That will cause the greatest damage of all to the ‘root’ network.

  • Me said:
    November 20th, 2013 at 6:48am

    Never tell anyone your hot spot. And always cut them and leave the stem. Many times I have come back in the same year and a new shroom was growing out of the old stem. Also it is important to leave a few so the spores can give you a harvest the next season.

    • June Bug said:
      December 21st, 2013 at 6:27pm

      mushrooms are spread by spores, sure, but their predominant method of fruiting comes directly from the mycorrhizal network that exists underground. Best practice is to simply pick the mushroom clean out of the ground, stem and all, and then fill in the hole with soil. That protects the mycorrhizae from drying out. What you saw when a mushroom grew out of the old stem was just the stem being reabsorbed by the mycorrhizae and a new mushroom growing out of that abundance of nutrients. Mushrooms do not fruit like a tree or tomato, its a completely different process.

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