Tomatoes are a staple of a backyard garden because they are easy to grow and taste so much better when they are home grown. But, what are the best tomatoes to grow in Southern California?
The good news is that there are literally dozens of tomato varieties that will grow well in the heat of a Southern California summer, as long as you follow my tried and true tomato growing tips. Still, some are more prolific than others and some varieties of tomatoes are bred to be better suited for Southern California’s climate.
Here are my picks for the best tomatoes to grow in Southern California, from bite-sized snackers to gorgeous heirloom varieties that will be stunners in your summer salads.
Don’t plant your garden without first reading my tomato planting tips. Foillow them and you will be well on your way to a bountiful harvest.
Best Tomatoes to Grow in Southern California
Paul Robeson Tomato
The Paul Robeson tomato just might be my all-time favorite slicing tomato for Southern California. This beefsteak has beautiful color and a great heirloom look, but this tomato is about so much more than good looks.
The fruit is easy to grow, maturing at just 65-70 days, and is a high producer. It also happens to be one of the best tasting tomatoes, if not THE best tasting tomato around.
The tomato was named after Paul Robeson who was an actor, opera singer, athlete and civil rights activist.
Fruit tend to be 3-4 inches in size and ideal temps for this guy are below 95, so while it will still do well in hot inland areas, it will do even better in more temperate patches of SoCal. These are long vining tomatoes that should be staked or trellised.
My local nursery has this heirloom in their tomato seedling selection every year, and I am noticing the garden sections at well-stocked home improvement stores are starting to sell these as well. You can also purchase seed for this tomato.
Another great beefsteak tomato that is ideal for slicing is the Brandywine. This tomato plant has large-leaved foliage and produces large fruit in a variety of colors. The most common varietals are pink and red.
It is a popular tomato plant, and you will notice that it does look different than most of the other tomato plants in your garden. It really does have an old-fashioned vibe and bigger leaves.
This is a more late-ripening tomato variety. Harvesting typically begins around the 90 day mark. It is indeterminate and does well in high temperatures providing you give it plenty of water and tomato food.
Once ripe, these tomatoes can be nearly a pound in weight! Since they are slow to ripen, they do have more of a chance to be bothered by pests. I plant marigolds and onions with my tomato plants to help discourage pests. Watering from below will help keep the plant healthy as well.
Brandywine Tomato plants are commonly found at most plant nurseries and home improvement store garden centers in Southern California.
Momotaro Tomatoes are the most popular variety in Japan. This hybrid has also become quite popular at farmer’s markets, thanks to its lovely pink flesh, sweet flavor, and long shelf life. This is a classic looking tomato.
It is named for the legend of Momotaro, aka: Peach Boy. He is a baby boy found living inside a giant peach by farmers who yearned for a child of their own. He grew to be a celebrated figure who incouraged peace. There is a Momotaro Festival in Japan every year.
I have to wonder if Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, James and The Giant Peach, was inspired by this legend…
This is an early producing tomato, which will reach maturity in just 60 days. The fruit are about 1/2 a pund each. The plant is indeterminate and will keep producing all season long. Each cluster on flowers on the plant tend to produce 6-7 fruits.
This is not a tomato that tolerates extreme heat. If your temps hover over 95 degrees for an extended time, it can cause the flowers to drop. If you do live in an are that reaches those temps in the peak of summer, just plant early and use it as an early season variety.
Rumor has it that this Dolly Parton’s favorite tomato.
I have seen this variety of tomato at my local nursery (Green Thumb) year after year. The seeds can also be readily found online.
Green Zebra Tomato
I think every heirloom tomato garden needs a green tomato for a little bit of pizazz, and the Green Zebra Tomato offers just that. It is a green, stripy tomato with shades of yellow intermixed when ripe.
The tomatoes are about two inches around. It matures in about 75 days. It has great flavor, sweet with a bit of tang. I have great success growing this tomato year after year. I have noticed that the plants don’t get as big as some of my other tomatoes, usually in the 4-5 foot range.
This particular tomato became popular when Alice Waters started using it in her heirloom tomato dishes at Chez Pannise. It has become the most widely available green heirloom tomato around. It has great flavor and is easy to grow.
Since this is a green tomato, you have to go by feel to know if it is ripe. If it is soft, it is ripe.
I have seen this variety at Home Depot, Green Thumb, Rogers Gardens, and just about any garden center with a decent selection of tomato seedlings.
Cherokee Purple Tomato
The Cherokee Purple Tomato is another popular heirloom variety. It is a slicing tomato, about 8-12oz in weight when fully ripe. It is a beautiful, dusky purple and pink color with tinges of red. Some have greenish areas at the top, even with ripe.
This tomato is gorgeous, sweet and smoky, and easy to grow. It is said to have originated with the Cherokee tribe, and has been grown for well over 100 years.
This tomato is a particularly disease-resistant heirloom, making it easy to grow. It matures at about 80-90 days and plants can produce 20-25 tomatoes per season. It is an indeterminate tomato which means it will continue to produce throughout the growing season.
Gold Medal Tomato
We all love classic slicing tomatoes but sometimes we want one that really stands out in terms of color without sacrificing flavor. The Gold Medal Tomato (aka Ruby Gold) is that tomato.
It has awesome tropical coloring with yellow and pinkish red streaks. It also has great flavor, sweeet with even a bit of tropicality in its taste.
This beefsteak variety has been around for 100 years and you definitely want it growing in your garden. I have heard that people have success growing these in smart pots as well as raised beds.
The Gold Medal is also very prolific, producing dozens of tomatoes off of one plant! Ripe fruit will keep for a couple weeks, if you manage to hold out that long. Fruit are large- 16 to 18oz- and the plant starts maturing around 75-85 days.
If you can’t find Gold Medal Tomato seedlings at your local nursey, this local website carries these seedlings as well as dozens of other amazing heirloom varieties.
Best Small Tomatoes to Grow in Southern California
Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato
If you want an easy to grow tomato that does well in pots or in a garden bed, the Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato is a great option. These cherry tomato plants are very prolific and these little tomatoes are great additions to salads. They are also just as tasty right off the vine.
This tomato takes only 65 days to mature and is indeterminate, which means you will be popping cherry tomatoes into your mouth all summer long.
There is another hybrid of this plant, the Super Sweet 100, which is also great. Both varieties are easy to find throughout Southern California at home improvement stores or traditional nurseries.
Since Sweet 100s grow so well in pots, they are great options for people that only have room for patio plants. This is really one of the most fool-proof tomatoes to grow. Just be sure to stake or cage the tomato plant because it can grow pretty tall (over 4 feet) if it is well fed and watered.
Grow big in small spaces! These are the best container fruit trees for your patio.
Sungold Cherry Tomato
I think Sungold is probably my favorite cherry tomato in terms of flavor. It really has the sweet flavor of a bigger tomato, packed into an orange drop of sunshine.
These beauties only need 60 days to reach maturity and are perfect for salads, pasta dishes, or snacking. When my daughter was a toddler I would often catching her over by my Sungold Tomato plant just gorging herself with little orange treats right off the vine.
This is an indeterminate tomato and will often be the first and last tomato producing in your garden; it just doesn’t quit!
You can grow these tomatoes in the ground, in raised beds, and pots. They are disease resistant and generally happy campers as long as they get plenty of sunshine, tomato food, and water.
Grow a bounty of tomatoes with our tomato growing tips. We go over everything you need to know to have your best tomato harvest yet!
Yellow Pear Tomato
I love a pretty summer salad, and this tomato helps bring a color and vibrancy that definitely provides some cheer to your dishes. These tiny, pear-shaped tomatoes are abundant once the plant reaches maturity at 78 days.
Yellow Pear is an indeterminate variety and will keep producing into the fall as long as there is no frost. They are quite disease resistant, so just watch out for bugs like aphids and tomato worms and you should have a happy plant.
These 1-2″ tomatoes are an heirloom variety, and their vines can reach up to eight feet long, so be sure to stake these suckers! This variety is also a common one used in making tomato preserves.
Best Tomatoes to Grow in Southern California for Canning and Sauces
Roma Tomatoes are probably the most common tomato you will see in grocery stores in California. But, as someone who used to live in the heart of Roma Tomato country and used to see trucks of them rolling down the highway all summer, I can assure you that they pick those grocery store tomatoes when they are still green.
Tomatoes are picked for grocery stores when they are still hard and green to help with transportation and extend shelf live but it comes with a big sacrifice- flavor.
A homegrown Roma Tomato is 100 times better than anything you will get at the store. They have very few seeds and are perfect for sauces and canning.
Another reason you might want to make sauce to freeze or can is that these tomatoes are a determinate variety. This means that the plant produces the bulk of their fruit all at once.
I love picking a large bunch of Romas and then making big batches of sauce to freeze for the winter. Roast your Romas to make the sauce even sweeter and more flavorful.
Fruit are usually 5-8 oz and oblong. It reaches maturity in 70 days. I grow my Roma Tomatoes in raised beds but many people have had success in large containers as well.
Roma Tomato seedlings are easy to find just about everywhere that sells tomato plants.
San Marzano Tomato
If you head to the grocery store, you will notice that the more expensive canned tomatoes (like my favorite, Muir Glen) that come from Italy are all made with San Marzano Tomatoes. This is because, in my opinion, San Marzano Tomatoes make the best sauce.
These tomatoes are a bit larger than Roma Tomatoes (3 1/2 inches long and 6 ounces in weight) and the flesh is very thick and has very few seeds, making it perfect for rich sauces.
They are indeterminate so they don’t show up all at once like Romas. This can be a plus or a minus depending on your canning/sauce strategy.
They mature at 85 days, which means they show up later in the season than Romas. I suggest you plant both types so you can have a bountiful harvest early and late in the season.
Don’t worry, San Marzanos aren’t just for sauces and canning. They are also great fresh in salads and on sandwiches.