Just as I’ve finally settled on a Halloween costume, it’s time for Christmas. Well, for some of us anyway. My family has long been a proponent of the “wait until four days before Christmas and then drive around looking at castaway trees” method. This year I decided to stake out my options early by visiting the three main tree lots in the San Anselmo/Fairfax area: , and .
As a caveat, it must be recognized that a Christmas tree is expected to offer something different to every consumer. Some of us are Douglas Firs people, while others prefer Nobles, or even the much maligned plastic tree. Bearing this in mind, I judged each lot on their variety, price, customer service and additional services offered, such as affixing stands or delivery.
O’Donnell’s Nursey, Fairfax
For those who haven’t visited, O’Donnell’s is a lovely open-air nursery catering to the Fairfax and West Marin crowds. They are also, as best I can tell, the only tree lot in Fairfax, and thus already winners in that right.
Their tree set-up features two distinct sections: Firs on one side and Nobles on the other. A very helpful staff member quickly approached me to share this information, but afforded me my space when I told him I was just browsing. Full customer service points for providing info but not being aggressive. Call it a cliché, but I often feel like the tree finds you not vice-versa, so having a pushy salesperson shove a bunch of branches in your face seems hardly in the holiday spirit.
From a price standpoint, O’Donnell’s was a middle ground between Sunnyside and United. A 3’ to 4’ Douglas was $16.99, while the massive and impressive 7’ to 8’ Nobles ran $59.89. The tallest tree I could spot was priced at $169.99, which seemed fair given that it essentially qualified as a lethal weapon.
The perks offered by O’Donnell’s were outstanding. The company offers very affordable rates for stands, feet and water, fire-proofing and, most enticingly, delivery! That’s right, O’Donnell’s will deliver your tree to you. Their sign even offered an elevated cost for delivery to San Rafael, making this tree lot a destination for a wide swath of our county.
Sunnyside Nursery, San Anselmo
There are two ways to approach the Christmas tree collection at Sunnyside Nursery. The first way is through the diversity and elegance of their small, but strong selection of trees. Take for instance the Colorado blue spruces and green spruces. These are stunningly beautiful trees. In the spruces’ midst are also potted, living Christmas trees for the more environmentally-minded shopper and a handful of Noble and Douglas Firs. I was quite smitten with one of the Colorado green spruces, so I looked at the price tag.
We now come to the second approach to Sunnyside: crazy expensive. A 3’ to 4’ Noble Fir was $89.99. A 5’ to 6’ Douglas Fir was $119.95. Now, I’m not tree expert and I don’t want to compare prices without acknowledging that the quality and breed of these Firs compared with their competition could be significant. However, I do feel confident in assuming I’m in the majority of tree shoppers, and that we would almost always buy the 8’ Noble for $59.89 over the 6’ Doug Fir for $119.95.
Sunnyside is a terrific nursery, and I implore everyone to shop with them whenever possible. In fact, as I walked through their expansive gardens, I came across a “door charm,” also known as a wreath, which at $19.99 is quite a bargain. Likewise, if you inhabit a studio apartment or similarly tight quarters, Sunnyside has a great selection of mini-trees. As always, the staff was helpful and kind during my visit.
United Market, San Anselmo
My first thought upon pulling in to the parking lot at United was ‘Wow, so this is where everyone is!' United was unquestionably the busiest of the three lots I visited and, as I got a gander at their price board, I found out why. We always consider supermarkets to be our venue for low-priced goods, and United’s approach to Christmas trees is no different. A 6’ to 7’ Frasier Fir cost $49.98. A 4’ to 5’ Noble Fir was priced at $24.98. $24.98?! I’ve bought blocks of cheese that cost more than that (it was a really bad day). In fact, the $49.98 Frasiers were the most expensive trees on lot.
Again, I must concede my lack of knowledge in tree quality, but I will say that I felt leaves, poked branches and found nothing to indicate the United stock were sub-par specimens. They even had two types of tree I didn’t encounter anywhere else: the Frasiers and Nordman Firs.
If the cost wasn’t impressive enough, a two-man crew was posted in one corner, chainsaw at the ready, customizing trunks and drilling in stands for customers. The makeshift lot, established with chainlink fences in the center of United’s parking lot, was a perfectly executed temporary storefront. Access in and out of the lot was simple, the wait for assistance was minimal and, best of all, there was access to delicious eggnog just by entering the store! Ok, maybe that wasn’t best of all, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Best Prices: United
Best Services: O’Donnell’s
Best Product: Sunnyside (awarded in ignorance, but man those Colorado spruces!)
Best Overall Lot: United
I award United top honors for both having the cheapest prices, a huge factor in our current economy, and providing exemplary service in a smart location. O’Donnell’s gets major props for delivering, and Sunnsyside remains an ideal destination for affluent tree enthusiasts. Wherever you get your tree, be sure to give it a moment to find you, and always tip the fine person who helps load it into your trunk!
Did we miss any of your favorite tree lots? Where do you get your Christmas tree?