Where to find California’s best cannabis: Picks from the Cannabis Cup Nor-Cal

Cannabis flowers at the Cannabis Cup event in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif., are seen on June 3rd, 2017.
Cannabis flowers at the Cannabis Cup event in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif., are seen on June 3rd, 2017. SOURCE: John Storey

California is the world’s sixth largest economy and widely referred to as the world’s biggest cannabis market. But sorting through the dizzying array of options at any given shop, let alone multiple shops can be a bit much.

One of the best ways to locate what’s hot in marijuana is to walk the region’s biggest summer marijuana competition, the High Times Cannabis Cup Nor-Cal, which took over the Sonoma County Fairgrounds June 3-4. Roughly 450 of the state’s leading medical marijuana dispensaries and growers brought out their best cannabis flowers for public inspection, and we did our darnedest to smell them all. Here’s what to look out for this Summer.

Cookie Glue

Some strains made major headway this year, if felt like you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a new Cookie Glue, Forbidden Fruit, or Purple Punch, some better than others. Cookie Glue is a combination of Bay Area favorite Cookies and arguably the number one strain in America right now, Gorilla Glue. It combines Cookies’ dense, resinous look and Cookies’ burnt sugar-cookie taste with Gorilla Glue’s ultra-high potency as well as its chocolatey fuel aroma. This issue here is with both strains’ popularity comes a slew of middling versions of both. The same could be said for the Forbidden Fruit, a cross of the dank citrus strain, Tangie, and Cherry Pie.

Purple Punch

The Purple Punch is hands down one one of the finest purple strains of the decade and almost never got off the mark. The purple family of cannabis is one of the oldest in California and tends to be both dark in color, often with a grape smell and sedative effects. Purple Punch was originally bred by Supernova Gardens in Oregon and is a combination of the fuel-smelling Larry OG and grape-tasting Granddaddy Purple. Still, Purple Punch wasn’t really a hit with Oregonians at first and Supernova stopped growing it. From there, they gifted it to The Village aka Symbiotic Genetics and history was made. The Village brought it to Northern California and mastered growing the varietal. Purple Punch quickly became a prize addition to any serious garden. The Village then traded the Purple Punch to the leading Los Angeles cultivators Jungle Boyzin exchange for their famed Wedding Cake, and it became the best purple in SoCal overnight. Don’t overlook it.

Birthday Zkittlez

The super-flavorful, candy-berry-tasting strain Zkittelz is one of the ‘it’ strains of the year; winning competition after competition — and proving taste and effect outweigh bag appeal and maximum potency. We were so excited to see the first crosses of Zkittelz start to hit the market, specifically some Birthday Zkittlez spotted at the Northstar Holistic Collective booth. Cultivators there have crossed Zkittlez with another must-have strain of the year, Birthday Cake — a super-frosty indica hybrid with a vanilla & sugar frosting taste and extremely strong, sedative effects. This is the weed you pull out when you want to impress folks who’ve seen it all.

Birthday Cake marijuana strain
David Downs

Trending in California cannabis – Birthday Cake

Forbidden Fruit

The dark purple buds of Forbidden Fruit were everywhere at the Nor-Cal Cup, yet we didn’t have a true ‘wow’ moment with this strain. Still, the pungent, dank, fruity strain is worth looking out for on your next shopping trip. Aficionados tend to either love Forbidden Fruit or hate it because of its powerfully distinct and pungent aroma. What the strain lacks in maximum potency, it more than makes up for the aroma department, which is just as important to cannabis’ effects. Spotted at Garden of Eden in Hayward.

Trending California cannabis strain, Forbidden Fruit, spotted at Garden of Eden in Hayward, CA.​
David Downs

Trending California cannabis strain, Forbidden Fruit, spotted at Garden of Eden in Hayward, CA.

Northstar Holistic Collective

Beyond locating individual strains, certain brands have entire menus of good stuff, and chief among them is the sister clubs of Northstar Holistic Collective of Sacramento and San Francisco’s own Urban Pharm. Their lineup included Birthday Zkittlez, Purple Punch, Sherbato, and Bickey’s revenge. Northstar also featured a version of the elemental Colorado strain Chem Dawg that was the second-most fuel-smelling bud at the Cup behind OG Cali Buds’ Perro OG. The fuel smell is traditionally associated with the most well-cultivated members of the OG Kush, Chem, and Sour Diesel families of cannabis.

Alien Labs

Sacramento cultivators Alien Labs regularly grows some of the best indoor cannabis in Northern California and has been on our radar for years. Their spread never fails to impress and featured some of the finest representations Purple Punch, Gelato, and Wedding Cake you’ll find anywhere. The Wedding Cake came in second place overall in the Hybrid Flower category and deservingly so. Upon opening a grinder full of it you’re hit with what smells like someone taking a baseball bat to a pastry shop; smelling of baked sweets — it’s violently delicious.

Gold Seal

San Francisco cultivator brand Gold Seal really specializes in local San Francisco cannabis flavors. They produced what has to be one of the best versions of the trending strain Sunset Sherbert out there. Sunset Sherbert is a very high-potency, intensely hybridized varietal that’s got a creamy, berry taste, and an effect that is like a shot of espresso followed by a valium. Seeing the strain grown so expertly makes you understand why Sunset Sherbert is the next San Francisco varietal to pick up steam after the global hit Girl Scout Cookies.


Also representing San Francisco, local cultivators ‘Jahnetics’ — the name crosses the rastafarian deity ‘Jah’ and ‘genetics’ — had the biggest selection of flowers of all. Their Papaya flower as well as their Peach Fuzz extract were fantastic. Jahnetic’s Peach Fuzz hash came out of a collaboration with regional extract leaders Critical Concentrates — it was a weird, fruity blast that was sweeter than purple with incredible depth to it.

Sovereign Wellness

Honorable mention: Mendocino County is one of the world’s outdoor cultivation epicenters. But Sovereign Wellness of Fort Bragg really stood out for their indoor Skywalker OG. The intensely popular, sedative piney and lemony strain can be found everywhere, but Sovereign had the best version at the Fairgrounds, and they featured the ultra-rare White Buffalo, which is different from the White Buffalo OG seen popping up in the Bay.

All in all, another great year of progress from the best pot growers in the world.

Jimi Devine is a Bay Area-based freelance journalist.