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10 Top Farmers Markets

Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

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Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, golden-green olive oils, local wildflower honey. California’s farmers markets are culinary adventures—a chance to see, taste, and learn about the incredible variety of California’s farm-fresh produce. Although the produce stalls are undoubtedly the main event, they’re also just the beginning. Even if you’re just passing through, and not stocking your home pantry, these markets are well worth a visit for the wide array of baked goods, sandwiches, and food trucks.

These weekly (and often year-round) events function as local gathering places, too, with local musicians, jewelry, crafts and other great gifts. While outstanding markets are scattered all over the state, here’s a handpicked selection to add to your travels, listed north to south.

1. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco

Local shoppers, ferry commuters, savvy chefs, and tourists flock to San Francisco’s lively Ferry Plaza Farmers Market that pops up outside the historic Ferry Building every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can’t miss the tents of farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, picklers, jammers, and more—and if you drop by on a Thursday or a Saturday, you’ll also find an array of street food, like wood-fired pizza, kebabs, sandwiches, and tacos. While you’re there, step inside the handsome 1898 building (still a working ferry terminal) to peruse the offerings of a dazzling food hall, open every day. (read more)

2. Marin Farmers Market, Marin County

Every Thursday and Sunday, the Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael welcomes farmers, ranchers, cheese makers, bakers, beekeepers, shellfish harvesters, crafters, and other purveyors from Marin and Sonoma counties. They set up next to the Marin Civic Center—a striking pink and blue building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. As a mid-week produce shopping destination, the Thursday market is known as the local chefs’ market, the source of many of the ingredients served up at the Bay Area’s top restaurants. (read more)

3. Sebastopol Farmers Market

Nicknamed Sonoma County’s Groovy Zen Kaleidoscopic Farmers Market, the Sunday-morning Sebastopol Farmers Market is held year-round in the sun-dappled Sebastopol Plaza. Some of the best local growers and food producers sell at this market with live music and hippie spirit. Woodleaf Farm, one of the oldest organic farms in California, has heavenly peaches, and Middleton Farm's strawberries are so sweet, you'll swear they were dipped first in jam. During summer, keep an eye out for Gravenstein apples: These red-speckled beauties hard to find outside of Sonoma County because their thin skins make them difficult to ship without bruising. (read more)

4. Davis Farmers Market

The Davis Farmers Market is held on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings in the friendly university town—and UC Davis was originally founded as a center for agricultural studies. The fertile land of Yolo County that surrounds Davis has long been a leading producer of grapes, rice, and alfalfa, and produces 90 percent of the country’s canned and processed tomatoes. This market in leafy Central Park gets even more festive on Wednesday evenings, mid-March through October, when Picnic in the Park unfurls, with wine- and beer-tastings, global food booths, local bands, and pony rides. (read more)

5. Sacramento Sunday Farmers Markets

The state capital of Sacramento (a.k.a. the Farm-to-Fork Capital) has an appealing collection of farmers markets sponsored by the Certified Farmers Markets of Sacramento County. The main one—which is also one of the largest certified farmers markets in the state—is held at the intersection of W and 8th streets on Sundays. It’s a taste experience that ranges from the exotic to the familiar, with fresh Thai lemongrass, black Spanish radishes, and Tokyo turnips sitting right next to fat tomatoes, mounds of juicy berries, and takeaway treats like fresh pastries and golden waffles. (read more)

6. San Luis Obispo Farmers Market

A lot of local college students consider this “baby Friday” market the best day of the week. Thursday’s five-block Downtown SLO Farmers Market offers more than 120 farmers and produce, along with prepared-food stalls, artists, musicians, and singers. The event is anchored by a collection of massive circular barbecue setups, and the aroma of sizzling pork shoulder, ribs, chicken, lamb, and tri-tip—as well as batches of artichokes and corn on the cob—will wake up any carnivore’s appetite. (read more)

7. Santa Monica Farmers Market

Bright sunshine, stands overflowing with fresh produce, street musicians strumming and singing—Santa Monica’s four city-run farmers markets (on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays) are like perfect pop-up festivals in the heart of the city. The Wednesday Farmers Markets on Arizona Ave. at 2nd St. are where many Santa Monica chefs do their weekly produce shopping (after they finish surfing that morning), and they may craft their menus around what they pick up fresh that day. Check the schedule to see where the live music’s happening, too. (read more)

8. The Vegetable Shop at Chino Family Farm, San Diego County

For a farmers market delights without the once-a-week schedule, The Vegetable Shop at Chino Family Farm in Rancho Santa Fe is the perfect find—it’s open every day but Monday. About a half-hour drive north of downtown San Diego, this is the place to discover new varieties of familiar produce, such as their beloved French strawberries, or unusual offerings like strawberry figs, red carrots, and watermelon radishes. Opened on a 45-acre plot of land by Junzo and Hatsuyo Chino at the close of World War II, The Vegetable Shop has always sold produce that was grown only on the family farm. Keep your eyes peeled; the shop has become a favorite haunt of leading chefs such as Trey Foshee of La Jolla’s George’s California Modern after first being championed by Alice Waters, considered the leading force behind California’s focus on fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. (read more)

9. Farmers Markets in Santa Barbara

Abundant sunshine, a moderate climate, and a healthy amount of rain make Santa Barbara a year-round cornucopia of fresh organic produce. Indeed, many local chefs are able to source their ingredients from within a 100-mile radius. It all makes for a truly booming farmers market scene, one that the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market serves by hosting a market in the area every day of the week except Mondays (check the site for a complete schedule). The signature event is on Tuesday afternoons on downtown’s State Street: Farmers offer samples of treats like unfiltered honey, nuts, and juicy peaches, while guitar-strumming singers attract clusters of listeners amidst the Spanish architecture of Old Town. (read more)

10. Point Reyes Farmers Market

The low-key Point Reyes Farmers Market, located outside Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, may be smaller than many, but the Saturday market (June–October) is a prime example of how quality trumps quantity. Browse booths featuring local oysters, grass-fed meats, artisan cheeses, home-grown sheep’s wool, olive oil, farm-fresh eggs, and picked-at-dawn vegetables. Then, look for a simple white banner in the back that says “GBD.” It stands for Golden, Brown, Delicious—three words that perfectly describe the incredible grilled cheese sandwiches made by Osteria Stellina, featuring Straus Creamery butter and oozing Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Check the market’s calendar of events to see what else will be going on. (read more)

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