For a less urban setting, venture north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, where the Agricultural Institute of Marin, an organization dedicated to educating the public about the benefits of locally grown food, sponsors a number of markets across the county. One of the largest, the Marin Farmers Market, is held in San Rafael next to the Marin Civic Center, a striking pink and blue building (it looks better than it sounds) designed by master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Farmers, ranchers, cheese makers, bakers, beekeepers, shellfish harvesters, crafters, and other various purveyors from Marin and Sonoma counties show up every Thursday and Sunday to present their goods to the hungry public. 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. About 100 vendors set up shop for the afternoon, while the larger Sunday market features about double that.
Three miles down Highway 101, there’s another Thursday event that shouldn’t be missed: Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market. From April through September, this evening event, open from 6–9 p.m., buzzes with street-scene entertainment and attractions such as live music and pop-up food booths that give it the feel of a festival as much as a farmers market.
Less than five miles away, in the town of Fairfax, the Fairfax Community Farmers Market takes place on Wednesdays from 4–8 p.m. in Bolinas Park. Produce, wine and beer, food trucks with plenty of vegetarian options, live music, and lots of green grass perfect for spreading out a picnic (or nap) blanket, all amidst a stand of towering redwoods. This is a particularly enjoyable market if you have kids in tow.
Insider tips: Parking is plentiful at the Marin Civic Center market. The site of the Downtown San Rafael Farmers Market has a helpful map of parking lots in the vicinity. In Fairfax, there’s ample street parking within a few blocks of Bolinas Park.