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San Luis Obispo Farmers Market

A college town morphs into a pop-up party on Thursday nights

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Plan a visit to San Luis Obispo that includes a Thursday evening and you’ll see why what the local college students call “baby Friday” is the best day of the week. It’s when the Downtown SLO Farmers Market is held, and more than 120 farmers and food purveyors, plus artists, musicians, and singers, fill a five-block area downtown. The main artery of the goings-on—Higuera Street—is closed to cars during the event, so you can stroll, sample, relax, and take in the lively scene in this sunny Central Coast town known as “SLO.”

The fresh produce on offer here—berries of all kinds, peaches, greens, avocados, and other California staples—is clustered on the north end of the walk. The prepared food stalls, which sell everything from barbeque to Thai to Mexican, make up the rest of the event, and easily outnumber the produce sellers.

Probably the most celebrated culinary draw are treats of the charred variety: 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. A number of local restaurants such as Thai Palace, Mo’s Smokehouse, and Novo have tents up as well, selling their specialties.

Live music adds to the festive atmosphere; the event has long been a place where you can see local acoustic and electric bands as well as lone buskers perform for shoppers as they stroll along. For kids, there’s a Bouncy Castle, face-painting, and activity areas. Overall, the downtown SLO Farmers Market is a sensory treasure trove, with amazing sights, smells, sounds, and of course tastes.

For other local markets, including ones located in Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande, check the website of the San Luis Obispo County Farmers Market Association.

Insider tips: If traveling by car, try to come as early as possible, as parking is tight and arriving later can result in far-flung parking spots (the market’s site has a useful parking map and a parking app for Downtown SLO). You can also park a distance away and then catch a trolley to the market.

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