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. But the stalls overflowing with bounty from the earth, though undoubtedly the main event, are just the beginning. Even if you’re visiting and not in pursuit of a well-stocked pantry, these markets are well worth a visit for the wide array of baked goods, sandwiches, and other ready-to-eat treats. Food trucks with—this is California, after all—tacos, burritos, and empanadas are practically the norm, and other street foods from all over the world are often being served up as well, prepared fresh, right in front of you.
California farmers markets are also a chance to hang out with the growers, ranchers, fishermen, and others who supply the market, and get their tips on how to use these ultra-fresh foods. Even if you aren’t obsessed with finding the most fragrant dill or the most succulent porkchops, these weekly, often year-round events function as local gathering places, with little ones dancing to local musicians, moms cradling babies and fresh bouquets, and chefs leading walking tours to their favorite stalls. Also be on the lookout for specialty art and handmade crafts like jewelry, toys, and ceramics—great for gifts.
While outstanding markets are scattered all over the state, here’s a handpicked selection to add to your travels.
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. A variety of vendors set up shop in front of the landmark terminal along the Embarcadero, and the Saturday market, the largest iteration of the weekly markets, extends to the back plaza overlooking the bay as well. You can’t miss the tents of farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, picklers, jammers, and purveyors of other treats cast their shade across their many offerings. 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. If you can only make it on a Sunday, you’ll find a Garden Market in the farmers market’s place, selling plants and flowers.
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. Stroll the length of the restored interior, where the Ferry Building Marketplace is now located, and you’ll find dozens of local comestible delights (wine, cheese, fish, meats, sweet treats) as well as goods and wares, high-end food kiosks, and grocery items (their site has a useful map).
On Saturdays, you can even leave your Farmers Market purchases with the “Veggie Valet” in front of the building to have them held free of charge while you continue shopping unencumbered. For a fine-dining experience, the location is home to The Slanted Door, Marketbar Restaurant, Boulettes Larder, and Hog Island Oysters. Before visiting, check to see if there are any upcoming events.
Useful info: The Farmers Markets hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for parking, there is a lot at Washington Street and Embarcadero, near the base of Pier 1, and several other lots along the Embarcadero, and metered street parking.
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.
About 30 miles northeast of downtown Sonoma, through rolling ranchland, to the Sebastopol Farmers Market in the town of Sebastopol. Nicknamed Sonoma County’s Groovy Zen Kaleidoscopic Farmers Market, the Sunday-morning year-round affair, held in the sun-dappled Sebastopol Plaza (see the market’s site for a map), has a reputation as embodying a certain hippie spirit, and is always jazzed up with live music and plenty of prepared foods for noshing. Some of the best growers and food producers set up shop, presenting beautiful fruits, vegetables, flowers, homemade pasta, and artisanal foods. There are fresh pies and loaves; vegan and gluten-free items are plentiful. 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.
As you’d expect at a morning market, there are local coffee roasters and pressed juice purveyors, but you can also imbibe aguas frescas, lassis, chai, herbal tonics, a Mayan chocolate elixir, and even bone broths from The Bone Broth Company.
Another item any visitor to the Sebastopol Farmers Market should keep an eye out for is Gravenstein apples. If you’re visiting during the summer, sample one of these red-speckled beauties while you can; they are much harder to find outside of Sonoma County because their thin skins make them difficult to ship without bruising.
Despite its Sonoma County location, wine does not have much of a presence at the farmers market. While you’re in the area, be sure to set aside time to visit some of the many small-production vineyards and wineries of the area, like Kosta Browne, Dutton Estate Winery, and Iron Horse. Pinot Noir is a frequent headliner at vineyards in these parts, along with Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvingnon.
Markets in the center of the state are about as close to the source as you can get. This is the heart of California’s rich agricultural heritage, and continues today not just with big farms, but an increasing number of boutique, family-owned and -run farms growing diverse crops in innovative, eco-conscious new ways. And farmers’ markets are a great way to sample the results.
A long-standing favorite is Davis Farmers’ Market, held Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings in this friendly university town. It seems like everyone in town pedals their bikes to be part of this lively community event in leafy Central Park. The scene gets even more festive on Wednesday evenings, mid-March through October, when Picnic in the Park unfurls, with wine- and beer-tastings, ethnic food booths, local bands, pony rides, and other kids’ activities.
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 organization. The one held at the intersection of W and 8th streets on Sundays—one of the largest certified farmers markets in the entire state—cleverly utilizes the cool shade provided by a freeway overpass, and is filled with growers offering their bounties. Think of it as a taste experience ranging 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 foods like fresh pastries and golden waffles. There are also seafood vendors with fish, shellfish, and occasionally live crabs and crawfish.
While the main farmers market offers the classic California farm-to-table market experience, just three blocks away there’s another—the Asian Farmers Market—that’s geared toward a different purpose: to supply the city’s Asian community with the vegetables it needs for a typical meal, such as stir fries and curries, in both restaurants and homes. Come with plenty of small bills and be ready to squeeze around shoppers and outdoor stalls packed with a wide array of veggies. Napa cabbage, bok choy, daikon, sugar cane, a variety of keerai (murungai, paruppu, soambu, etc.), long beans… you’ll leave with bags brimming and change in your pocket (the Asian Farmers Market is famous for its value).
Can’t make it on a Sunday? For a list of other farmers markets in the Sacramento area covering every day of the week, check the Certified Farmers Markets of Sacramento County’s market times and locations page.
Useful info: The hours of both the main farmers market and the Asian Farmers Market are 8 a.m. to noon, and both are open year round. Especially at the Asian market, it’s best to arrive as early as possible to get the best produce. There is ample street parking within a few blocks.
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.
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.
Bright sunshine, stands overflowing with fresh produce, street musicians strumming and singing—Santa Monica’s four city-run farmers markets are like perfect pop-up festivals in the heart of the city. Each of the year-round, rain or shine market locations has its own unique charms, but they all feature only fruits and veggies that were grown without pesticides, and all sourced directly from the farm where it was grown. Live music is also featured at many of the locations; visit the schedule to see where the music’s happening.
The Saturday market in Virginia Avenue Park, called the Pico Market (the park is at the corner of Pico Blvd. and Cloverfield Blvd.), features about 35 farmers selling produce picked the day before, and is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. There’s picnicking on the lawn, and prepared food vendors serve coffee and breakfast items.
On Sundays, the Main Street market in Heritage Square has produce but also a very active prepared foods area as well, with such offerings as breakfast burritos, crepes, pancakes, pastries, and other baked goodies. There are bi-weekly cooking demonstrations and activities to keep the kids happy, like face painting and balloon art.
The longest-running of Santa Monica’s markets are the ones held on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Downtown Santa Monica, on Arizona Ave. at 2nd St. First opened in 1981, it’s where area shoppers and chefs go to find both staples and more exotic seasonal items. With around 75 farmers selling, the Wednesday market is one of the largest in Southern California; the Saturday market hosts about 50 farmers selling.
Insider tip: Wednesday Farmers Markets are when many Santa Monica chefs do their produce shopping for the week (after they finish surfing that morning). Coast, Fig, LAGO, and Ocean & Vine, and other fine restaurants typically craft their menus on Wednesdays and Saturdays around what they pick up fresh that day at the market.
For a farmers market feel without the once-a-week schedule, The Vegetable Shop at Chino Family Farm in San Diego County’s 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, like their French strawberries, or multiple kinds of tomatoes, beans, melons, and squash, plus white corn so sweet and delicious you might just move here. Try unusual offerings—strawberry figs, salsify, Jerusalem artichokes, red carrots, watermelon radishes, and candy lime mint. Keep your eyes peeled too; the shop became 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.
Opened on a 45-acre plot of land by Junzo and Hatsuyo Chino at the close of World War II, for more than seven decades The Vegetable Shop has sold only produce grown by the family, on the family farm, and they do not ship. So sought after are their offerings that restaurants sometimes specify on their menu when ingredients come from Chino Farms. What makes their fruits and vegetables so oversized, so flavorful, so unblemished? Reasons most cited by longtime customers (the Chinos aren’t big talkers) include respect for tradition, a deep dedication to the land, and passionate commitment to quality food. Now into its second generation of management, the family continues to follow the same path with the same acreage, with no plans to change anything.
If you’re looking to fill out a day after a morning visit to the Chino Farm, consider such nearby destinations as Encinitas, Swami’s Beach or another nearby beach, or Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve. For a splurge, book a stay and a treatment at The Spa at The Inn.
Useful info: The Vegetable Shop at Chino Farm is open 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. It’s best to come earlier than later in the day as many items sell out.
Abundant sunshine, a moderate climate, and a healthy amount of rain make Santa Barbara ripe for a year-round cornucopia of fresh produce, much of it grown organically. The locavore and slow-food movements are big on the “American Riviera,” and chefs source food mostly from within a 100-mile radius. It all makes for a truly booming farmers market scene, one that the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association serves by hosting not just a single weekly market but several, one for every day of the week except Mondays (check the site for a complete schedule).
While all the markets are worth a visit, the signature event is the one on Tuesday afternoons, when downtown’s State Street morphs into the ultimate place to be, with food—produce, certainly, but also artisanal baked goods and other prepared snacks—music, and folks taking it all in. White-jacketed chefs snap up thick bunches of fresh herbs to use that night on just-caught local sea bass or black cod. Farmers offer samples of treats like unfiltered honey, nuts, and juicy peaches, and guitar-strumming singers attract clusters of listeners amidst the Spanish architecture of Old Town. Really—does it get any more “California” than this?
Can’t make it on Tuesday? Try Solvang Market (Wednesdays), Carpinteria (Thursdays), Montecito (Fridays), Downtown (Saturdays), or Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta (Sundays). Consider this your chance to try something new, like funky looking cherimoya, nicknamed “custard apple” for its creamy white inner fruit. From avocados and eggplants to figs and fennel, melons and squashes, pears and persimmons, the food—and the people—make for an unforgettable day.
Outside Toby's Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, it's all about homemade jam, local gossip, and live music every Saturday from June to October. The low-key, all-organic Point Reyes Farmers Market is smaller than many, but it's a prime example of how quality trumps quantity. Browse the booths featuring local oysters, grass-fed meats, artisan cheeses, home-grown sheep’s wool, olive oil, farm-fresh eggs, and picked-at-dawn vegetables.
After you’ve checked out all the offerings in the main space, look for a simple white banner in the back that says “GBD,” which stands for Golden, Brown, Delicious—three words that perfectly describe the incredible grilled cheese sandwiches made by Osteria Stellina. The secret recipe? Wood-fired Brickmaiden bread dipped in Straus Creamery butter and oozing Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Settle down on a hay bale and enjoy—this snack is perfect for fueling up before a hike in nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. But if you’re more into noshing than hiking, stroll downtown’s three or so blocks and you’ll find more culinary gold, like the crazy-good scones and muffins at Bovine Bakery and champagne-style honey mead at Heidrun Meadery.
Before you head to the market, be sure to check their calendar of events to see what will be going on. They host musicians playing everything from bluegrass to Brazilian jazz to Middle Eastern music weekly, and also welcome chefs and, in collaboration with Point Reyes Books, cookbook authors to take part in the Chef’s Booth series, where they can talk about their latest releases and lead a cooking demonstration with products featured at the market. (Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and French Laundry fame was an early participant.) Have kids? They’ll have a blast at the KidsZone, where there are crafts, a mini farm stand, and a play kitchen. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
If you’d like to have a knowledgeable guide unlock the secrets of Point Reyes’ foodie nirvana, ride along with the agricultural and culinary experts at West Marin Food & Farm Tours. Four- to five-hour tours offer insight into family farming and artisan food production and give you a backstage pass to see how cheese is made, oysters are farmed, and grass-fed animals are raised. Pick your flavor—the company offers an Oyster Lover’s Tour, Cheese Lover’s Tour, or the all-encompassing Flavors of West Marin Tour.