It’s been decades since California cuisine first exploded onto the dining scene, but the idea of fresh-picked, seasonal, local and sustainably farmed ingredients has continued to root itself in the San Francisco consciousness. There is now a weekly farmers’ market in practically every neighborhood in the Bay Area, and at local restaurants the term “farm-to-table” is as common as “pass the salt.” City markets have also evolved far beyond generic produce stands, with most offering prepared foods and gourmet goods, live entertainment and educational resources for weekend gardeners and backyard farmers. The Big Three—at the Ferry Building (one of the most popular San Francisco attractions), on Alemany Boulevard in Bernal Heights, and in Civic Center’s United Nations Plaza—each draw vastly different crowds, who shop for everything from Asian greens and hard-to-find mushrooms to specialty peppers, organic meats, orchids and handmade cheeses.
Morel mushrooms, baby fennel, artisanal cheeses, hot-from-the-oven breads, still-flopping fish, small-press olive oils, handcrafted chocolates—it’s all at the Ferry Building Marketplace, which rivals in popularity, quality and variety Pike's Place Market in Seattle and Granville Island in Vancouver. Some 75 regional farmers and artisan food purveyors call the marketplace home, set adjacent to the ferry docks on the edge of the Bay. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, food-obsessed hordes comb the crowded aisles and stalls in search of organic fruits, vegetables, and gourmet goodies. In addition to the tri-weekly farmers’ market, top purveyors such as Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery, Hog Island Oyster Co., Recchiuti Chocolate, and Blue Bottle Coffee offer their wares from permanent stalls.
Set in a decidedly untouristy part of town, the 71-year-old Alemany Farmers' Market—the first one in California—offers an amazing variety of regional produce at extremely affordable prices, giving rise to its moniker as the “people's market.” Initially established as a Victory Garden during World War II to support regional family farms, Alemany has continued its “eat local” mission every Saturday, frequented by vendors who have been selling there for several generations. Open from dawn to dusk, the market sells every sort of fruit and vegetable imaginable—crookneck squash and parsnips to hot chili peppers, pluots and pomegranates—as well as prepared foods from a variety of ethnic purveyors.
This nonprofit farmer-operated market in Civic Center's United Nations Plaza is where you'll find your baby bok choy, lemongrass, cherry blossom branches, Thai basil, Vietnamese herbs, sugar cane stalks, and other Asian ingredients. The market was established in 1981 to bring fresh produce to low-income, senior and ethnic communities in the surrounding neighborhoods and it's kept true to its mission, offering inexpensive fruit and vegetables from small farmers, along with staples such as fresh eggs, local honey, butter and nuts. There are also onsite cooking classes and educational talks on how to incorporate market produce into your daily diet.
Other weekly farmers’ markets:
Crocker Galleria Farmers Market (Union Square/Financial District), Thu 11am–3pm, Crocker Galleria, 50 Post St at Montgomery St, 800-806-3276, cafarmersmkts.com
Fort Mason Farmers’ Market (Marina), Sun 9:30am–1:30pm, Fort Mason Center, Marina Ave and Buchanan St, 800-806-3276, cafarmersmkts.com
Fillmore Farmers Market (Fillmore District), Sat 9am–1pm, O'Farrell St at Fillmore St (and Fillmore Center Plaza), pcfma.com
Noe Valley Farmers Market (Noe Valley), Sat 8am–1pm, 3861 24th St between Vicksburg and Sanchez Sts, 415-248-1332, noevalleyfarmersmarket.com
Stonestown Farmers Market (Sunset District), Sun 9am–1pm, 3251 20th Ave off Buckingham Way in Stonestown Galleria parking lot near Macy’s, 415-472-6100, agriculturalinstitute.org/stonestown
Castro Farmers’ Market (Castro), March–Dec Wed 4–8pm, Noe St at Market St, pcfma.com
Clement St Farmers Market, Sun 9am–2pm, Clement St between 2nd and 4th Aves, 415-472-6100, agriculturalinstitute.org/clement-st