Market Scene: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco

[Photographs: Alissa Merksamer]

The glories of San Francisco's Ferry Building quintuple on Saturday during the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. From zucchinis as long as your arm to award-winning cheeses, farmers and vendors from the Bay Area and Central Valley brandish their goods for what feels like a Best in Show for produce and specialty products.

Prices are high (an average plum goes for $3.50/pound), but samples are plentiful, and it's as much tourist territory as it is a local haunt. Don't be surprised if you run into a few all-star chefs like Michael Rotondo of Parallel 37, whom I recently spotted loading up on heirloom tomatoes.

Each week, one local chef leads a live cooking demonstration. It's just one of the educational activities organized by CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), which runs Saturday's market as well as the two smaller ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sweet and tangy blackberries won't be available much longer

Navigating the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market can be tricky, because there are so many offerings. Here's my strategy for visiting every one: Begin at the farm stand nearest Gott's Roadside and start walking toward the Bay Bridge; stop at every booth in front. Curve around Market Bar toward the back promenade that stretches along the Bay. There, you'll discover twice as much produce, along with the breads, most of the jams, and a hodgepodge of prepared items, like sesame yuba skin from Hodo Soy, sweet and savory salmon candy from Cap'n Mike's, hot sauces, wasabi almonds, fresh cheese curds, pickles, and more. Out back is also where you'll want to grab lunch from vendors like 4505 Meats, Namu Gaji, Cap' n Mike's smoked fish sandwiches, and Primavera.

Tart, under-ripe green strawberries from Yerena Farms

Here are some more tips to ensure a successful shopping experience:

  • Most stalls are cash only. There are two Bank of America ATM machines inside the Ferry Building.
  • Expect ridiculous lines at both ladies' restrooms inside the Ferry Building. Don't bother with either. Instead, head upstairs to the second story via the outdoor staircase. During the week, this area (which serves as office space for law firms) is closed to the public, but on the weekends, you'll find one or two open restrooms and a much shorter wait.
  • Arrive early. The number of people who visit each Saturday varies from manageable to crushing, but there's almost always a noontime lunch rush. Aim for an 11 AM lunch, and you won't have to worry about anyone running out of the popular items.
  • Come hungry. That sounds obvious, but I have arrived with visitors who weren't prepared for the onslaught of fruit samples, morning pastries, and breakfasts (like the bacon maple sandwich from 4505 Meats) and ate before they came.

The market runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, so pull out your favorite reusable bags and head on over. Click through our slideshow to see this summer's peak produce and some of our must-visit vendors.