The Farmers’ Market Trail

By Randy Graham

So, you are driving down California Highway 101 from San Luis Obispo to Ventura and wondering what to do. How about spending an enjoyable hour outdoors at one of 29 different farmers’ markets? Although we can’t feature all of the markets in this article, here are our top suggestions:

San Luis Obispo County

The San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association is a mutual benefit not-for-profit organization that manages five of the 14 weekly farmers’ markets in the county. One — the San Luis Obispo Thursday Evening Certified Farmers’ Market — is open from 6 to 9 pm I think this is one of the most fun farmers’ markets in California. It features lots of farm-fresh produce and many varieties of prepared food, including barbecue and pastries. I like eating the sweet roasted corn while being entertained by street performers and musicians.

Soak in those summer evenings with a stroll through the San Luis Obispo Thursday Evening Farmers’ Market. (Photo by Kat Thompson)

If you get a chance, take a stroll through the Paso Robles Certified Farmers’ Market. This market is open Tuesdays from 3 to 6 pm As one customer said, “It may not be the biggest farmers’ market around, but I like it. Especially the freshly-caught-fish stand. It is amazing.” Take a quick look around the market and then walk through the nearby park, which is surrounded by restaurants.

You’ll find an abundance of flavors at San Luis Obispo’s Saturday Morning Farmers’ Market. (Photo courtesy SLOFMA-Downtown SLO)

Another market to consider is the Atascadero Certified Farmers’ Market. It is open on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 pm and offers fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, wine, and cut flowers. The surrounding park, with its gardens, fountains, and statuary, is the perfect place to picnic with goodies from the market.

Santa Barbara County

The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market Association (SBCFMA) is also a mutual benefit not-for-profit organization that manages six separate markets. Formed in 1983, it is committed to the direct marketing principles of “producer to consumer,” working diligently to bring “the freshest and most nutritious produce our rich local agricultural land has to offer, direct to the public.”

No matter which farmers’ market you visit, you’re sure to discover something new — and maybe make a few new friends, too. (Photo by Randy Graham)

One of its markets is the Santa Barbara Downtown Market, open on Saturdays from 8:30 am until 1 pm. I asked one of their customers what he liked about this market, and he replied, “The variety of cheeses, baked goods, seafood, raw milk, and honey.” Others remarked on the reasonable prices and the amazingly fresh produce.

Eating good doesn’t have to be expensive. Why not try a new variety of a kitchen staple, like lettuce? (Photo by Randy Graham)

Just south of Santa Barbara is the small town of Montecito where you can “walk among the stars.” The Montecito Market is also part of the SBCFMA and on a clear day boasts views from the City of Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands and beyond. Although one of the smallest markets on the trail, you can expect to find 12 to 15 certified agricultural producers on hand each week. Look for fresh tomatoes, melons, summer squash, and stone fruit.

With its proximity to the wild lands — and wildflowers — of Los Padres National Forest, the Central Coast is a great place for making (and consuming!) raw honey. (Photo by Randy Graham)

There is a fun farmers’ market in the ocean-side city of Carpinteria, just eight blocks from the “World’s Safest Beach.” The Carpinteria Market is open on Thursdays from 3 to 6:30 pm. Although this market is not as large as some of its sister markets, you can always find a nice selection of veggies, fruit, and cut flowers at excellent prices. When I asked one family what they liked best about this market, they all agreed that the abundance of free samples was a big draw. Others said they looked forward to the variety of fresh fruit pies in the summer.

Ventura County

In Ventura, there are nine independent farmers’ markets: Two in Ventura, two in Oxnard, and one each in the cities of Ojai, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, and Simi Valley. My favorite is the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market. It is open on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm. I like it because almost all of the 60+ vendors offer organic produce, and the market has an abundance of musicians providing entertainment throughout the venue. Although this market is a 20-minute detour off Highway 101, it is worth the time and effort.

No matter which Farmers’ Market you choose, this region offers excellent heirloom tomatoes. (Photo by Randy Graham)

While you are at the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, allocate a couple of hours to enjoy Ojai with its excellent restaurants, breweries, wineries, and pubs — all within walking distance from the market. I like to buy Pixie tangerines, a few fresh heirloom tomatoes, figs, strawberries, avocados, pistachio nuts, and bread. I then stop by one of the craft breweries to pick up a growler of beer and make a picnic of it.

No matter which farmers’ market you choose to visit, you won’t be disappointed. See the sidebar for a list of all 29 markets in the tri-county region.

Randy Graham is a writer, an author, and a private chef. His syndicated column, Chef Randy, is published in Central Coast newspapers.
See his website at for more recipes.

Chipotle Honey-Vinaigrette Caprese Salad
by Chef Randy Graham

Photo by Randy Graham

As you walk through the farmers’ markets, buy fresh tomatoes, avocados, garlic, basil, and honey. Then go to your favorite grocery market to pick up the balance of ingredients for this fresh summer salad recipe. The combination of flavors is amazing, and it doesn’t hurt that it looks wonderful when plated. Your family and friends will be ooh-ing and aah-ing as you bring it to the table.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chipotle adobo sauce
1 garlic clove (minced)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (sliced 1/4 -inch thick)
2 large ripe tomatoes (sliced 1/4 -inch thick)
1 ripe avocado (peeled, pit removed and 
 sliced lengthwise into wedges)
10 leaves of fresh basil (chopped for garnish)

Combine the first eight ingredients (vinegar through garlic) in a mini food processor and process until smooth. Set this dressing aside. Arrange tomatoes and mozzarella in a circular design around the edge of a chilled salad plate. Overlay avocado slices in the center of the plate. Drizzle chipotle dressing over salad and garnish with basil.

This recipe makes two salads and may be doubled to serve four or more.