A Week In Farmers Markets

With a year-round 70-degree climate on our side, there’s no excuse not to visit one of San Diego county’s weekly outdoor markets. They go beyond kettle corn and crepe stands; you’ll find quality produce sold by California farmers. What’s more, there’s one every day of the week (except for Mondays). Don’t forget your reusable totes and, of course, an empty stomach.

With over 100 stalls skirting the curbside, Hillcrest boasts San Diego’s largest farmers market (Kevin Wu/Guardian).
With over 100 stalls skirting the curbside, Hillcrest boasts San Diego’s largest farmers market (Kevin Wu/Guardian).

SUNDAY – HILLCREST

3960 Normal St. at Lincoln 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Even though there’s a farmers market elsewhere in downtown La Jolla on Sunday mornings, Hillcrest’s weekly street fair is a refreshing change of scenery. With over 100 stalls of farm-fresh organic fruits and veggies, crafts sold by local artisans and a diverse spread of drool-worthy goodies, and a live bluegrass band, its variety is unmatched in San Diego. Plus, most of the midweekers flock to Normal Street on Sundays, so if you missed the heirloom guy on Thursday, you can catch him — and a fleet of his competitors — in the lively Hillcrest venue.

Of course, popularity has its downfalls: The Sunday market is almost always overcrowded, the prices for some products aren’t much different from those you’d find in a grocery store and parking is a mess.

If possible, arrive near opening or closing. If you show up early, you up your chances of finding a nearby parking spot in the congested neighborhood, and you get first pick of the freshest produce (not that there’s a dearth). At the end of the day, parking loosens up again, and many vendors slash their prices in the half-hour before closing — so drag yourself out of bed at 8 a.m. or stick around ’til 2 p.m. for the best shopping experience.

The Hillcrest market also boasts a sizable selection of nonedible fare. You’ll find vintage costume jewelry, winter scarves, a replacement for your funky-odored book bag and a variety of flowers to bring home to wifey.

Just like the produce, prepared food is plentiful. Expect farmers-market usuals — meats on sticks, meats wrapped in some sort of carb, imported cheeses — and some unusuals — coconut pancakes, raw vegan meals that actually taste good, fresh ceviche and fresh pasta — not the dried supermarket stuff.

But before you line up for a squash-blossom tamale, work the aisles for some free samples: sweet stone fruits, sticky persimmons, ripe guavas, homemade salsa, crusty bread and whatever else you can find. After thirty minutes of smiling politely and stuffing your face you’ll probably be good ’til dinner time.

— Aprille Muscara

Associate Focus Editor

TUESDAY – MIRA MESA

10510 Reagan Rd. (Mira Mesa High School) 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Home to the newest farmers market in San Diego — hitting the streets a few months before Fall Quarter — Mira Mesa has quickly become a boomtown for booth fare.

Hidden behind Mira Mesa High School at the parking lot’s east end, it’s not hard to see why business is swelling: The market’s a refuge for families itching to escape another Tuesday afternoon cooped up in their tract homes.

But as long as you don’t have a strong hatred for children, the market is worth a visit if only for its prime people-watching.

Aside from the usual assortment of produce and pastries, Mira Mesa’s biggest draws are its crafts and ethnic cuisine. Where else would you find hand-knitted sweaters and freshly baked samosas rubbing shoulders (besides the Jo-Ann’s in Mumbai)?

Funnel cakes, cups of chopped fruit and all that other stuff you’d find at other markets are surefire staples at this lot. But, unlike the San Diego Fair, prices aren’t inflated.

Call up a couple friends living in the area if you decide to make a trip out to Mira Mesa — they can help you haggle over the tub of hummus.

— Edwin Gonzalez

Focus Editor

WEDNESDAY – OCEAN BEACH

4900 Block of Newport (between Cable & Bacon) 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Bright booths line Newport Avenue every Wednesday afternoon for the Ocean Beach farmers market, a tradition since 1991. This is no ordinary street fair — not surprising, considering the laid-back, sleepy sub-community in which it resides.

The market’s vendors tend to cater to the beach hippie type, offering everything from ginger juices and feathered jewelry to delicious all-natural grub like curry and freshly-baked cookies.

Along the rows of art stands lie plenty of brightly colored, swirly paintings perfect for your inner stoner.

Or maybe you’ll want a water-filled glass ornament to spin gracefully in front of your window, propping a delicate flower toward the sun. You might even just want to join the fun with a small blanket you brought from home, and stake out curbside.

Most sidewalk squatters look like they just crawled out of an attic and scattered their findings in front of you — none of which have fixed prices. So bargain away, young college student — bargain away.

All in all, Ocean Beach is a microworld of the liberal, relaxed on the sidelines of a fast-paced city with savory snacks and acoustic improv that’s definitely worth the short trek south.

— Kerry Fugett

Contributing Writer

THURSDAY – NORTH PARK

3151 University Ave. (CVS parking lot) 2 p.m. – Sunset

Compared to larger weekend bazaars, North Park’s mellow market is quaint and quiet, featuring a modest 25 stands — but at least it’s not crowded. Goods are typical of a midweek market (organic eats, fresh flowers, etc.), relatively limited in selection — and, of the other Thursday offerings, North Park is our closest market to campus.

If you’re looking for produce, expect to encounter more fruit than vegetables, some organics and salad-fixing basics like lettuce, avocados, tomatoes and peppers. Don’t expect to stumble upon the fresh morel mushrooms you’ll need for that recipe, but you might find a sweet trinket from the guy hawking heirlooms. Apples and peaches will soon be out of season, so stock up — and the North Park market’s yam and corn crops are just now at their height.

As a little extra motivation, the market also has those strawberry-stuffed, whipped cream-smothered crepes you’ve been craving all week. Like the produce, all premade meals are standard farmers market fare: honey and bread, hummus and street tacos, to name a few. You’ll also find customary chrysanthemum bouquets, sterling silver jewelry and tie-dyed handbags.

Leave your car on the street or skip the pay stand if you park in the CVS parking lot — you (most likely) won’t get ticketed. And definitely hit up the sambussa stand for some deep-fried dough triangles stuffed with spiced lentils, steaming beef or coconut cream cheese.

— Aprille Muscara

Associate Focus Editor

FRIDAY – MISSION VALLEY

2028 Camino del Este (East Parking Lot) 3 p.m.-7 p.m.

Overtaking central San Diego on Fridays, Mission Valley’s farmers market is stocked with over 85 booths to satisfy any ethnic craving — including an Egyptian-iced tea stand, a Peruvian chocolate shack and a craftsman selling wooden African bracelets.

If you’re feeling a little daring, you might consider sinking your teeth into a hot balut from the Ramona Duck Farm — the same boiled duck embryo (a popular snack from the Philippines) that was once featured on “Fear Factor.”

The market’s greatest perk is abundant nearby parking. It’s located in the East Westfield parking lot near Macy’s, where a 20-minute drive from campus yields hundreds of empty spots (something no from UCSD would know anything about). Mission Valley’s market is also situated conveniently close to Ikea, in case you’re burdened with the more corporate craving for a dirt-cheap, mass-produced shoe rack.

— Gloria Wu

Staff Writer

SATURDAY – DEL MAR

1050 Camino Del Mar (between 10th & 11th) 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Up the coast from Torrey Pines State Reserve, Del Mar’s seaside stretch of ocean-view properties makes a clutch backdrop for some leisurely grocery shopping after making the most of midday swells.

And if you’re not a surfer, then hopefully you at least like the beach — because the Del Mar farmers market isn’t worth the drive unless you’re killing two birds with one stone.

The shoreside market’s hands-down best feature is its flood of seafood. On the right side of the market among various other food stands are rows of clams welded shut, raw shrimp, thick strips of mackerel, swordfish and red snapper.

Aside from fresh ocean goods, the market also hosts a load of adorable snacks (such as gourmet chocolates from Belgium, homemade jams or toffee brittle), wholesale groceries, imported pasta and hand-twisted baked goods.

Still, with a total of about 15 stands divided between two adjacent parking lots, the Del Mar market probably won’t tempt you to stay longer than 20 minutes. So if you decide to make the commute or take the 30-minute bus ride, convince a couple friends to kick it with you at the beach before cruising back down the coast of billionaires.

— Edwin Gonzalez

Focus Editor

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