1. Irvine Farmer’s Market
Sailors Church, 5001 Newport Coast Drive, Irvine; 949-301-9180, ocfarmbureau.org
Yes, Orange County’s largest farmers market brings you mountains of fresh fruit, including types of peaches, plums, and nectarines you’ve probably never heard of. It gives you a variety of vegetables across the spectrum, enough to make virtually any vegetarian dish in any cookbook.
And of course, there are all kinds of nuts and many varieties of honey.
But the eternal leader of this competitive category, which is open every Saturday – rain or shine – from 8 a.m. to noon doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop with farm-to-table stars like Arnett Farms, either. Its fresh egg vendors produce some of the largest lines among the more than 100 vendors who occupy the white tents. Its Asian products include bok choi, Thai basil and other herbs. The fresh tamales represent Mexico. There is kombucha, various dairy products (almond, soy, coconut). And there are flower sellers that would be the envy of any florist.
Along with this, popular vendors such as Mama Musubi, Pasadena’s supplier of gourmet rice balls. There’s Clayton’s Donuts, famous for their huge donuts and vegan and gluten-free items. And there’s Apple Sherrill Orchards, sellers of fresh juices.
What makes Irvine Farmers’ Market first among its peers is the wide variety of vendors and products. It remains one of eight certified farmers’ markets in the county, which means all vendors must obtain certification from the county where they grow and produce their wares.
All of this, however, comes with a caveat. Parking is a bonus and it can get crowded.
2. Laguna Hills Certified Farmers Market
24200 Laguna Hills Mall, Laguna Hills; ocfarmbureau.org
The Laguna Hills Farmers’ Market isn’t as big as its County Sister Certified Farmers Markets, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in the quality of the vendors.
Open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., rain or shine, the Laguna Hills Farmer’s Market is easy to spot in the parking lot of the Laguna Hills Mall. Just look for the multicolored nest of pyramid-shaped canopies. When you find it, you will find a solid variety of products: avocados, onions, Asian pears, tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries, strawberries and other berries, kale and all kinds of citrus, among others.
Laguna Hills’ minimalist approach doesn’t mean you won’t find the bread you’re looking for. This market offers a good variety of baked goods. It also means that you can find the Daikon radish that you have been looking for. Or let hummus and almonds flaunt your next party craving. And the market has a good selection of seafood from mussels, clams and many types of fresh fish.
3. Laguna Beach Certified Farmers Market
521 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach; lagunabeachfarmersmarket.com
Get there early. This is the key for buyers of this market, which is open on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon.
This way not only do you guarantee yourself a good parking spot where such things are expensive – especially during the summer months – but start your day with a fresh cup of coffee from the independent market cafe.
The Laguna Beach Farmers Market derives much of its popularity from its location. Beachgoers can take a leap, stock up on organic fruit and veg, granola or naturally grown baked goods, salsas and dips, then hit the well-stocked sand.
Along with that, this market offers a wide variety of spices and broths, as well as essential oils, raw honey, sheep yogurt, organic free-range eggs, and farm-to-table meats.
One of the must-see stops in the market is the empanadas stand. Locals and tourists alike know this open culinary secret.