As a farmers market superfan, I’ve accumulated enough descriptions of the big Thursday night street fest in San Luis Obispo over the years to know it must be one of the most important markets in California. Until last week, though, I hadn’t seen for myself.
After visiting Thursday, I’m convinced. The city is so supportive that it shuts down two blocks of Higuera Street, downtown SLO’s main thoroughfare, creating a pedestrian-only zone of barbecue and other food stands, an eclectic variety of live music, and 70-something produce vendors. The downtown businesses lining Higuera, restaurants and retail, are open as well. Sheer attendance is kind of staggering, compared to other farmers markets, even thronged Ferry Plaza in San Francisco and our own leading market in Irvine on Saturdays. Local enthusiasm is the lifeblood of any farmers market, and SLO downtown’s sure got that—more than 10,000 visitors each week, according to the San Luis Obispo County Farmers Market Association.
The produce is as beautiful as you’d expect on the Central Coast, so proximate to California’s main growing areas and with the agricultural expertise of Cal Poly SLO close at hand. I bought crisp, sweet walnuts from an Atascadero grower who said she was in her 34th year at the market, and farmstead cheese including an incredibly creamy jack with chipotle chile from Lemoore. And honey from an Exeter farmer—I always seem to come home with honey after California road tripping. Wish I could have bought all the vegetables that tempted me—the frustrating downside of farmers market touristing. Even so, this market was an especially gratifying item to cross off my Finally-Getting-To list.