A family trip to the farmer’s market is always a fun adventure. The vibrant colors of locally grown fruits and vegetables, the sweet smell of fresh flowers, and the bubbling energy of the crowd all combine to make a feast for the senses and a captivating outing for your little ones. The Marin County Farmer’s Market at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael has the distinction of being the largest farmer’s market in the Bay Area and the third largest in California, and it’s definitely worthy of a family excursion. Throw in a trip to nearby China Camp State Park, and you’ve got yourself a Sunday for the record books!
When to go: Though the market runs year-round, rain or shine, nice weather always makes for a more pleasurable stroll with the kiddies–same goes for walking and picnicking in China Camp.
Approximate travel time: The Marin Civic Center is located 15 miles (about 20 min) north of San Francisco. China Camp State Park is only about 5 miles away from the Civic Center.
How to dress: Layer up! There isn’t much shade in the Civic Center parking lot (where the market takes place) but you can never really predict what Marin micro-climates will be like. Layers will cover all the temperature possibilities and comfy walking shoes will ensure that your day won’t be hampered by sore feet. If you plan to hit up China Camp after the market, make sure your flock is wearing shoes and clothes that are okay to get dirty.
What to see: Wander the stalls of the farmer’s market and stock up on organic produce, yummy pastries, or unique crafts. Some of the regular and semi-regular vendors at the Civic Center farmer’s market include Cowgirl Creamery, Flour Chylde Bakery, Sukhi’s, Scream Sorbet, Twin Girl Farms, and PANoRAMA Bread Company.
Peel your eyes away from the market’s organic glory and look up—the Civic Center is the brainchild of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and it’s a site to behold.
What to do: Park the strollers in front of the live music (usually at the entrance to the market), take the kids over to the bounce house, or head to the pony rides. These are all fabulous photo ops, so get your camera ready!
Limitless lunch:The farmer’s market has lots of food stalls where you can grab lunch. Crepes, thai food, vegan/vegetarian paella and tamales, Aidells Sausages–the possibilities are endless! Keep in mind that you can grab and go and enjoy your lunch at China Camp.
Run, play, explore: When you’ve had your fill of the market, follow N. San Pedro Road east for about five miles until you reach the China Camp State Park main entrance on your left. (Pssst, park on the street and walk down to save the parking fee). China Camp Village is the ideal playground for the under-five set; kiddies will dig the fishing boats and mini-beach, perfect for sandcastles and shell collecting. For the more ambitious and energetic, an intricate network of hiking trails awaits. Picnic on the beach with your farmer’s market loot or snag one of the coveted picnic tables on the ridge above San Pablo Bay.
Need to know: Parking at the farmer’s market is free and generally plentiful, but you may have to sharpen your eyes and hunting instincts to get a spot. Be patient—people are coming and going all the time, so the turn-around rate is fairly quick.
The Sunday market goes from 8 am to 1 pm. The Marin Civic Center Market also takes place during the same time every Thursday. (The Thursday market is in a slightly different location, across the street from the Sunday spot.) The Thursday crowd is much smaller–great if you want to beat the Sunday rush–but the size of the market is also a bit reduced.
Cost: Inexpensive to moderate, depending on how much you load on up at the market.
Bonus: Sunday is a day of rest, right? On your way home, call in a few orders of pollo al horno at Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine. And, if you’re feeling ambitious and not-too-tired, check out San Rafael’s downtown area.
Any way you like it: Worried about your lettuce wilting while you’re playing at China Camp? You could always explore the park first, and head to the farmer’s market after–just remember that the market closes at 1 pm.