San Francisco Bay Area
It will come as no surprise to residents and regular visitors, but the San Francisco Bay Area is an ideal place to get beyond the plate. In some cases, you don't even have to leave city limits. At the Saturday morning farmers' market at the Ferry Building Marketplace, a 10:00 a.m. meet-the-farmers event is followed by a seasonal cooking demonstration at 10:30. Every day at the Ferry Building, visitors can find some of the Bay Area's best, including local cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, organic produce from Frog Hollow Farm, and local shellfish from the Hog Island Oyster Company. And, there are rumors that 2007 may bring the first Slow Food USA artisanal food show to San Francisco.
Visitors ready to take alfresco dining to a whole new level can check out Outstanding in the Field dinners in fields around the Bay Area. Evenings include wine, a tour of the farm, and then a dinner prepared in an outdoor kitchen with local ingredients and served at a long table out in the field. Dinners, which include five courses and wine pairings, are priced between $130 and $170 per person. The 2006 season starts in June and will include six events. From August to October, the group puts on events elsewhere in the U.S.
Across the Bay in Berkeley, the farm-to-table approach has been a tradition since Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971, and it continues to grow through farmers' markets and restaurants that feature the fresh and the local. Farmers' market events such as late-spring strawberry tastings and shopping with chefs are posted regularly. And, at Jack London Square in Oakland, a weekly Sunday farmers' market draws crowds to the waterfront for produce and sunshine.
The greater Bay Area yields more chances to peek into the food chain and taste along the way. Fresh-caught fish, artichokes, and cheese are a few of the local delights on the San Mateo Coast, also referred to as Coastside, just south of San Francisco. Harley Farms, a small goat dairy tucked into the rolling hills of Pescadero, offers tours of the cheese-making process. Tours, which should be reserved in advance, cost $20 for adults, with discounts for children. Nearby, Duarte's Tavern keeps its tables piled high with seasonal bests. Farm stays provide a closer look at the land and a way to wake up in the fresh country air. The Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce has a very useful eco-cultural tourism section of its website with more ideas.
Napa and Sonoma
Look behind the acres of grapes in Napa and Sonoma to discover a thriving community of farmers and food producers. Long Meadow Ranch in the mountains above the Napa Valley has an "excellence through responsible farming" policy that extends to its wines, beef, eggs, and heirloom produce. The organic ranch is open to the public and offers tours from $35, plus hikes, picnics, and other activities.
Down in the valley, the Copia Center for Food, Wine, and the Arts has 3.5 acres of organic edible gardens open to the public. And, the center's Julia's Kitchen restaurant and American Market Cafe feature fresh, local ingredients. Entry is $5 for adults, with discounts for seniors and children.
Tours offer unique peeks into the area's growing and production. Great Olive Tours brings people to small private farms around the Napa Valley to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into organic and sustainable farming. Half-day tours are $75 an hour for groups of four. And, olive oil producer Round Pond Estate offers tours and tastings that provide a close-up view of the orchards and olive mill. Tours cost $20. The Sonoma County Farm Trails website has maps and itinerary suggestions for free self-guided tours that include farms, pumpkin patches, hard cider breweries, and working ranches.
Find more information
The California Tourism website has a food and wine section with information helpful to planning a trip. The California Agri-tourism database lists agri-tourism operations by county. And, the recently published The Slow Food Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area is packed with fresh and local suggestions.
When to go: Farmers' markets operate year-round in the Bay Area, but rain can make winter and spring less pleasant times to be outdoors. Visitors will find the most abundance in summer, and warm weather and more harvests in fall.
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