These three farmers' markets offer unique foods amidst historic settings in cities packed with culture and activity--the perfect recipe for a short escape.

By By Katharine Dyson
December 05, 2005

August 2005

Long before daybreak, trucks rumble down streets and back intoloading docks across America. Vendors pull crates of produce andcarry them to stalls where they're laid out in colorful mosaics.Rows of iridescent fish lie on beds of crushed ice; bouquets offresh flowers paint a vibrant tableau. Then the public arrives.Savvy shoppers scurry with a purpose―they know where to gofor the best tomatoes, the freshest trout, and the flakiest breads.Newcomers browse the aisles, taking in the sights, sounds, andaromas.

These are America's farmers' markets. Experiencing a revival,more than 3,700 public markets are thriving throughout the country,according to the usda national directory of farmers' markets.That's a 111 percent increase in the past 10 years, making them topattractions in cities like Seattle and Philadelphia.

The following three are renowned for offering visitors uniquefood choices in festive, historic environments. They also happen tobe in cities where activities, culture, and restaurants abound,providing plenty to do once vendors pack up their stalls at day'send.To find a farmers' market near you, go to the USDA'sAgricultural Marketing Services Web site at www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets.

Katharine Dyson writes a weekly travel and food column for Acornnewspapers and is the author of The 100 Most Romantic Resortsof the World. She lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

San Francisco: Ferry Plaza Farmers'Market

Vibe: The high temple of regionally produced, organic foodsunique flavors: Peaches so good, New York City chefs have themflown in from the Frog Hollow Farm stand.

Insider tip: Make Boulettes Larder your final stop. Like awell-stocked pantry, it sells delicious broths, hand-milled spicesand grains, fresh pie dough, and more.

Founded: 2003 (building dates from 1898) www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

Since its opening in 2003, the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, with its focus on organicproduce and artisan foods from family-operated farms, has luredthousands of visitors.

It's also a gathering place for farmers like Al Courchesne,known for the 25 varieties of peaches he grows on his Frog HollowFarm (some of which sell for $4 per pound). His wife and partner,pastry chef Rebecca Courchesne, sells her homemade chutneys andmarmalades alongside him. Nearby is Nan McEvoy and the extravirginolive oil she produces on her Marin County ranch. Organically grownand harvested by hand, the olives are crushed within 24 hours ofpicking.

While at Ferry Plaza, stop by the Center for Urban EducationAbout Sustainable Agriculture, and sign up to shop with a chef ortake lessons in farmhouse cooking using locally grown produce. Justoutside, catch the trolley to Boudin's at Fishermen's Wharf for thecity's signature sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder.Watch the sea lions hang out at Pier 39, and browse the work of thesidewalk artists.

Where to stay: For sweeping views of San Francisco bay, stayat the new Hotel Vitale, which offers a day spa for a post-marketmassage and rooftop soaking tubs (rates from $269; 888-890-8688, www.hotelvitale.com).

Cleveland: West Side Market

Vibe: A celebration of ethnic foods

Unique flavors: Exotic herbs and spices like saffron, curry,and cilantro

Insider tip: If you're buying perishable foods, bring alonga cooler where you can store goods in your car (ice is notavailable at the market). Some vendors close on Mondays.

Founded: 1912

Inside the West Side Market there are more than 125 booths displayingeverything from delicious falafel at Maha's to deftly cut meats atVince's Meats and smoked varieties at Walker Meats. At Ohio CityPasta, you can buy homemade varieties in quarter-poundbundles―each day brings tantalizing new flavors like saffron,spicy lime, and roasted red pepper. And at the Westside MarketCafe, everything on the menu is made from market ingredients.

Also worth exploring are the many ethnic restaurants along West25th Street a couple of blocks away: Nate's Deli, offering MiddleEastern food; Lozada's, featuring Puerto Rican specialties; andMassimo da Milano's Italian fare.

For a narrated tour of the city, hop on Lolly the Trolley (from$10; 800-848-0173, www.lollytrolley.com), whichdeparts from the Powerhouse at Nautica, a complex of restaurantsand a comedy club that's a short walk from the market. Also strollalong Lorain Station Historic District, a haven for shops sellingethnic foods and New Age boutiques. The special exhibits at theRock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as a baseball gameat Jacobs Field near the market, are also must-sees.

Where to stay: Try the Bourbon House, a Gothic mansion, where you'll eat a regalbreakfast complete with elegant linens, candles, and fine china(rates from $95; 877-444-7279, www.bbhost.com/bourbon_house).

Boston: Haymarket Square

Vibe: A cacophonous carnival with lots of talk in severalaccents

Unique flavors: From California tomatoes to New Jerseytomatoes, there's a mélange of foods from around thecountry.

Insider tip: For optimal quality, shop on Fridays before 10a.m.; for quantity, stop by on Saturdays after 2:30 p.m., whenvendors want to clear out what they have left and head home.

Founded: mid-19th century

Standing behind their plywood stalls, just as their fathers andgrandfathers had done before them, audacious purveyors, mostly ofIrish or Italian descent, have honed catching the eye of a browsingshopper into a fine art at Boston's largest open-air market. "Hey,Bobby, the bananas are flying off the table . . . move."

"Lady, you want fresh tuna? Check this out. Just off the boat anhour ago . . ."

Truth be told, the banter revs up the energy level at Haymarket―not that it needs it. Hugging the fringes ofthe city's primarily Italian North End, the Haymarket draws thefaithful who make weekly pilgrimages here to purchase produce,fish, meats, even sugarcane. Bargain-hunters love it; the specialschange on a whim here. One minute they're scribbled on cardboard,and the next they're simply shouted.

Stroll through the Blackstone Block and Creek Square, justbehind Haymarket, the only place left in Boston where the originalstreets (17th and 18th) are still intact, as are the former hauntsof Winslow Homer and Benjamin Franklin. Take a walking tour withMichele Topor (617-523-6032, www.micheletopor.com), aformer chef. She'll take you to an authentic salumeria, or deli, insearch of great olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salami, and to a70-year-old coffee and spice shop, Polcari Coffee Shop.

Around the corner, try some hearty Yankee seafood at UnionOyster House, America's oldest restaurant (since 1826), or head toNorth Square's Mamma Maria, set in a 19th-century brick row house.Cool off with a ferry ride from Long Wharf to the Harbor Islands ( www.islandalliance.com),mostly uninhabited little gems where you can hike, kayak, picnic,and swim. You can also bike or inline skate along the Charles RiverEsplanade, a parklike strip along the river.

Where to stay: Check into the Onyx Hotel near Haymarket. Done in Art Deco style, thispet-friendly boutique hotel is just steps from the Freedom Trail(rates from $199; 800-546-7866, www.onyxhotel.com).

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