Santa Cruz County farmers markets: The definitive guide to locations, vendors and shopping tips

The Prevedelli Farms stand at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers Market.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Farmers market guide graphic

As long as I’ve lived here, I’ve visited a Santa Cruz County farmers market almost weekly, and each time it’s a unique experience.

Although I’ve wandered the stalls countless times, I always discover something new. In the spring, it might be slender stalks of asparagus, fresh sheep’s milk cheese, pastel-colored bunches of sweet pea flowers or Meyer lemon-scented pastries. In the summer, berries burst forth, including sweet, dark strawberries and Santa Cruz’s rare, yet beloved, olallieberries, followed by a parade of stone fruit in colors as warm as a California sunset or pale as dappled sunlight. Tables practically groan under the weight of dry-farmed early girl tomatoes, which quickly find their way into brown paper bags.

As autumn approaches, apples appear — crisp Newtown pippins, honey-scented Gravensteins and showy pink pearls. Peppers ranging from long, red and spicy to short, green and fresh add pep to fall staples like eggplant, beans and winter squash. In the winter, the markets downsize and more than one vendor takes a well-deserved break. This time of year, the always-present greens — collards, kale, bok choy, spinach and cabbage — shine. Beets and carrots are sweetest this time of year and pair well with bright, tangy citrus — grapefruits, kumquats, tangerines, naval oranges and lemons.

But while the menu is ever-changing, many of the faces stay the same. It’s one of the things that will draw you back to the market week after week. Where else will the farmer hand-select one melon for you to eat today and another that will be perfect three days from now? Or tell you how to prepare that weird-looking cauliflower you’ve never seen before? Or share their farming practices and pesticide use so you consume only the types of produce you feel comfortable with?

It is those faces that you will now see prominently, and weekly, in Lookout as we launch our Farmers Market Fridays profiles of the vendors you’ve often seen and wondered about — or haven’t yet met. Now, though, as we launch our Farmers Market Guide, we’re giving a cornucopia of information to help navigate the markets. In our resource guide, you’ll find information about all nine markets in the county, including a searchable list of vendors, what they sell and where they sell it. We’ve also answered major questions on the farmers market FAQ page, where you can find out if you have to bring cash and whether or not your dog can come with you. Our farmers market tips will help you manage your market experience like a pro. Finally, get to know the vendors and market managers through profiles and interviews, starting this week. And feel free to ask us anything we’ve missed, sending a note to news@lookoutlocal.com, with the subject line “Farmers Market.”

We increasingly understand the importance of the relationships customers are able to form with the farmers and artisans who grow and make their food. These are connections that are hard to establish any other way. In addition to receiving a valuable — and delicious — agricultural education, these relationships strengthen the fabric of the community. Farming was Santa Cruz County’s first industry and agriculture remains a cornerstone of the local economy, drawing in more than $630 million annually. Santa Cruz County is also a pioneer in organic farming and is home to California Certified Organic Farmers, one of the first organic certifying agencies. As of 2020, there were 147 certified organic farms in the county.

Establishing a direct to consumer connection is one of the reasons the first farmers markets were established, says Catherine Barr. Since 1992, Barr has served as executive director of the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, the governing body that manages the Aptos farmers market at Cabrillo College and three other markets in neighboring Monterey County. When the Aptos farmers market began in 1976, buying food directly from a farmer was a novelty. A handful of small local farmers found they couldn’t compete with larger farms and decided to band together to try something new. Thus, nearly 50 years ago, the first farmers market in Santa Cruz County was born.

Catherine Barr, executive director of the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In 1990, a farmers market was established in downtown Santa Cruz in order to draw the community back to the area, which had been ravaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Nesh Dhillon became the market manager in 2000 and led Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets through an expansion from one market to five in the early aughts. The larger organization merged with the new Live Oak farmers market in 2000, then in 2008 merged with the seasonal Felton farmers market, established in 1987. In 2007, SCCFM established a weekly farmers market on the Westside in Santa Cruz, and in 2009 a seasonal market in Scotts Valley.

More recently, farmers markets have taken root in South County, the agricultural heart of our area. In 2009, a small farmers market began in the village of Corralitos. Much of what you can find there is grown, raised or produced within a 5-mile radius. The Watsonville farmers market was established in 2011 and has grown into a Friday night community gathering full of live music, regional Latin American cuisine and fresh fruits and vegetables grown nearby. Now in its second year, the El Mercado Farmers Market focuses on health and wellness by providing health services and information, such as diabetes screening, in addition to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.

All of the vendors grow, make or produce what they sell. Most of the markets — with the exception of the tiny Corralitos farmers market — are certified by the state of California and receive regular inspections to make sure they adhere to its policies, like not redistributing products from other growers or selling items from outside the state. While many of the farms and producers are local, you’ll also see growers from outside of our area, usually selling products that have a short season in our region, like cherries, or offering products that aren’t available locally, like dates and rice.

Ice is poured over packaged pork at Fogline Farm's stand at the Aptos Farmers Market.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

These days, the farmers market offers more than just produce. At some markets, food vendors offer an incredible variety of prepared food and beverages, including farm-to-table breakfast, regional cuisines from all over the world, fresh pastries, kombucha, coffee and local beer and cider. You can also find locally made products like handmade soaps, pottery, even brooms. At most markets, you can also get your knives sharpened while you shop.

While the farmers markets were rocked, as we all were, by COVID-19, many were able to stay open for most if not all of the pandemic. The markets implemented health policies like masking and distance requirements between customers and vendors in order to keep everyone safe while they shopped. In fact, some market managers told me that many community members relied on the market as an important break from lockdown, a safe, outdoor space where they could enjoy the (distanced) company of their neighbors and stock up on healthy groceries.

Wandering the stalls and relishing the serendipitous nature of the market is a lovely way to spend a morning or an afternoon. Please enjoy our new guide to make new discoveries — at your nearby market, or at a new one.

Enjoy the exploration. And don’t forget your bags!

— Lily Belli

North County Farmers Markets

Felton

What: Second-oldest market in Santa Cruz County known for its diverse food options, entertainment selection, and kid-friendly activities.

Where: 120 Russell Ave., Felton
When: Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; seasonal, May-October

Scotts Valley

What: A community market known for its intimate vibe, mellow background music, and kids play area.

Where: 5060 Scotts Valley Dr., Boys & Girls Club parking lot
When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; seasonal, May-November

Dustin Miller of True Edge Mobile Knife Sharpening
Dustin Miller of True Edge Mobile Knife Sharpening
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Downtown Santa Cruz

What: Largest and oldest market in town, known for its wide variety of vendors, proximity to downtown and lively atmosphere.

Where: Cedar and Lincoln streets
When: Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. May-October; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. November-April; year-round

Westside

What: Known for its convenience and relaxed atmosphere, morning meal selection, as well as produce mainstays.

Where: Mission Street and Western Drive, Santa Cruz
When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; year-round

Mid County Farmers Markets

Live Oak

What: Known for its variety of vendors, it’s a popular Sunday morning stop for locals with a wide variety of breakfast options.

Where: 15th Avenue and East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
When: Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; year-round

Julian Diaz of Hakouya Probiotics at the Aptos Farmers Market.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Aptos

What: The largest farmers market in the county, with a large selection of fresh produce, unique vendors you won’t find at other markets, prepared food, and good parking access.

Where: Upper level of new parking garage at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos
When: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.; year-round

Capitola

What: The newest member of the Santa Cruz County farmers market family, this market is small but making a name for itself with local artisans and novel entertainment.

Where: Capitola Mall at 1855 41st Ave., Capitola
When: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; year-round

South County Farmers Markets

Watsonville

What: Known for its food vendors and food trucks featuring regional Latin American cuisine, this market is known for being a place to hang out and stay awhile after fulfilling your weekly shopping needs.

Where: Peck Street near Main and Union streets, Watsonville
When: Friday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; year-round

The Felton and Scotts Valley farmers markets reopen the first week of May.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Corralitos

What: A small farmers market in the heart of a thriving agricultural community, most of the vendors are from within a 5-mile radius.

Where: Corralitos Cultural Center, 127 Hames Rd., Corralitos
When: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; year-round

Community Health Trust El Mercado

What: This wellness-focused market offers health services such as diabetes screening in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Where: Ramsay Park, 1301 Main St., Watsonville
When: Tuesdays, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; seasonal, April-October

Latest Stories