This post originally appeared in the October 29, 2022 edition of Eater Travel, a bi-weekly-ish dispatches from Eater’s staff about navigating the places where food is the main attraction. Subscribe now.
Because my favorite type of vacation is a lengthy road trip through the mountains, I tend to eat a lot of terrible gas station food when I travel. Sometimes I plan a trip to a grocery store beforehand, stocking up on trail mix and sandwich supplies to eat while traipsing through a national park, but more often than not, I’m living on beef jerky and chips. That was, of course, until I made it a priority to hit the farmers market in every city that I visit.
Going to a farmers market makes just as much sense as hitting a hot restaurant or shopping in a cute boutique when you’re on vacation. It’s an easy way to get an idea of what a city’s dining scene is going to be like, and the types of ingredients — and maybe even actual farms — that you might expect to see on menus. More than that, though, it’s an opportunity to really get to know a place, literally tasting the local terroir as you feast on local fruits and freshly made cheeses.
On a recent vacation to the stunning Glacier National Park in Montana, I visited the excellent farmers market in Kalispell, a Saturday-only affair complete with a family bluegrass band. After stocking up on supplies at small, rural grocery stores with limited fresh options, my eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw the bounty: gorgeous fresh eggplants, greens of all kinds, fancy black oyster mushrooms, and samples of an intensely spicy radish kimchi that I still regret not buying. I did end up buying those mushrooms, plus a basket of shishito peppers that we grilled on the patio of our rental cabin right at sunset. Truly a picturesque moment, made sweeter by the massive bear claw pastry studded with huckleberries that my friend and I split for dessert.
Some of the best meals and snacks I’ve had as a traveler have been at farmers markets large and small. I’ve scored excellent vegan tamales and a juniper-glazed cake doughnut at Seattle’s Capitol Hill Farmers Market, and snacked on venison jerky at a market in rural Maine. I once found what must’ve been the world’s sweetest strawberries at the legendary Santa Monica Farmers Market, all of which were eaten before I even got back to the car.
Farmers markets are also the best place to shop for souvenirs. I’d much rather come home with a bag of locally roasted coffee or homemade jam than a boring T-shirt, and you’re supporting a small business instead of some tchotchke shop. If only for the visual buffet and bounty of samples, going to the farmers market on vacation is guaranteed to be a rewarding experience — and you don’t even have to buy a single vegetable to cook in your crappy Airbnb kitchen.