There are farmers' markets, and then there is the one & only, original Farmers Market, at 3rd & Fairfax, L.A.'s oldest outdoor market. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Los Angeles; during peak Summer months, it's visited by over 40,000 people a day.
Located right next to CBS TV City, Farmers Market also sees its fair share of celebrities and soap opera heartthrobs visiting from that studio. James Dean even ate his last breakfast here - just before embarking on his final, fatal auto trip. It has been featured in movies, such as 1984's "Body Double" (and the director of that film, Brian DePalma, was spotted dining at the market's popular Gumbo Pot).
I spotted actor Elliot
Gould and his son Jason buying a sandwich at the Market. The Daily
Breeze reported sightings at Farmers Market of such celebs as
Will Ferrell, Luke Perry,
Woody Harrelson, Lisa Marie Presley,
Jean Claude Van Damme, Lyle Lovett,
Phil Collins, George Hamilton,
Belinda Carlisle, Beverly
D'Angelo, Rip Taylor
and soap star John Castellanos
(of "The Young & the Restless").
The L.A. Times reported sightings of Michelle Pfeiffer, Mickey Rooney and Doris Day.
The trendy Kokomo Cafe was one of the stars' favorite spots at Farmers Market. Kokomo fans included Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster, and Denzel Washington. Alas, Kokomo relocated to a nearby building on Beverly Blvd, which was also used for filming as the "Peach Pit" hangout for the new TV remake of "Beverly Hills 90210".
Clint Eastwood and Carol Burnett have eaten at Phil's Deli and Grill; Bob Hoskins chose to dine at the French Crepe Company, and John Malkovich opted for the fare at Tusquellas Seafoods. Tate Donovan (the voice of Disney's "Hercules") said that he and former girlfriend Jennifer Aniston ("Friends") often had breakfast at the Market. Former Vice President Al Gore was seen standing in line for coffee at the new Starbucks. Supermodel Tyra Banks likes breakfast at Du-Par's. Nancy Sinatra says she takes her daughter, Amanda here for Patsy's Pizza.
Which brings us to actress Teri Garr, whose aunt and uncle used to run an Orange Julius stand at the Market, and who says she likes to roam around there on Saturdays with her daughter. She sometimes has a short stack of pancakes at Du-Pars, but also visits a friend whose parents owned Patsy's Pizza (which, she says is "still the best pizza in the city!")
As part of one of his typical stunts, David Letterman drove into the parking lot of Farmers Market in a convertible filled with tacos; he flagged down a bus-load of tourists and offered them free food! (When Letterman was in California, he taped his show right next door, at CBS Television City.)
Other stars spotted there include Matthew McConaughey, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Anthony Kiddis (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Seinfeld's Jason Alexander.
But the stars are only part of the draw here. Back in 1934, during the Great Depression, a few farmers in the Los Angeles area came together on this corner lot to sell their produce from the back of their trucks, directly to the public. Little did they dream that their impromptu co-op would expand over the years into the giant shopping and dining complex it is today.
With 30 acres containing over 70 stalls, stores, markets and cafés, this indoor/outdoor bazaar offers what must be one of the most eye-dazzling display of food and produce ever presented to the public. There are shops, restaurants, cafes and grocery vendors, three produce stands, two meat markets, a homemade candy shop, two nut shops, two poultry marts, two bakeries, a flower shop and two ice cream parlors.
Farmers Market is made up of a series of 15 large, white wooden buildings (with green roofs and brown shutters) encircling an open-air quad which is filled with at least 30 smaller, free-standing stalls. This creates a maze of narrow, sunny walkways in between the stalls, where shoppers can stroll and ogle the colorful displays - and each other. People-watching is one of the most popular activities at the Market.
Simple round tables (topped with slightly-faded umbrellas) sit in the center of these open-air aisles, allowing for patio dining with a sidewalk café ambiance. You can pull up an ancient, green metal folding chair at any of these tables, and enjoy your meal in the sunshine.
No diet would long survive the sights and aromas of this grand emporium of food. There are vast crates filled with sweet-smelling fruit: giant peaches, shiny blue grapes, oranges as big as your fist. Is the fruit you like most out of season? Guess again. No matter what the season - even in the dead of winter - there will be a colorful bounty here of ripe strawberries, watermelon, cherries, dates, figs, cantaloupes, grapefruit, mangoes, apricots, bananas, kiwi fruit, tangerines, nectarines, and apples of every sort. That's in addition to the fresh tomatoes, onions, potatoes, garlic, sweet corn, avocados and yams, that are available year-round. Plus, there's fresh-squeezed orange juice, and colorful gift packs of dried fruit ready for the mailing.
There are meat markets and cheese markets; pie shops, chocolate shops, & pastry shops; French cafés, Mexican cantinas, Chinese restaurants, and Jewish delis (with sandwiches too thick to fit in your mouth). You can choose from Cajun gumbo, Japanese sushi, Belgian waffles or Italian pasta. And of course you can mix or match, buying a soup from one open-air café, an entree from another, and dessert from a third stand.
The sights and smells of bountiful food surround you everywhere. You can see (and smell!) fresh peanut butter being made at Magee's Kitchen. Fresh horseradish is being ground nearby from giant, gnarled roots. Nearby is a case of sweet, chunky mincemeat. You can watch cakes being decorated, or see shiny, fresh loaves of bread come out of the oven at the Bread Bin, or watch apples being dunked in caramel at Little John's. Over at Du-Par's restaurant, a plate glass window lets you watch their pies being made.
The variety here is staggering at times.
Take the Sausage shop, for example, where you have a selection that includes smoked country sausage, blood sausage, hot Cajun sausage, landjager sausage, andouille sausage, smoked duck sausage, knockwurst, pork chorizo, Italian turkey sausage, hot spicy lamb sausages, potato sausage, sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage, English bangers, little piglink sausages, chicken sausage, and apple sausage! (Whew!)
And at the candy shop, you'll not only find fudge, but also bins of candied apricots, candied orange slices, chocolate-covered stem cherries, candied kiwi fruit, candied ginger, dates, pretzels, prunes, figs, pineapple, & raisin clusters. But that's not all. They also offer molasses chips, nougats, horehound tablets, chocolate licorice, peanut butter creams, anise pillows, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, cherry licorice, cinnamon bears, Swedish fish, juju beads, malt balls, Grand Marnier truffles, & gummi strawberries, just to name a few.
At gate 2 and gate 9 are Sheltam's giant newsstands, in the grand old tradition, loaded not only with newspapers from all over the world, but also with a dazzling array of international magazines.
Alas, for all its visual and sensory temptations, for all its old-time charm and giddy rush, it must be admitted that Farmers Market is a tourist trap of the first magnitude.
Each day, tour buses line up outside, disgorging an endless stream of Hollywood visitors - and the vendors make the most of the easy tourist dollar. Prices at the Market can be high on some items, but the produce vendors basically match local supermarket prices. However, much of the food served at the cafés is disappointing - not terrible, mind you, but generally mediocre, and certainly not what you might expect from such a smorgasbord of culinary delights.
There are exceptions, though. There are those who think the little Gumbo Pot is one of the best Cajun restaurants in L.A. Du-Pars restaurant (on the west side), offers first-rate pancake breakfasts - and they serve breakfast all day. Bob's Coffee & Donuts is acclaimed by many as having the world's greatest jelly donuts (not to mention their specialty: cinnamon rolls). And the Kokomo Cafe attracts a steady stream of upscale foodies with its trendy, full-service menu.
But for the most part, the food at Farmers Market looks better than it tastes.
So, you have to enjoy Farmers Market for what it is: a giant tourist attraction, buzzing with the excitement of a million out-of-towners (and the slower pace of local regulars); a nostalgic glimpse back to an earlier day, with an authentic Coney Island ambiance, offering an array of sights, sounds and aromas that will knock your socks off.
If you don't get too caught up in the hectic rush, and if you don't get conned into spending too much of your hard-earned cash on their overpriced Tinseltown trinkets, Farmers Market can be a fun place to stroll among the vendors, or kick back and relax at a table with a meal while watching the passing parade of humanity. These simple pleasures are what has kept the Market so popular over the years, despite its age and the fact that it is the very antithesis of glitz.
The picnic/sidewalk-café atmosphere here can be contagious - a sort of urban county fair where harried tourists mingle with Hollywood types from the nearby studios, elderly Jewish immigrants from the nearby Fairfax district, and browsing yuppies from the Westside. There are few spots that can match Farmers Market for the pure joy of people-watching.
The Market is not without its minor drawbacks, of course: the market is over 60 years old, and looks its age; it's a bit tacky around the edges; finding a parking spot can be tricky, crowds can be especially dense on weekends; service at some stalls is brusque (bordering on rude at times); there are more Hollywood souvenirs than you might imagine possible... But it's easy to overlook the flaws - in fact, they are part of the charm. (For instance, just stop and notice that the B&W "celebrity" photos on the walls at Kokomo's aren't celebrities after all - but photos of average customers!)
If you can't find a table on a crowded summer day, here's a tip: few people notice that there is an upstairs dining area on the north side of Farmers Market. It's usually much less crowded up there, and its windows overlook the northern parking area and CBS TV City. Just look for the stairs leading up. Even less-known is a small (free) art gallery tucked away in the far northwest corner of this upstairs area, where you can enjoy your meal while surrounded by original oil paintings. (The gallery features work from the Beverly Hills Art League, and closes at 4 PM.)
While you are upstairs, go over to the office (above Gate 1) and pick up a free detailed map of the marketplace.
(Here is another little-known fact: the oldest home in Hollywood is located in the Farmers Market parking lot! Built back in 1852, it belonged to the family of Earl Gilmore, the man who founded Farmers Market. In fact, Mr. Gilmore was actually born there, and lived there until he died in 1964. His bedroom is still preserved in its original form. It isn't easy to find this historic, 146-year-old home. It's located in the far northeast corner of the parking lot, behind a warehouse, between Farmers Market and CBS TV City. The house is surrounded by a high wall and doesn't appear to be open to the public. But if the gate is open - as it often is - you can catch a glimpse of well-manicured lawns and the small home itself nestled among tall palm trees.)
Admission to the Market itself (and the Grove) is free.
Monday - Friday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Getting there: The Market is located on the northeast corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue (just southwest of downtown Hollywood), just south of CBS TV City. It would be easy for a newcomer to drive right past Farmers Market without even realizing it, since the open-air market itself is hidden away behind an unpretentious wooden exterior. Only the twin clock towers call attention to the center. / From Hollywood and Vine, take Vine Street south (two blocks) to Sunset Blvd., turn right (west) on Sunset, and go about two miles west on Sunset to Fairfax Avenue. Turn left (south) on Fairfax, and go south (about three miles) to 3rd Street. The market will be on your left (east) side. Look for the famous white, wooden clock tower. / From the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, exit on Fairfax Avenue, and go north (about two and a half miles) all the way to 3rd Street. The market will be on your right (east) side. From Wilshire Boulevard, just turn north up Fairfax and go 3/4 of a mile to 3rd Street.
[For more information on this subject, you can access Farmers Market's official website at: http://www.farmersmarketla.com.]
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