Sunday in San Francisco: Fort Mason Farmer’s Market and a Drive through the Marin Headlands

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Ubiquitous grapes at Fort Mason Farmer’s Market

You will find me at the farmer’s market. Rain or shine, however many days of the week that it is open, I will be there. I will likely be chatting with both the buyer and the seller, enjoying the ‘back to basics’ attitude that everyone adopts when faced with local, seasonal produce and a farmer’s incomparable knowledge and genuine passion. I will be buying more produce than necessary simply out of fervor and excitement, I will be photographing colors, shapes,and table layouts, and I will be just a tad delirious at the priceless joy of it all. So, when in San Francisco on a Sunday, you will find me at the Fort Mason Farmer’s Market down at the edge of the Marina, where you will likely find the rest of the city as well.

I love how the California Farmer’s Market website is organized by season, cleverly titled ‘Crop Watch.’ I can watch flickr slideshows on what I might see during different months. In January, as evident in every restaurant and cafe in town, citrus is ubiquitous. There are so many mandarin orange varieties I can hardly keep track: satsuma and clementine I have down pat, but page, murcott, pomelos, and then the countless grapefruit varieties… I may need a notebook. I see an abundance of dark leafy greens and of course, what is winter in San Francisco without a healthy dosage of Dungeness crab. I forgive the winter strawberries for being a little watery and buy them simply out of strawberry nostalgia, and I pick up a container of Hamada Farms’ one hundred percent natural sun-dried, mixed fruit, which is one of the best farmer’s market decisions I’ve ever made (has there ever been a bad one?) I try to pretend the dried fruit is not in my bag as I carry on with my Sunday, but I can’t help but reach my hand back in for more apricots, figs, pluots, white peaches, white nectarines, and persimmon. The (natural) sugar high comes in handy as I face the steps leading up to Fort Mason Park.

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The most natural, flavorful mixed fruit I’ve had:Hamada Farms

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Winter’s bounty: navel oranges, lemons, and mandarin orange varieties

Winter strawberries

Winter strawberries

San Francisco is one of the easiest metropolis’ to get out of, and with an endless list of dreamy vistas, wineries, restaurants, and photo-op worthy nature, I feel compelled to break from the city. On a 70+ degree January day, the beach sounds like a fine idea. We drive over the Golden Gate with hoards of happy, smiling people jogging and cycling on either side, buoyed by the idyllic sailboats floating beyond them. Immediately, we are winding through the dramatic Marin Headlands, a verdant, mountainous landscape trodden with very brave cyclists barely touching the pavement on hairpin turns and criss-crossed with paths that seem drawn by Harold and his Purple Crayon. I watch the orange Golden Gate bridge grow small behind me, its glint like a new engagement ring against the bright blue waters of the bay and the painterly sailboats that dot the seascape. We make just one stop at the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but unfortunately the doors to the cave are not yet open.

The drive to Stinson Beach is not a long one, but it would behoove one to take it slow. The curves are endless (positively romantic if you love Highway 1, dangerously evil if you are inclined to car sickness.) The car points directly into the center of each mountain like an owl in a tree and then gently turns away, barely skimming a cyclist on one side. Then we are eye to eye with the endless blue waters of the Pacific, and the car finds the wane of the curve in just enough time to avoid the jagged edges of the cliff. I love every moment. There are hardly any homes on this drive, and I wonder what it would be like to be one of the only residents of the 12,000 acres of the Marin Headlands, where I would channel a Jane Eyre who has met the sun and meditate far and wide across the bluffs and grassy meadows.

We descend on Stinson beach from up above, a vantage point from which we can see beachballs and young children running in the sand, even throwing surfboards into the water on this late January day. The town itself is one small stretch of storefronts: a seaside diner with a  generous porch, a funky artisan store, a truly funky art gallery, a sweet little bookstore, and a grocer. There is a lawyer attached to the aforementioned truly funky art gallery, a requisite surf shop, and then of course, there is the beach.

Here I am, in my weatherproof Aquatalia boots and my New York black, doing my best to manufacture a sunhat out of my own hair, surrounded by children in bikinis and parents in two pieces unloading toy bags and slapping on the SPF. I hadn’t packed for sea and sand; I arrived in San Francisco fully prepared for the city’s wacky micro-climates, the damp fog, and the unreasonable changes in temperature from one neighborhood to the next. I soak in the sun and the Vitamin D, I touch the sand to my fingertips, and I wonder why, why, am I living in the northeast, when I could be spending my Sundays on a beach, in January.

We have a simple little lunch on the front deck of The Breaker’s Cafe, a popular spot with a big patio. Marin County’s diner fare is a lot fresher than the norm, due to the proximity and availability of the produce. I was expecting worse, but the bowl of fresh fruit and my plate of spinach, tomatoes, and poached egg was just fine. Hikers, fresh from a morning in the steep headlands above, arrive with an appetite, as do young families taking a break from the beach and avid cyclists ready for a second coffee. For such a small town, it is widely popular for a January day, and I realize I have to stop inserting the month into every observation. Days like this are the norm for California residents, and with three miles of oceanfront sand on one side and 12,000 acres of headlands  on the other, what bay area inhabitant doesn’t descend on Stinson?

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Farmer’s market scenes, in January, mind you.

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A hat is necessary in San Francisco. With few tall buildings, the sun is always within arm’s reach.

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Yet another park on the water: Fort Mason is a choice spot for jogging and picnics

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What’s an average weekend like in San Francisco? A short drive in any direction leads to scenes like this one.

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Golden Gate from the walkway leading to Point Bonita Lighthouse

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Jagged formations as seen from the path leading to the Point Bonita Lighthouse

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The entrance to the tunnel that leads to the Point Bonita Lighthouse

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Stinson scenes

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Local bookstore

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The Marin Headlands are an ever popular terrain for experienced and very brave cyclists

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From a look-out point just over the Golden Gate

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Hairpin turns

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Breaker’s Cafe in Stinson

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Stinson Beach in January

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Saturday sailboats as seen from my room in the Fairmont Hotel

 

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