Gone are the days where I spend my Saturday mornings nursing a deadly hangover from a Friday night out in the city. Since moving to Irvine three years ago – I found my greatest obsession – the Irvine Farmer’s Market at Mariners Church! Now, I voluntarily wake up at 7AM for an early morning gym session followed by a relaxing stroll through the market. Living in Irvine we’re lucky the weather stays temperate year-round, even during the winter time there is still ample sunshine to make shopping outside a vitamin D-licious experience! My dream is to be able to open my own stall at the farmer’s market one day, but for now I hope to inspire you to shop locally.
The market is open on Saturdays from 8AM-12PM, getting there early ensures that you get the freshest produce and the smallest crowds (but even if you’re a late riser, there is still a ton left to explore!). The market at Mariners Church is the largest one in the area. They have stalls ranging from colorful produce to baked goods, from fresh cut flowers to succulents and fruit trees; they also have boutiques selling women clothes, jewelry and home goods. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll be offered mouth-watering samples; it truly is a culinary experience! Even if your fridge is stocked, there’s bound to be something here that will peak your interest; maybe it’s a bag of kettle corn to Netflix and chill later or a green juice to detox your body from the night before.
Here are a few of my M U S T – H A V E S:
- Baba Foods: If you’re a fellow Anteater, you may recognize this staple! Every quarter at UCI, there was a farmer’s market featured on ring road and ‘the hummus man’ never failed to bring the crowd. Ten years later, witnessing him at a new location, I can’t say much has changed! This stall at the farmer’s market is always hustling and bustling with happy faces – mine included. With a warm greeting and a giant smile, the vendor always generously welcomes you with endless samples of his one-of-a-kind dips! He starts the introduction with the three-layer dip, then seaways into the garlic heaven which puts your senses into orgasmic overdrive. Its extremely hard to resist, especially when he run deals like 3 for $12 or 5 for $20! I can never go to the market and not stop by to refill my stash: mainly because it’s addicting, but mostly because my boyfriend, otherwise known as roommate, eats about a tub a day… Our favorites are the dips, but Baba Foods is well known for their hummus. There are so many different varieties and you can taste test everything; it would be impossible to leave without finding something you like. They sell vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items here! My weekly go-to order includes 2 tubs of Garlic Heaven Dip and one tub of Spicy Garlic Dip. Then on days when I’m treating myself – I add in the Three Layer Dip or Spicy Harissa Hummus.
- Arnett Farms: is my happy place! It’s the spot I take my friends to when introducing them to the Irvine Farmer’s Market. The fruits they sell change with the season, however the beautiful array of varieties and aesthetically pleasing display remains the same. Looking for stone fruit? You’ll find ten varieties of peaches and nectarines you didn’t even know existed here! They have the largest selection of pluots I have ever seen, and when it’s citrus season, expect to get blinded by all the different shades of yellow and orange. One thing about me, is that I love fruits, probably as much as I love life. I could go on and on about them, and trust me – Arnett has em, but it would be remiss of me to not mention the center piece of their stall – which is the large display of dried fruits, jams, nuts and nut butters. Pistachios and almonds – shelled, whole, buttered, salted, unsalted – you name it, they’ve got it! The best part, which is probably also their best marketing strategy: you can taste everything before committing to buy! Come for a snack, leave with the entire store – I don’t know about you, but starting to get major Target feels.
- Petaluma Creamery: brings all the boys to the yard, damn right – better than yours, grocery stores. Just kidding – I can’t speak for all the boys but it for sure does bring my boy to the yard. My boyfriend loves the cheese here, but he lives for the butter! They have a huge range of cheddar, Asiago, Gouda and pepper jack cheeses. They also carry cheese curds for all you poutine lovers who’s looking for a DIY at home. The European style butter that we stock up on is creamy, organic, and suitable for baking, cooking, and even licking. The best part – and I’m sure you can guess since all my favorite places have this in common, is that YES, you can sample all the things! Try visiting and leaving empty handed – I dare you.
- Flower Shop: to prove that I don’t have just a one-track mind solely dedicated to food, I have made this conscious decision to add in my favorite flower shop! I don’t know the exact name, but this stall is located towards the front entrance on Bonita Canyon and they carry seasonal flowers of all different colors. They are affordable and would make for a great gift, a pick-me-up, or a just-because purchase. I love the way fresh flowers brighten up a room; with this one time purchase you can enjoy the perks for the week(s) to come. Make sure you ask the vendor how to keep your blooms as fresh as possible once you bring them home. The daisies I bought the last time I was here lasted a whole month with minimal wilting! I was mind-boggled. A #nganstoptip I’ll leave you with is: bring your man with you to this stall, gush over the flowers, talk about how beautiful they are; if you’ve got a good one who’s feeling generous, you might get your bouquet free of charge.
Below is a list other note-worthy finds – I don’t stop by all the time, but I never regret when I do:
- Tamale Lady: a lot of variety, including vegan options! You can buy hot/ready to eat tamales or frozen ones. Frozen comes in a pack of 3. My favorite vegan flavor is the mushroom one!
- Calpoly Produce (I think?): I don’t remember the exact name, but they sell one of the cheapest produces at the market. I love getting pomelo here! Cash only.
- Keto Coffee: my friend Kelly introduced me to this and although I’m not a coffee drinker, I was a fan. Coffee is creamy and coconutty. The stall hand makes a lot of coconut-based products and they are all delicious! They also offer free samples.
- Nuoc Mia (Sugarcane): This is a relatively new segment added to my usual routine. The stall sells sugarcane mixed with other natural additives. My go-to drink is sugarcane with kumquat. #Nganstoptip: get no ice if you want more juice.
- Yellow Bakery: I don’t know the name but you won’t miss this bakery. It’s netted and has a yellow roof. It’s the largest one at the market and there is usually a line. Everyone queues up to get their baked goods ranging from croissants, tarts, baguettes, etc.
- Lily’s Eggs: it’s been a while since I’ve splurged on eggs like this, but they were definitely the best eggs I’ve ever had. Sprout fed chicken eggs with deep orange/red yolks. They also sell duck eggs!
- Don’t be afraid to shop around. If you’re not in a hurry, walk around the market and take note of what you want, the price, and the freshness. Sometimes the first things you see aren’t the cheapest or the best. I found my go-to strawberry stall doing this! The berries were big and red, sweet, and cost $10 for a pack of 3 compared to other stalls selling for $15!
- Go with friends! The farmer’s market is littered with great finds, cute shops and food trucks. My friend Kelly and I have a weekend tradition of working out together, then hitting up the Farmer’s Market after. It’s a wholesome activity that gives you time to catch up with each other. I love suggesting farmer’s market hang outs… is that odd?
- Bring your own reusable bags. Most market vendors will have bags for you, but to help reduce the plastic in the world, I urge you to bring your own. I have a cute netted bag I bought on a trip to Vietnam, but there are similar ones you can find on Amazon. I recently purchased a customized market tote on Etsy by ModernVintageMarket and I absolutely adore it. If saving the Earth isn’t enough motivation. A cute picture for the ‘gram might do the trick.