We've never seen so much luscious -- and unusual -- produce in one place. Have your kids ever seen a cranberry bean? There are heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, plums, big and tiny grapes, almonds and walnuts, various varieties of chili peppers, eggplants, potatoes, all kinds of apples.
Welcome to The Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market on San Francisco's wharf. It's a California Certified Farmer's Market that connects consumers with California producers (you have to be a farmer or a member of a farmer's family to sell your produce here). The market is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. One day when I visit, a group of school kids are running around trying to identify several varieties of apples (one grower has 60) and beans.
There are samples everywhere -- apples, dried fruit, nuts, delectable nut and chocolate concoctions. (How about bittersweet chocolate almond brittle?) There are cooking demonstrations focused on using seasonable and sustainable ingredients too and periodic tours to area farms.
The beautifully restored Ferry Building Marketplace, built in 1898, is a must see for foodies of all ages. There's Acme Bread, classic Italian gelato and Cowgirl Creamery Cheese. (A cheerful staff hands out all the samples we want!) There's even Far West Fungi devoted to mushrooms and Hog Island Oyster Company (www.hogislandoysters.com), overlooking the San Francisco Bay, where we ate first-rate chowder and the best grilled cheese sandwich my daughter, a grilled cheese aficionado, ever had -- four different cheeses!
At the farmers market in San Francisco's historic Ferry Plaza
Here's the place to buy California olive oil, Mexican tamales and salsas made locally, flowers and plants from Sonoma and handmade chocolates, Vietnamese soup, organic meat, Chinese tea...
But to me the real reason to bring kids here is the chance to connect with farmers who are glad to chat, giving out-of-towners the sense of exactly how those apples, beans and nuts get to your local grocery store. Seek out a farmers market wherever you are going this spring.
Since the farmer's market is open all year, you can visit whenever you're in San Francisco. On the day we visited, there were probably 30 to 40 farmers selling everything from honey to the most luscious looking tomatoes I'd ever seen. (Did you know there are more than 100 varieties of tomatoes sold here in summer and more than 200 varieties of stone fruits like plums and peaches?)
It's important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how it is grown, those who oversee the market believe. And that includes kids, so they can make better eating choices and perhaps try something new on a restaurant menu.
First lady Michelle Obama certainly thinks so -- from the White House organic garden, the first White House vegetable garden since World War II, to the campaign she is spearheading to fight childhood obesity. Eating healthier, of course, is a cornerstone of that effort.
At a farmer's market, kids can learn that food in season is more nutritious and tastes better because it is fresh. They can "eat greener" by opting for foods that are local rather than flown or trucked across the country.
At the San Francisco farmer's market, you can taste a kind of pear you've never seen or a Quince and ask the farmer how it's grown, and how you can cook it. Come early on a Saturday morning and you might see local chefs shopping for their restaurants; visiting kids may see what they'll see on menus later!
San Francisco, of course, has long been a Mecca for foodies -- there are more than 5,300 places to eat and the city's own micro "taste" site'.
But what everyone doesn't know is that junior foodies are just as welcome. Kids can watch bakers craft bread into alligators and crabs at the Boudin Museum and Bakery Tour, tasting San Francisco's sourdough bread afterward and learning a bit about the history of San Francisco, or be treated like VIPs at the historic Top of the Mark with its sweeping views at the venerable Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. Bring the kids for Sunday brunch. They can chow down on field greens, a four-ounce steak and mashed potatoes, finishing with a hot fudge sundae from the kids' menu at Lark Creek Steak in the downtown Westfield San Francisco Centre.
For dinner one night, we headed to Russian Hill -- no tourists here, though the cable car goes right by the Luella restaurant where the husband-and-wife team who own this place run Little Luella Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m., complete with Shirley Temples, fresh pasta or pizza and ice cream sundaes for dessert. By the way, the grown-up food was great, too, especially the restaurant's signature Coca-Cola-braised pork shoulder. Yum!
Another day, we headed to the historic Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant. The 20-somethings who joined me especially liked the handcrafted ale for lunch; younger kids will love the beach right outside. The restaurant is located just above Golden Gate Park. You'll also be treated to the wonderful '30s frescoes created by Lucien Labaudt as a WPA project. The kids will love trying to pick out all of the sites they've seen -- Fisherman's Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge.
No matter how picky your eaters, this is a city where they'll be inclined to try something new -- like Dim Sum in San Francisco's famous Chinatown, or take the kids to the hole-in-the-wall Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
Pick up the fixings for a picnic at the farmer's market and go out and eat lunch watching the bobbing sailboats. Don't forget the cupcakes -- Kara's Cupcakes known for using local ingredients is right in Ghiradelli Square.
I can vouch for the red velvet.
Eileen Ogintz interviews families and experts around the world for her widely syndicated column Taking the Kids ™ and is the creator of www.takingthekids.com She's written seven family travel books, most recently The Kid's Guide; NYC and The Kid's Guide: Cruising Alaska. For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com.