There are few spots in Los Angeles that so well encapsulate the city’s virtues: its vibrancy, its eclecticism, its multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything happy hodgepodge. But The Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax, which opened in July 1934, is all of those things, not to mention a delicious place to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner. Consequently, it’s a must for anyone visiting Los Angeles and is beloved by locals too.
Before 3rd and Fairfax was home to Farmers Market, the property was a dairy farm. Then oil was discovered and the cows gave way to oil derricks. By the time the Great Depression hit, large-scale drilling was not permitted on the Mid-City property. So in 1934, two entrepreneurs had an idea to invite local farmers to park their trucks on the property for a small fee and sell fresh produce to the public; it was a hit. So much so that soon, permanent storefronts were erected for the farmers.
A few of the many famous visitors to the Farmers Market over the years include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Temple. James Dean is said to have eaten breakfast at the market on Sept. 30, 1955, the day of his fatal car accident.
When most people picture a farmers market, they think of a temporary outdoor market with rows of stalls selling produce. While you can pick up some beautiful fruits and veggies here, there is much more to the Farmers Market than fruit stands. The bustling Market features more than 100 specialty shops, produce stands, food vendors and sit-down restaurants. And most of the Market is covered, so it’s open rain or shine. Parking is free in the Farmers Market lot for two hours with purchase validation from one of the Market merchants.
Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts is popular for a quick a.m. bite. The golden, oversized cinnamon rolls and the crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside apple fritters are especially finger licking good. Another good option on the sweet side: a buttery, twice-baked hazelnut croissant from Short Cake, which also makes some very respectable espresso drinks.
For a more substantial sit-down breakfast, there’s Du-par’s. The traditional buttermilk pancakes are some of the city’s best. The omelets are fit for a lumberjack and come with crisp, golden hash browns. And if you need your breakfast fix in the middle of the night, not to worry - Du-par's is open 24 hours.
Kip’s Toyland is a longtime market favorite. They carry a selection of the popular Ty brand stuffed animals as well as oldies but goodies such as Adams prank snapping gum and rubber pencils and Mad Libs. Crafty types should make a beeline for Sticker Planet with its rows and rows of stickers of popsicles, tropical fish, skeletons, planets - you name it. “The litmus test for our store is, ‘If it sticks, we can sell it,’” says owner Richard Kraft.
There’s a reason there’s often a line at Pampas Grill. The meat they slice off the spits at this Brazilian churrasceria is everything you want in a piece of beef: juicy, full flavored and expertly seasoned with a perfectly charred crust. The spicy chicken is great too. Add a couple of cheese rolls, some garlic-flecked collard greens and a can of refreshing Guarana soda.
Loteria Grill is also excellent. When Jimmy Shaw opened the modest stand a dozen plus years ago, he introduced many Angelenos to a type of Mexican food that was new to them: hearty guisos (stews) of chicken or pork that can be ladled over sopes or tucked into burritos. And when we’re craving the funky flavors of New Orleans - that’s funky good - the Gumbo Pot delivers with their gumbo, jambalaya and po’ boys, best with a side of cool, crunchy, shredded sweet potato salad.
Everyone knows about Tabasco and Tapatio. But how about Scorpion’s Sting or Blair’s Sweet Death Sauce? The shelves at Light My Fire are filled with just one thing: hot sauce. Hot sauce for the most macho and hot sauce for the more tender tongued, some with names that can’t be printed here.
A relative newcomer to the market, Naomi and Lavender specializes in easy-to-wear boho chic styles. Think flowy dresses, woven leather belts and that elusive, perfect hat.
Live music will fill the air every Friday night this summer from 7 to 9 p.m. The fun begins Memorial Day weekend when Beatles tribute band, The Four Fabs with Ed Sullivan takes the stage on the West Patio next to E.B.’s Beer and Wine (one of several spots to enjoy an adult beverage at the market), and continues through August 28. Dancing is encouraged and children are welcome. Best of all, the shows are free. Mark your calendar for salsa king Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad on July 31 and the California Feetwarmers’ brand of New Orleans style jazz on August 7.
Other special events include the annual Gilmore Heritage Auto Show. This year’s extravaganza, taking place Saturday, June 6 will showcase nearly 100 vehicles and honors the 60th anniversary of the Ford Thunderbird. Embark on a culinary adventure at the Taste of Farmers Market (July 14) and enjoy delicious food from more than 50 great Market shops for one great price. The annual Fall Festival (October 17-18) features plenty of boot scootin’ live music, a petting zoo, craft making and an always-entertaining pie eating contest. And of course, the holidays are always a magical time of year at Farmers Market, thanks to festive decor, a menorah lighting ceremony, and a line-up of Christmas crafts and live entertainment.
There is something mesmerizing about watching the freshly ground peanut butter go round and round as it flows out of the shiny metal grinder at Magee’s House of Nuts. The small jars make great gifts. Another must is Littlejohn’s English Toffee House where the specialty is - you guessed it - toffee. Made on the premises, the toffee is crisp and super buttery. You can buy it in sticks. But we prefer the traditional slab variety enrobed in milk chocolate and finished with crunchy, crushed almonds. Almond Roca has nothing on Littlejohn’s.