There's just something about the Aptos Farmers Market that makes getting out of bed early on a Saturday morning totally worth it.
It's a feeling that lasts all weekend, and sometimes into Wednesday, when you eat the last of your local peaches, standing over the sink because they're so juicy.
The picturesque market, neatly spaced out among three tiers of the Cabrillo College parking lot, shrouded by eucalyptus trees and sea air, has attracted quite a following of regulars.
The Aptos Market won first place for California's Favorite Farmers Market, and ninth in the nation for America's Favorite Farmers Market. (See the results for the top five markets by state HERE.)
"It's the 'Grand Daddy' of markets in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties," said Catherine Barr, the Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets, who has been the market manager for the past twenty years.
Thirty-seven may be young for a grandfather, but in farmers market years, that's old and sacred. In 1976, the Aptos Market became the first farmers market in both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Today, it remains one of the oldest and largest markets, with 80 vendors.
For the past 20 years, Barr has arrived at the Cabrillo College parking lot around 5:15 a.m. on Saturday mornings, just before the trucks begin to roll in. Like many who shop there, she's developed relationships with all of the vendors and made good friends that she sees there every week. She calls it a community inside a community.
"We have fantastic customers who come back week after week and support us," said Barr. "They're foodies. They really know what they're getting and if they don't they'll ask. And there's such a variety to choose from so if they don't like one vendor's they can try another."
It's precisely for that reason that farmer Ronald Donkervoort of Windmill Farm loves the Aptos market.
"This is my best market of the four that I sell at each week. As a farmer I love coming to sell my food here. At this market I get more appreciation and understanding for what I do than at any other market," said Donkervoort, who has been farming Windmill Farm for some 40 years and began selling at the Aptos Market seven years ago.
The tourists and UCSC students that swarm the downtown market are not part of the Aptos market scene.
"It's such an established customer base, people that come every week and they've been coming every week for 30 years. It definitely has the community feel," said Johnny Wilson of Fogline Farms.
Fogline Farms joined the Aptos Market just one year ago, and realized just how close knit the customer base was. Wilson said their own customer base at the market is "starting to grow."
On the third Saturday of every month, the Aptos Farmers Market offers a free class series called "Can you Dig It!"—lifestyle and gardening workshops taught by master gardeners in the Monterey Bay. Check out the full schedule of classes.
Are you a fan of the Aptos market? Is it the best in California? What's your favorite thing about it? Tell us in the comments!