(Tribune Media Services) -- Have your kids ever seen a cranberry bean?
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
We've never seen so much luscious -- and unusual -- produce in one place -- 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 Farmers Market on San Francisco's wharf.
It's a California certified farmers 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 and Saturdays.
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 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. There's even Far West Fungi, devoted to mushrooms, and Hog Island Oyster Company, 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!
Here's the place to buy California olive oil, Mexican tamales and salsas made locally, flowers and plants from Sonoma, even California farmed caviar 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. Since the farmers market is open all year, you can visit whenever you're in San Francisco, says Dave Stockdale from the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.
In the summer, there may be up to 75 farmers and 30 vendors on hand. 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?)
"This is the real thing," says David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms.
"We think it is important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how it is grown," adds Stockdale. 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. It was front-page news recently when the White House announced that a new organic garden -- the first White House vegetable garden since World War II -- would provide food for the first family. Everyone in the first family, including the president, she said, will pull weeds.
At a time when childhood obesity is a growing concern, the most important goal, Mrs. Obama told The New York Times, will be to educate children about the pluses of eating healthful, local fruits and vegetables.
However, if you can't have a garden where you live, visit a farmers market where you travel. At a farmers 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 farmers 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 some 5,369 places to eat, more per capita than any other city, San Francisco officials boast. The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, in fact, has just launched a new "taste" micro site and blog for foodies.
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.
Kids eat free on Sundays at Fior d'Italia, which claims to be the country's oldest Italian restaurant. If parents want to take the Napa Valley wine train, take the kids along for free on family fun night. While the kids are entertained, parents can relax with good eats and good wine.
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.
We joined the tourists eating seafood at Neptune's Palace on Pier 39. Stop in at the Aquarium of the Bay, dedicated to the sea life that lives right here. Walk through a tunnel with sardines and sharks swimming above you. While you're at Pier 39 spend some time ogling the sea lions that live on the rocks. It won't cost you a penny and may be the best show in town.
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.
I love that San Francisco is affordable (you can find hotel rooms for $100 or less these days, like the family fun package at the new Hotel Americania, where kids get jelly bellys on check-in, rates start at $89 a night and all ages can enjoy memorable eats and sites.
Alcatraz anyone? Pick up a CityPass to save big bucks on attractions and museums or just enjoy some outdoor fun -- play in the sand, ride bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, fly a kite in Golden Gate Park.
Pick up the fixings for a picnic at the farmers market and go out and eat lunch watching the bobbing sailboats. Don't forget the cupcakes -- Kara's Cupcakes is right in Ghiradelli Square.
I can vouch for the red velvet.
(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)
Copyright 2009 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.