Northern Bounty

Skip the L.A. markets and head for Santa Barbara

The Central Valley may be the nation's breadbasket, but those who frequent the Los Angeles farmers' markets know that Ventura and Santa Barbara counties also contend for that title.

As such, we expected to find some familiar stock when we recently visited Santa Barbara's Saturday market. Indeed, McGrath Family Farm and Tutti Frutti were both there, but it was the bountiful displays of a few unfamiliar growers that stole our dollars.

From nearly six-foot-tall scepters of elephant garlic ($2.50) to Gravenstein apples grown near Lompoc, we picked up a number of items not found south of the Ventura County line (click here to see our market slide show).

Best of all were the dry-farmed tomatoes (pictured; $3 a pound) from Los Olivos Organic Farm. The plants that bore these fruits drank only the Santa Barbara rains, creating astonishingly concentrated flavor.

After your market shopping, drop by the well-stocked C'est Cheese, where you can buy Andante Dairy's ash-rubbed Acapella goat cheese ($10) and a variety of other milky creations, domestic and imported alike.

Bring along a knife and some salt, and a makeshift beach picnic of cheese, tomatoes and Gravensteins is just a few blocks and a few slices away–or fill up on tacos at La Super-Rica (622 N. Milpas St; 805-963-4940) before heading home.