Tampa Bay's best outdoor markets open for business

Fall is in full swing in the Tampa Bay region, which means that farmers market season is officially upon us.

To help you get your hands on the best local food, art and handmade goodies around, we’ve sized up the best outdoor markets the area has to offer.

Saturday Morning Market at the Downtown St. Pete Waterfront
 
Hours of operation: Saturdays from October to May: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Easily one of the largest outdoor markets in the area, the Saturday Morning Market typically draws a crowd of about 10,000. And diversity reigns supreme at this bustling pseudo-town square.

According to Market Director Mark Johnson, you’re as likely to see tattoos and blue hair and dreadlocks, as you are families out with their dogs. He also says that market visitors regularly come in from as far as New Port Richey, Lakeland and Venice.

“People coming from Venice are bypassing the Sarasota Farmers Market, which is the next best market in the Tampa Bay area,” says Johnson. “And they’re a great market, but the vibe there isn’t anywhere near the vibe at the St. Pete Market.”

According to Johnson, the city is in early talks about possibly converting a large area parking lot into a plaza to serve as the market’s permanent home. If eventually approved, the plan would double the market’s physical footprint and allow it to accommodate another 5,000 to 10,000 people. 

Tampa Downtown Market

Hours of operation: Every third Sunday from October to May: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Like most outdoor markets, the Tampa Downtown Market touts live music, locally grown produce, gourmet foods and sauces, and plenty of organic and gluten-free options. So what sets it apart? A high-exposure new location on Ashley Drive. Nestled alongside Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the new locale is also right below Kiley Gardens.

According to Angela Ruth, Director of Marketplace Development with the Tampa Downtown Partnership, this year’s market is sure to attract foodies, artisans and families alike.

“We’re a live, work and play city, so of course we want to attract residents who live all over the urban core, but also visitors to downtown who want to find something local and unique to Tampa that they can bring back home,” says Ruth.

Dunedin Downtown Market 

Hours of operation: Fridays and Saturdays from November to June: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Perhaps the biggest draw of this Pinellas county market is its operating days. (It’s rare for a seasonal market to open its doors twice a week.) It seems fitting that it’s located right off Dunedin’s famously quaint Main Street, which only adds to the market’s small-town feel.

“The setting for the market is beautiful and shaded by big oak trees,” says Laura Swanson, owner and operator of Swanson Soapworks.

Swanson, who is entering her second season at the Dunedin Downtown Market, makes handcrafted, all-natural soaps. She travels all the way from North Tampa to set up shop in Dunedin because the market draws visitors who continue to buy her soaps again and again.

“The Dunedin market attracts the customers I’m targeting,” says Swanson. “And they’re all so happy! They come to my booth and are just so excited to pick up their soaps once a month.”

The proximity to John L. Lawrence Pioneer Park only adds to the market’s charm.

Gulfport Tuesday Morning Fresh Market
 
Hours of operation: October to May: 9 am to 3 pm, June to September: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If it’s more of a funky, artsy feel you’re after, be sure to check out Gulfport’s Tuesday Fresh Market. The vendors represent a mix of traditional booths you’d expect to find at a farmers market, along with others that are a bit more on the unusual side. (Think glassblowers on the street and knife-sharpening demonstrations.) Set up on a tree-lined street that’s within walking distance of the water, it definitely has an old Florida feel. The market’s unique operating day also sets it apart.
 
“Now that tourist season is coming, the fact that we’re on a Tuesday is huge – nobody else is on a Tuesday,” says Market Co-Manager Chris Spencer. “It’s something for them to do on a weekday when the other markets aren’t running.”

Gulfport offers up everything from original art, spices, candles, fresh-baked bread and gourmet cotton candy. Visitors will also be hard-pressed to find pushy vendors. On the contrary, many of them actually work together.

“When we’re selling our goods and find that another vendor is going to sell something that’s complimentary, we send the customer over to take a look at their things,” says Kristen Motulewicz, one of the market’s vendors. “It’s just a wonderfully supportive environment.”

Motulewicz and her husband own a small, artisan coffee roasting company called Blazing Bean Roasters. Since joining the Tuesday Fresh Market in the spring, she says she can’t think of another market she’d rather go to.

Downtown Bradenton Farmers Market
 
Hours of operation: Every Saturday from October 4 to May 30: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

In downtown Bradenton, the local farmers market is run by an arts organization called Realize Bradenton. The result? Market events that have more of an educational feel. 

Visitors can expect to see interactive art programs and tons of family-friendly activities. For example, the market recently teamed up with the South Florida Museum to host a fossil dig. A comics convention called Mana-Con is also scheduled for the end of the month.

In terms of fresh food and handcrafted wares, there’s no shortage of either at this market. Over 35 vendors are on site selling fresh, local seafood, hydroponically grown greens, unique crafts and more. In that sense, it’s very much a traditional farmers market. Johnette Isham, Executive Director of Realize Bradenton, says the market is designed to attract everyone from millenials to regional folks.

“Realize Bradenton puts a high premium on attracting and retaining millenials to live, work and play downtown,” says Isham. “We’re also interested in attracting residents who want to not only buy local fresh produce and food products, but also partake in all the creativity of local creative talent, arts and craftspeople.”
 
Ybor City Saturday Market
 
Hours of operation: October to April: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., May to September: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This market stands out for a lot of reasons. For starters, it’s a self-proclaimed gift market.

“A lot of other markets in the Tampa Bay area focus heavily on produce and food items,” says Market Director Lynn Schultz. 

While the Ybor City Market certainly features gourmet foods, its main focus is on items that represent the local area, like cigars, for example.

“The clientele we attract are primarily tourists since we’re in the historic district of Ybor City,” says Schultz. “People take the street car from the cruise ships and shop at the markets, so we try to offer things that they’re able to take back home with them.”

This is precisely why the items that are available at the market must be handcrafted and produced by local entrepreneurs. 

Even so, the market’s food items are equally appealing. For lemon pound cake and bourbon banana bread with a homemade taste, be sure to stop by The Happy Baker. (You won’t be disappointed.)

Marianne Hayes is a writer, wife, mother and bookworm in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. You can read about her adventures in motherhood on her blog, With Kids in Hand. Twitter: @HayesMarianne. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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