As farmers markets go, Columbia's Soda City Market has all the usual fresh-from-the-field offerings, a colorful cornucopia of zucchini, peppers, collards and corn handpicked in season and beautifully displayed in baskets and bins.
But far more than just a showcase for South Carolina's homegrown produce, this weekly downtown event has blossomed into a full-blown festival stretching three city blocks along Main Street with some 150 vendors, street musicians and food trucks.
Thousands of local residents and visitors turn out every Saturday for the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. family-friendly affair, styled after Europe's traditional street markets. Everything sold - from stone-cut oats and free-range chicken to wood-turned bowls and natural soap - is handcrafted or produced in South Carolina.
Come hungry. With dozens of food purveyors lining both sides of the street, you'll be tempted to eat your way through the market. A virtual international food fest, the cuisine includes dishes from Venezuela, Costa Rica, Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, Greece, India, Iran, France and Germany.
Most of the food, including crepes, paella, arepas, fajitas and biryani, is cooked on site, enticing patrons with mouthwatering aromas. Samples are handed out generously so you can explore culinary flavors from around the world.
For the health-conscious, options include locally brewed kombucha, smoothies, super fruit bowls and avocado toast topped with delectable combinations of veggies, eggs and herbs. You'll also find an assortment of goodies to satisfy your sweet tooth, including cookies, cheesecake, cupcakes, donuts, funnel cake and dessert hummus.
There are plenty of homegrown foods to take home, too: Carolina rice, corn grits, hot sauces and peppers, boiled peanuts, infused oils and balsamic vinegars, honey, pasta and jams and jellies.
Browsing through the eclectic collection of artwork, pottery, jewelry and crafts, multicultural cuisine and array of natural, skin-soothing products, it's easy to see why Soda City has been billed an event for the brain, belly and body.
Originally called All Locals Farmers Market, the produce exchange started on a rainy day in November 2005 at Gervais & Vine restaurant with six vendors and 225 customers. Years later, it was renamed Soda City - a take-off on Columbia's postal abbreviation of "Cola" - and moved to the 1300-1500 blocks of Main Street.
Today, as many as 7,000 people (plus assorted four-legged companions) attend Soda City most Saturdays. On special event weekends, attendance can jump to 10,000. With some 600 vendors in its database, Soda City Market keeps its fresh appeal, offering a different selection of foods and products every week.
Street parking in downtown Columbia is free on Saturdays, but be prepared to walk a block or two to reach the market. Parking garages also are available on Lady and Taylor streets.
To learn more about Soda City Market, click here.