Finding the best grocery stores in the USA took a bit of travel. In 2011, we traveled 20,000 miles across the USA, spanning 30 states and 9 months. We toured businesses, volunteered at non-profits, went on roller coasters and ferris wheels, visited more children's museums and science centers than the average person will see in a lifetime, and saw a whole lot of...grocery stores.
Since our mode of transportation was RV, we had a kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, and oven. We also had a mini Weber grill for outdoor cooking. As such, we cooked almost all of our meals.
In general, we noted that bigger cities have better grocery stores. Not a big surprise since more populous cities have the advantage of competition, innovation, and more spending power. Smaller towns tended to have "country store" style stores with high prices, less selection, and lower quality picks (organic, local, and freshly made items were harder to find).
After grocery shopping all across the country, there were three stores that stood out as examples of cleanliness, excellent design, product quality, and in-store amenities.
Without further ado, may I present the BEST grocery stores in the United States.
If I could transplant only one grocery store to my hometown, it would be exactly like the Central Market in Austin. The store has fresh, beautiful produce in every color, a decadent and overflowing bakery, an expansive beer & wine section, and better prices than Whole Foods. If you're looking for meal inspiration, you can register for a class (typically $10-$85/person) at the store's Cooking School. Plus, the store has a cafe on-site (the food is pretty good too!), a gelato bar, outdoor patio seating with live music, and a super fun playground. Kids can pay a quarter at the entrance to select a piece of fruit to eat in-store.
At 80,000 square feet, this flagship store is absolutely mammoth. Opened in 2005, the tone of the store matches the tone of the city - young, vibrant, artistic, upscale. There is a bounty of fresh produce, baked goods that will make your mouth water, a hefty bulk foods section, and an on-site butcher with fish & meat options. Touted as "America's Healthiest Grocery Store," Whole Foods Market has stricter standards than most grocery stores we visited. For example, you won't find ANY ice creams in the frozen section with high fructose corn syrup. Two thumbs up! Best of all, there are at least a half dozen on-site restaurants so you can eat + shop simultaneously. Parents will also appreciate the playground for the little ones. In the winter, the rooftop also converts to an ice skating rink! The only downside we saw was that parking was not for the timid driver. There didn't appear to be enough spots to match the number of shoppers. Traveling to Austin? Don't miss a visit to this grocer - even if you don't have any shopping to do.
Jungle Jim's website says that the store is "more than a grocery store, it's a destination!" I couldn't agree more! I thought Whole Foods was big, until we walked into this 200,000 square foot warehouse wonderland. It's so big that there are maps at the entrance. Though it doesn't hold the same "charm" as the two aforementioned stores, our kids were enthralled by the life size animal displays and the giant can of singing Campbell Soup. There were also sections of the store based on regions around the world with corresponding decor. We even made our way through Sherwood Forest and saw Robin Hood! If you enjoy beer and wine, you'll be stunned by the vast selection. The Jungle Jim's personnel recommend allotting 2-4 hours for your visit...and they're not joking. This is not the kind of place you swing by for milk and eggs. ;)
We also salute Trader Joe's for their cross-country consistency and Costco for their unique and delicious offerings (and their free samples!).
What is the best grocery store in your area? What amenities do you wish your neighborhood grocery store would offer?
Jungle Jim sounds like a fun trip to make! We only have sprouts here in Denver and whole foods. I think we are getting a Trader Joes down the road.
We don't have anything too fabulous here and it seems even slimmer pickings where we're moving to but I'm hoping there's something good to be found when we get out there. I hear everyone drives the 3 hours to Eugene to go to Trader Joe's!
BUT it sounds like you may have a house on the beach...and there's definitely something to be said for that! ;)
I love the 'kids pay a quarter for a piece of fruit' idea!
My favorite grocery store chain is Sprouts, but for perhaps the opposite reason that you listed your favorites. I love how *small* they are (much like Trader Joe's), that I can get in and out rather quickly, and if I forgot something on my list from the other side of the store, it doesn't take me 5 minutes to make the trek! I like that in spite of their smaller size, they have a wonderful variety of local or near-local produce.
I actually almost added Sprouts to my list. We love it for the great selection of fresh fruits & vegetables - at fantastic prices, to boot!
I also understand what you're saying about the advantages of smaller grocers, especially when shopping with small children. I prefer Sprouts and Trader Joe's to other shopping options in my city for precisely that reason.
The Whole Foods Flagship is about 100x nicer than our local Whole Foods Market. You wouldn't think they are the same company if you didn't know better.
So true. We need to visit more WFM locations around the country to see how they compare.
This is interesting. We have a Whole Foods within walking distance from our house but I rarely go there. Even though the quality of food is great, the store itself is very small and the prices are high. Plus the parking lot is a nightmare during the winter. I tend to choose Trader Joe's which is just a mile further. I think I get more bang for my buck without sacrificing quality. Like you, we also shop at Costco though probably only once every other month.
Great post, Stephanie! It's very interesting to see what other cities have for grocery options.
Sounds very similar to our nearest Whole Foods - very small and VERY pricey.
The Austin flagship store, however, really was outstanding in size, selection, ambiance, amenities, and quality of food.
Wishing I lived in Texas!
Yesterday our DIL went shopping to Costco and the grands rang us to see if they could come to our house. Our grandsons explained that they do not like shopping at Costco while our grand daughter exclaimed, I like going to Costco because they give you free food! She already knows!! LOL
We really enjoyed our weeks in the Texas Hill Country. Austin and San Antonio both have a very fun vibe.
Did you grow up in California?
I wish all grocery stores had playgrounds!
I agree! It's such a wonderful amenity for parents with young children. I like the idea of making grocery stores into "destinations" - with outdoor seating, wifi, eatery options, etc.
If you had ever lived in the south, or even visited and needed groceries, you would not have left PUBLIX off of your list. Their customer service is over the top. They have a huge variety of items and departments, extremely fresh produce and meats, great sales and promotions, clean stores, and they expect the best from their emloyees.
I live in NC (no Publix), but visit in the south often and thoroughly enjoy the Publix experience.
We spent time in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, etc. You're right that PUBLIX is a great grocery chain (though not quite as impressive as the three giants listed above). I would shop there in a heartbeat. It's actually very similar to the Fry's Marketplace in our area.
P.S. Which PUBLIX is your absolute favorite and why?