If you’re wondering what the current local food and drinks scene is like in the Golden State, the hack is to visit the best California markets and food halls. Up and down the state, these culinary hubs feature a trifecta of local producers, makers, and restaurateurs, a multi-cultural mix of eateries, and deep ties to the region’s agricultural roots.
Eleven Best California Markets And Food Halls
From historic markets dating back a century to newer food hubs born from historical buildings and more, we’re diving into some of California’s best year-round markets and food halls from Napa to San Diego and everywhere in between. First, let’s start in NorCal and the San Francisco bay area and work our way south. And note we’re talking permanent markets, though we’ve got you covered on California farmers’ markets too.
Northern California Markets
These NorCal markets boast historical charm, and food finds from several local producers and makers.
Oxbow Public Market, Napa
Opened in 2007, Oxbow Public Market was one of several significant players (along with its culinary institute neighbor) in revitalizing downtown Napa. Here you can eat and shop locally from local food vendors, farmers, and producers. For example, Loveski, a Jewish deli, Hudson Greens & Goods’ organic groceries and pantry items, classic burgers, and strawberry milkshakes from Gott’s (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher.)
You can also shop for salts, seasonings, specialties like bee pollen, ceremonial Matcha from Whole Spice, books, and wine and cheese. Virtually all vendors sell or produce organic or sustainably-produced food and food products.
One of the market’s most stunning features is the outdoor deck on the Napa River. The other cool thing is that in the 1930s, part of the 40,000-square-foot market was a former tire shop and garage. And if you’re east of Napa, check out The Bank food hall in Sacramento for more eats in a beautifully reclaimed bank.
Oxbow Public Market, 610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559
Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco
The Ferry Building Marketplace along San Francisco Embarcadero is another of our favorite California markets. It’s packed with local and regional food stalls from a Hog Island Oyster Company outpost to gluten-free pastries from Mariposa Baking Company and El Porteño’s Argentinian empanadas. There are also places to get wine, coffee, tea, ceramics, and olive oils.
A certified farmers market pops up on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and sells fresh local fruits and veggies, herbs, bread, cheese, flowers, and more. The historic Ferry Building hosts cooking demos and classes, weekly wellness programming like Vinyasa yoga classes, and a makers marketplace. At one point during the Gold Rush and through the 1930s, travelers arriving by ferry could only access San Francisco after passing through the building, which opened in 1898.
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94105
La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, San Francisco
La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco’s Tenderloin is unique as it’s the first women-led food hall in the country, which launched from its incubator kitchen program for women entrepreneurs. It’s also an ideal place to taste the world with Algerian dishes from Kayma to Boug Cali for West Coast-inspired soul food, to Senegalese dishes from Teranga, like maafe (a peanut stew.) La Paloma bar does drinks, including seasonal cocktails such as the Berry Me in Mint, a spin on the classic mojito with Elderflower liqueur and blueberry and blackberry syrup.
The space also hosts occasional pop-up dining events, cooking classes, and more. One thing to note about La Cocina Municipal Market is it’s somewhat temporary until 2028, when the city plans to move forward with other plans for the space, so all the more reason to visit ASAP.
La Cocina Municipal Marketplace, 101 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Public Market Emeryville, Emeryville
Emeryville is a tiny city sandwiched between Berkeley and Oakland after crossing the Bay Bridge from San Francisco (officially named the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.) Its Public Market has 18 diverse eateries serving hot foods from Caribbean and Puerto Rican spots like Calypso Rose Kitchen, sushi, bento boxes, donburi rice bowls from Naru Sushi, and Peruvian street food from Paradita Eatery.
Live music happens some Fridays, and during major sports events, the place will bust out its two giant TV screens. The market also has a yoga studio and a nail place, so it’s possible to spend a half-day here easily. Eat in the market, grassy area, or at picnic tables nearby at Christie Avenue Park. For more green space, the Emeryville Greenway is a pedestrian- and bike path that connects the city to parts of Berkeley and Oakland.
Public Market Emeryville, 5959 Shellmound St, Emeryville, CA 94608
Central California Markets
Some of the best food markets in Central California are found along its coastal parts.
Paso Market Walk, Paso Robles
Visiting Paso Robles in Central California likely means checking out its fantastic wine scene. As of 2020, Paso Market Walk is our favorite stop for local foods and specialty food products from local producers and makers.
There are upscale bites from places like Momotoro Ramen, FINCA’s California-inspired Mexican dishes served in a former Victorian home from 1890, plus plant-based cheese from The Vreamery and organic fresh produce from Templeton Valley Farms. Wine events with local winemakers and food pairings also occur on the reg—no RSVP necessary.
Market Walk also has The Loft, six rooms, and suites with an urban country feel for overnight visitors. Before it became a foodie haven, Market Walk was an abandoned nursery for many years.
Paso Market Walk, 1803 Spring St, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Santa Barbara Public Market
The Santa Barbara Public Market opened on the perimeter of downtown in 2014. In addition to the eats and sips on Victoria Street, the downtown Santa Barbara farmers market, and the Funk Zone, it’s one of our favorite food destinations in town.
Depending on our cravings, we might go for Thai street food from Empty Bowl, ceviche from Corazon Cocina, or an ice cream scoop (or two) from Rori’s Artisanal Creamery. There’s also pizza, coffee, and wine from Valley to the Sea Winery, featuring varietals grown in the Santa Ynez Valley from Viognier to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W Victoria St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Southern California Markets
These are our favorite food markets from Los Angeles to San Diego.
Grand Central Market
Foodies visiting LA know that Downtown LA’s historic Grand Central Market is a temple to the region’s food makers and producers and has deep connections to the region’s diverse immigrant communities. It originally opened in 1917 (as such, making it one of the oldest California markets) and took up the entire ground floor of the Beaux Arts-style building it’s still in.
The Market is a mix of legacy vendors like China Cafe (for egg foo yung, fried rice, and more), Roast To Go (tacos and burritos), and vegetables from Torres Produce. Newcomers and soon-to-be-classics include Broad Street Oyster Co.’s lobster sandwiches and fresh seafood from fishermen in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, Wexler’s Deli’s house-cured meats and fish, Eggslut’s breakfast sandwiches, and G&B’s coffee drinks. There is also a location of McConnell’s Ice Cream, which is on our list of Los Angeles dessert spots worth the hype.
Grand Central Market, 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Original Farmers Market
As one of the most visited spots in Los Angeles, the Original Farmers Market within The Grove is practically obligatory during an L.A. vacation. Yes, it gets packed Saturday mornings and in the afternoon most days, but there’s much to love about this historic place which has been around since 1934.
This lively California market has it all: Live music, produce, cookies and other baked goods, seafood, and meats, to specialty shops, including Bennett’s ice cream, pickles from Kaylin + Kaylin, and toasted nuts from Magee’s. There are also classic diners like Du-Par’s for pancakes and pies and contemporary restaurants like Monsieur Marcel Bistro for steak frites and gourmet and hard-to-find French ingredients and products from chocolate to caviar. Relative newcomers include Singapore’s Banana Leaf, Fritzi Coop for hot chicken sandwiches, and Nonna’s Empanadas. And while there is a bit of shopping at the market, most people head next door to The Grove for that.
Original Farmers Market, 6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Smorgasburg Los Angeles
When the historic wholesale Alameda Produce market (opened in 1917) in downtown LA closes for the weekend, Smorgasburg takes over its five-acre outdoor space. It hosts 100 rotating food vendors that celebrate the region’s diversity. Food ranges from dumplings from Cali Dumplings and BBQ ribs from Black Sugar Rib Co. one week, Okinawan onigiri and musubis from Mama Musubi, and Filipino food from Mano Po the next.
You can also browse clothing, accessories, home goods like soy candles from RxCandle, and vintage-inspired designs by Shop Astrior. Add live music and a family-friendly beer garden, and you have a sorted afternoon in DTLA. The market is now part of Row DTLA’s city within a city of sorts, with indie shops and restaurants housed in several converted historical buildings. At one point in history, virtually all goods arriving via the Southern Pacific Railroad stopped here before passing through the region.
Smorgasburg at The ROW DTLA, 777 S Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Anaheim Packing District
What used to be a bunch of citrus storage and processing buildings from the 1920s is now a walkable foodie village in Anaheim. It started with the two-story Anaheim Packing House food hall in 2014 in a former Sunkist orange processing facility—one of the last of its kind in Orange County. It’s since expanded to several other buildings where you’ll want to make time for brunch, dinner, or a vegetarian tasting menu at Poppy & Seed, wine and spirits at BXCR, El Chamango’s Mexican antojitos (snacks), Thai food at White Elephant, and more.
If you’re spending more time in Orange County, be sure also to check out smaller food halls like The OC Mix (home to one of our favorite Orange County restaurants, Taco Maria), The Camp (don’t miss Blackmarket Bakery), and Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market (where our friend Delilah has the must-visit shop, Alta Baja Market).
Anaheim Packing District, 440 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805
Liberty Public Market
Liberty Public Market in Point Loma in San Diego County is a fun place to find all kinds of eats and treats, from Filipino rice bowls at White Rice, empanadas from Paraná, to local Hawaiian plate lunches from Chris’ Ono Grinds and acai bowls at Pure. Bottlecraft serves up craft beer and wine, plus to-go bottles and cans. Shopping for edible souvenirs like honeycomb, olive oils, and infused vinegar happens at Baker & Olive. As you wander around the bustling food hall, shoppers can peruse jewelry, vinyl records, and coastal-inspired clothing.
There’s some seating inside, though most people try to find a semi-shaded spot at the tables outside. Liberty Public Market is part of the sprawling Liberty Station district, which used to be the Naval Training Center when it opened in 1923. It has even more restaurants, fitness studios, art galleries, and the like, so spending an entire afternoon here is easy.
Liberty Public Market at Liberty Station, 2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
Explore More California Markets
The truth is that these are just a few of the many noteworthy markets across the Golden State. If you’re searching for a specialty food store or food hall in California, reach out, and we’ll help you sort out the best! Otherwise, head to our friends at California Grown if you’re searching for must-visit California farm stands.
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Photo Credit: Oxbow market photo and Ferry Building Farmers Market photo by James Kirkikis; Santa Barbara Public Market photo by Darryl Brooks; Grand Central Market photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash; Smorgasburg Los Angeles photo by Lee A Wong