One of the great things about traveling is seeing things in other countries that it would be nice to have at home, things like arts funding, betel nut beauties, caning, compulsory voting, developed cycling infrastructure, elevenses, free state colleges, green roofs, gun control, pub culture, universal healthcare, pot cafés, salted licorice, and trains that travel faster than mobility scooters, to name a few. When I visited Taiwan a few years ago, I fell in love with night markets and it heartens me that they’re now starting to proliferate in Southern California. As an Angeleno who doesn’t particularly like our weather or the Hollywood superhero franchise factory, night markets are the sort of thing that make Los Angeles the place I choose to live.
For the unfamiliar, night markets are nighttime open air street markets in which crowds of food-loving urbanites stroll and eat and shop and eat. Having only been to ones in Taiwan I can only comment with personal experience on the ones there, where they sometimes occupy purpose-built marketplaces but even more often occupy streets and thus resemble nocturnal open streets events, like a ciclovia with a focus on stinky tofu rather than cycling. They’re quite popular in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and especially Taiwan. Since the Los Angeles area just happens to have the largest Cambodian, Korean, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese communities outside of their respective homelands, it’s natural that night markets would flourish here.
As far as I know, the first American night market was San Francisco‘s intermittent Chinatown Night Market Fair, which I believe was inaugurated in 2001. Soon after, however, the nascent American night market seen migrated to Los Angeles, the world’s great pan-Asian city. Ideally, night markets are tightly interwoven into the fabric of a city, not placed in the suburban Oort Cloud. They also function better as regular occurrences than special events. Although few are thus far placed in accessible areas or occur more than a few times a year, they’ve nonetheless reached the point where it’s hard to keep them all straight. So for that reason, and because summer is night market season, and in recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, here’s my guide to Southern California’s night markets.
D6 NIGHT MARKET
The D6 Night Market was inaugurated in 2015, at San Diego‘s Mira Mesa Community Park, in the Mira Mesa neighborhood. It’s served by several lines of San Diego’s MTS buses but is very far from any train stations. It returned on 21 May 2016 and admission was again free.
DTLA NIGHT MARKET (one-off event)
DTLA Night Market was held at a parking lot near Staples Center, within a block of stops on Metro‘s Blue, Expo, and Silver lines, making it arguably the most integrated into the urban fabric of all Southern California night markets, thus far, but sadly, a one-off event. Specific efforts were made with DTLA Night Market to appeal to non-Latinos, not just by featuring more Anglo and Latino vendors, but by banning stinky tofu! It was held on 20 and 21 June, 2014.
INDONESIAN NIGHT MARKET/PASAR MALAM (one-off event)
On 7 April 2017, from 5pm-10pm, a free Indonesian Night Market (Pasar Malam) is scheduled to take place, organized by Permias LA, Indonesian Bruins Association (IBSA), Permias US Riverside, and local businesses. Due to its small size, it requires an RSVP, but there will be a walk in window from 5pm-7pm. Student IDs can be used as tickets. Features include food, fashion, live entertainment, and art. The night market will take place at 1858 Echo Park Avenue (which I believe is a private residence), which is served by LA DOT‘s DASH Pico Union/Echo Park line.
KTOWN NIGHT MARKET
KTown Night Market is held in Los Angeles’s most densely-populated and most vibrant neighborhood, Koreatown. The first one was held in 2014 and it’s now held once a year, next on 17 and 18 June. Admission at the door is $5. It takes place on the campus of Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, conveniently located between Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Vermont stations, less than half a kilometer from each.
LITTLE SAIGON NIGHT MARKET
The Little Saigon Night Market, launched in 2014, is held at Phước Lộc Thọ, a mall known in English as “Asian Garden Mall” — despite the fact that that’s not a translation of its Vietnamese name. This year the night market will take place every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 17 June – 14 September. The mall is intermittently served by OCTA 64 bus and the nearest train station, Santa Ana Station, is located nearly eleven kilometers east. Admission is free.
LONG BEACH NIGHT MARKET IN CAMBODIA TOWN (one-off event)
The Long Beach Night Market in Cambodia Town was scheduled to take place in Cambodia Town in 2015 but was pushed back due to construction. The group’s Facebook page doesn’t currently list a specific date or location but assuming it takes place somewhere in Cambodia Town, that neighborhood is well-served by Long Beach Transit buses and the Blue line’s Anaheim Street Station is located just east of the walkable neighborhood.
LOS ANGELES TIMES NIGHT MARKET (annual)
The first annual Los Angeles Times Night Market (part of the Los Angeles Food Bowl) will take place in Grand Park for five consecutive nights from 10 – 14 May. There are scheduled to be fifty food vendors representing Chinese, Japanese, Salvadoran, Thai, and (I’m assuming) other cuisines. There will also be bars. The event is free. Wednesday and Thursday hours are 5pm – 10pm, Friday hours are 5pm – 11pm, Saturday hours are 3pm – 11pm, and Sunday hours are 3pm – 9pm.
Grand Park is VERY well served by transit so please don’t even bother with a taxi or ride-hail service. Stopping at the edge of the park are Big Blue Bus‘s R10 line; Foothill Transit‘s Silver Streak; LADOT‘s Commuter Express 409, 419, 422, 423, 431, 437, 438, and 448 lines; LADOT’s DASH Downtown A, B, and D lines; Metro’s 2/302, 4, 10/48, 28, 33, 43/37, 45, 55/355, 60, 81, 83, 90/91, 92, 94, 96, 302, 487/489, 493, 494, 495, 498, and 499 lines; Metro’s Rapid 728, 733, 745, 770, and 794 lines; Metro’s Purple, Red, and Silver lines; OCTA’s 701 line; and Torrance Transit‘s 4 line. Additionally, Union Station is located about 800 meters away, so you could conceivably take the train from San Diego, San Antonio, Seattle, New Orleans, Chicago, or points between.
MALAYSIAN KITCHEN NIGHT MARKET (one-off event)
Santa Monica‘s Malaysian Kitchen Night Market was Los Angeles’s second night market, a one-off event held in December 2010 on the Third Street Promenade. It was organized by Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation with the stated purpose of promoting Malaysian culture and food.
MONTEREY PARK NIGHT MARKET (defunct)
In 2004, Monterey Park hosted a small night market on Saturdays, not to be confused with the MPK Night Market. It lasted for a couple of years and I think it took place near City Hall. It was almost certainly the first night market in Southern California andany additional information would be much appreciated!
MPK NIGHT MARKET
Night markets returned to Monterey Park in 2014, with the launch of the MPK Night Market, organized by the folks behind the KTown Night Market (KCM Agency). The first year it began in July and continued once a month in August and September, always with free admission, in Barnes Park. In 2015 it returned as a mere two day event, which occurred in 17 and 18 July. There’s no mention of a 2016 MPK Night Market yet, which doesn’t bode well. If it does return, however, Barnes Park is served by Metro’s 70 bus and is located 4 kilometers from Atlantic Station, the nearest train station.
OC NIGHT MARKET
The OC Night Market is organized by the same folks behind 626 Night Market. It’s currently held three times a year (13-15 May, 17-19 June, and 26-28 August) at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. Admission is $5. It’s served by the occasional OCTA bus but the nearest train station, Tustin Station, is located 12.5 kilometers away.
SAN DIEGO NIGHT MARKET
The San Diego Night Market is takes place at Kearny Office Park (in the Convoy District) on 25 and 26 June. It was first launched in 2013 and admission is $2. It’s served by San Diego MTS‘s 27 bus and is quite far, I believe, from any train station.
626 NIGHT MARKET
The first 626 Night Market was held on a single city block in Old Town Pasadena, in 2012. It was organized by Jonny and Janet Hwang who seemed like all of us to underestimate the untapped craving for such an experience. In the end, perhaps 20,000 people descended onto a single city block, completely overwhelming vendors, the neighborhood, and expectations. It was thus relocated to Pasadena’s Civic Center District where it was alloted sufficient breathing room and almost overly organized. For the third installment, the night market moved to the vast, disconnected parking lot desert of Arcadia‘s Santa Anita Racetrack. The nearest train station, Arcadia Station, is located about 2 kilometers east. The 626 Night Market is currently held four times a year, 2-4 July, 22-24 July, 5-7 August, and 2-4 September. Admission is $3.
TASTE OF NIGHT MARKET (one-off event)
Taste of Night Market was a one-off (so far) event held in Santa Monica and organized by the folks behind 626 Night Market. In order to avoid a disaster on the level of the first 626 Night Market, tickets were priced at $65. However, in the monied Westside, where $65 ain’t no thang by a chicken skewer, the high price failed to prevent the event from being overwhelmed, judging by the harsh one star average review on Yelp. Yelpers are a notoriously hard to please and perhaps overly entitled bunch, but when the highest review is just two stars, something is up. To me this just proves that even Westsiders need night markets… but perhaps a better location would be a more transit friendly location like Palms or Culver City — both of which have sizable Indonesian and Indian presence. Think about it!
FURTHER READING AND LISTENING
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, Boom: A Journal of California, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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