San Francisco

Everything You Need to Know About the Bay Area's Night Markets

From community-based markets to sprawling multi-day events, here are the vendors to visit, bites to eat, and the dates for it's all going down.

Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD
Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD
Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD

Eating your way through the night markets in Asia is a must for any traveler and food lover. Each stall usually specializes in a specific dish, so it’s easy to hop from stall to stall in an attempt to eat all the things. You’ll see families sharing the braised pork belly dish Lu Rou Fan and gooey Oyster Omelettes at Shilin Night Market in Taipei, and late-night bar hoppers diving into a steaming bowl of Won Ton Mein from a stall at Temple Street Night Market in Hong Kong.

If that description has you salivating, then you’ll be happy to know that Asia’s long-standing night market cultures and some of its dishes have made their way stateside. The Bay Area, with its sizable Asian American and Pacific Islander population, has become a night market-inspired hub in the past few years, and events have been steadily growing. They feature street stall favorites from Asia like Giant Grilled Squid on a stick, as well as homegrown AAPI food innovations, like countless variations of Spam Musubi.

The origins of Bay Area night markets

Bay Area’s night markets don’t operate daily like many of the ones in Asia, and the different safety codes for fire and health make exact night-market replications difficult. However, the limited run of the markets during a few weekends a year does create an enthusiastic crowd excited to eat from what can be upwards of 250 vendors.

626 Night Market founder Jonny Hwang created what he calls a “California-style night market” in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley in 2012, drawing chefs and entertainers from local communities. It was during the Great Recession that he was inspired by how Asian night markets helped entrepreneurs showcase their abilities and develop their products, and wanted to do the same for struggling local businesses. Upon noticing that many attendees from the Bay Area traveled to the Arcadia and Orange County markets, Hwang decided to create 626 events in the Bay Area, beginning in 2018 in Pleasanton.

Foodieland Night Market, many of whose vendors started at 626, came to fruition in 2019, and also has events in both the Bay Area (San Mateo, Berkeley, and Sacramento) and Southern California. While also inspired by night markets in Asia, Foodieland advertises itself as more of a multicultural food and entertainment event.

On a smaller, more community-based level, UNDSCVRD night market started in San Francisco’s SOMA Pilipinas Cultural District in 2017, modeled after Asian night markets and created because “Filipinos like to party,” says public relations agent Paloma Concordia matter-of-factly. The larger purpose of UNDSCVRD’s party vibe, though, is to invest in and improve the local Filipino community by supporting small business ventures like food vendors.

Asian night market popularity in the Bay has also come full circle with the presence of actual brick-and-mortar restaurants taking a cue from Asia’s night markets. Kevin Lee opened a restaurant aptly named The Night Market in South San Francisco in 2017, inspired by the dai pai dong street stalls in Hong Kong, and even going so far as to acquiring street vendor equipment from Hong Kong.

“It was quite natural to bring the Hong Kong night market style to a space fitting; not for a restaurant, but for the concept of stalls and fold out tables and plastic chairs indoor and outdoor,” Lee said, of choosing the Bay Area as a restaurant location. The Night Market offers classic categories of Hong Kong night market food, like congee and noodles with a choice of toppings, such as mini red sausages and fish balls.

Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks, drawing inspiration from Taiwan’s night markets, is an international, Taiwan-based chain that has locations in six Bay Area cities, including San Francisco and Berkeley. Customers can get popular items such as giant Breaded Chicken Cutlets and Tea Eggs.

Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD
Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD
Photo by Mogli Maureal, courtesy of UNDSCVRD

Popular vendors and dishes

While generally more expensive than many of the hawker stalls in Asia, the Bay’s night market food still retains the same inspiration, with snacks that can be easily eaten on the go. The night markets provide both exposure for new food entrepreneurs to practice running a food truck or stall, and for established businesses to bring their popular food to a crowd that might usually be too far away. Many vendors now appear at both 626 and Foodieland, as well.

Crowd favorites include Vietnamese American Garlic Noodles-thick and bouncy with an umami punch, sometimes served with lobster. Many vendors sell the noodles, like the Oakland-based Noodle Belly and SoCal’s Cafe 949, and Lobsterdamus.

There are multiple musubi vendors slinging the original SPAM, and new classics like Hot Cheeto-crusted musubi from Junk Mail Musubi, and ones seasoned with pork rinds from Supreme Musubi. The J-shaped soft-serve Hawaiian Honey Cones, which have now expanded its presence to several states, have gained a cult following. Bun Bao always has lines for its cute panda- and pig-shaped steamed buns.

Suga Bros, a sugar cane juice spot based in San Francisco that operates via Instagram, hopped on the Foodieland roster after only six months in operation. Thanks to its night-market presence, though, owners Patrick Nguyen and Harry Trinh say, “Foodieland helped us in learning how to operate on a day-to-day basis. We also can’t forget the extra engagement that helped us flourish the past six months after Foodieland.”

Some of LA’s most popular vendors even make the trek up to the Bay for 626 Night Markets. Hwang said, “Attendees love our LA vendors. These include originals such as All Dat Dim Sum, Chick N Skin, and Shake Ramen that can’t be found at any other Bay Area night markets.” Other SoCal imports include Egghausted‘s Tamagoyaki and Lucky Ball BBQ‘s Giant Grilled Squid on a stick.

UNDSCVRD offers a more intentional program for vendor growth. Filipino American food truck The Sarap Shop got its start at UNDSCVRD, where owners Kristen Brillantes and JP Reyes said, “We positioned ourselves to utilize each UNDSCVRD to test new products and operating modes,” such as launching their popular Halo Halo Milk Tea. Thanks to their growth from UNDSCVRD, The Sarap Shop now has an operation in the Chase Center arena, as well as an incubator to help new food entrepreneurs at UNDSCVRD.

What to expect this year

Since the night markets are not everyday occurrences, plan ahead for the popular events, which can get crowded. UNDSCVRD has one night market planned this year, but organizers hope to once again offer it multiple times per year in the future. Can’t make it to the markets? The Bay’s night market-inspired restaurants will quell your cravings any time of the year.

626 Night Market: Bay Area
Friday, May 27–Sunday, May 29
Friday, July 29–Sunday, July 31
Alameda County Fairgrounds, Pleasanton
Cost: $5–$10 admission; buy tickets online (recommended) or at the door; $15 parking available

Foodieland Night Market
Friday, July 1–Sunday, July 3
Friday, September 23–Sunday September 25
San Mateo County Event Center, San Mateo

Friday, August 5–Sunday, August 7
Friday, August 12–Sunday, August 14
Friday, October 7–Sunday, October 9
Golden Gate Fields, Berkeley

Friday, August 19–Sunday August 21
Friday, September 2–Sunday, September 5
Cal Expo, Sacramento

Cost: $5–$7 admission online only, free for children under 5; $15 parking available

UNDSCVRD
Saturday, October 22
Venue & Time TBD in SOMA Pilipinas, San Francisco

The Night Market Restaurant
Wednesday – Monday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
230B South Spruce Avenue, South San Francisco

Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks
Open seven days a week
Multiple Bay Area locations

Tips for enjoying the Bay Area’s night markets

While parking is available for a $15 fee at 626 and Foodieland night markets, a rideshare or public transportation might be more convenient for the other markets. The night markets are spacious, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Once there, it might also be a good plan of action to have your group split up to nab different food items. You can meet up at a predetermined time to share your top picks and go grab everyone’s favorites.

While many vendors take credit cards, Venmo, Apple Pay, and other digital forms of payment, it’s smart to have cash on hand.

Most importantly-come hungry! You’ve got a lot of eating ahead of you.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Margot Seeto is a Bay Area freelance writer and a contributor for Thrillist.

San Francisco

How to Celebrate Black History Month in San Francisco

Support and celebrate SF's Black community.

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Though it’s something we need to be doing every day of every month of every year, Black History Month encourages us to pay tribute to the struggles and oppression generations of Black Americans have faced, as well as their often-neglected triumphs and achievements that have helped shape this county and make it better. It’s a time to reflect on how we can do better to confront racism and oppression, which this year’s theme, “Black Resistance,” echoes. This is especially important in a town like San Francisco, where the Fillmore District was known as “the Harlem of the West” before the city displaced a vast portion of the neighbourhood’s Black community in the ’60s and ’70s. This displacement continues today, as the Black population is the only racial group that has declined in every census since 1970.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Black History Month, there are lots to do. Whether you want to educate yourself by attending films, performances, or conversations, share the joy at a parade or dance party, or do a little bit of it all at a drag show, here are just a few ways you can get involved and have a lot of fun while doing so:

Visit San Francisco Public Library branches for workshops, films, performances, and more

February (and throughout the year)
Library branches and online
SFPL’s “More Than a Month” celebration focuses on the theme of resistance this year. Family-friendly and adult events include film screenings, musical performances, book clubs, workshops, and more.
Cost: Free

Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora
Museum of African Diaspora

See art, poetry, films, talks, and more at MoAD

February (and throughout the year)
SoMa
Right now, at the Museum of African Diaspora, you can see the first and only West Coast exhibition of “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion,” which highlights the work of 15 contemporary fashion designers “whose images present radically new perspectives on the medium of photography and art, race and beauty, and gender and power.” The museum, which has a robust year-round program and event calendar, has a slew of events to attend, including youth poetry readings, film screenings, open mic nights, book clubs, artist talks, and more.
Cost: Event prices vary; GA to visit the museum is $12 but free every second Saturday of the month

Check out films, art, reading, talks, and more at BAMPFA

February (and throughout the year)
Berkeley
There is always something interesting to discover at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). During Black History Month, you can see films by Pratibha Parmar, “Felwine Sarr: Music, Freedom, Africa,” a conversation through music with the Senegalese writer, scholar, composer, musician, and more.
Cost: Varies

Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe
Old Skool Cafe

Enjoy menu specials honoring Black community members at Old Skool Cafe

February (and throughout the year)
Bayview
For Black History Month, Old Skool Cafe is adding the favourite meals of notable Black community members to the menu each weekend. The nonprofit, youth-run supper club helps at-risk, formerly incarcerated, and foster care youth ages 16-22 gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in various front and back-of-house restaurant roles. Bayview hero/community advocate Mrs. Dorris Vincent is first up, followed by Judge Trina Thompson, Delroy Lindo, and Mayor London Breed.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens

Walk beneath the Marting Luther King, Jr. Memorial waterfall

February (and ongoing)
Yerba Buena Gardens
Did you know that Yerba Buena Gardens is home to the country’s second-largest memorial to Dr. King? Visit the sculptural waterfall featuring glass panels inscribed with his inspiring words at 750 Howard Street.
Cost: Free

Attend the Commonwealth’s “Dreaming Forward: A Celebration of Black Joy, Power, and Excellence” conference

Thursday, February 9
Embarcadero
On behalf of Dr. Sheryl Evans Davis and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Club is hosting its second annual Dream Keeper Initiative, a day-long conference/celebration/call-to-action featuring special guests, including April Ryan of TheGrio and CNN.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays
Courtesy of Oakland First Fridays

Celebrate Black Love at Oakland First Fridays

Friday, February 10
Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street
Telegraph Avenue transforms into a dining, shopping, and art-appreciating party on Friday, February 10, from 5 pm to 9 pm. There will be food, artist, and retail vendors and a host of Black artists, authors, and entertainment. Please note: This event was rescheduled from February 3 because of potential rain.
Cost: Free

Have a ball at an all-Black drag show at Oasis

Friday, February 10
SoMa
“Reparations with Latrice Royale” is an all-Black drag show hosted by Latrice Royale, the beloved Drag Race star who also happens to be celebrating her birthday.
Cost: $15 to $60

Dance all night and shop all day at the Afro Soca Love carnival and marketplace

Friday, February 10 ‚Äď Saturday, February 11
341 13th Street, Oakland
Afro Soca Love creates experiences that act as a “gateway to building bonds and strengthen relationships-between communities, individuals, and Africa and its diaspora.” See for yourself at the all-ages marketplace (Saturday), where you’ll find food and drink, fashion, beauty and wellness, home decor, and more. But before the shopping comes the dancing at the 21+ Friday Night Carnival, a culturally immersive music experience with music from all over the world.
Cost: The marketplace is free; tickets to the Friday Night Carnival start at $20

See a live performance of “Words That Made the Difference: Brown vs. the Board of Education”

Saturday, February 11
Unity Palo Alto
See a live theatrical performance based on the true events that occurred in the fight to end school segregation. The script draws from trial transcripts of the five cases brought together in front of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Earl Warren’s memoirs, and the play is set in the courtrooms where it all happened. There will be a Q&A with the playwright before the performance and the cast afterward.
Cost: Free

Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company
Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company

Go to the I, Too, Sing America album release party

Saturday, February 11
Mission
Head to the Brava Theater Center to celebrate the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company’s album release of the music created for I, Too, Sing America, a soulful and uplifting performance that moved audiences when it debuted last year. The night includes an album-listening and sing-along party, DJs, dancing, an open bar, and more.
Cost: $40

Go on the Black Liberation Walking Tour of West Oakland

Saturday, February 18
West Oakland
Take a walk with David Peters, founder of the West Oakland Cultural Action Network, and Gene Anderson, the author of Legendary Locals of Oakland, to learn about resident voices and document sites of cultural and historical significance in the neighbourhood. Peters is a local native, and Anderson is an Oakland historian whose family has historical roots in West Oakland.
Cost: $50 ($30 for West Oakland residents)

See a screening of The Black Kung Fu Experience followed by in-person demonstrations

Sunday, February 19
Great Star Theater, Chinatown
The Chinese Historical Society of America is celebrating Black History Month and social unity with a screening of this film about how a group of African American pioneers became respected in a subculture dominated by Chinese and white men. Afterward, there will be demonstrations and talks with Sifu Donald Hamby and Sifu Troy Dunwood, who “will speak about their success as internationally recognized martial arts masters, their Chinese Kung Fu teachers, and what this practice means in relation to diversity, race and inclusion issues.”
Cost: $15

Sip wine made by Black winemakers at a free tasting event at STEM Kitchen + Garden

Thursday, February 23
Dogpatch
STEM Kitchen + Garden is hosting an afternoon wine tasting celebrating Black-owned wineries in its gorgeous indoor/outdoor space, and best of all, and it’s free to the public!
Cost: Free

Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House
Bayview Opera House

Attend the San Francisco African American Arts & Cultural District Gala Fundraiser

Saturday, February 25
Bayview Opera House
Enjoy an evening of talent, fashion, and community inspiration at SFAAACD’s 1st Annual Gala Fundraiser. Carla Duke, Television News Director at CBS-KPIX Chanel 5, will host the event, which includes inspiring words from keynote speaker Aniyia Williams, an artist, tech creator, and system-preneur.
Cost: $100

Attend a Black History Month & Chinese New Year Poetry Reading on Angel Island

Saturday, February 25
Angel Island
There is so much history in poetry at the Angel Island Detention Barracks Museum, which makes it a fitting location for poets Chun Yu and Michael Warr. The co-founders of Two Languages/One Community will share their poems and stories in English and Chinese, accompanied by projected images of text and photographs.
Cost: $10 to $21

Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade
Courtesy of Black Joy Parade

Feel the joy at the Black Joy Parade

Sunday, February 26
Downtown Oakland
This parade and festival celebrate the “Black experience past, present, and future.” Be prepared to experience “more Black joy than you ever imagined,” starting with the parade (beginning at 14th and Franklin) at 12:30 pm. The family-friendly festival follows (main entrance is at 19th and Franklin) will include 200-plus Black-owned small businesses selling food, drinks, clothing, art, and more. There will also be two stages with Black performers, including The Black Joy Choir.
Cost: Free

Take a sound bath at Grace Cathedral in honor of Black History Month

Monday, February 27
Nob Hill
Take an immersive sound bath featuring Fractals of Sound, a collective of top Bay Area musicians Egemen Sanli, Phoenix Song, and Sam Jackson, with special guest Destiny Muhammad. Together, they will create a “soundscape deeply rooted in world music,” allowing you to take a meditative journey in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.
Cost: $25 to $75

See Tsitsi Dangarembga and Angela Davis at City Arts & Lectures

Tuesday, February 28
Civic Center
Co-presented with MoAd, City Arts & Lectures is hosting novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga and scholar and activist Angela Davis for what’s sure to be a riveting conversation.
Cost: $36

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Daisy Barringer¬†is an SF-based freelance writer who spent many childhood days wandering around the Exploratorium. Follow her on¬†Instagram¬†to see what she’s up to now.

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