Evening at Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Andrew E. Larson/Flickr

America's Best Public Markets

As a tourist, you can learn a lot about a place based on where the locals shop and eat. Once prominent across the U.S., public markets -- community hubs featuring specialty shops, eateries, local artisans, and regional food vendors in an often open-air environment -- are again returning to the spotlight.

From Seattle to Philadelphia, check out some of America's best public markets.

Photo Caption: Pike Place Market in Seattle. Photo by Andrew J. Larson/Flickr.com.
Inside the Oxbow Public Market, Napa.
Oxbow Public Market in Napa, California
Napa's 40,000-square-foot public market continues to attract crowds since opening in late 2007. The mostly indoor space boasts a mix of gourmet purveyors and local eateries highlighting the region's foodie culture, including the amazing Venezuelan sandwich purveyor Pica Maize Kitchen and Hog Island Oyster Company. San Francisco Bay Area favorites like Kara's Cupcakes and Ritual Coffee Roasters are also on hand to sweeten (and caffeinate) your visit. No visit would be complete without a stop at the Oxbow Wine Market & Wine Bar, where you can sample and purchase the merlots, zins, and chardonnays that make Napa's wine country famous.

Where: Oxbow District, Napa
When: Open Mondays-Saturdays year-round
Info: www.oxbowpublicmarket.com

Photo Caption: Inside the Oxbow Public Market, Napa. Photo by prayitno/Flickr.com.
Amish fruit stand atop a wagon base at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia's public market occupies the former Reading Terminal train shed in the heart of Center City. After being revitalized in the 1990s, the Reading Terminal Market now features more than 80 restaurants, shops, and farm stands. A central seating area is an ideal place to enjoy samples of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties like shoofly pie and scrapple, along with Philly favorites like hoagies, cheesesteaks, and soft pretzels. It's also a great place to shop for kitchen wares, cookbooks, and handmade soaps.

Where: 12th and Arch Streets, Philadelphia
When: Open daily; PA Dutch merchants operate Wednesdays-Saturdays only. Market tours take place every Wednesday and Saturday.
Info: www.readingterminalmarket.org

Photo Caption: Amish fruit stand atop a wagon base at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Photo by ccharmon/Flickr.com.
The fish market inside Pike Place Market, Seattle.
Epukas/Wikimedia Commons
Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington
Pike Place, one of America's most famous markets, attracts a mix of tourists and locals who come to browse or to simply be part of the action. Since opening in 1907, the multi-level market has grown to include numerous buildings and businesses, including antiques dealers, flower stands, bakeries, and shops overflowing with clothing and handmade art. It's also home to some of the city's most recognized establishments: Pike Place Fish Market -- famous for its "flying fish" -- and the original Starbucks Coffee, which relocated here (from across the street) in 1977. Pike Place's street performers (violinists, puppeteers, and poets) always put on a show.

Where: Downtown Seattle
When: Open daily
Info: www.pikeplacemarket.org

Photo Caption: The fish market inside Pike Place Market, Seattle. Photo by Epukas/Wikimedia Commons.
Market Square in San Antonio, Texas.
Mommy Musings/Flickr
Market Square in San Antonio, Texas
To really experience San Antonio, go beyond the River Walk and visit Market Square. This pedestrian-only stretch of restaurants, shops, and produce stands occupies three downtown blocks and highlights the city's unique blend of Texan and traditional Latino culture. In the center, El Mercado is a 32-stall Mexican marketplace where you'll find hand-embroidered blouses, pottery, leather belts, and piñatas. Just across from El Mercado, Farmers Market Plaza is home to Southwest Art, rodeo figurines, and a food court perfect for cooling down with aguas frescas (fruit sodas). Refuel at the family-owned Mi Tierra Café and Bakery, a 24-hour eatery and local institution. Their enchiladas are otherworldly.

Where: Downtown San Antonio
When: Open daily year-round
Info: www.sanantonio.gov

Typical day inside the alleys of the Los Angeles Farmers Market.
Bobak/Wikimedia Commons
Los Angeles Farmers Market in Los Angeles, California
The "Original Farmers Market," part of the Los Angeles landscape since 1934, now includes more than 100 restaurants, shops, stalls, and food vendors. Along with long-running institutions like Littlejohn's English Toffee House and the 24-hour Du-Par's (a greasy-spoon joint that's been drawing regular customers for decades), the Los Angeles Farmers Market features Mexican, Korean, Brazilian, and Mediterranean fare (don't miss Moishe's falafel sandwich). The aptly named boutique shop, Sticker Planet, has been a market staple since 1991. Other popular stores include Camper footwear, the Farmer's Market Newsstand, and art book purveyor, Taschen. Arrive early -- the place gets packed on weekends.

Where: Third and Fairfax in Fairfax District, Los Angeles
When: Open daily year-round
Info: www.farmersmarketla.com

Photo Caption: Typical day inside the alleys of the Los Angeles Farmers Market. Photo by Bobak/Wikimedia Commons.
Interior of the Milwaukee Public Market.
Hendricks Photos
Milwaukee Public Market in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
While smaller than other public markets, the Milwaukee Public Market is still a foodie hotspot with about 20 specialty food purveyors. Head to the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shop for a wheel of Wisconsin's famous cheddar, or sip local craft brews at the market's Buffalo Water Beer Bar. You'll also find shops filled with artisan breads and hand-dipped chocolate. A seasonal farmers market is held just outside (weekends, June-October).

Where: Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward
When: Open daily year-round
Info: www.milwaukeepublicmarket.org

Photo Caption: Interior of the Milwaukee Public Market. Photo by Hendricks Photos/Flickr.com.
A boy assists at a farm stand at the Chattanooga Market.
Chattanooga Market in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Since opening in 2001, Chattanooga's seasonal Sunday market has been one of the region's best places to find hand-blown glass necklaces, homemade salsas, organic fruits and vegetables, and artwork sculpted from recycled materials. To ensure home-grown authenticity, the market requires all 350 active vendors to be both the sole producers and retailers of their goods.

Some of the market's best features are their weekly themes, which have included an Oktoberfest celebration and a Father's Day Brew & Bluegrass. The season finale (held each December) is always an art-centric holiday market.

Where: Chattanooga
When: Sundays (May-December); Organizers also host a Chattanooga River Market on Saturdays.
Info: www.chattanoogamarket.com

Photo Caption: A boy assists at a farm stand at the Chattanooga Market. Photo by millermz/Flickr.com.
Interior of the Pittsburgh Public Market. Photo courtesy of WDO Photography.
Photo courtesy of WDO Photography
Pittsburgh Public Market in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh's fabulous public market is set in the city's historic Strip district. The 65,000-square-foot space hosts an array of shops and vendors that highlight the city's ethnic diversity and its thriving art scene. You'll find plenty of organic, grass-fed, and gluten-free foods, along with homemade empanadas, gourmet marshmallows, pierogies, and locally foraged mushrooms. Here, you can also shop for one-of-a-kind items, such as handmade knits and hand-drawn collages.

Where: Pittsburgh
When: Open Fridays-Sundays year-round
Info: www.pittsburghpublicmarket.org

Photo Caption: Interior of the Pittsburgh Public Market. Photo courtesy of WDO Photography.
Aerial view of West Side Market in Cleveland.
West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio
Nothing can slow the bustle of Cleveland's oldest operating indoor/outdoor market space. It now houses more than 100 produce stands, bakeries, specialty food stores, and shops selling meat, dairy, and seafood (several of which have remained in family hands since the market's opening). West Side boasts an incredible meat selection -- bison, goat, lamb, poultry, beef, sausages, and bratwurst all make the cut -- as well as an array of ethnic food offerings representing Cleveland's diverse community: expect everything from Middle Eastern-style baba ghanoush to authentic Cambodian sticky rice.

Where: Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood
When: Open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays year-round
Info: www.westsidemarket.org

Photo Caption: Aerial view of West Side Market in Cleveland. Photo by stu_spivack/Flickr.com.
Eastern Market in Washington, D.C.
AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Market in Washington, D.C.
Capitol Hill's beloved public market was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but today it's back with a superb mix of fresh food vendors, eateries, and locally crafted goods. Indoors, you'll find everything from Maryland crab cakes to Asian groceries, while an open-air weekend farmers' market showcases organic heirloom tomatoes, honey-crisp apples, and freshly baked pies. Also on weekends, more than 100 local artisans gather in Eastern Market's outdoor plaza to sell handmade jewelry, painting, pottery, woodworking, and more.

Where: D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood
When: Open Tuesdays-Sundays year-round
Info: www.easternmarket-dc.org

Photo Caption: Eastern Market in Washington, D.C. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons.
A long-distance shot of the ferry building
Sonny Abesamis/Flickr
The Ferry Building in San Francisco, California
As much a sightseeing attraction as a place to buy and consume food, the Ferry Building Marketplace and its corollary Farmer's Market (one of the most highly acclaimed farmer's market's in the United States) are tangible proof that people who live in San Francisco lead tastier lives than most of the rest of the folks in the nation (sorry but it's true). The produce looks like it was taken from a still-life painting (it's organic and sourced from small family farms) and the quality and variety of specialty goods—many of which you may never have encountered before (who knew balsamic vinegar is sometimes clear!)—will blow your mind. The historic building is open daily and features Northern California's best gourmet food outlets including Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop, Recchiuiti Confections, Acme Breads, Hog Island Oysters, the famed Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door and a myriad of others.

Where: The Embarcadero, San Francisco
When: Mondays through Fridays 10am—6pm, Saturday 9am—6pm, Sunday 11am—5pm for the Marketplace. The Farmer's Market runs every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am—2pm and Saturdays from 9am—2pm
Info: www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com or www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com
A zucchini salad cone from Smorgasburg
Smorgasburg, Brooklyn
As international as the city that nurtured it, this lollapalooza of a food fest features food from most every country on earth—and many items, hybrids really, that you'll ONLY find in Brooklyn. Where else will you find, all in one area:
  • "Ramen burgers" (beef patties enclosed in buns made from pressed ramen noodles)
  • Puerto Rican mofongo (plantains with pork crackling)
  • Jars of Indian gooseberry relish
  • Fish preserved in the Sicilian manner with herbs from the island of Salina
  • Truffle products of all sorts
  • Maine lobster rolls and clam chowder
  • Japanese-inspired tacos filled with sashimi
  • Hibiscus flavored donuts
  • Filipino spring rolls

And much more. A number of the businesses that started at Smorgasburg are now either full restaurants, or have products being sold at Whole Foods and other markets.

Where: 3 Different locations in Brooklyn (see the website)
When: Saturdays and Sundays 10am—6pm
Info: www.smorgasburg.com