Everything You Need to Know About the 626 Night Market

Noteworthy vendors, night market history, and the best tips for enjoying your visit.

Welcome to Night Market, an exploration of these casual, open-air bazaars where food, music, and retail vendors all coalesce to celebrate Asian street food and culture. Check out the rest of our coverage to discover mouth-watering recipes, time-honored traditions, the true meaning of community, and how to make new night market memories of your own.

The night markets of Taiwan are unlike any other in the world. The aroma of fermented tofu—lovingly referred to as stinky tofu—lingers in the air, oyster omelets bubble and sizzle, and snappy Taiwanese sausages are lined up in a row ready to be enveloped in sticky rice.

These Taiwanese night markets are what inspired 626 Night Market’s founder, Jonny Hwang, when he first dreamt up the idea of opening a California-based night market during the 2008 recession.

“I was thinking of ideas to help small businesses that were struggling at the time,” he explains. “Since we were living in the San Gabriel Valley, one of the largest Asian enclaves outside of Asia, I thought of the night markets in Asia and how they provided a platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their abilities and develop their products.”

Night markets are close to Hwang’s heart, having grown up visiting Taiwan in the summers and eventually living there post-college. He’s specifically nostalgic for stinky tofu, “seven miles of fragrance” or fried chicken butts, chicken cartilage, and sticky peanut mochi. Replicating the night markets of Taiwan, however, posed some challenges.

“The health codes are much different so we couldn’t exactly mirror those night markets due to health, fire, and safety codes,” Hwang says.

But the spirit of Taiwanese night markets—a place of community, gathering, and indulging in delicious foods, is present. “We embraced our differences and sought to create a contemporary California-style night market, with not only food, shopping, and games but also crafts, art, live entertainment, and special activities derived from our local communities.”

Where and when does the 626 Night Market take place?

Since its inception in 2008, the 626 Night Market has expanded to include locations in Santa Monica, Orange County Fair and Event Center, the Alameda Fairgrounds, and the original location at the Santa Anita Racetrack. They even expanded to Downtown Santa Monica for the first time this year—featuring a “Mini Night Market” with two-dozen vendors and events held on the weekends in February, March, and April.

Each location has different dates held throughout the year, and no two ever overlap—sort of like a traveling circus. These are the dates for the upcoming 2022 season:

  • OC Fair and Event Center: May 6-8, May 13-15, June 17-19
  • Alameda County Fair Grounds: May 27-29, July 29-31
  • Santa Anita Racetrack: July 1-3, July 8-10, August 26-28, September 2-4
Photo by Alicia Cho for Thrillist

Who are some of the noteworthy vendors?

The vendors at 626 Night Market are constantly rotating—especially among the different locations that pop up throughout the year—so we encourage you to check out their vendor list here before venturing out.

That being said, some vendors remain consistent and carry items that are significant for Asian-inspired night markets, like fun foods on sticks!

Bombing Giant Squid is a booth well known for their Instagram-worthy, deep-fried skewers of squid. Each squid is propped up by two chopsticks inserted through its center and features a dry-dredged exterior that gives way to a tender, but bouncy, squid interior.

Yakitori Yado specializes in juicy chicken and mochi skewers griddled over a charcoal flame, giving it a smoky aroma. Once the chicken is finished cooking, the skewers are dunked in a sweet and salty tare sauce for a glistening finish.

Big & Long Potato Swirl is exactly what it sounds like: a potato is cut thinly into a tornado shape before it is deep fried and doused in an array of seasoning powders that range from sour cream and onion to barbecue to cheddar. It’s a perfect portable snack and the lemonade at this booth is refreshing, too.

For dessert, the perfect option is Hawaiian Honeycombs. This vendor, which has pop-ups and locations spanning six states, specializes in J-shaped corn cane cones that are filled with vanilla soft-serve ice cream.

What else can you do at the 626 Night Market?

Although one of the largest draws of the 626 Night Market are the rows and rows of vendors and food, the 626 Night Market also features clothing, art, and gift vendors, so shopping is a must.

Additionally, each 626 Night Market location has a stage and schedule of performances, so in between bites of food, be sure to enjoy the live entertainment provided.

How much does the 626 Night Market cost?

The Santa Monica version of 626 Night Market is free with registration. Every other location has a $5 presale admission fee, which creeps up to $6 when buying tickets on the day of.

Parking is also something to consider. At Santa Anita Park, parking is free. OC Fair & Event center provides parking for $10 while parking at the Alameda Fairgrounds is $15.

Tips for enjoying the 626 Night Market

Due to how expansive and diverse each 626 Night Market is, make sure you come hungry and curious. To house all the vendors and performances, the night market is usually spacious, so wear comfortable shoes so it will be easy to dart from vendor to vendor throughout the entire event.

Although many vendors now accept Square, Venmo, or Apple Pay, it’s best to bring cash just in case.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy this slice of night market culture that has come to life in Southern California.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.