5 of the Best Public Markets in America

Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images

Public markets are the ultimate places for eats and entertainment | Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images

Public markets — you gotta love ‘em. Markets held in American cities are packed with street vendors, entertainers, artisans, and of course, some of the best food you’re ever going to find. These markets have grown in a big way from simply being swap meets, or predetermined times and places for people to come buy produce from local farms — these days, they are permanent establishments in many cities. They’re also permanent tourist destinations that bring in a good amount of money.

Wherever you end up across the vastness that is America, you’re bound to find one. From Anchorage to Key West, a public market isn’t far away.

With so many markets out there, and sometimes multiple markets in one city, picking just one to visit — if you’re stretched for time — can be difficult. We’re here to help whittle the list down a bit, and have hand-picked five that are among the best in the nation. Some of them you’re probably familiar with. Others are relatively unknown outside of their respective city or region. But all are great destinations for an afternoon out, or for some of the best local food you can buy.

So read on — here are five of the best public markets you can find in America.

1. Pike Place Market — Seattle

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Tossing fish at Pike Place Market | Mark Ralson/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the most famous public market in the U.S. is Pike Place Market, located in the center of downtown Seattle. You’ve seen it — it’s where they throw the fish around, and where the very first Starbucks is located. In addition to that, there’s the famed Gum Wall, dozens of restaurants, and many other places to find some of the finest northwest seafood and produce. You can even see cheese being made at Beecher’s, and then watch some of the talented street performers impress with their music.

2. Lexington Market — Baltimore

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Baltimore’s Lexington Market | Robb Carr/Getty Images

Downtown Baltimore has several secrets, and the Lexington Market is one of them. Over 230 years old, Lexington Market is one of the oldest and most robust public markets in the U.S. If you’re hungry, this is the place to go. There are vendors serving almost every type of food imaginable, including Baltimore’s famed crab cakes. Also, if you haven’t tried them, get your hands on some of the region’s famous Berger Cookies — they’ll change your life. For a scrumptious romp through history, the Lexington Market is a must-see.

3. West Side Market — Cleveland

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President Obama visiting West Side Market | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Even President Obama had to make a pit stop at the West Side Market, one of Cleveland’s landmark destinations. Featuring more than 100 vendors, the West Side Market is a true gem that showcases all of the best things about Cleveland. The market itself began operating way back in 1840, and has become a staple for visitors and locals alike to get their grub on, and check out the huge selection of produce, meats, cheeses, and everything in between. For lovers of European cuisine — particularly, Irish, German, Italian, and Greek — West Side Market can’t be skipped.

4. Reading Terminal Market — Philadelphia

Source: Reading Terminal Market Official Facebook Page

Reading Terminal Market | Reading Terminal Market via Facebook Page

Philly’s crown jewel, in terms of public markets, is the Reading Terminal Market, located at 12th and Arch. The market itself is huge — boasting a half-million cubic feet of space, and hundreds of vendors. One thing that separates the Reading Terminal Market from others is the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the unique foods and experience they bring to the table. Also, the market earns its spot among some of the others on this list as being a historical landmark; it was originally established in the 1890s. Don’t forget to check out what has been named the best sandwich in America, the famed roast pork from DicNic’s.

5. Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market — San Francisco

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San Francisco’s best market | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As if there weren’t enough things to do and see in the Bay Area, as a visitor, you’ll need to add the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market to the list. Though locals are privy to stay away from the large crowds the market attracts, tourists should get down to the Ferry Plaza and check it out at least once — and get a sampling of a huge selection of Californian goodies. This market is a bit different from the others, as it operates only a few days a week. But be sure to get there early, as things tend to sell out fast, and by the end of the day, there might not be much left.

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