Summer of the Sunset Market
Photos by Elizabeth Bickford, Road West Photography, vendors and boogie_thefoodie
Spanning four city blocks and featuring up to 200 merchants, MainStreet Oceanside's Sunset Market offers infinite ways to savor summer. Our event writer shares her recent experience at San Diego County's top weekly food and music street fair in celebration of all Sunset Market experiences and the weekly market's 15th anniversary.
The mood in Downtown Oceanside changes on Thursday nights. You just know the Oceanside Sunset Market is open, and the area starts to come alive. There is just that extra sense of excitement in the neighborhood. Music and the smell of delicious foods fills the air.
It seems surreal that 15 years have passed since any of us first strolled the streets of the Sunset Market back in 2007. Now it’s a weekly ritual and a welcome, inclusive gathering that many love. Located on Pier View Way west of Coast Highway, this central night market has grown into a tradition shared within a community and between generations.
On my recent visit to the Sunset Market, I started with a little shopping. I like to take a moment to check out every booth and get a sense of the items available. A lot of the vendors are Oceanside locals or have started their businesses here, and I love showing my support. I most recently picked up a Heartbeat Brand Oceanside hat for summer strolls on the Strand. I especially enjoy selecting gifts at the market because shopping local is something that is important to me. I feel that it’s a great way to support and cultivate the community I live in.
INTERNATIONAL FOOD COURT
After exploring the retail booths, I like to scope out the food, and there are so many options! The food section, known as the International Food Court, has options from all over the world. This time I stopped in for some vegan Thai food and learned a little bit about the traditional process used at The Pad Thai Stand. To round out the meal, I had their Thai Tea, which is one of my favorite treats! The black tea with half-and-half provided that nice kick of energy to carry me through the rest of the market. Like many other booths inside the Sunset Market, The Pad Thai Stand has expanded and now has multiple locations. The market has served as an incubator for many restaurants we now enjoy all over San Diego.
FRESH AND READY ROW
As the sun starts to paint its colors across the sky and lights start to glow, that is the time to walk down Fresh and Ready Row! While walking down the road flanked with delicious goodness, I saw many familiar faces. Pop & Mama’s booth and the Sweet Potato Shack are staples at the Sunset Market. Cheryl’s Caramels, a longtime participant, is found at the end of the line on North Tremont Street and her handmade treats make excellent gifts.
On this trip I had the opportunity to peek into the beignet booth and watch the process from behind the ropes. Beignet Belly takes time and pride in preparing these delicious and fluffy treats for all to share. Working on what seemed like an endless flow of beignets the owners were all too happy to be carrying on with their labor of love. They offered various toppings, including powdered sugar, chocolate, fresh fruit and even ice cream! You could taste the love put into the beignets and their line of faithful patrons showed just how much it was appreciated.
I found a small dining area to enjoy my dessert just outside of the Main Stage. I watched as the sunset began to change the sky from bright orange to deep purple. The bounce houses danced from the excitement of the children inside and the vibe was so fun and carefree. It was just a lovely way to spend the evening.
Within the 15 years the Oceanside Sunset Market has been open, it has successfully created a place of nostalgia and cultivated community. It allowed a once uninspired area to be reborn into the weekly gathering place for the entire city of Oceanside.
15 YEARS OF THE SUNSET MARKET
The Oceanside Sunset Market opened Aug. 2, 2007. The MainStreet Oceanside market was billed as a “community gathering place” and was envisioned as a way to invite the community back into the revitalizing Downtown.
The market began with food and retail vendors and a small farmers market. The market offered children’s activities in Dorothy's Military Shop and Laundry parking lot thanks to the generosity of the owner. This helped attract families. In addition, live music has always been a draw for the market. In 2009, a plethora of dessert and to-go items were added.
As the market grew, Cathy Nykiel, the Sunset Market Manager, realized that “people really wanted to eat!” The Sunset Market Committee decided to focus on bringing in more food. These additional food offerings were very well received and soon the Sunset market was bursting at the seams.
The Sunset Market has worked as an incubator for many businesses, especially in the food service industry. Many food booths started as 10’ x 10’ tents and now offer mobile or brick and mortar restaurant options. The market has served as a launchpad to create many successful businesses in the community.
The market was one of the first in the county to go green. In cooperation with the green market initiative, the Sunset Market embraced the green market concept in 2014. Vendors were encouraged to use eco-friendly options and limit the trash they were producing.
In 2020, the market was forced to close because of the pandemic. MainStreet Oceanside created the Virtual Sunset Market online as a way to connect the vendors with their customers.
The Sunset Market was able to reopen on June 24, 2021. The Oceanside community embraced its return and attendance was soon back to pre-pandemic levels.
The market is celebrating its 15th anniversary in August. Nykiel is quick to acknowledge the importance of the community for the success of the market — and she hopes to keep the Sunset Market open every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for many years to come.
For more information, go to Sunsetmarket.com or call MainStreet Oceanside at 760-754-4512.