If you are fortunate (or strategic) enough to time your trip to L.A. so that it coincides with the second Sunday of any given month, then you are in for a shopping treat. Because the second Sunday of every month is when the Rose Bowl Flea Market takes place. And it is truly awesome.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market boasts the West Coasts’ best and most extensive vintage clothing and furniture stalls. For any vintage enthusiast or keen bargain hunter, it’s like your Christmases have all come at once. From vintage cowboy boots to a 1930s chartreuse evening slip gown (which, while spectacularly elegant, sadly didn’t fit me), it’s a shopping-related dream come true.
The market is located on the east side of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, and it is huge. So huge, in fact, that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of treasure troves you feel you need to trawl through. So here are a few pointers to help prepare you and avoid shopping fatigue.
If you’re a particularly keen lover of vintage and know what you’re looking for, I recommend an early start (around 8am). You’ll get first look at what’s on offer. If you’re not on a mission as such, it’s still worthwhile rocking up early (around 9am) as stalls tend to start packing up at around 2pm, and a 9am start ensures that there is plenty of time for you to peruse at your leisure, sans stress.
The market operates a tiered system of entry, with early entry for professional/super keen shoppers from 5am, and an express admission from 8am to 9am. Tickets can be bought at the gate, and they are more expensive the earlier you arrive. Check out all the ticketing details on the website.
2. The Layout
There are many, many treasures to be found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, to be sure. But there is also a lot of trash to sift through. So you should get an idea of the layout before you go.
There are a number of stalls lining the circle around the stadium, and yes, some are worth a quick browse. But if you’re interested in furniture, keepsakes, art, fabric, crafts, what-have-you, turn left as you come through the main gate (where they check your ticket), and then left again into the carpark. This is where the furniture treasures are to be found.
For vintage clothes lovers (jewellery, sunglasses, clothes, hats, accessories, shoes, boots…), follow the same instructions (left then left again into the car park), and continue towards the far side of that carpark, over the little bridges into the second car park. Vintage. Clothes. Galore.
With the layout in mind, come up with your shopping strategy. If you know what you want, just focus on the relevant areas. Ask stall owners for tips on where to find specific items you have in mind.
If you’re into fashion, look out for hip Japanese guys with trollies and follow them. Trust me, those guys know fashion and know where to find it.
Don’t feel like you have to see every stall – that’s just crazy thinking. It only adds stress and the point of the market is to enjoy yourself. Stroll around and trust that if it’s for you it will come to you.
4. Bring Snacks and Water
There are food stalls at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, but I would recommend you bring snacks in case the available options don’t appeal. There were breakfast burritos, burgers, french fries etc on offer, but they’re not all that plentiful and if you prefer something lighter or healthier, you’re better off to BYO.
It is also thirsty work when the weather’s hot (and it gets HAWT in L.A.), so make sure you have water on hand.
5. Bring Something to Carry home your loot
If you are one of those people with that particular talent for vintage shopping, then you will not be returning empty handed. You’ll need something to carry your loot home in. So bring a big enough bag (or wheelie case) in anticipation of a successful day’s shopping.
6. Bring Cash
Although there are ATMs at the Rose Bowl stadium, it’s far better to come prepared and have cash with you. The market is huge, and you don’t want to waste precious time schlepping back to the ATMs and then trying to remember exactly where the stall is that you wanted to buy from.
7. Barter your butt off
The stall owners don’t want to have to carry all that stock back with them at the end of the day. To help them off load their goods, barter as much as you can.
So what did I find? Alas, the 1930s chartreuse gown didn’t fit. However, I came home with a green cashmere Brora sweater in perfect condition, and vintage cowboy boots for a grand total of $50. You couldn’t make them for that!