Shopping in California often conjures up images of Rodeo Drive and snooty boutiques—think that scene in Pretty Woman or any fancy shopping/makeover montage ever. But, some of the best shopping finds are actually far, far away and much less shiny and new. The Rose Bowl Flea Market is a staple in L.A.’s shopping culture and offers some of the most sought-after re-appropriated goods.
Before discussing the history of the Rose Bowl Flea Market, it’s important to know about the history of the stadium itself. The Rose Bowl stadium opened in Pasadena in 1922 and is the 17th largest stadium in the world, with more than 90,000 seats. The stadium is massive, and it has a parking lot to match. That’s where the Rose Bowl Flea Market was born.
The stadium’s parking lot spans at least a dozen acres, and promotion company R.G. Canning crafted the genius idea to use it for a flea market. That flea market—which attracts more than 2,500 vendors and 20,000 guests every month—is going strong for over 45 years now. It takes place on the second Sunday of every month, rain or shine.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market didn’t build a reputation as the best flea market on the West Coast by not having a crazy array of products for shoppers to choose from. The flea market itself offers everything from Etsy-style crafts and new items to mind-blowing vintage finds. In one visit, a shopper might pick up the midcentury coffee table of her dreams, a vintage denim jacket, and an elegant-but-affordable handmade necklace.
That said, shoppers must also sift through hoards of stuff to find, well, anything they actually want to buy. With 2,500 vendors each selling dozens, if not hundreds, of items each, the sheer magnitude of choices can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to know your goals and set a game plan going in. Here’s how to make the most of a trip to the Rose Bowl Flea.
Planning a trip
Going to the Rose Bowl Flea Market can be overwhelming, but a little planning before the trip can make it all run smoothly.
Tickets and time:
The event is ticketed, and the cost varies depending on when shoppers want to arrive at the flea. Tickets are $20 per person between 5 am and 7 am, $15 per person between 7 am and 8 am, $12 per person between 8 am and 9 am and $9 per person after 9 am.
No matter when visitors arrive, the flea market wraps up at 4 pm, and many vendors start to pack up at 3 pm.
People interested in the best merchandise should try to get to the flea market as early as possible; the really incredible pieces do tend to go fast. However, bargain hunters will have the best luck in the afternoon—after 2 pm, many vendors will cut better deals to avoid hauling their merchandise home.
While some vendors take cards, all take cash—and having cash on hand makes it easier to haggle. Getting the best deals will require some bargaining, but the vendors expect it (it’s not considered rude to negotiate a better price). When deciding how much to bring in cash, it’s better to overestimate since the ATMs on-site charge massive fees.
Another reason it’s a good idea for shoppers to know going in what they’re looking for is transport. Someone shopping for furniture, for example, needs to be sure to have a way to take those heft purchases home. Some flea market veterans even recommend renting a truck or U-Haul if visitors are expecting to buy a lot of large items.