An Insider Look at Flea Market Shopping

I have been shopping at vintage flea markets for thirty years and today I am sharing some insider tips for antique flea market shopping.

When people ask me “What style of decor is your home?”, I always answer “Vintage and antique flea market decor”. It’s true. I am sure the majority of the items in my home were bought at a flea market. I have been shopping at vintage flea markets for about thirty years and today I am going to share with you everything you need to know for flea market antique shopping.

How to Shop an Antique Flea Market

If you look at the photo of our back porch, there are eighteen items in this photo that I bought at a flea market. So trust me, I know how to shop at a flea market.

And … if you live in the Los Angeles area, hop in your car right now and head to the Barnhouse Chicks Flea Market. It’s in Camarillo, Ca and you can find everything you need to know here. If you go and I’m there, I would love to meet you!

Antique Flea Market Shopping

Why do I like shopping at antique flea markets?

I love the hunt.

Most of the time I have a list. But usually, my list is not for a specific item. Rather, it might read “something for the wall next to the front door, spring-colored glassware, or sage green items”. I love the thought process of when I see something I love and my mind races to think of how it might fit in our home. Most of the time I buy the item to use as it was never intended to be used. I love the creative thinking that flea markets bring.

How to Find a Flea Market Near You

I primarily shop at flea markets in California but I have been to the Brimfield Flea Market in Massachusetts and the Round Top Antique flea market in Texas. My two monthly flea markets held here in Southern California, are the Rose BowlFlea Market and the Long Beach Flea Market. If you are looking for a flea market in your area, Emily Hendersen published a great article called We Rounded Up All of the Most Worth It Flea Markets by Region.

Some of the best flea markets are small so be sure to google flea markets (or swap meets) in your area. There are a lot of lists online of “The Best Flea Markets” but I looked at them and was disappointed. Any list that doesn’t have the Rose Bowl Flea Market listed in California is not worth reading. You might have more luck asking your local antique store owners where the best flea markets are in your area.

Some of my finds from a trip to the Rose Bowl Flea Market

If you look at the photo above, all of the flea market finds have found a place in our home. The two screens are hanging in our entryway, the blue drawer is in our family room (it holds the alcohol on our bar), the two white end tables are in one of the boy’s rooms, the lunch box, and teal metal box are hanging on the shelves on our back porch, and the teal and white striped buoy on the far right is at the beach house!

Tips on Shopping at a Flea Market

I can’t even begin to think of the number of flea markets I have attended. I put together a list of some tips that should help your flea market antique shopping.

  1. Get there early. The die-hard shoppers arrive early and a lot of the good stuff is sold in the first hour of the show. I have been to plenty of flea markets in the dark when the vendors were unloading their trucks. It may cost a few more dollars to get in early but it’s worth it to find the best products, beat the crowds, beat the heat, and park close by! 
  2. Bring cash. Most flea markets have ATM machines but come prepared with cash. A lot of the vendors take credit cards and/or Venmo but you don’t want to miss out on a great find if the vendor only takes cash.
  3. Come prepared. Bring a cart with some bags. Wear comfortable shoes. Dress in layers. Bring water. Bring a tape measure.
  4. Measure before you come. If you are looking for a table in your entryway, measure the space in advance. In fact, measure all of the potential areas in your home that might need an antique find.
  5. Negotiate in a kind and friendly way. I usually ask, “what is your best price?”. It’s a polite way of asking for a deal.
Flea Market Antique on the Back Porch

Repurpose Things

It is rare that I use a vintage flea market purchase for the purpose it was originally intended. I use these metal tool boxes and lunch boxes (pictured below) to hold napkins, magazines, remote controls, and flowers. I have purchased many items at a flea market because I loved them, even though I had no idea what to do with them. That’s what makes flea market antique shopping so much fun. Repurposing is really fun to do.

swap meet flea market

I wanted to mention more about my three favorite flea markets. In Southern California, I love to go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market which is the second Sunday of the month. I also love the Long Beach Flea Market which is on the third Sunday of every month.

Lastly, I love the Round Top Antiques Show in Warrenton and Round Top, Texas. It is held every spring and fall and it is huge. When I go, I rent a truck!

Hanging Shelves on the Back Porch

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Vintage Finds Are Not Perfect

When you buy a vintage item, you may have to take it home and give it some TLC. This photo in my craft room has two items that I refurbished. This worktable was turquoise when I bought it. Yikes! I sanded the top and repainted the base and the transformation is remarkable. The entire makeover is in my blog post, Restoring a Flea Market Table. The tool chest on the left was covered in auto grease. I cleaned it and spray painted the entire cabinet. 

Craft Room Vintage Table

My favorite makeover of a flea market find was the coffee table in my living room. The wooden chest was dark originally dark brown. I painted it with milk paint and then nailed two vintage ceiling tiles on the top. I absolutely love it. You should read my post the DIY Coffee Table Makeover blog post.

Antique-Flea-Market-Shopping-Tips

Do Your Homework

It is important to know a little bit about the items you are hoping to buy. If you want to start collecting transferware do some research online and find out what the average sale price is on eBay. If you know anyone that already collects the item you want, reach out and ask them what prices you should expect to pay. Also, find out how you can tell if the item is authentic and not a reproduction. There are a lot of items at flea markets, especially wood and metal items that look like they are vintage and from France, and yet they are reproductions from Mexico.

By the way, reproductions are fine as long as the price you pay reflects that it is a reproduction.

Most importantly, have fun. There is something about hunting at a flea market that I love. I ignore the junk and look for the treasures. Because if you look hard enough, you will always find them.

Tips to Buying a Vintage Chandelier

When we redid the Carriage House I used so many vintage flea market items in here! This is the perfect place for all of my flea market finds.

And by the way, I counted 149 flea market items in this blog post. Can you find them?

My Favorite Vintage Style Home Decor Items

Home Decor Favorites

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How to Shop an Antique Flea Market

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26 Comments

  1. These are great suggestions! I used many of them this past weekend in fact. Someone mentioned that the Wednesday Ventura Market is really good. I had no idea, what do you think?

  2. You are such an inspiration Leslie!! I never knew I LOVED vintage things till I started following you on Instagram and your blog!!! I have started looking and shopping at our Market Days here in town every first Saturday of the month and boy, what a beauty of things there are when you don’t look at them as junk! Hahaha

    Thank you soooo much for sharing so much with all us!! I’m from Deep South Texas and I have NEVER been to Roundtop, but it’s on my bucket list!!

  3. Great tips! I live in Massachusetts and plan to go to Brimfield in May with my husband if they have it. I hope they do. Good luck at Round Table, can’t wait to see what you get. We are also planning a trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show in Jun, it’s outside and I hear it’s a great show w awesome vendors. 🌷😊

  4. Thank you for all the great ideas. I have made several chenille wreaths Also, I made some cherry blossoms. They look so good !

    1. Beerly, that makes me so happy! Tag me if you post a picture of your projects on Instagram and I will share it!

  5. Love your post! You certainly have bought some “treasures.” I agree with the fun being in the hunt. Many times I can find something totally unexpected too. And, I especially love using something not for its intended purpose!

    1. Thank you Karen! The hunt really is the best part. And, the unexpected surprise when you find something wonderful and use it for something entirely different than its intended purpose, I agree!

  6. I love the anticipation and excitement of what I may find each time of go to a flea market! Even if I don’t find something I don’t look at it as a failed day. Any time I get to go is a good day!! Miss not being able to go as often as I was before the pandemic but substituted doing more local antique shopping instead. Thanks for the tips Leslie. Love to see all the ways you have used your finds in your house.

  7. I love your Sunday blogs (actually all your blogs). and also love seeing your beautiful home and your many vintage treasures and craft inspirations!! I live in Southern CA too and now I will have to find my way to the Rose Bowl and Long Beach Flea Markets, thanks for the many wonderful tips 🙂

    1. Oh I hope you do Vicki, both Rose Bowl and Long Beach are filled with so many treasures! I have been frequently both for so many years. I appreciate your kind words, thank you!

  8. I have the same wrought iron patio set, and having a hard time finding cushions. Please let me know where you found yours😉💙

  9. Can u tell me where u got your table that u show in your craft/sewing room. Looks like wood top n iron bottom. How long is it? Thx’s

  10. I love going to the Warrington and Round Top Antique Show! My friends and I are planning our annual trip March 25. Last year we parked our truck in a field over looking a beautiful field and pond in Warrington. As we were walking up towards the tents I noticed a pretty lady and her large white dog. She looked so familiar to me. By chance could that have been you Leslie?

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