The Best Of LA's Vintage Markets: Each One A Star

By: Patrice Curedale, Co-Owner of Topanga Vintage Market

On Design Milk's "Friday Five" a while back, artist and designer Michael Aram talked about flea markets as the muse, saying, "Shopping at local markets is a sort of time capsule into a country’s history and culture. I always find inspiration whenever I go."  Aram would have to stay for a whole month in Los Angeles, where every Sunday offers up its own great flea, yet his insight still holds true. Each LA market encapsulates a different facet of LA's cultural history, and each has its own celebrity muse.

Pasadena City College Flea Market. Photo courtesy of Richshell Allen.

First Sundays belong to Pasadena City College (PCC) Flea Market, and have since 1977. This is the Wes Anderson of the fleas; unconcerned with the larger LA scene, no frills, yet quirky and enchanting as each character, whether shopper or seller, is intent on their own unique ode to the past. At PCC, collectors spend hours flipping through cartons of LPs or boxes of antique botanical prints, or chatting with the knowledgeable sellers, hoping to bring home one more special piece to add to their somewhat eccentric collection.  

Rose Bowl Flea Market. Photo courtesy of Ivan Yosafat.

Second Sunday is ruled by one of LA's great showmen, RG Canning, creator of the Rose Bowl, a spectacle complete with stilt walkers, $10 burritos, googahs made in China, and 2,500 antique and vintage dealers. For HGTV design personalities, it is the mecca of fleas, and it truly is the granddaddy of the LA flea market circuit, if Granddad is a cross between Orson Wells and PT Barnum. Tens of thousands of shoppers come out for this show each month, so the $20 early bird tickets may be worth it if you want to scoop the cream off the top before the crowds arrive.  

Long Beach Antique Market. Photo courtesy of Ivan Yosafat.

Third Sundays belong to the Long Beach Antique Market, which isn't even really LA. But this show is a giant magnet for hot, iconic mid-century designers, and filled with furniture, and accessories for all the LA fashionistas who've gotta have it. It brings out the Ari Gold in each of us, in a scene where he meets LA's big, brassy blonde aesthetic. With 800 vendors, there is some very competitive flea shopping here and buyers are often as knowledgeable as sellers. Don't expect to pay the lowest prices, but do expect to find a beautiful selection of vintage, antique and especially "industrial" furniture, and do act quickly, or that 1932 green metal pharmacy cabinet will be whisked off in no time.

Santa Monica Airport Antique Market. Photo courtesy of Robert McNellis.

On the fourth Sunday, Aram would have a tough decision. Pay homage to the grand-mère, Santa Monica Airport Antique Market, or enjoy a sunny day with the ingénue of the circuit, Topanga Vintage Market. Luckily, the markets are close enough that some aficionados do both, stopping at Topanga's Canyon Bistro on the way.  

Santa Monica Market is known for high-end vintage and antiques with an international flair (one seller is devoted entirely to Dorothy Thorpe, another to fine African masks), but since the original force behind the show, Eleanor Hedge, has passed its management on to her daughter, it has taken on the aura of the faded but forever glamorous French actress, Simone Signoret. 

The newer fourth Sunday show is the three-year-old Topanga Vintage Market at Pierce College in Woodland Hills attracting an estimated 3,000 shoppers each month. Lauded as "one of LA's Top Sources for Vintage" in several magazines including this one, it reflects both its Valley location and Topanga roots, combining fine antiquing with a laid-back atmosphere. While many of the 180 vendors are regulars on the circuit, the show also includes local new sellers with "fresh vintage" from the Valley's early years, from the '40s to the '70s, and antique pieces brought by earlier generations as they arrived from the east, or from south of the border. Furniture and home décor predominate, including artfully up-cycled pieces and boho-chic. Complimentary parking, food trucks, music, and local artisans round out this new player on the scene. As local interior designer Jennifer Grey says, "I come see my favorite sellers and get hugs as well as deals. Many of my clients are new to California; and this is where I introduce them to the LA flea culture."

Itty Bitty Vintage Pop-Up Shop at Topanga Vintage Market. Photo courtesy of Topanga Vintage Market.

Topanga Vintage Market. Photo courtesy of Topanga Vintage Market.

Of course, the list is not complete without Melrose Trading Post, the Peter Pan of flea markets, attracting fresh hipsters every Sunday. And last but not least, a new Brooklyn transplant, Artists & Fleas in resurgent Downtown LA, of course, a classic Hollywood transplant/comeback combo.  But then, isn't that the common theme of all great LA flea markets?

With so much inspiration here, New Yorker Aram might have to come out for an extended visit.

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