The Alameda Flea Market is one of my very favorite parts of living in the bay area, but it can be overwhelming to a first timer. Today we’re partnering with Metromile and their brilliant pay-per-mile car insurance to share a few insider tips to navigate this incredible antiques faire with Gaby and I…
The Scoop. The Alameda Flea Market is the largest antiques show in Northern California, and one of the most notable in the US. It’s held on the first Sunday of every month from 6am to 3pm. There are more than 800 vendors to explore, but the location is stunning by itself. Held on a naval base with sweeping views of the bay, San Francisco, and shipping containers and cranes in Oakland. People come from all over the country with their vans to find vintage treasures from furniture, clothing, and artwork, to books, rugs, and toys.
Bright and Early. The gates open at 6am and that’s when the real treasures can be found. After 9am, it’s free admission, but before 9am there are admission fees that range from $5 to $15 depending on how early you come (check the website for more details). We usually try to arrive around 7am or so. There are friends of mine who swear by going at the end of the day for better deals!
Once you get it, you’ll see the lanes are organized from A to Z. The more professional vendors are towards the front (A) with some less professional ones in the back (but often better prices). Head straight to the back, all the way towards the water and then start winding your way through the aisles heading back.
Getting There. The best way is by car, but there are a few shuttles around the bay area. Parking is free and there’s even a loading area if you’ve bought a large piece you can’t carry all the way to your car (more about that process later).
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What to bring to the market. Most vendors only take cash. A few take checks, but don’t count on it. There are ATMs at the market, but the lines are long and there’s a low limit to how much you can get out. So bring cash!
I’ve found it best to come with a few things in mind you’re looking for, otherwise it can be really overwhelming. If there is a specific piece of furniture or art, you’ll want to do some measurements before and bring your measuring tape with you.
You’ll also want something to carry treasures you collect in. Some people bring a bag, backpack, or even shopping cart. The great thing is that you can also rent a shopping cart there for $5. So if you find yourself without a decent way to haul stuff, you can just use one of theirs.
There are always a few lucky kids being pulled around in wagons too (sometimes I’m tempted to jump in them and rest for a bit!)
What to wear. It’s always a bit windy on the bay especially in the morning, but the sun really starts hitting hard on that pavement after about 10am. I always recommend a beanie for the early morning, comfortable shoes, sunglasses, and a few layers especially if you plan on rummaging through the clothing (there are no changing rooms so maybe a tank under your sweater?)
One of the best parts of the flea market is all the people watching. There are always so many interesting people (like this woman we met here who brought her baby goats!).
Get chatty with the vendors. They’re often very friendly, and from all over the world with so many interesting stories, knowledge, and history of their goods. Keep in mind that they often don’t load everything out of their trucks and might let you poke around a bit in the back if you’re looking for something specific. Also, asking a vendor for their best price or a multiple item discount is not considered rude!
For a big haul. There are a few great systems in place for when you’ve found more stuff than can fit in your car, or a large furniture piece. I’ve bought a bunch of large pieces in our home like a dining room table, a 12 foot bench, and this dresser we just bought last weekend.
Here’s what you do. Vendors usually let you hold an item until end of day (which is usually 3pm). So after you purchase the item, ask them to hold it. They’ll make a note of your name and phone number and make sure you write down the lane number (A through Z) located in the aisles on the ground.
Now, if you think it’ll fit in your car, great. Go get your car and pull it into the temporary loading zone parking area on the left hand side (if you’re looking north towards the bay). If it’s busy, they are going to require that the item already be waiting- which would require two people- if not, you can grab it quick with the large carts they have available. They’re free to use, just grab one and wheel it back to the vendor where your item is waiting for you, and then wheel it back to the car in the loading zone. Done!
If it won’t fit in you car, you can ask the vendor to hold it and head home to maybe borrow a car from a neighbor OR there’s a stand and a big truck parked right next to the loading zone where they will arrange home delivery for you. They’ll even go grab it for you from the vendor with a cart for an extra $5 or so if you’re really in a rush or don’t have a second person with you. For the home delivery, it depends on where you live in the bay area and how large the piece is, but it ranges from about $40 to $100+. We used this service for the dining room table and the 12 foot bench we bought and I think it cost us about $60 or $70 for delivery each time. A good option if you don’t have a truck.
Food trucks. This is one of the best parts! Along the sides of the market on both the left and righ sides are some of the best bay area food trucks. My favorite is the Acai and Poke bowls. Acai for the morning (similar to a smoothie bowl), and poke for a take home lunch. Another favorite is the Liba Salad bar and the huge frankfurters always look so delicious.