Shopping the Alameda Flea
When I first moved to San Francisco, I was photographing a lot of amazing interiors, and while chatting with the residents, I would hear one thing over and over, "I got it at the Alameda Flea." Determined to learn more about this mythical trove of antique treasures, I set out on the next, first Sunday of the month. Many treasures of my own later (including a massive burl patent file from the 1800's) it has become a regular weekend activity, and were you to visit my place you would likely hear, "I got it at the Alameda Flea."
Here's what you need to know about visiting yourself, along with a peek into a recent trip.
Before the market
Before you head out the door, make a rough list of things you want to keep an eye out for, less specific is often better as the selection is always a surprise (and isn't that half the fun?) but having something on hand will help you stay on track. My list this round was a small rug for the kitchen nook, tchotchkes to style up the shelves, a juju hat to add to our collection in the living room, throw pillows for the sofa and miniatures for my daughter's dollhouse. The next suggestion I have it to take measurements and maybe even a few snapshots of the spaces you would like to fill, there's nothing like picking up the perfect piece than getting it home to discover it just doesn't fit or is all wrong for the color scheme of the room. The more information you arm yourself with, the easier it will be to make better choices on the fly. Finally, bring sunscreen or a hat, a light layer, comfortable shoes, some reusable bags, and cash. The weather is inclement, and the location is uniquely exposed, being right on the water. There are ATMs at the market both outside and in but expect to pay fees and be prepared that they will sometimes be down. If you plan on making any large purchases (antique patent file, anyone?) be aware that there is usually a cap on the amount that you can withdraw at once. You should also be prepared to pay admission. The fee changes depending on the time you show up, from opening at 6 till 7:30 am is $15.00, 7:30-9 am is $10.00, 9:00 am-3:00 pm is $5.00. Aim to go early for the best selection, late for the best deals. Unless I'm searching for something specific that is hard to find I'm usually on the later end. This week I scored two rugs that were formerly $45 for $20 each because it was close to closing and the vendor was looking to move them.
When you arrive
There is usually ample parking, and if you end up in the back of the lot, there is a shuttle to take you to and from your car. One benefit of arriving on the late side is that the first wave of visitor are usually on their way out and you find spots up front. There are carts for rent near the entrance (you can always go back and get one if you need it) and port-a-potty style bathrooms both outside and in. Food trucks line both sides of the market with a great selection, including coffee trucks and sweets. One lesser known fact is that furniture delivery services set up booths at the front of the parking lot, just before you come in... so if you happen to, ahem, pick up a massive piece of furniture on a whim, they will deliver it for you. Delivery fees are pretty reasonable, but I do recommend you ask them for an estimate before making a large purchase.
Shopping the market
The number of vendors is usually somewhere around 800, so make a plan of attack and be prepared to do some walking. Much like the time you arrive, where you choose to start your shopping is a matter of preference and depends on what you are hoping to find. The vendors near the front are usually more curated, and those near the back are more rummage-sale like with better deals to be had. I like to get a bite to eat, and some coffee then walk up the center to get an idea of what is there, before working my way from the back to the front. Amongst the usual vendors, you can usually find a great mix of antique items and imports from all over the globe. There are often vendors selling Turkish towels; African mudcloth, baskets and juju hats; Moroccan Berber rugs and wedding blankets; pillows made from Batik textiles; and a fantastic selection of rugs; as well as French antiques, midcentury modern furniture, benches made of reclaimed wood, and vintage barware and glasses. There are also vendors that focus on clothing and jewelry if fashion is more your speed: vintage Levis, beaded clutches and embroidered dresses from Mexico are amongst the offerings.
If you remember my list from above, I had a fair amount of items on my list to track down. At the end of the day I ended up taking home two vintage rugs, one for the aforementioned kitchen nook and the other has taken up residence in my entry; a Moroccan cactus silk pillow and two small pink plastic flamingos (not on the list) that my tot fell in love with and that are now adorning the shelving in her room. I did find a vendor selling Juju hats but nothing that fit the bill and also found furniture for my daughter's dollhouse, but for more than I was willing to spend.
Let me know if you've ever been and what your favorite find was in the comments below!