Central Coast Swap Meets

Treasure Hunt

By Nicole Leonetti

Nipomo photos by Nicole Leonetti; all others submitted

Confession time: 
I recently attended my first-ever swap meet! I have always been a bit intimidated by this type of event; I wasn’t even certain how a swap meet or flea market worked. Luckily, I found a few experts who filled me in. Swap meets/flea markets — the terms are interchangeable — are places or events where you can buy or sell new and used goods. As it turns out, the Central Coast has several terrific options for these shopping experiences.

Nipomo Swap Meet & Flea Market

My inaugural swap meet was the Nipomo Swap Meet & Flea Market, which takes place every Sunday from 6 am to 6 pm. Billed as the “largest outdoor swap meet on the Central Coast,” it boasts more than 300 vendors selling new and used items including clothing, toys, accessories, and jewelry. They also have antiques and collectibles, as well as fresh local produce. This place gets busy, so I would suggest getting there early. It is conveniently located right off the 101, and parking is only $4

As a newbie, I was very excited to find that they have live music! There was a small band playing, and a few booths I passed had DJs and musicians providing additional entertainment. I was also surprised by the amazing food options! Vendors offer authentic Mexican food favorites such as birria tacos, tamales, nachos, churros, and shaved ice. You can quench your thirst with a huge array of beverages — Mexican Horchata, Aguas Frescas, and Diablitos. I opted for a Strawberry Agua Fresca, which was perfection!

If you are interested in being a vendor at the Nipomo Swap Meet & Flea Market, spaces start at $30 and are first come, first served. Selling items can be just as much fun as shopping during these events!

Find the Nipomo Swap Meet & Flea Market at 263 N. Frontage Rd, Nipomo. For more, visit nipomo-swapmeet.com.

Wednesday Swap Meet

Sue Adams runs the Wednesday Swap Meet at the Ventura County Fair Grounds. This event takes place on Wednesdays from 7 am to 1 pm year-round, pending weather. It is closed in August for the Ventura County Fair. Sue, an experienced antique dealer, launched the Wednesday Swap Meet 16 years ago. She started out with just 18 vendors, but now you will find approximately 300 vendors along with an average of 2,000 shoppers each week. Admission to the Wednesday Swap Meet is $2 per person, and they offer both free and paid parking options.

Shoppers and vendors travel from as far south as San Diego, and from all the way up in Northern California. Sue explained, “People don’t mind driving if they will find what they are looking for.”

You will find treasures of all sorts here, including antiques, collectibles, artwork, vintage clothing, mid-century modern furniture, carousel horses, old advertisements, kitchenware, mannequins, Legos, toys, garden tools, and more! Many shoppers return each Wednesday since vendors are always bringing in new items. Sue let me know that “People look forward to it all week — they live for Wednesdays!”

If you know me, then you know I’m always on the lookout for food. I am happy to report that the Wednesday Swap Meet has plenty of food options. Visit the produce vendors for their wide array of local and unusual fruits and vegetables. There are also food trucks, cold-pressed juices, hot dogs, ice cream, and other treats to enjoy while you are browsing the aisles for bargains.

When I asked Sue what has kept her running the swap meet for 16 years, she said, “It’s a community that helps people out. Many vendors make a living out of this, and I am happy to give them this opportunity.”

If you would like to be a vendor at the Wednesday Swap Meet, spaces start at $40 and are first come, first served (some vendors show up as early as 4:30 am).

The Wednesday Swap Meet is located at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 E. Harbor Blvd, Ventura. For more, visit facebook.com/VenturaWednesdayFleaMarket805.

Santa Barbara Flea Market

Sue also oversees the Santa Barbara Flea Market, along with market manager Valerie Rosas-Wells. Held at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, this flea market takes place on Thursdays from 8 am to 3 pm and offers free admission for browsers and buyers. The SB Flea Market has been going strong for 8 years, and you will find about 100 vendors and 1,500 shoppers there each Thursday.

At the Santa Barbara Flea Market, spaces start at $30. Here, you may recognize some of the same vendors as the Wednesday Swap Meet. Since it is during the week, some serious swap meet and flea market enthusiasts shop for items that they will sell at future weekend shows.

Sue explained that these events always have a friendly atmosphere and are an amazing opportunity to meet new people. She advised that “new people are sometimes overwhelmed by everything there is to see!” So, you will want to have a strategy: stay hydrated, and keep your eyes peeled for great deals!

The Santa Barbara Flea Market is located at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara. For more, visit facebook.com/EarlWarrenFleaMarket.

Weekend Marketplace

The Weekend Marketplace at Ventura College started in 1985 and is held every Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm, year-round, rain or shine (except major holidays). Admission is free, although better parking can be had for $1 on Saturdays and $5 on Sundays. Shoppers, ranging in numbers between 2,000 and 5,000 per weekend, can feel good about their patronage — the Marketplace helps fund 
the Ventura College Foundation, which supports the college and its students.

For the last 22 years, Esmeralda Juarez, marketplace supervisor, has seen the marketplace grow to about 240 vendors on Saturdays and 280 vendors on Sundays. Vendor spaces start at $35 and can be reserved on-site.

Esmeralda told me, “You can find anything here!” That includes things like photography, artwork, homemade jewelry, soaps, candles, socks, toys, and collectables, just to name a few. There is also a Farmers’ Market section of the Marketplace with local fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, they also have the essentials: food trucks, ice cream, candy, and more.

I asked Esmeralda for some insider tips for enjoying the Marketplace. She revealed the best time to go is in the morning between 8 and 10 am. Saturday is less crowded, and there is more parking available that day. Bonus: you also get the best/freshest produce on Saturday. Make sure to walk all the lanes in order to discover more treasures.

When I asked Esmeralda what has kept her at the Marketplace for all these years, she didn’t hesitate to answer, “I love what I do!” She loves interacting with so many people and helping them feel comfortable at these events. One of her favorite days is their annual vendor appreciation barbecue, which is held each summer for about 400 vendors. Ventura College Foundation beneficiaries also join this event to speak and give a personal thank you to the vendors.

The Weekend Marketplace at Ventura College is located in the east parking lot at the college, 4667 Telegraph Rd, Ventura. For more, visit venturacollegefoundation.org/weekend-marketplace.

While I am by no means a swap meet/flea market/marketplace expert, I have learned so much from speaking with the pros and have come to love the community atmosphere at these events. There is great music, food, shopping, and the chance to discover treasures that you didn’t even know existed. My advice is to arrive early and to bring a nice large bag … and an open mind!