Southern California flea markets have something for everyone. Whether you’re a serious collector, or just someone who appreciates one-of-a-kind items, you can find something cool for a great price, if you follow a few simple steps.

If you’re looking for something specific, do some homework in advance. Go online and get an idea of what fair market value is for the item you’re trying to find. Then, figure out which flea market is most likely to have a vendor who carries it.

With 2,500 vendors, the Rose Bowl Flea Market has practically everything anyone could want. Long Beach is good for antiques, furniture, and other collectibles. And Santa Monica has beautiful things for the home.

The best strategy for finding something in particular is to go early. But remember that you’ll need to add the higher admission fee to the price of your treasure. At the Rose Bowl, the 5AM admission runs $20, and many vendors won’t be set up until 9AM.

If you’re open to whatever strikes your fancy, you can probably sleep in. With no admission fee, the Pasadena City College Flea Market offers the best bargain to begin with.

Dress comfortably, especially for Long Beach or the Rose Bowl. And protect yourself from the sun with a hat and some sunscreen. A lightweight backpack makes it easy to carry a bottle of water and it’s a handy place for small purchases.

Bargain hunters are often advised to dress down, so dealers won’t think they’re easy marks. But in L.A., vendors are used to seeing poor-looking rich people – you never who just sold a screen play for seven figures. And half the Louis Vuitton bags are fake anyway, so don’t worry too much about what you wear.

Do bring plenty of cash, in smaller denominations. And if you’re shopping for furniture or bigger items, bring a way to transport it. At the Rose Bowl, the hike back to your car could be a mile, so ask the dealer to hold your purchase until you’re done shopping for the day. A tape measure often comes in handy too.

The more eager you are about your purchase, the more you’ll pay, so try not to act too excited about it – unless the asking price is clearly a bargain. Otherwise, it’s okay to discretely ask if that’s the best the seller can do. Often there’s a little wiggle room built into the price.

If you do find a treasure, ask for a receipt. And if it’s a collectible, ask for a certificate of authenticity or a written appraisal. Get the name and contact information of the dealer. And if you’re always interested in similar items, give him your contact information too so he can let you know if he comes across something you may be interested in.

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