Located in the heart of the north-east San Jose in California, the San Jose Flea Market is one of the largest open-air flea market in the U.S. It was originally created by George Bumb Sr. back in 1960, after he visited Paris and got inspired by France’s capital city’s flea market (and particularly the Saint Ouen Flea Market), as well as a few swap meets in Los Angeles.
60 years later, the San Jose Flea Market has become a true California landmark with over four million visitors flocking there each year. The 8 miles (13 km) worth of aisles allows for over 2,000 vendors – which makes it almost as big as the iconic Rose Bowl Flea Market and its 2,500 stalls – to sell an array of goods ranging from jewelry, furniture, collectibles and clothing, to fruit, vegetables, toys, books, cars, car stereo equipment, toiletries, artwork, tools, cookware, and cosmetics, among other things.
This is no wonder why with a population and land mass larger than some small towns (120 acres), the San Jose Flea Market is a major contributor to the income of many Silicon Valley families!
However, despite being a strong landmark in California, the San Jose Flea Market has lost some of its shine over the past few years: It is not anymore the community flea market it used to be, where local merchants and artisans showcased their wares and second hand treasures to visiting customers, but instead, it has slowly drifted to what most seasoned flea market shoppers consider a cheap swap meet.
“The San Jose Flea Market has lost some of its shine”
If you heard stories (or have memories) of a place with many booths with wonderful things to sell, lots of people, noises and a faint smell of barbecue in the air, you might end up disappointed: the San Jose Flea Market is not anymore what it used to be 10 years ago. Nowadays, the vast majority of stalls showcase the same cheap things, or just plain junk. The aisles of the San Jose Flea Market are filled with random stuff including old kitchen appliances, clothes, piñatas, Mexican candies, shoes, furniture, blankets, mobile phones accessories, second-hand toys, and more.
And after battling through a jungle of car stereos, embossed leather belts, California cropped t-shirts, video games & DVDs, Mexican crockery, and ready made products, even the most motivated shopper would give up the idea of finding there something worth of interest at the San Jose Flea Market.
Visitors of the San Jose Flea Market who are however willing to rummage through piles of junk and knockoff products from Mexico and China, might be able to find some steals. But if finding a hidden gem or anything of monetary value is already a difficult task in a “renowned” flea market, it is almost mission impossible at the San Jose Flea Market: the place is extremely big and it’s difficult to figure out where you are or where the stuff you want is, particularly if you’re a newbie to this swap meet.
As per seasoned flea market shoppers, who might consider the bargain hunt to be a primary motivator for their existence, they probably won’t find anything to pique their interest at the San Jose Flea Market. Forget about things like war memorabilia, old paintings, glassware, antiques, home decor, vintage jewelry and vintage clothing: you will hardly see any of it at the San Jose Flea Market. And if you’re into used furniture, you will see that most of those on display are tacky and somewhat new, like the kind of furniture you could find in the clearance section of a Big Lots.
If you’re looking for anything from household goods to new commercial items, then I’d I would recommend the San Jose Flea Market anytime, since it caters to a wide variety of products and interests. But really nothing more.
However, the redeeming factor of the San Jose Flea Market is to be found in another part of the flea market: down the Farmers Market’s avenue.
The Farmers Market at the San Jose Flea Market
Probably one of the best thing about the San Jose Flea Market has more to do with the “Market” and less with the “Flea”. The largest section of the San Jose Flea Market is actually its Farmers Market, which stretches a quarter of a mile through the market and features aisles filled with local vendors selling fruits (mangoes, pineapples, apples, oranges, watermelon, bananas) and vegetables from California’s famers.
As you go deeper into the heart of the market, things are getting more interesting: you will discover huge stalls where merchants prepare “on-demand” fresh fruit juice (mango, horchata, watermelon, orange…) and even toss samples of fresh fruit to passersby – don’t forget to ask to try the pineapple covered in cayenne pepper!
Some people say that the farmers market at the San Jose Flea Market is more like an outdoor market, since the majority of the fruits/vegetables sold there, are not locally grown nor organic. But all in all this market is a great place to come and kill time or shop for necessities. So don’t forget to bring a big hefty bag to carry all the items you purchase. One of those rolling carts would be preferable if you are planning to purchase a lot.
The San Jose Flea Market: a flea market with an entertainment factor
The San Jose Flea Market features a variety of entertainment options every weekend. There are two stages on the Flea Market grounds, one of which is consistently reserved for a Mexican Mariachi band. A vintage carousel, an arcade, three playgrounds, and carnival rides are among the attractions specially developed for children at the San Jose Flea Market.
The San Jose Flea Market also host many restaurants that sell both American and Mexican food. Additionally, the Flea Market features traveling food carts that sell beer, soda, and churros.
San Jose Flea Market: Summary (PROs vs CONs)
✓ The San Jose Flea Market hosts around 2,000 vendors
✓ Lots of authentic Mexican food and groceries
✓ Farmers Market: Fresh veggies, fresh fruits, & fresh juice
✓ The San Jose Flea Market provides a variety of entertainment options every weekend + good restaurants on site (American & Mexican food)
✓ Free parking before 9 am (parking is $10)
✘ The San Jose Flea Market has lost some of its shine over the past few years
✘ Most products are junk and knockoff products from Mexico and China
✘ Antiques and real vintage products are scarce
✘ Be prepared to bargain; The more organized the stall, the more overpriced items you’ll find
✘ There are plenty of vintage shops already everywhere in S.F. So why bother?
✘ Food and beer are just a little overpriced (bring your own bottled water)
✘ The ATM at the San Jose Flea Market charges a $2.50 fee for use (bring cash: the parking and most stalls are cash only)
Where: San Jose Flea Market, 1590 Berryessa Rd, San Jose, CA 95133
When: Wednesday (300 – 500 vendors), Friday (300 – 500 vendors), Saturday (1,000 – 1,200 vendors), Sunday (1,200 – 1,500 vendors), from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm