Treasure Hunt

Learn to navigate flea markets with a pro—interior designer Christina Malpero Wheeler

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  • Written by
    Linda Grasso

Even for the best of shoppers, a flea market can be challenging. Christina Malpero Wheeler, who regularly scours local markets for clients, invited us to come along with her to the Rose Bowl while shopping for Michelle Sobrino-Stearns.  

Michelle, the publisher of Variety, just moved with her family into a new home and wants to fill it with items that are unique. “Michelle’s new home is what I call transitional eclectic,” Christina explains, adding, “We’re looking for things that are fun or interesting—items that will give it character.”

With that goal in mind, we arrived at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 a.m., paid $20 for VIP parking and $15 to get in early. Following our guide, there was very little random browsing. Christina made beelines to specific dealers she was familiar with. 

“The best thing to do is find out who has the most interesting merchandise and go to them first. Have cash and try to negotiate.” 


Valley Markets

Melrose Trading Post

The Melrose Trading Post kicked off its second location (the first is at Fairfax High) at Taft Charter High in March. The market showcases up to 200 vendors and is ultimately expected to draw thousands to Woodland Hills. A portion of proceeds goes toward Taft’s progams. Open every Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $2 admission.


Topanga Vintage Market

Held the fourth Sunday of every month, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. $2 admission; kids 12 and under are free. No pets.

Rose Bowl Flea Market

Held the second Sunday of every month in Pasadena. VIP admission, 5 to 7 a.m., $20; 7 to 8 a.m., $15; general admission begins at 9 a.m., $8. Children under 12 are admitted free with an adult. Sellers begin packing up and leaving at 3 p.m. 


Pasadena Community College

Held the first Sunday of every month.
Free admission.


Pay a premium to go early when it is less crowded.

Concentrate on art, rugs, lamps and textiles.


Shop for reupholstered and reproductions. These items, according to Christina, are “too pedestrian. You can get that kind stuff anywhere.”

Forget to bring cash, which enables you to get the best prices by negotiating. Some sellers take checks; few take credit cards.

Pass up something you really want. It might not be there when you come back. If you can’t get your price, ask the dealer to throw in something extra like a piece of art. 


Shopping list to stay focused

measurements of large-scale desired purchases

measuring tape

notebook to jot down locations of large items bought so you can remember where to return to for pick-up

shopping cart (at the Rose Bowl, you can buy one near the entrance)

Market of dreams 

Clockwise from top: The Rose Bowl is packed by 9 a.m.; one of Christina’s favorite textile vendors, Robert Snape, from whom this writer broke her “no spend” rule and sprang for a multi-colored fabric ($60) to cover a pillow; vintage Polish barware (5 for $30) that Michelle purchased; Chinese “hill tribe” embroidered fabrics.