Combine your love of travel with a passion for finding old treasures and plan a couple of road trips this year. We offer ten of America’s greatest indoor and outdoor antique shows and give you tips on how to get the most out of each one.
This is the year to get your ducks in a row — preferably a trio of antique painted-wood decoy ducks. You love to take road trips, right? You love antiques and one-of-a-kind finds, yes? Combine both of them into a series of mini vacations that bring you to some of America’s pretties states, towns and villages. This is the year of your Great American Antiques Road Trip.
Tips for the Trips
Your road trip can take you any direction you wish, from the West Coast, to the Midwest, to the South and on to the East Coast. Every state has something to offer. This is a good opportunity to take in a place that you haven’t been before, or to hit that state you’ve always heard has great shopping opportunities.
Now, think about your wheels. Do you have access to a pickup truck or a large SUV? These are ideal in case you find those side chairs and dining table you couldn’t walk away from. Some vendors will offer shipping but the smaller ones will almost certainly expect you to “cash and carry.” If you don’t have a truck or SUV you might think about renting a vehicle, and/or renting a small hitched trailer. Do this only if you are certain you are going after the big game — furniture, large art pieces, statuary, etc.
Examine the dates of each show carefully, look at the travel and events you already have scheduled, then think about getting the time off from your job, business or other obligations. You may be able to fit in a fall trip and a spring trip if you’re careful.
We’ve included more tips along with the destinations below. Presented here are our 10 top road trips for antiques shopping.
Brimfield (Brimfield, MA | Sept., May, July)
Truly the granddaddy of all antique markets, Brimfield Flea Market is a vast outdoor show that takes place three times a year in Brimfield, Massachusetts. The event brings 5,000 vendors onto 20 different “fields” along Main Street. Whet your appetite simply by reading the names of these fields: “Mahogany Ridge,” “Heart O’ the Mart” and “Grand Trunk Antique Shows” are just a few. You’ll find everything from primitive/farmhouse to Americana, Victorian, mid century and last century items. We’re pretty sure new stuff is not allowed. Other things to do/see: Take a side trip to Boston, visit Old Sturbridge, stay in Martha’s Vineyard.
TRIP TIP #1: Make sure you bring lots of cash. Most vendors still prefer cash and you will also be able to “control yourself” better – when you run out, you run out. ATM machines will be available but there could be long lines or they might be in an inconvenient spot. Also, many of them only let you withdraw $200 at a time. Might not be enough. Keep your cash safe in a zippered pouch you wear close to you body or under your clothing.
Farm Chicks Vintage Fair (Spokane, WA | June)
The FC Vintage Fair is the show that sparked our guide! Not because it’s the biggest or the best, but it reminded us that we wanted an excuse to head up to the Pacific Northwest. Based in Spokane, the show is indoors at the Spokane Valley Fairgrounds. For two days, poke around among the show’s carefully chosen “curators” where you are sure to be inspired, thanks to the show’s strict requirements. Spokane offers a 37-mile trail along with museums (don’t miss the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture), parks and U-pick farms galore.
TRIP TIP #2: Measure, measure, measure, before and during the trip. Want a desk the fits into an alcove? Yearning for a Victorian painting that fits perfectly over the mantel? Take good measurements and bring them in a notebook for the journey. Tuck your measuring tape into your tote and bring it to the show, too.
Gold Rush Olmsted County Antiques Show & Market (Rochester, MN | May & August)
Like many of today’s large antiques fairs, the Gold Rush Olmsted County show began small. This show originated in the village of Oronoco, started in 1972 by Earl and Mary Lou Burg. About a decade later, Joyce and Ole Fuchs bought the show and a friendly split took place. Oronoco’s non-profit Downtown Gold Rush still takes place in August and the Fuchs’ Townsend Shows event takes place in Rochester’s fairgrounds. It is considered one of the Midwest’s largest antiques event. Minnesota is a wonderful state filled with natural beauty, historic architecture and neighborhoods and very friendly people. It’s also a great place to experience a Native American Pow Wow, a lively gathering filled with dancing, music, food and authentic ceremonial dress.
TRIP TIP #3: Whether it’s a tote or a wagon, bring along the best solutions for carrying all of your loot. A basic necessity even if you are planning to shop small is a sturdy tote bag. Stuff it with bubble wrap and a few old towels to wrap fragile items. Next up the line is a foldable wheeled cart like this one, which will carry up to 120 pounds. We also like these four-wheeled wagons for attending shows; they are easy to pack and pull and they fold down flat.
The Great Junk Hunt (throughout CA, OR, WA and Las Vegas, NV)
Listed as a “Must Attend Flea Market” by Romantic Homes magazine, The Great Junk Hunt is great because it is in so many cool places so you can easily tailor a fun road trip around it. Love Disneyland, gorgeous beaches and world-class dining? Try the Junk Hunt in Pomona or Ventura. Is wine-tasting and California Gold Rush history more your thing? Check out the Sacramento show and then hit old gold rush towns like Sutter Creek and Nevada City. Then there’s always Vegas, baby, where you can test your luck on the best antique finds during the day and the craps tables at night.
TRIP TIP #4: Timing is everything. If your goal is to find something that is very popular or rare, then arriving to the antiques show early is of paramount importance. You will have a much greater chance of scoring that elusive find. If your goal, on the other hand, is to score random treasures at deep discounts, then time your visit for end of day. Vendors are ready to unload their inventory, often at a fraction of the original asking price.
Rose Bowl Flea Market (Pasadena, CA – 2nd Sunday of each month)
Pasadena is the crown jewel in Southern California’s historic towns. And its monthly antiques and flea market is considered by many to be one of the best monthly shows in the country. Held at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium built in 1923, the Rose Bowl Flea Market typically has 2,500 vendors each month selling a variety of vintage merchandise. You can be an intrepid early-bird shopper by purchasing a $20 entry ticket, which allows you to shop for up to three hours before the rest of the crowd arrives (plus you’ll get a much better free parking space). Regular entry is at 9 a.m. and costs $12 per person. For vintage clothing lovers this is a must-attend show, but you will also find great furniture, objets d’art, midcentury modern pieces galore, advertising art, textiles, collectibles, glassware and silver/silverplate.
TRIP TIP #5: This is an easy one, but also easy to forget: bring water and snacks! Invest in a good reusable thermal water bottle and bring protein bars and dried fruit to keep your blood sugar level happy. If you do decide to sample the food at the Rose Bowl, we highly recommend the garlic fries. Mmmm.
Round Top Antiques Fair (Round Top, TX | October, January & March)
You’ve no doubt heard much about Round Top and its myriad antiques venues along Hwy. 237. Nowhere but Texas does something this big! We are here to tell you that it’s worth all the hype, and more. There are so many venues to visit, you will likely want to spend your entire trip shopping for furniture, antique farm implements, rugs, signage, architectural salvage, home decor, Americana, European antiques, art, textiles, collectibles, ephemera, books and lighting. Just recently, the show was purchased by the Layne Family, who also run Blue Hills and added 40,000 sf of retail space to the venue. The show continues to grow! We recommend staying in Austin, which is just about 1 1/2 hours from the thick of things. But there are also some really pretty B&Bs in the countryside if you book WAY ahead.
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TRIP TIP #6: Standard advice for shopping antiques fairs is that you should have a specific item or game plan in mind and stick to it. The other option is to keep an open mind and avoid having any purchase goals. We actually like having at least one specific wish because it makes the hunt more exciting and it also allows you to pare down the number of aisles you walk. The magical (and inevitable) part of your search is that you will fall in love with other items along the way.
Scott Antique Markets (Atlanta, GA | monthly)
Billing themselves as “America’s Favorite Treasure Hunts” Scott Antique Markets has been around for 30 years, started by an antiques dealer who spent 20 years before that buying and selling his wares on the road. He knows whereof he speaks and so this market may have an edge in terms of parking, amenities, shipping services, etc. House Beautiful is a fan, and gives some good insights as to the kinds of goodies you might find there. Atlanta is a fun, vibrant city with tons of things to do and superb dining options. You won’t have any trouble making a memorable road trip out of this one!
TRIP TIP #7: Do some digging before you go. Look at the website, note dates and hours, read the FAQs and if possible, read the comments from those who have gone before. Even the pros get excited (or complacent) about going on an antiquing trip. Once there, they can’t find parking or realize that their one day of shopping on Sunday turns about to be a bust since half the vendors have sold out and left. Be as prepared as you can but then be easy on yourself if something goes amiss. The joy is in the journey.
Sparks Flea Market (Sparks, KS | April & September)
For two weekends a year, the tiny ghost town of Sparks grows from nine people to about 75,000, give or take. The phenomenally successful Sparks Flea Market draws shoppers interested in all kinds of antiques and collectibles; according to the show’s organizers, nearly all (450 out of 500) of the vendors specialize in antiques. The event is especially attractive to “pickers,” who come looking for unique items at bargain prices. As an added bonus, stop by the annual flea market in White Cloud, which takes place on the same weekends. Look for a hotel in St. Joseph, MO or better yet, a charming airbnb in St. Joe, Atchison or Highland.
TRIP TIP #8: There is an art to bargaining at antiques shows and it’s easy to bungle. First, do no harm with rudeness or aggressive behavior. Nothing’s worth that. Second, keep in mind that most vendors do have a built-in range on their pricing and expect to be asked to consider a lower price — just not pennies-on-the-dollar low. Another way to haggle is to ask respectfully “would you be offended if I made you an offer?” then make it. If you’ve ever been on the other side of selling old items – staging a garage sale or selling on ebay, for example – you know how much work it is. Don’t be an ass.
Springfield Antique Show (Springfield, OH | May & September)
Although the Springfield Antique Show is technically monthly, we’re featuring the two Extravaganza months of May and September, ladies. This means it goes for three days instead of two, and has 2,000 vendors instead of 200-300. This Martha-approved show offers troves of treasures, both high-brow collector-quality antiques and more humble-but-wonderful vintage goodies. According to this Columbus Dispatch article, the Extravaganza can feel more like a festival with music, food and beer and wine stands. Their Facebook page is even more newsy than the website so check that out, too. There’s lots of great Victorian architecture in downtown Springfield, and a quick trip to Yellow Springs sounds like a worthwhile detour as well. Read this Ohio Girl Travels blog post for some great ideas to make a perfect Ohio road trip.
TRIP TIP #9: Another bargaining tip. If you find a vendor who has multiple items you want to take home, it’s a perfect opportunity to get a “volume discount,” or “bundling” as they say in the biz. Pool the items you want (maybe your companion wants a few, too – better still!) and negotiate a single price for them all.
The 127 Yard Sale (MI, OH, KY, TN, GA, AL | August)
This one is going to blow. your. mind. The 127 Yard Sale is a 700-mile Homeric odyssey through six states on scenic back roads. It was started by a county executive who wanted to get tourists off of the interstates and into the area’s towns and hamlets. Beginning in Addison, MI, the journey winds through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and ends in Alabama. You’ll cruise past business, agricultural and residential districts and see vendors lined up ready to sell their goods from yards, fields and trunks. Yes, this is the world’s longest yard sale! Part of the journey winds along the Lookout Mountain Parkway, which was designated by Reader’s Digest as one of America’s most scenic drives. It’s a 4-day event and practically impossible to hit it all if you plan to stop anywhere. Avail yourself of the event website to plan your trip. They have lots of great information and downloadable maps.
TRIP TIP #10: Think carefully about your junkin’ companion. This very lucky person, whether spouse, girlfriend, best friend, sister, brother or business partner, better be as enthusiastic as you are. Road trips are tough, tiring and full of detours and speed bumps (literally and figuratively). You want a sidekick who is joyful, resourceful and who will happily wander into the vintage wilderness while letting you do the same.
One Thing We Ask …
We hope you enjoyed our list, as an armchair traveler. If you do decide to get out of that armchair and plan a road trip this year (or whenever), please let us know in the comments or tag us on Instagram!