This piece is courtesy of one of our Fresno State Interns, Victoria Aguilar, who is in the anthropology department. We love working with Victoria and we’re grateful for her view on what’s happening in the Fresno Valley.
Without further adieu, here’s Victoria’s first article!
Did you know Fresno is California’s fifth largest city? With our population size, it comes as no surprise our backyard is full of diversity. In Fresno, the opportunity to explore other cultures also comes the opportunity to explore eclectic goods from each heritage. If you’re seeking to immerse yourself in a special bit of Fresno culture, there’s no better place to start than a weekend at one of Fresno’s open-air markets which have served as a cultural hub for our community for decades.
How much you’ll spend at each market heavily depends on what you are looking for, but if you just want to have a little day of exploration, a bit of food and drink, a single twenty-dollar bill should go a long way for a single person. Fresno’s swap meets or flea markets, are family friendly as well. Though you can shop on a budget, I will warn you, you’ve got to be ready to dig for treasure to find what you are looking for. (But, that’s half the fun!)
The Fresno Fairgrounds Swap Meet is the second largest and most accessible of locations. The strength of this site is the many food and drink options. You don’t have to walk very far through the fairgrounds to find something tasty to enjoy while you’re browsing. A definite perk is that you can hop over to a food truck with smaller lines if you’re not keen on a long wait. You could also visit one of the vendors for popular street food options like chili mango or a elote, spiced corn on the cob. There is certainly plenty of Mexican candy, street food, pan dulce, and aguas frescas options to be had for small treats before or after lunch. I recommend picking up a refreshing Boba smoothie, a popular Taiwanese drink if you’re shopping during the summer months. The majority of lots at the fairgrounds will be yard-sale style, but there are also sellers offering clothing, tech goods like phones cases and chargers, and other miscellaneous items with a healthy bit of produce for sale as well. For traditional cultural fair, one can find items particular to Hmong and Central American communities here.
One of my favorite Central American sellers is a friendly old fellow who sells intricately beaded bracelets and necklaces hand-crafted by Michoacán folk artists. Often the colorful pieces will feature small crocodiles and flowers, images with cultural importance to Central Americans. There are similar sellers who offer leather goods. The most intriguing booth I’ve come across at the Fresno Fair Grounds is that of a friendly Hmong wife and husband team who sell goods related to honey. At their booth, you’ll find items fit for any self-love diva. When I stopped by, in addition to local honey, they offered beautiful jars of golden pollen recommended to add nutrients and vitamins to a daily wellness smoothie.
If you dedicate a few extra moments to talking with this amicable pair you’ll find they’re happy to share their favorite recipes and recommendations. They also offer large blocks of beeswax and wick bundles which one can use to make one’s own hand-dipped tapered all-natural candles if preferred to the two pre-prepared candle styles the couple offers.
What I loved about these vendors and their display is they were eager to share bits of their culture in a way that made the shopping experience that much more intimate and memorable. One distinct detail I won’t soon forget is when I selected a single beeswax candle to accent a vintage bedside table, I was told the candles are important implements sometimes used by Hmong shamans in rituals to ward off evil spirits.
Beyond this lot, there are other Hmong sellers who offer bolts of fabric for traditional Hmong clothing and other applications. Fancy a visit? The likely best day to drop by Fresno Fairgrounds Swap Meet Sunday at mid-morning to early afternoon when most vendors are set up an ready to go. Plenty of vendors also sell on the other days listed below.
Location: 1641 S. Chance Ave., Fresno, CA 93702
Days of Operation: Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 6 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Admission: $1.25 on Sunday, Free on Thursday and Saturday
Parking Fee: $5
Sunnyside Swap Meet’s sellers tend to present offerings apropos to this former drive-in theater lot. You’ll find bathrooms, atm’s, pony rides, and food trucks like the other flea markets but if you really felt the little mermaid when she was singing about her cavern of whosits and whatsits galore, Sunnyside Market may be your flea market of choice. Generally, this is the best swap meet to find private sellers who’ve upcycled old trunks into gorgeous bookshelves or wooden barrels into tables. The majority of lots with be yard-sale style, often consisting of vintage and sometimes antique offerings, with a booth or two specifically featuring Americana. This is also the location that is most likely to be a haggler’s delight. Check out the following information to visit the Sunnyside Swap Meet.
Location: 5440 E Olive Ave, Fresno, CA 93727
Days of Operation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Parking Fee: $3
The Cherry Auction is an impressive open-air market, even at first glance. You can’t miss the location; an expanse of colorful tents tops sits in front of a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Follow the caravan of vehicles to find your way into the parking lot and make sure to have a few dollars handy or you’re sure to get plenty of singles back when paying the $3 parking fee. If you ever wondered what it might feel like to visit an old-world bazaar, this is the place for you. Sellers call out to customers to visit their wares while crowds of young and old bustle through the shaded rows of colorful goods and aromas of freshly cooked foods waft along with music from various corners of the auction. If you popped into town and wanted to visit one place to stock the entire house including the fridge and the front yard, the sellers at the Cherry Auction would have you covered. You’ll find anything from mattresses, plants, and produce to tech, clothing, and small livestock like bunnies and goats. Even waiting a few minutes in the caravan of cars is worth a trip to the Cherry Auction. It’s open several days a week but I would recommend clearing a Saturday for a proper day of Cherry Auction exploration.
Location: 4640 S. Cherry Ave, Fresno, CA 93706
Days of Operation: Tuesdays, Saturdays 6:30 AM-3:30 PM
Parking Fee: $3