If you need it, Indio Open Air Market has it

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John Annarino

From shoes to tortillas, more than 100 vendors offer thousands of products at the Indio Open Air Market in the Riverside County Fair parking lot on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
Photo by Jamie Lee Pricer

While strolling under the stars, you get to shop for bargains galore.

That’s the beauty of Indio’s Open Air Market held every Wednesday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio. Actually, it’s a farmers market, swap meet and flea market all rolled into one, making it one of the biggest of its kind in Southern California.

It’s a Mexican-styled shopping experience that caters to the local community. You won’t see a lot of tourists, but you will see more than 400 vendors attracting thousands of shoppers. The market, lined with palm trees, fills the parking areas, where the parking is free.

You’ll find produce fresh from the field, picked that morning. And beautifully priced: A heavy bag of produce might be $3 or $4. Bananas, peaches and dates grown in the immediate area are practically given away. A bag of four or five avocados, $2. A dozen limes, 55 cents.

When it comes to swap meet and flea market items, there’s just about everything under the sun — or, in this case, under the stars. Jewelry, jeans, electric guitars, power tools, flat screen TVs, second-hand clothing, boots, shoes, toys, rose bushes, movies, video games, beauty supplies, strollers, saddles, framed art, new and used furniture. You name it. It’s all here at rock-bottom prices.

Cheap and tasty Mexican food

It’s a very social marketplace, where friends gather to shop and enjoy the delicious Mexican food. It’s good to arrive hungry. A hearty dinner for two costs less than $10.The tamales alone are worth the price of admission: 50 cents. (12-year-olds and under free).

The vendors sell tortas, Sonoran dogs wrapped in bacon, horchata and elotes. The elotes en vaso is an exotic combination of corn, heavy cream, mayo, cheese, lime and chili. You won’t find that on too many restaurant menus.

The Mexican candy, snacks and baked goods are, in more ways than one, a sweet deal. You might want to try Skwinkles, a hot pineapple and tamarind candy as hard to resist as the rose-colored marzipan. And be sure to indulge in the wonderful roasted peanuts.

Colorful piƱatas, filled with small toys and candies, add to the festive atmosphere.

How popular is this event? A record number of 8,000 bargain hunters recently showed up. Here’s what some of them had to say.

• “There’s so much going on, you can’t begin to take it all in. I can’t wait to go back.”

• “If you like to browse, you can browse to your heart’s content.”

• “I had a great time. I arrived at sunset when most of the vendors were setting up. By the time I left, the place was packed.”

• “It’s a shopper’s paradise!

The Open Air Market has been operating in the same location since 1995, when it relocated from the space now occupied by Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. The architecture of the fairgrounds is reminiscent of a city in Morocco. In that way, it’s perhaps the most interesting of the fairgrounds found in Southern California.

Visit the Open Air Market some Wednesday or Saturday evening. You’ll discover the secret to its success is simply this: everything imaginable is on sale.

If you go

What: Open Air Market

Where: 46-350 Arabia Ave., Indio

When: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday

Contact: (800) 222-SHOP, www.maclinmarkets.com/indio.html