Denio’s Swap Meet & Farmer’s Market: One Girl’s Trash, Another Girl’s Treasure

By Jamie Romas

According to my sister, there are two kinds of people in this world: neat freaks and pack rats. My sister is a self-professed neat freak, a trait she inherited from our father (some might also call it obsessive-compulsive”). She’s that person who arranges all the papers on her desk at right angles and freaks out if she finds a household object that’s not in its proper place – and trust me, they all have “places.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is my mother, the woman who never met a knick-knack she didn’t like. As for me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t mind if things get a little messy, I think old stuff has character, and there are certain items that will NEVER find their way to the dumpster, no matter how useless (what, I might need that Snoopy Sno-Cone maker someday!?!)

I mention the distinction for a simple reason: if you’re a neat freak, and you can’t find the beauty in a hand-me-down, then the place I’m about to describe is not for you.

Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, rain or shine, for the past 64 years, Denio’s Swap Meet & Farmer’s Market in Roseville has been open for business. If you grew up in Sacramento, chances are you’re familiar with the radio jingle, and you may have been to the “auction” – as the old-timers like to call it – once or twice. In fact, Denio’s was once an auction. It has since morphed into a giant outdoor swap meet, with vendors renting space to peddle anything – and everything – under the sun.

Looking for some used power tools? A Samurai sword? A velvet painting of the Last Supper? A quinceañera dress? Look no further. You may be asking yourself, what on earth would I do with a quinceañera dress and a Samurai sword? (And if you have an answer to that question, I don’t want to hear it). The point is, Denio’s has it all.

As with any swap meet, you’ll need to dig through the trash to find some treasure. Most of the bigger vendors sell mass-produced goods that aren’t all that exciting for a thrifter like me – but you can find some some great, inexpensive household items. Even better are the people who have seemingly emptied the contents of their homes and are selling everything – for a quarter.

Jamie's boyfriend modeling some of the many treasures found at Denio's

I’ve never gone to Denio’s looking for anything in particular, but I always come home with something I love. A ton of old records. An adorable miniature teapot in the shape of an elephant. A leather bracelet embossed with my name. And not one thing has cost me more than a couple of dollars, which leaves plenty of money for my next-favorite thing about Denio’s: the food.

The majority of the food at Denio’s is what I refer to as carnival food – hot dogs, corn dogs, cotton candy, something called “broasted chicken”, mini doughnuts, and beer. That’s right – you can enjoy a tall one and eat a corn dog while you sort through some stranger’s crap. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like heaven to me. And if carnival food doesn’t hit the spot, you can have BBQ, Mexican, Chinese, or the ever-delicious Jimboy’s taco trailer.

Denio’s also boasts an enormous farmer’s market where you can get anything from artichokes to prickle pears. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the produce; it all looks good, but some people claim it doesn’t last very long. On the flip side, the non-perishables – spices, pasta, beans, honey, coffee, tea – are of excellent quality.

 If you have no interest in buying an old Nintendo 64 console or eating an entire bag of fried pork rinds, there’s one final reason to head to Denio’s: the people watching. Let’s just say that the auction attracts an interesting crowd, from the aging heavy metal rocker to the vaquero in shiny cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat. At times it can feel like you’re in an entirely different country; it always feels like you’re somewhere far from Sacramento.

The key to enjoying Denio’s (and, come to think of it, just about everything else) is to have an open mind. It’s not Target. You’re not going to go there and find everything you need.  And it would probably take half a bottle of Xanax to get my sister to step foot in the place. But if you don’t mind crowds, a little dust & dirt, and a lot of character, this is the place for you.

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  1. Tracy says

    You make me want to check it out! my favorite line “That’s right – you can enjoy a tall one and eat a corn dog while you sort through some stranger’s crap. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like heaven to me.”

    Thanks Jamie

  2. Chantel says

    Have you tried the mini-donuts?! unREAL!

  3. ashley robinson says

    i dunno, the jingle is just so bad. i don’t know if i can overcome that.

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