Monday through Friday, Publix, Native Sun and Fresh Market keep local pantries stocked. But weekends are for freedom…for exploring new markets and fresh flavors. Locals know Riverside Arts Market boasts organics, food trucks and live music, and that the Beaver Street Farmers Market is the place for bulk buys and great prices. Beach Boulevard Flea Market is Jacksonville’s sleeper for creative shopping. Head there for unique produce, international flavors and a taste of the First Coast’s melting pot.

Produce vendors line the front of the Flea Market, but to really experience this place, you have to wander up and down the aisles exploring the 800 booths of produce, prepared food, vintage toys, kettle corn and dusty furniture. While the Flea Market is open seven days a week, it’s definitely busiest on the weekends. We went mid-Saturday-morning with some cash in our pockets, hungry for worldly fare.

I expected to see the usual produce offerings with a tropical flair: bananas, kiwi, citrus, mangoes, but what I found was much more exotic. Breadfruit, yucca, passion fruit, dragon fruit, and verdant herbs covered rough wooden tables and cascaded from boxes. Fresh seafood vendors hawked their wares, but they couldn’t tear me away from the international fruits and veggies.

After my bags were loaded with treasures, I steered the kids toward a food court blasting Latin dance music. Neighboring restaurants offer Cuban and Peruvian food. El Rinconcito de Lima, the Peruvian vendor, introduced us to Peruvian open pit-roasted chicken, Pollo a la Brasa. The tender, moist chicken fell off the bone and left me looking forward to exploring other Peruvian dishes. The kids were happy with our stash from Guanaroca Latin Cuisine. We loaded up on sweet plantains, crisp yuca and a massive Cuban sandwich that fed five children.

Even though vendors were busy with Saturday morning shoppers, the friendliness of the First Coast international community was uninhibited. One woman from central Africa offered all six kids dum-dum lollipops and chatted with them like the whole world had stopped. A new mom from Cuba shared her recipe for Arroz Congri. Between her broken English and my halting Spanish, we became new friends. Melinda The Clown Lady arrived as we were waiting for lunch and happily painted more kids’ faces than my remaining dollars paid for.

I went to the Beach Boulevard Flea Market expecting a small stash after a dusty morning out. Instead, I discovered new flavors and introduced my children to the welcoming culture of our international community. The dragon fruit and yucca were a bonus.

The Beach Boulevard Flea Market is located at 11041 Beach Boulevard.

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