Within the concrete heart of downtown Los Angeles, an area three blocks long and two blocks wide fills with daily shipments of blossoms in every color, size, shape and fragrance imaginable. Bold sunflowers. Delicate baby's breath. Boisterous red roses. Pastel snap dragons. Golden orchids flecked with red. Fluffy white carnations.
This is the Los Angeles Flower District — which claims to be the largest wholesale flower market in the United States. Although it caters to wholesale buyers, its marts and shops are open to the public — to everyone who loves wandering through endless floral vistas while observing an industry at work and finding some good bargains, too.
Most shoppers visit the two biggest and oldest marts, the Los Angeles Flower Market and the Southern California Flower Market. After the wholesale buyers get first dibs, the marts open to the public at 8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 6 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Admission is $2 on weekdays and $1 on Saturday. On Sunday, only the California Flower Market is open, no admission charged. Your best bet for parking is at one of the lots atop the two big flower marts, though street parking is possible. Whichever mart you visit (there are seven total), arrive early. Vendors usually pack up well before noon, and you'll want to make your selection before the pickings become too slim.
If you're looking for a bargain, carry cash and be prepared to negotiate. And don't be tricked into high prices: $9 to $11 should get you 25 stems of roses, $4 to $6 should yield 25 stems of carnations, and sunflowers should run $3 for 5 stems. Most vendors are happy to create an arrangement with your purchases. Or, skip the mart to buy pre-made displays from a selection of 60 neighboring retail shops, whose selections run from basic to upscale, offering wares including massive funeral wreaths, delicate orchid displays and floral interior design options. On a recent visit, a puppy constructed from white chrysanthemums with googly eyes and long plastic eyelashes was a popular item.
For the DIY-inclined, many of the stores also sell accoutrements including vases, baskets, spray glitter, colored sand, plastic butterflies, candles and gift cards.
It's best to peruse these marts and shops on foot. But be warned that you'll be treading Skid Row territory, particularly if you wander beyond the Flower District boundaries north past 7th Street.
The area is certainly an incongruous place to encounter so much stunning plant life. Some visitors will also appreciate the slice of city history – the two original flower marts were built in 1913 and 1921, when the Los Angeles population had barely hit the 100,000 mark. At the time, flower fields were located on the fringes of Los Angeles; refrigerated trucks didn't yet exist. Today, the flower-selling business has sprouted into a global money-making industry with shipments from such far off places as Colombia, Kenya, Holland, Thailand, Brazil and Costa Rica.
Visiting the Flower District offers an enjoyable, enlightening way to experience a slice of colorful downtown life, whether you're planning a party, just want a bouquet for the dining room table or don't even intend to buy a single bloom.