One of my ongoing, regular freelance assignments is this little column in the newspaper that profiles local businesses around the county. Which means, every week, I get to pick a neighborhood/city/region and highlight a locally-owned retail store. Luckily, San Diego County is massive, so there are a ridiculous number of options out there. (What’s challenging is I’m supposed to mix up the neighborhoods every week, and some areas have significantly better shopping/business districts than others.)
I’ve been writing this column for a little over a year now, and more often than not, I find shops that I mentally note to re-visit on my own. Sometimes figuring out the logistics is a hassle (researching and finding a good candidate, finding the time to visit and interview the owner, etc.), but it is, almost every week, a highlight to get to chat with a business owner about what they do and why. People are generally pleased and excited when I approach them (it’s basically free advertising, after all) and it’s really just fun for me to learn a little about their business and then get to share their story. (I especially love talking to people at clothing boutiques because for some reason I’m fascinated by the process of finding, choosing, and purchasing inventory.)
So, I’m also sharing some of them here. If you’re in San Diego and looking for some local businesses to support, or if you’re planning a visit and want to look beyond the tourist shops for souvenirs and gifts, here you go. There are a lot (like I said, I’ve been doing this a little over a year), so I’m breaking them into a roughly geographic groups. First up—coastal communities.
Often Wander at Noon – Ocean Beach
This is actually two stores in one. Noon sells all sorts of handmade goods from jewelry to soaps, and Often Wander started with jewelry (wrap bracelets and mala beads) and hand-poured candles that smell absolutely heavenly—also, bring the empty jars back and she’ll refill them for a discount. They come together in a very beachy-boho vibe and seriously, I wanted to buy like half the shop.
Often Wander: www.oftenwander.com | Noon: www.noondesignshop.com | 4993 Niagara Ave., Suite 105
Boutiki – Mission Beach
I think Yelp called this a tobacco/vape shop but it’s so much more—and mostly just sells hand-blown glass pipes and stuff on that front. It’s a very funky mix of everything and sums up Mission Beach pretty well—which manages to somehow be touristy and local-friendly at the same time. You can find almost anything “tiki” in here – actual tiki torches, tiki mugs, whatever—plus concert tees, tie-dye, Grateful Dead paraphernalia, incense, random knickknacks, and jewelry. A lot of the merchandise is made locally or from Fair Trade-certified vendors around the world.
3742 Mission Blvd.
Fabulous Rag – Pacific Beach
I don’t really have this problem, but apparently it’s hard to find good stores for dresses and formal/dressy outfits in San Diego. For a lot of girls, Fabulous Rag is the answer. They have casual clothing, but damn, the dresses. Some are actually the owner’s own designs and all of them are carefully chosen for quality fabrics and construction. And the prices are fairly reasonable—I just checked the “new arrivals” section of their site and the dresses range from $68 to $249, and you’ve got everything from casual day dresses to party and date night outfits to evening gowns. You’ll get personal attention and help finding the perfect outfit when you visit, too.
www.thefabulousrag.com | 829 Garnet Ave.
Just Run – Bird Rock (La Jolla)
Your feet are in good hands at Just Run. The staff knows what they’re talking about when it comes to shoes, and they’re not looking to just get you in a pair and then upsell you with socks and nutrition and crap. They sell Oiselle gear (which I don’t think I’ve seen in any other stores yet?) and they host a weekly group run followed by outdoor yoga (free!) on Sunday mornings. Also I love a good shoe wall and the one here is pretty sweet.
www.justrunsd.com | 5490 La Jolla Blvd.
Hi Sweetheart – La Jolla Village
Holy cuteness—Hi Sweetheart is the kind of shop that just makes you happy. It’s a gift boutique that works for tourists looking for something “California” or “San Diego” branded (there’s a few local lines and artists represented) and for locals in need of a fun hostess gift, cute card, party décor, or just some little treat. I mean, you can find anything in this small shop—throw pillows, artwork, books, little trays for jewelry and trinkets, mugs. And all very Instagram-friendly, meaning lots of things with pineapples, unicorns, donuts, mermaids…you get the idea.
www.hi-sweets.com | 7920 Ivanhoe St.
Fair Trade Décor – Del Mar
I probably could’ve done all my Christmas shopping at this store, and I would’ve felt really good about it. Like the name implies, Fair Trade Décor sells 100% Fair Trade-certified products from all over the world. What’s really cool is with every product, they have a little card with information about where it’s from and who made it. And I’m serious, they literally have every kind of product—jewelry, home décor, bedding, wall art, toys, cookware, serving bowls and utensils, these unbelievably soft and gorgeous alpaca blankets…and it’s just that much cooler being able to learn the story behind something.
www.fairtradedecor.com | 1412 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Frustrated Cowboy – Del Mar
The “country convert” in me just loved this place. It’s really small and crammed full of country western-style shirts, boots, hats, and all sorts of cowboy and western-style jewelry and accessories. Their tagline is “cowboy stuff for your home on the range” and it doesn’t matter if your “range” is a sprawling ranch or a high-rise apartment in the middle of downtown. They’ve got all the high-end Western brands (Lucchese boots, Ryan Michael shirts, Stetson hats) plus some jewelry and accessories from local makers, which I love (and are slightly more affordable for this on-a-budget wannabe cowgirl).
www.frustratedcowboy.com | 1444 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Sea Breeze Mercantile – Solana Beach
Another adorable shop with gift items, home décor, party supplies, paper goods, jewelry, and the like—but all with a very beachy, coastal theme. Think soft colors like teal with warm neutrals, lots of shells and sea glass. There’s also a wall of handmade greeting cards made by the owner. And walking in just feels so soothing—they’ve always got candles or something making good smells and everything is arranged artfully.
www.seabreezeoncedros.com | 348 S. Cedros Ave., Suite H, Solana Beach
FERN – Leucadia
This place truly has a little bit of everything—it’s another store where you could shop for almost anyone. I love the cheeky greeting cards they carry and they’ve got some seriously awesome hair and body products. You’ll find lots of local artists and makers represented, and nearly everything is made in the U.S. by independent creators. And for their swimwear line, they’ve teamed up with a couple organizations to plant a tree for every bikini sold, which is reason enough for me to buy a new one from them in a few months.
www.shopfern.us | 978 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Leucadia
Ampersand – Carlsbad
So, once my husband and I finally buy a bigger place (i.e., once we win the lottery or finally give up and move away from California) and I get to decorate it, Ampersand will be one of my stops. It’s a very eclectic mix of stuff—again, with a lot handmade in the U.S. and made from recycled or sustainable materials—with an overall artsy, bohemian, industrial-chic vibe and I love it all. Especially the light fixtures. I want all the light fixtures in there.
www.ampersandcarlbad.com | 2916 State St., Carlsbad
Chic Beads – Oceanside
They sell some already-made jewelry here, but mostly you’re getting the raw materials—beads, gemstones, shells, crystals, and all the pieces that hold them together. I’m dying to take one (or several) of their classes. You can take a class in anything from basic beadwork to using torches to work with metals. A lot of them fill up fast though, so get on their mailing list to get the first chance to sign up.
www.chicbeads.com | 1415 N. Coast Hwy., Oceanside