Let’s go shopping! San Diego’s “city center,” roughly bounded by the harbor to the south, I-5 to the west, I-8 to the north, and I-15 to the east, includes the downtown area (which itself is broken into several distinct neighborhoods), Little Italy, Old Town, Mission Hills, and all the areas around Balboa Park. These neighborhoods are all widely varied in character and vibe but they are, to me at least, some of the most exciting and vibrant in the city despite also being the oldest.
We’ll start downtown, in the East Village, and swing west and north for this first round.
Wild Dove – East Village
There isn’t a ton of shopping in the East Village (it’s mostly restaurants/in the process of gentrifying), so Wild Dove is carving out its own little niche around there. Generally the clothes find that balance between dressy and casual—the owner called the style “urban coastal.” The space has this modern industrial vibe—lots of white, clean lines, but also some exposed brick and ductwork.
740 Market St., East Village. | wilddoveboutique.com
Dolcetti Boutique – Gaslamp Quarter
With a name like Dolcetti, you might expect everything in here to be super girly and feminine and frilly. Think again. They do cater more towards women, with a great selection of dresses and accessories, but you’ll also find casual tanks and tees for men and women. When I checked them out last summer, it was right around Comic-Con and they had their own line of t-shirts with fun Con-inspired designs.
635 5th Ave., Gaslamp Quarter | DolcettiBoutique.com
Bubbles Boutique – Gaslamp Quarter
This little boutique is literally steps from the Gaslamp sign arching over 5th Avenue, so it might be easy to skip past it, assuming it’s another souvenir shop. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t pop inside. Gayleen, the owner, is the sweetest and stocks her space with everything from bedazzled leather jackets to statement necklaces to flowy, feminine tops. Her goal is to get women to have fun and step out of their comfort zone when it comes to fashion, and Bubbles makes it easy to do that.
226 5th Ave., Gaslamp Quarter | BubblesBoutique.myshopify.com
Casa Artelexia – Little Italy
(also last year they opened a new location in North Park)
Such color! So fun! It’s impossible not to smile in this store with its huge array of home decor and gifts inspired by Mexican folk art. Most of the products are from Mexican artists and the rest are made locally (often by artists with Mexican ties). Owner Elexia De La Parra also hosts weekly craft workshops and runs “Eat.Drink.Cook.Mexico” which hosts guided food and art tours in Mexico.
2400 Kettner Blvd. #102, Little Italy | ArtElexia.com
Stroll – Little Italy
I won’t lie, when I pick businesses for this column, I might sometimes show a slight bias towards shops and boutiques run by young women. In doing so, I’ve been noticing a trend where women around here really go out of their way to support each other. Stroll sells clothing and lifestyle items that are “boho chic with a little urban twist,” but more than that, owner Katie McCarthy is all about collaborating with other business owners and makers and it’s just wonderful to see people succeed that way.
2360 India St., Little Italy | Facebook.com/SDStroll
South American Imports – Old Town
It can be a little hard to find anything beyond touristy souvenir shops in Old Town, but it’s worth looking. South American Imports is tucked away behind hugely popular Cafe Coyote and sells every kind of stone, mineral, and crystal you can think of. David Vince, the owner, personally travels to Brazil to find his inventory, which appeals to everyone from crystal newbies to hard-core collectors.
2461 San Diego Ave. #104 | SAImport.com
Ye Olde Soap Shoppe – Old Town
Want to try your hand at making soap yourself? It’s actually pretty easy with right equipment and ingredients (who knew?). Ye Olde Soap Shoppe has been around for over 30 years and they may have been the first to sell DIY soap-making kits. Admit it, you can already think of the friend who would LOVE one of those as a gift. You can also find really high-end bath and body lines, many that are hard to find in stores.
2497 San Diego Ave., Old Town | Soapmaking.com
Lavish – Mission Hills
All organic, natural body/beauty products. Sisters Carly Lodkey and Jill Hansen formulate their own bath and body products will natural ingredients and essential oils. I’ve been using their air/fabric freshener sprays to de-funk my workout clothes so they’re not sitting in the hamper all stanky in the days before I do laundry.
748 West Washington St., Mission Hills | LavishProducts.com
Maison En Provence – Mission Hills
Here you go Francophiles! Pascal and Marielle Giai moved here from Provence in 1995 and sell all sorts of handmade and artisan goods from France. You’ll find everything—perfumes, linens, dishware and pottery, jewelry, really fancy cutlery, and adorable toys and stuffed animals.
820 Fort Stockton Dr., Mission Hills | EverythingfromProvence.com