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The A-to-Z Guide to San Diego Shopping


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The shorter days and chill in the air (we’re talking anything below 75 degrees) can mean only one thing: The holiday shopping season is about to heat up. Just in time, we bring you our guide to shops worthy of your gift-giving list. From mom-and-pop shops to retail behemoths, the region’s shopping possibilities are plentiful.

Africa & Beyond in La Jolla (1250 Prospect Street, 800-422-3742; africaandbeyond.com) is part art gallery, part boutique. From the ceremonial to the everyday, the wares on display offer an authentic glimpse into the African culture. Sculptures, masks, weapons and textiles appeal to both the collector and the curious. Browse the colorful, intricately patterned beadwork—dating back to the late 19th century—by the Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele tribes of South Africa. And if you’re in the market for an African fertility doll, well, this is your place . . . For the collector of time-worn wares, Antiques on Kettner (2400 Kettner Boulevard, Suite 106, Little Italy, 619-234-3332; antiquesonkettner.com) sells an array of art, glass, pottery, kitsch and other miscellaneous objects. Check their Web site for details on current estate sales, where you can find everything from antique brooches to benches.

San Diego’s incense-imbued Buddha for You (6360 El Cajon Boulevard, 619-582-1100; buddha-for-you.com) carries numerous iterations of the Buddha figure—from $5 figurines to $5,000 statues. Proprietor Alfred Baron, 80, claims to have the state’s largest inventory of Buddhas, which he imports from Tibet, Nepal, China, India and other Far East locales. The shop also carries jewelry, tapestries, incense and burners, books, prayer flags, singing bowls and other collectibles. They can also custom-make a Buddha statue for your home.

The Cedros Design District in Solana Beach (Cedros Avenue and Lomas Santa Fe Avenue; cedrosdesigndistrict.net) may be best known for its cluster of home design and décor shops, but a varied crop of new retail offerings has helped the area blossom. Pet parents will love Muttropolis, an upscale boutique selling all types of top-quality toys, treats and wares for dogs and cats. Leaping Lotus is a 20,000-square-foot maze of home décor, furniture, clothing, jewelry, exotic imports, collectibles and more from 100 merchants. An Adventure 16 shop caters to the outdoor enthusiast; Mistral carries an astounding variety of French soaps and perfumes; Pink Lagoon women’s boutique injects some style into local wardrobes with labels like Missoni; and local jewelry designer Rebecca Norman showcases designs favored among Hollywood starlets. Susan Street Fine Art Gallery is a don’t-miss . . .Also in North County, Carlsbad Premium Outlets (5620 Paseo del Norte, 760-804-9000; premiumoutlets.com) is a bright spot on any discerning shopper’s radar. Lacoste, Barneys New York, Juicy Couture and Theory retail outlets position Carlsbad solidly on the sartorial scene.

From high-end women’s apparel to designer jewelry knockoffs, Del Mar Plaza (15th Street and Camino Del Mar) offers the full spectrum of retail regalia. In the heart of the village, the plaza is home to 21 shops, spread over two levels. Banana Republic stocks classic closet staples for guys and girls; European Moda sells leather handbags and apparel of all types; and upscale clothing and shoe boutique Gerhard carries lines by sought-after designers Christian Louboutin, Derek Lam, Peter Som and Stella McCartney. Find frilly lingerie and sleepwear at Jolie Femme, fine estate art, furniture and rugs at Medici Fine Arts and a bevy of bikinis at San Diego Beachwear. And if you’re shopping for faux jewels, don’t pass up Just Pretend Copy Jewelry. For the real deal, visit Loghman Jewelers and ogle the Italian and custom-designed jewelry and watches.

Looking to satiate a serious sweet tooth? Treat yourself to a slice of 1950s Americana at Elizabethan Desserts in Encinitas (155 Quail Gardens Drive, 760-230-6780; elizabethandesserts.com), where baker Elizabeth Harris serves up mouth-watering cakes, pies, cookies and cupcakes “just like Grandma’s,” but with her signature elegant flair. Located within the Sunshine Gardens Nursery in Encinitas, the bakery even resembles Grandma’s kitchen—antique cooking utensils and vintage signs decorate the walls; old cookie tins and flour jars line the shelves. Customers of the nursery follow their noses to Harris’ pastry case, which displays, as one customer put it, a “sinful” array of goodies: oversized s’mores bars (with homemade marshmallow and peanut butter), Rosie’s red velvet cake (which attracts customers from as far as Los Angeles) and “Lidibits” (mini tartlets and pies). Harris eschews artificial ingredients, baking only with real butter, heavy cream, premium chocolate and organic fruits whenever possible. Did your grandma do that?

Gucci. Louis Vuitton. Hugo Boss. High fashion has found its San Diego home at Fashion Valley (7007 Friars Road, 619-688-9113; simon.com). The outdoor shopping center houses 200 stores and six major department stores—Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, JC Penney and the long-awaited Bloomingdale’s. A recent highlight was the opening of Los Angeles designer James Perse’s shop, where you can pick up his signature ultra-soft cotton tees and tanks. The next big debut is Carolina Herrera (slated to open in late October). Also coming to Fashion Valley: H&M, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, True Religion and others . . . Up north, The Forum at Carlsbad features a blend of unique clothing boutiques (Mabel’s is a favorite) and large retail chains such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Victoria’s Secret, Borders and Z Gallerie. It’s also home to Anthropologie, an eclectic treasure trove of upscale women’s clothing, jewelry and home décor from around the world. Kitchen shop Sur la Table is another draw.

La Jolla’s Girard Avenue is a jam-packed corridor of high-end shops of all stripes. Let’s Go Clothing & Footwear, Rumors and A/X Armani Exchange carry the trendiest threads and kicks for men and women; Gepetto’s toy store is a kid’s fantasyland; lingerie boutique Neroli sells fine French lines Aubade, Huit and Simone Perele. Stationery and card retailer Papyrus and women’s sportswear company lucy also opened up shop here. On the south end of the street resides a cluster of fine home-design and décor shops, including Kreiss Collection and Seaside Home. There are also a number of art galleries and a new Pharmaca integrative pharmacy, offering holistic and naturopathic as well as traditional medicine.

Labyrinthean Horton Plaza is downtown’s retail hot spot, stretching six and a half city blocks and five vertical levels. Shoppers will find the standard mall offerings (Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Hot Topic) as well as a Louis Vuitton store and new Ann Taylor Loft. Take in the plaza’s brightly painted façades and architectural features and you can justify a shopping spree as a historical tour of new/old San Diego.

A small blue banner imprinted with the image of an igloo discreetly announces your arrival at Igloo in Little Italy (640 West Beech Street, 619-234-5855; igloostore.com), a pocket-size shop packing a major design punch. Owner Gary Benzel, a highly regarded graphic designer who teaches his trade at San Diego State University, carries graphic tees, limited-edition art magazines, canvas bags, fine art, throw pillows, skateboards and more. You don’t have to be a designophile to get it; a curious mind will do.

You can’t utter the word “jeans” without conjuring up visions of L.A. Fairchild Denim Bar (2029 San Elijo Avenue, 760-487-1277; lafairchild.com) in the coastal North County burg of Cardiff. A deluge of denim—there are more than 30 lines and 150 styles—is organized into tidy rows in the saloon-inspired shop, designed with the male shopper in mind. Proprietor Laura Fairchild carries well-known brands such as Hudson, Joe’s Jeans, Rock and Republic and True Religion, with some more obscure lines, too (get to know Evisu, Ksubi, Taverniti So, Serfontaine and William Rast). Guys—or girls —are invited to belly up to the in-store bar and pour a microbrew from the kegorator while “bartenders” help pick out that perfect pair of jeans. Or sink into a leather chair and watch the Chargers game on the plasma TV.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones to ask Jim, the manager at Kite World (849 West Harbor Drive, downtown, 877-234-8229; kiteflitesd.com), if he’s read The Kite Runner. He hasn’t. But based on our short talk, we imagine he’d prefer a book called The Big, Soft Frisbee-Thrower or The Kite That Requires No Assembly, anyway. “You can bop your grandma on the nose with one of these and she’ll barely feel it,” he says. From air-powered rockets to parafoil kites, amateur fun enthusiasts find plenty to enthuse over at Kite World—where the wind isn’t just something to complain about.

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