Ah, the holidays … a time for peaceful gatherings, baking cookies and guilt-free Netflix marathons. But nothing kills this warm holiday glow quicker than a crowded, hectic shopping mall.
It’s a good thing, then, that you can do much of your holiday shopping in a variety of San Diego neighborhoods. Whether you’re looking one-of-a-kind jewelry for your BFF, or something classy for your boss, you’ll find unique options at any of these local shopping districts.
Little Italy is home to some of the best restaurants in the city, plus it has a top-notch Saturday farmers market. But along with its food scene, this neighborhood also is known for art galleries, vintage furniture, handmade jewelry and sophisticated fashion. Plus, Little Italy has a Christmas tree and poinsettia display at Piazza Basilone, so you still get some holiday spirit as you shop.
Where: Along India Street and Kettner Boulevard from West Ash to West Laurel streets.
Parking: It’s hard to find, especially at lunch or dinner hours. You can fight for a metered spot on the street, but your best bet is biking, trolley or ride sharing.
What you’ll find here: You can spend hours at Love & Aesthetics, a shop filled with modern Goth supplies like candles in dark wood boxes and necklaces in the shape of actual human hearts. Right next door, is the clean simplicity of Vitreum, where you’ll find unique Japanese mugs, bowls and vases. More spiritual types will love Verde, which has a large selection of evil eye art and jewelry. There’s European lingerie (in a good variety of sizes) at Kapreeza, and whimsical-yet-sophisticated fruit-themed blouses at Little Apple. Get beer-themed hoodies, hats and t-shirts at Bottlecraft, or make a really amazing gift basket using imported pastas and treats from the deli at Mona Lisa Italian Foods.
Rest your feet: If you’re looking for a quick bite, definitely get a paper cone filled with cheese flakes (raspa dura) and a sweet vermouth cocktail at Monello, a beautiful salad at Cafe Gratitude, or a coffee and homemade croissant at Influx. There’s also ramen at Underbelly and fried chicken sandwiches at The Crack Shack. Oh, plus, every other trendy restaurant in San Diego.
Last-minute option: Grab a restaurant gift card while you’re already out to dinner.
North Park/South Park
Thanks to its mix of creative-minded residents, art galleries, authentic taco shops and high-profile music venues, this shopping corridor is where you go when you want to find what’s on trend. Whether it’s a special blend of cocktail bitters or a politically savvy pin, consider North Park and South Park as shopping at the anti-mall.
Where: Along 30th Street from University Avenue to Hawthorn Street.
Parking: You can spend time looking for a street spot in North Park, but if you have a few extra dollars, there’s the parking garage on 29th Street. Parking’s a bit easier to find in South Park, just be nice to the residents as you walk by their houses.
What you’ll find here: Start at Pigment, where you can (still) make your own succulents display, buy raw honey, get some kids clothes and stock up on rainbow and cactus-themed party supplies. Artelexia is perfect for offbeat gifts like Mexican-themed air fresheners. If it’s clothes you want, Hunt & Gather and The Girl Can’t Help It have a mix of vintage and new items for men and women, Junc is all about shoes and bags, and Mimi & Red has all your jumpsuit and romper needs, plus affordable stocking stuffers. Book lovers will be in heaven at Verbatim Books and The Book Catapult. Don’t forget about Gold Leaf, a home decor shop that has everything from trendy cactus throw pillows to vintage canister sets.
Rest your feet: Get savory waffles and lemonade at Wow Wow Waffle, or duck fat truffle fries at The Smoking Goat. You can get good food and beer, plus keep the kids entertained at Station Tavern and Waypoint Public. Just want a drink? Bar Pink has strong cocktails (don’t forget your cash here), mood lighting and good music while The Rose Wine Bar is perfect for post-shopping meet-ups.
Last-minute option: Concert tickets for an upcoming show at The Observatory.
La Jolla is a unique mix of laid-back beach culture and high-end shopping. Head here if you want to buy a statement item, like traditional art pieces or a pair of Adidas designed by Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. This shopping district is also #blessed with gorgeous views and that unfortunate internationally famous seal poop aroma.
Where: Girard Avenue, Prospect Street, Ivanhoe Avenue and surrounding streets.
Parking: Get there early and you’ll find two-hour spots, though you’ll most likely get a ticket if you go one minute over those two hours. There also are plenty of pay lots and public valet stations.
What you’ll find here: Laura Gambucci Boutique is the closest you’ll get to a New York boutique with racks filled with items for women who aren’t afraid to be bold or creative. Y-3 has elegant, Japanese-inspired sportswear. Warwick’s, Hi Sweetheart and Sweet Paper have fancy gifts for mom and glitter pens and stickers for any teens on your shopping list. Outdoorsy types will appreciate nature photos and art from Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery. And if you do happen to want dependable stores without the mall hassle, you’ll find Lululemon, Sur la Table, Banana Republic, Kate Spade and others along Girard Avenue.
Rest your feet: If it’s views you want, your best bets are the casual Ocean Terrace at George’s at the Cove and sophisticated seafood spot The Hake. But locals also love Whisknladle and Puesto, and not just because they have fun, creative cocktails. There are juice bars all around, but if you’re looking for vegan food head to Trilogy’s Sanctuary Cafe. And if you happen to have non-shoppers in tow, you can send them to The Spot where there’s comfort food and sports on TV.
Last-minute option: A pie or a selection of cookies from Sugar and Scribe bakery.
There’s more to downtown Encinitas than yoga studios and juice bars. This is a shopping destination where you can pick up everything from kitschy seashell art to high-fashion clothing. It’s blocks away from the beach, so the streets are usually filled with people walking, running, or just standing in line for a California burrito.
Where: South Coast Highway 101 from D to F streets.
Parking: Look for spots along South Coast Highway and surrounding neighborhood streets, but make sure to look out for cyclists and surfers as you’re backing out.
What you’ll find: You can spend all day at Coast Highway Traders, where there’s Mexican folk art, seashells and other fun gifts. Get your eco-conscious friends soft bamboo shirts at Ecotopiia, and essential oils and crystals at Earths Elements. Art N Soul on 101 and Bliss 101 both carry art and handmade pieces by local artists. Bliss 101 also has tasteful, ocean-themed home decor. There’s an entire store dedicated to Birkenstocks over at the Lumberyard. And if you need gifts for the kids in your life, there are gorgeous wooden toys, tea sets and clothes at Magical Child.
Rest your feet: If you want an Encinitas vegan experience, grab a Buddha bowl at Eve, a fresh juice at Lotus Cafe, or a Mint Mojito iced coffee at Philz. Solace & the Moonlight Lounge and Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria are time-tested favorites. Grab cocktails and craft beers at Union Kitchen & Tap. Of course, there’s always the classic California burrito from Juanitas Taco Shop.
Last minute option: An iconic Hansen’s Surfboards hoodie.
These North County spots often get mislabeled as sleepy beach towns. But thanks to a burgeoning art scene, new restaurants and a variety of experimental theater and music events, the secret about these neighborhoods is spreading beyond its locals. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that you can hit the beach after crossing some names off your shopping list.
Where: Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue from State to Roosevelt streets in Carlsbad; Mission Avenue, Pier View Way and surrounding streets in Oceanside.
Parking: There’s plenty of street parking throughout Carlsbad and Oceanside. There are also train stations near both districts.
What you’ll find here: Many boutiques in Carlsbad carry bohemian-chic and beachwear. But there are some stores that cater to very specific tastes, like Mermaids Of Carlsbad, a gift shop that stocks dishes, art and jewelry that lets you live out your mermaid dreams. Dancin Soul Boutique, has hard-to-find dance brands, plus dance-themed sweatshirts and tees. You’ll also find bohemian kimonos at Blues & Shoes, trendy accessories and colorful dreamcatchers at Flourish; and bracelets and bags that appeal to women of all ages at Wysh Boutique. In Oceanside, Asylum Board Shops have skate and surf essentials for even the pickiest bros. And you’ll find carved wooden boxes, whimsical wind chimes and other gifts at the weekly Sunset Market.
Rest your feet: Campfire in Carlsbad is an inviting space where everything has a wood-fire taste to it, including the cocktails. Share a cheese board and pour your own craft beer at Barrel Republic in Oceanside and Carlsbad. Pier View Coffee Company in Oceanside is perfect for a quick caffeine fix, or spend some time relaxing in a garden of succulents at Succulent Cafe in Carlsbad.
Last minute option: A Pizza Port gift card is good for everything from gluten-free pizzas to wetsuits for your beer growler.
La Mesa Village
For years, this quaint East County spot was known for antiques and thrift stores. But with Park Estate Company going out of business, and City Tacos moving in, it’s evolving into a foodie destination. So even if you’re just going for the restaurants, take some time to explore La Mesa Village’s one-of-a-kind shops, they’re perfect for afternoon browsing.
Where: La Mesa Boulevard from Spring Street to Fourth Street.
Parking: Metered spots along La Mesa Boulevard and surrounding streets. There’s also a bus and trolley stop on Spring Street.
What you’ll find here: Pick up rare vinyl, horror movies and cheap CDs at Re-Animated Records. Amethyst Moon has sooo much incense, plus Hamsa and lotus wall art, healing teas and crystals. Find floral tops, dresses and colorful jewelry at Sara’s Selections Boutique. Along with furniture, there’s pottery and unique clocks at Mostly Mission. Tea aficionados will love the Aubrey Rose Tea Room, while bookworms can spend hours at Maxwell’s House of Books. There are still some vintage and secondhand spots, including Fashion Exchange Consignment, Act II and a giant Goodwill.
Rest your feet: The star of this entire shopping district is Bo Beau Kitchen + Garden, thanks to its inviting patio and French-inspired menu. Por Favor has sidewalk seating so you can spend an afternoon sipping giant margaritas and people-watching. Coffee snobs will be happy over at Public Square Coffee, where you can also pick up a housemade pastry or breakfast sandwich. Even though you’re inland, you can get a bit of a beach vibe at Swami’s Cafe. And moving in soon will be City Tacos and Fourpenny House, a brewpub that specializes in cider.
Last-minute option: A nice bottle from the San Pasqual Winery Tasting Room and Gallery.
Head to downtown Escondido for an old-fashioned shopping experience (so old-fashioned that many stores are closed on Sundays). But next to the vacuum and sewing machine store, you can also find unique gifts, including hipster Christmas ornaments and gently-worn Dr. Martens shoes. There’s a surprising number of beauty salons and barber shops, plus sidewalk benches where neighbors greet each other and even stop to chat. It’s almost like stepping into a 1950s TV show.
Where: Grand Avenue from Center City Parkway to Juniper Street.
Parking: Free, three-hour parking along Grand Avenue and surrounding streets.
What you’ll find here: VinKlectic has faux-fur vests and stylish cowboy hats for country divas, plus Christmas ornaments in the shape of RVs. Stock up on candles, soaps and figurines at Laurel Glen Gifts. MIYO is a cute resale shop that where you’ll find handbags, shoes and dresses, plus flannel shirts for guys. If you’re into kooky stocking stuffers and holiday cards, go to Grab Bag Antiques. Pick up shabby chic home accents or refurbished furniture at Simply Grand. And if you want to support local artists, you’ll find contemporary pieces at Art 120 Grand.
Rest your feet: Start with breakfast at A Delight of France, a cozy spot known for croissants, crepes and tarts. Or get local brews and pub fare at Plan 9 Alehouse. Save your appetite for gourmet burgers and fries at Burger Bench. Vinz is a wine bar that also serves beer, cocktails and cheese plates. Or just get locally roasted coffee from Kettle Coffee & Tea.
Last-minute option: It’s not technically in downtown Escondido, but Canterbury Gardens & Gifts on South Escondido Boulevard is known for its massive collection of Christmas ornaments and decorations.