We love San Diego’s small businesses, and you should, too. In these pages we’ve highlighted a sample of the many independently owned and effortlessly cool retail shops that make up our city.
At these brick-and-mortars, both old and new, you can score a secondhand statement piece, shop handmade accessories, discover local brands, and fall in love with shopping small all over again. Got your credit card? You’re about to do some damage.
Clothing & Accessories
Soon after One Paseo shopping center began welcoming tenants, fashion entrepreneur and self-described tomboy Ariel Hujar opened Whiskey + Leather fashion boutique. This high-end men’s and women’s clothing shop stocks luxury brands from across the country, including One Teaspoon, Spell, Scotch & Soda, and For Love and Lemons. They also carry stylish accessories and home goods such as candles, books, and barware.
3665 Caminito Court, Carmel Valley
Quality comes first at Gold Dust Collective, where all the accessories are handmade and sourced as sustainably as possible. The North Park storefront carries goods from three local artists: Flight of Fancy jewelry, Haberdash hats, and El Gato Montes leatherwork. Shop here for unique readymade pieces like beetle pendants and adorned felt hats, or to start customizing one.
3824 Ray Street, North Park
Hip-hop and street culture inspired the formation of The Fresh Yard. This independent boutique carries some of the most anticipated brands in streetwear, such as Raised by Wolves and Black Market Tailors, along with its own signature clothing and accessories like T-shirts, hats, and beanies. With a strong tie to the local art and music communities, The Fresh Yard releases exclusive collaborations and often hosts art shows and live events. When they’re not running the store, the team also organizes food and clothing drives to donate to people in need.
3774 30th Street, North Park
Tyler Axtell started this line of refined leather and canvas bags, backpacks, and jackets in a garage in Ocean Beach, and later moved to a store in East Village. All the items in this adventure goods collection—such as the best-selling camouflage Wilder backpack—are made to withstand travel and camping, but their polished look also works for the day-to- day. The bags are made to last, and free repairs are included for each purchase. The company had to close their 17th Street storefront, but they’re still crafting the line right here in San Diego and you can order online.
Onesies, cardigans, teething necklaces— this just-opened Alpine boutique serves the wee one in your life. Consider Cuddle + Kind dolls, which are knitted by hand in Peru, and Stokke, a sophisticated Norwegian furniture brand specializing in cribs and high chairs that grow with your baby.
2507 Alpine Boulevard, Alpine
Sophie Machado isn’t bashful to admit that, yes, being married to a professional surfer has its perks. She’s followed her husband, Rob, to countries around the world, including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and his native Australia—but she jokes that in humid countries, you can only lie about for so long. So instead, her habit is to jump in a tuk tuk or taxi and drop into the heart of a city’s artisan district to see firsthand the care and craftsmanship that go into the imports we buy. Sophie’s never been one to gloat about those experiences. Instead, she’s on a mission to make something more of them, and that’s where Salt Culture comes in. The boutique stocks products from their travels and their favorite local brands.“Salt Culture is basically a scrapbook, and a place to tell our stories,” she says. It’s an homage to the girl she once was, a college student living on a shoestring; and the guy Rob’s always been, a surfer with an affection for supporting local. Salt Culture stocks Rob’s signature Smiley Face merch in the form of sweatpants and shirts, and it’s also the only brick-and-mortar storefront in the world where you can buy a custom-made Rob Machado surfboard. Sophie just launched her own loungewear line, too, named “Reawakening.”
930 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Beauty & Self Care
Take a step into Four Moons Spa’s Bali-inspired oasis. The spa’s stated focus is on “wholeness”—meaning the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual layers of each guest. Visitors can experience everything from an astrological reading to a massage. They recently introduced a hammam treatment, inspire by Muslim public bathing culture, which can be done with a therapist or self-guided. A shop on site is full of products to keep up the Zen long after you leave.
775 North Vulcan Avenue, Encinitas
You won’t find a sweeter skin care studio than Cleo. They specialize in “sugaring,” a hypoallergenic hair removal technique that uses lemon, sugar, and water to gently deplete your follicles. Go in for a service or grab some products from their retail space to ramp up your own holistic health routine. They make their own botanical hydrosols (aka toners), and Rose and Neroli are the best sellers— give them a go if you’re seeking hydration or an overall vibrancy boost.
5514 La Jolla Boulevard, Bird Rock
When aesthetician Stephanie J saw her former students having a hard time finding work after they graduated from Bellus Academy beauty and wellness school, she knew she’d found a gap in the market.“You never saw in textbooks how to care for darkers kin tones,”she says.“There wasn’t really a place dedicated to them.” So, J opened up Formula Skin Lab, a beauty bar that specializes in acne correction, pigmentation, facials, waxing, makeup, and body treatments for darker skin. Book an appointment or stop in, and her team will offer a consultation to get to know you and your skin type, then recommend products and in-house treatments based on your specific needs.
The company opened in the middle of the pandemic, when J felt there was a community need for self-care. “For us, representation is a big factor,” she says. “We want this shop to be a casual vibe. You might hear Erykah Badu or Miguel when you walk in, have some wine. Our main goal is that you feel like you’re at home—or at your aunt’s house!”
3333 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
It’s easy to swap out your run-of-the-mill beauty products with nontoxic replacements during a visit to Shop Good. This clean beauty and wellness boutique stocks items like natural makeup, deodorant and supplements. Founder Leah Kirpalani is committed to supporting female- owned and Black-owned beauty brands, such as Movita, 54 Thrones, and Unsun Cosmetics. In addition to browsing their large retail selection, you can schedule a facial at either location.
3665 Paseo Place, Carmel Valley; 3030 North Park Way, North Park
Home + Hound is not your average pet shop. In fact, it’s not entirely a pet shop. The inventory’s a true 50/50 split between home decor and dog accessories— and an affirmation that, yes, dogs and people can live together stylishly. Owner Brittney Garbani, a dog owner (and cat and chicken owner), has carefully vetted the brands she carries, all of which skew sophisticated and never corny. Interspersed among them you’ll find homewares spanning textiles, planters, and kitchen goods for the humans.
3768 30th Street, North Park
It’s all about the experience when you walk into Altered Decor. This home beautification shop is designed for you to easily envision your next home redo: owner Rochelle Manns arranged it to show you possibilities for a whole room at once, rather than standalone pieces. Shop high-end furniture, art, rugs, planters, vases, and more; the East Village business also offers patented floral reed diffusers so your space can capture all of your senses.
1227 J Street, East Village
The decor, gifts, and jewelry at Love & Aesthetics can only be described as unique, but even if it’s not to your taste, you definitely have that one friend who’ll dig it. From vases shaped like spacemen, peeled bananas, or anatomical hearts to coffee cups labeled “poison,” the foul-mouthed inventory is definitely something to be appreciated. Peruse, purchase, and leave feeling a bit more edgy.
621 West Fir Street, Little Italy
Known for its pottery classes and workshops, Mud Lily doubles as a ceramics studio and retail shop selling locally made, one- of-a-kind planters, plates, mugs, bowls, vases, and pots. Co-owners Jo Ann Molter and Susan Tull think of it as a community gathering space for people to create with clay, and they welcome ceramicists of all skill levels. Shop here for an ever-changing selection of unique kitchenware and home accessories.
2888 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
You can browse Maek’s collection of stunningly simple mugs, plates, vases, lamps, and more both in store and online. But a stop at the brick-and-mortar gives you the chance to see the two owners in action as they throw clay to sculpt more products. No two pieces are the same, and if you like to play with clay yourself, Maek offers a membership to use their wheels, worktables, and glaze for your own projects.
1918 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
Hunting for a sofa, sectional, or chair? Why not build it yourself? That’s Urban Fusion’s business model. You can also buy a piece right from their showroom, but the greater appeal is in customizing your own. Make an appointment and sink into the different styles—some are inspired by San Diego, like the Cardiff Sofa.
145 West Washington Street, Hillcrest;
This boutique thrives on uplifting local makers and independent artisans, stocking decor and gifts like 1502 Candle Co. candles, Pan&Tea jewelry, and whole coffee beans from Fuzz Coffee Roasters and Cowpoke Coffee. It’s owned and operated by best friends Brittany Peña and Lacy Bird who recently rolled out Small Batch’s online shop, so you can support local in person or at a distance.
8332 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
For cocktail hounds, Collins & Coupe is a true one- stop shop. Rimming salt? Check. Ice cube molds? You bet. Glassware? Married owners Gary McIntire and Logan Mitchell have amassed over 1,000 pieces. And that’s just their vintage collection.
Their names might be familiar from Cellar Door, the supper club they launched in 2011. After becoming ingrained in the culinary community, they saw a clear niche to fill in the form of a cocktail supply store. Enter Collins & Coupe in 2017.
“While many assume we’re only geared toward restaurant and bar professionals, we’re actually set up for the home bartender—even people who have never made a drink before,” Mitchell says. “We have chosen staff with a bartending background so they can help you every step of the way.”
The duo has taken the same care in selecting their inventory and regular vendors.“We implemented goals to bring on more Black, LGBTQ+, women, and POC vendors and employees. Using our money to uplift people and communities that have to work harder for every opportunity is not just important, but necessary.”
From women-made mixers like Perfectly Cordial and El Guapo to San Diego artist Susie Ghahremani’s enamel pins, Logan says, “There is nothing in the shop that we don’t fully stand behind.”
2876 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
At La Loupe Vintage’s two locations, you can shop unique clothing, like sweater vests decorated with cats or maybe a green two-piece suit from the ’80s. You can also find fun accessories like patterned scrunchies, costume jewelry, and classic denim from the ’70s to now (’90s patchwork included).
3337 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights; 4646 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Here, motorcycles are parked next to dresses. Surfboards beside lived-in boots. It fits considering owner David Patri’s history in the apparel industry, and his love for motorcycles and surfing. The shop partners with custom moto builder Brady Young to rev up the inventory.
1144 North Coast Highway 101, Leucadia
Shop all that is fun, funky, and thrifted at Bad Madge. Tanya McAnear’s vintage shop stocks both kitschy and cool finds from the early 1900s through the ’90s. In one stop, you could score a midcentury chair, grab some 1920s cocktail glasses, and round it out with a bold dress from the ’80s.
2205 Fern Street, South Park
This Hillcrest storefront has been a go-to for scoring statement pieces from the ’20s to the ’80s for over 25 years. Take your time perusing the many racks of clothing both indoors and out in their extended covered tent. You’ll find everything from vintage denim to authentic flapper dresses, along with fun accessories like heart-shaped sunglasses to complete your look.
4121 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
Just as the name Mila combines the names of co- owners Michelle Gonzalez and Laura Weiss, the inventory is a mashup of their personal styles. There’s “the delicate” (Laura), represented in feminine-forward apparel like heels and silk scarves, and “the daring” (Michele), statement pieces like chunky jewelry and shoulder- padded blazers.
2879 University Avenue, North Park
Time your visit to Badlands Vintage just right: The vintage furniture shop opened last November in Oceanside with weekend-only hours. That’s because the rest of the time, owner Brittany Joseph is usually sourcing more one-of-a-kind pieces to add to her store’s stylish postmodern collection.
“I take time to find pieces because I want everything to feel really timeless,” she says. “Instead of having to replace your interiors once a trend is over, everything here is a statement piece that you can keep forever.”
Joseph collects design-forward furniture, vases, mirrors, and more, with an equal emphasis on form and function. “I look at all of my furniture as art,” she says. “Yes, you want it to be functional. But you also want it to reflect your personality and style.”
The Badlands style embraces Southwestern and desert influences with an urban touch mixed in. They are all pieces that speak to her, and to her dedicated repeat customers. In some cases, Joseph has helped people design an entire space with Badlands.
That’s why accessibility is incredibly important to the longtime thrifter, who says she keeps her price point at a place where it’s not going to break the bank. “Vintage should be for everyone,” she says. “I started with vintage because I didn’t have a lot of money, but I still wanted my house to look amazing; I wanted pieces with character, pieces with a story.”
She started selling her finds out of her home. Then she moved to a booth inside Sea Hive Marketplace, and even got her own warehouse to store the larger items and sell through Instagram. It all led to her finally opening up shop last year, and she hasn’t slowed down since.
1839 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
This 13,000-square-foot antique mall in Oceanside displays the antique treasures and thrifted must-haves of more than 100 sellers. But in between the bountiful vintage offerings, you’ll also come across handmade goods from local artisans, like leather wallets or ceramic mugs and vases. In short? You’re walking out with something.
1555 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
Takao Saito originally came here from Japan to study English, but later opened the minimalist gift shop Vitreum to sell modern Japanese tableware and other specialty home decor items. Most of her inventory is made in Japan—or by Japanese artists in the US—including bonsai trees, vases, incense, kimonos, ornaments, hanging terraria, and skin care products. The small shop is a great place to find unique gifts for those who need some extra Zen in their home.
619 West Fir Street, Little Italy
This “shoebox of a shop,” as owner Alexandra Pérez Demma affectionately calls it, is brimming with brightly colored gifts crafted by independently owned businesses and artists on both sides of the border. She supports over 40 of them, mainly Latinx- and female-owned—and Pérez Demma is a jeweler herself, who crafts her accessories right on site. Pop in, say hi, and you won’t leave empty-handed.
2185 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan
Twenty-five years ago, Marielle and Pascal Giai bought a Mission Hills bungalow and transformed it into a one-stop shop for wares and decor sourced from their home country of France. Browse imported candles, jewelry, culinary treats, housewares, and soaps like Savon de Marseille for a mental vacation to the French countryside. Love lavender? They have it in every usable form, from dried flowers and syrups to bath gels and hand creams. The store slightly reduced its hours for the pandemic, but they also offer shopping by appointment.
820 Fort Stockton Drive, Mission Hills
After successfully landing the San Diego Zoo as her first wholesale client, Monica Covarrubias felt confident she could turn her dream business into a reality. Now, as the owner of Rosamariposa, she hand- selects jewelry and textiles that are custom-made in Indonesia, Turkey, and Brazil. The shop carries affordable earrings and necklaces, seed bead bracelets, headbands, mala beads (used for meditation), dreamcatchers, and other handmade textiles.
611 West Fir Street, Little Italy
An old pickup truck is parked outside this rustic storefront in downtown Vista, which offers an indoor-outdoor experience for shoppers to browse gifts, accessories, and unique items for the home. Every month, the shop moves outside for a Saturday market featuring handmade products from local vendors, with the goal of supporting other small-business owners.
146 Eucalyptus Avenue, Vista
Claudia Rodríguez-Biezunski says she never imagined she’d own a sewing studio. Growing up, she was no stranger to the art: Her father owned a denim factory, and her mother sewed clothes for her and her five siblings. But she wanted to study upholstery design. A class project to construct a cover for a couch cushion changed her path—she sewed on handles and made a handbag instead. That’s when it clicked. “When you learn how to sew, you can make anything,” she says.
Rodríguez-Biezunski opened Sew Loka in 2013, first in Bankers Hill, then she relocated to Barrio Logan. Over the years she developed a line of bags and clothes that she markets as “exclusive and wearable AF.” There’s quilted purses, leather crossbody bags, and denim jackets, all made from upcycled materials.
Sew Loka was one of the innumerable stores that had to close their doors in March 2020 and come up with a new plan. At first, she leaned into her sewing skills and made masks (10,000 of them). Summer came, and she started to worry—not only about her business, but her neighbors, too. She says the shops along Logan Avenue are owned by people with community ties to Barrio Logan, and if they close, that puts the neighborhood at risk for gentrification.
This led her into another role she never expected for herself: community organizing. She teamed up with Alexandra Pérez Demma, owner of Simón Limón, to find a way to bring much-needed foot traffic back to the barrio.
Rodríguez-Biezunski figured out how to apply for grants and a permit to operate outdoors, and she helped other business owners navigate the process. This led to Walk the Block, a weekly event that transforms Logan Avenue’s sidewalks into an outdoor market. Rodríguez-Biezunski says it saved her business, and that some artists have since been able to open their first storefront: “That’s basically what we wanted—for there to be a strong business community here, where we could all lean on each other.”
2113 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan
Vinyl Junkies was born out of a mobile record shop turned swap meet that was eventually realized into the permanent South Park store it is today. Co- owners Eric Howarth and Tim Mays (the latter also owns The Casbah) accept all genres of used records, from funk to punk, classic rock, jazz, soul, and hip- hop. Head to the “Digger’s Den” for rare and oddball titles, all priced at $3 or $5.
2235 Fern Street, South Park
You never know what you might find in Little Dame. The proudly female-owned boutique along Normal Heights’ Antique Row opened in 2015, and in 2019 it became a combination gift shop/tattoo parlor—yes, every tattoo artist is female, too—making it a perfect place to find some art to give away, and some to keep forever.
2946 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
This co-op retail space is shared by small-business owners who value local, handmade, and sustainably sourced products. Five new merchants recently joined their roster, and under one roof you can shop their variety of home goods, gifts, plants, and more. There’s even a coffee shop to keep you caffeinated while shopping. As a community-focused hub, The Rising Co. also offers an outdoor space to bring people together for socially distanced events or fitness classes on the weekend.
332 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
Books are in Nancy Warwick’s blood. The store was founded in Minnesota in 1896 by her great-grandfather, W. T. Warwick, who ran it there and at a new location in Iowa for 43 years altogether. After his wife died, W. T. sought to relocate again, and saw that the former Redding’s bookstore in La Jolla was up for sale. W. T. bought the store, changed the name, and married the former owner’s widow. Ownership of the store passed down through the generations, and it’s now the oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore in the country. Nancy was just two years old when her parents took over, and her grandmother worked there until age 98.
“The store was part of our daily life, and every night at dinner my parents talked about it,” Nancy says. “They talked about the customers and staff, about what was selling or not. If there was a problem, they invited our input.”
Nancy’s parents wanted her and her sister to know from a young age that the store belonged to all of them, and over time it became part of her identity. Today, the staff still uses the dumbwaiter she used to ride up and down as a kid.
While Warwick’s has always carried a mix of products—books, gifts, art supplies—they haven’t been immune to changes in the retail environment, including the emergence of big-box stores, evolving technology, and the dominance of online shopping. She credits their success to exceptional employees (their head bookbuyer has worked there for 33 years!), loyal customers, and a great selection of goods. The store is also known for its events and signings with local and nationally acclaimed authors, and continues these events virtually.
7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
Verbatim houses a wide selection of titles to please every customer, whether you’re looking for classics or books by local authors. They stock both new and used (and even plastic dinosaurs). It’s a place not only for shopping but also selling and trading books, or (current health rules permitting) curling up in the big room in one of their cozy chairs to read.
3793 30th Street, North Park
Stuff your eyes with the wonder of this eclectic collection—works dedicated to The Wizard of Oz, poetry books bound in leather and gold, comic books, even a signed copy of the store’s namesake. They just added an art gallery, dispersed among the books to mix in a little visual art with your reading.
325 Carlsbad Village Drive, Carlsbad
Stop into The Book Catapult for recommendations from co-owners Seth Marko and Jennifer Powell, who share their top reads on their website and one “book of the week” on their Instagram. Check in for their next virtual author interview or book club discussion.
3010 Juniper Street, South Park
This newsstand may be the last of its kind in San Diego, especially after Paras Newsstand closed in 2019. Magazine readers will appreciate the variety: there are fashion titles, celebrity gossip, and publications on hobbies such as coin collecting and fishing stacked alongside popular national titles. They also own Newsstand at Westfield UTC mall. Long live print!
529 University Avenue, Hillcrest; 4545 La Jolla Village Drive, University Town Center
Half garden center and half woodworking space, this shop equally reflects the interests of its married owners, Caitlin Brooks and Ellis White. She’s got the green thumb; he’s the owner of Anvil Metal & Wood Works. Together, they’ve created a collection of healthy plants and White’s handmade plant accessories, along with other home goods.
The couple also carries San Diego makers, like Paradise Native’s macramé and Eliza Sloane Jewelry.
1909 Cable Street, Ocean Beach
Wild Island Collective doesn’t stop at stocking run-of-the-mill houseplants. They’re pros at sourcing foliage plants, or plants grown for decor that often sport leaves with pops of color. Think Pink Princess Philodendrons and Alocasia Black Velvets. Owner January Newland and her fellow plant experts also provide plant styling services: They evaluate your space, propose plants that would prosper best in it, and help you place them.
3504 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
You could say green thumbs are in Jeff and Marsi Thrift’s DNA. Both grew up in and around agriculture; they lived on a farm together, and they even dabbled in floristry before operating their first plant shop, North Park Nursery. All that led to where they are now, running their second family-owned nursery, Eden. Their daughters have even joined to source products from local growers and vendors.
“We like to consider ourselves a plant- lover’s paradise,” Marsi says. “We want to give the plant community the therapy they’re looking for. We want to be known as a community shop, a place where you get the customer service you might not get at the box stores.”
Eden operates as a boutique plant nursery, specializing in interior plants, pots, and food gardens. They opened in 2017, and thanks to the support of the community, the Thrifts were able to double in size in 2020. Looking ahead, Marsi says they plan to host events when it’s safe to open at full capacity.
“We love being in University Heights,” she says. “Our customers are our priority. If they aren’t happy, we are out of business.”
4636 Park Boulevard, University Heights
In between creating floral masterpieces, Mishele Freeman opened a plant-filled storefront for when you need to add a little more green to your everyday. The shop carries a rotating selection of popular plants, along with ones that you might not find elsewhere. Whether you’re a green thumb or a greenhorn, Freeman has tips to keep your plants healthy.
2367 30th Street, South Park
This shop has been in Ocean Beach for over 47 years, under its current ownership for over 22. Select field-fresh flowers designed by floral experts Melanie Freed and Shannon Pierce, score locally grown succulents, and find houseplant varieties sourced from area greenhouses. Inside, find small-batch gifts like handmade candles, soap, and pottery.
4822 Santa Monica Avenue, Ocean Beach