Where to Shop Small in San Diego

From local-owned to family-owned spots, San Diego has a wealth of small businesses that deserve your support, not just on Small Business Saturday, but all year long.

Holiday shopping doesn’t have to be stressful. Instead of spending hours cruising for an empty parking space or fighting the crowds to buy mass-produced gifts and gadgets, head out into your neighborhood. You’ll find locally produced, one-of-a-kind artisan products ranging from amazing artwork and unique apparel to handmade food items and elegant jewelry. We visited four of San Diego’s most vibrant neighborhoods to find the season's most gift-worthy items, so grab your tote bag, your naughty/nice list, and check out some of our favorite gifting solutions:

Courtesy of North Park Main Street

North Park’s history dates back to 1893, when James Hartley purchased 40 acres of land from businessman Joseph Nash for the purpose of planting a lemon orchard. In the early 1900s, Hartley’s son, Jack, and William Jay Stevens, his brother-in-law, opened North Park’s first realty firm, Stevens & Hartley, and began developing the area into residential and commercial districts. Today, North Park enjoys a eclectic collection of architectural styles, including historic Craftsman and California Bungalows, as well as a vast array of restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, craft breweries and bars. In 1912, for better or worse, it was named one of the country’s best hipster neighborhoods by Forbes magazine.

Founder and owner Elexia de la Parra started her vibrant shop, Artelexia as a stall at the La Jolla farmers market before eventually settling in North Park. Specializing in unique, hand-crafted Mexican gifts, art, gourmet foods, and home decor, she also hosts cultural workshops and community events. Artelexia donates a portion of each sale to Fundación En Via, a non-profit that provides no-interest loans and education to female entrepreneurs of the Oaxaca Valley region of Mexico.

Gold Dust Collective, a group of local artisans and labels is the place to go for custom, handmade boots, hats, leather goods, and jewelry, as well as vintage clothing, crystals, houseware, and various oddities and collectibles. Book lovers know that Verbatim Books is the place to go for gently used and curated antique books, local authors, classics, and works from micro-publishers. Rufskin Denim has sexy, eye-catching denim, accessories, beach wear, and RuferizedTM rubberized sportswear for men.

barrio logan
FLICKR/KELLINAHANDBASKET

Long known to locals as a neighborhood hidden gem, Barrio Logan’s history of art and activism goes back decades. Historic Chicano Park, home to the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world, was the neighborhood’s answer to the city’s encroachment into an established local greenspace back in 1966. Now one of just 14 California Cultural Districts, along with Balboa Park and the Oceanside Cultural District, Barrio Logan has developed organically into one of the city’s fastest-growing food and art destinations, with new breweries, restaurants, galleries, and shops opening almost weekly.

NATIVO owner Xochitl Villarreal, who was forced to close her shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, has reopened and is ready to help you find the perfect Latin American handwoven crafts and clothing for gift giving. At Combine and Create, Vanessa Alcaraz, a multimedia artist, creates hand-forged, metal-smithed jewelry in sterling silver and pure brass, combined with ethically mined gemstones, antique coins, and beads. Check out Simón Limón, a tiny retail and creative space that curates handmade goods from local, primarily Latinx, women-owned businesses on both sides of the border. Hola Swim founders and lifelong friends Aida Soria and Syncletica Maestas started their swimsuit shop because they could not find suits that they actually loved and enjoyed wearing. Their products, which have been featured in Vogue Paris and Cosmo Latina, are made entirely in San Diego and are designed to be multifunctional, moving seamlessly from day to night or beach to brunch. Vinyl nerds know that Beat Box Records is one of the best places to find vintage vinyl of all types, from funk to soul, rock to jazz, hip hop, and anything in between.

In addition to the brick-and-mortar shops, Barrio Logan enjoys frequent pop-up shopping, eating, and music experiences, often hosted by Mujeres Brew House. Check their Instagram and Facebook for the latest events, and be sure to stop by the neighborhood on the second Saturday of the month for the Barrio Art Crawl, for more shopping and cultural opportunities.

Little Italy

Little Italy, once home to a thriving community of Italian tuna fishers, covers 48 blocks of the city, making it the largest Little Italy in the United States, as well as home to the oldest bar in San Diego, The Waterfront, and the Little Italy Mercato, the largest farmers market in the county. Overseen by the Little Italy Association of San Diego, it’s most often thought of these days as a dining destination, and while that’s absolutely true, it’s also a great place to find one-of-a-kind boutiques, shops, and galleries.

One of the most popular stops for in the know shoppers is Stroll, a (mostly) women’s boutique that features trendy designer apparel, home goods, and accessories, and has some of the best ugly holiday sweaters we’ve ever seen, if you’re into that sort of thing. Vitreum has both brick-and-mortar and online shopping for out-of-the-ordinary home decorating and wellness items you won’t find in the mall. Head to Love & Aesthetics for loads of cheeky home decor, including anatomically correct heart vases, monkey lighting, and NSFW mugs. They also have more conventional home goods, jewelry, apothecary items, and tableware if you need something unique but more benign. Bluza Boutique is the place to go for fashion-forward designer apparel and accessories made especially with the over-forty woman in mind. Textiles, exquisite dreamcatchers, and finely crafted accessories from all over the world can be found at Rosamariposa, and everything the home cook and DIY specialist in your life could want can be found at Home Ec.

For a less traditional approach to holiday gift shopping, don’t forget about the Little Italy Mercato, where vendors like Angel Me jewelers, Garminx custom clothing, and PAR KER made textiles, artwork, and ceramics have exceptional gifts that your special someone will love. As an added bonus, you can pick up host/hostess gifts, flowers, and other celebratory necessities without making an additional trip to the grocers.

Photo courtesy of Liberty Station

One of the most walkable neighborhoods in San Diego, Liberty Station was originally dedicated in 1923 as a Naval Training Center, and today, most of the original Spanish Colonial Revival buildings have been converted into businesses, museums, galleries, restaurants, and retail shops. Shop in a parklike setting that’s filled with art and nature, where you can browse to your heart’s content, then stop for a cocktail or a meal at one of dozens of options.

At the Liberty Public Market, pick up fine olive oils, balsamic vinegars, salts and spices, and locally made goods for the foodies in your life at Baker & Olive, or grab some rare and hard-to-find brews for your favorite beer snob at Bottlecraft. Jewelry, both inspirational and unusual, along with vintage clothing that ranges from sequined bustiers to tweed blazers can be found at Nobel Rags, which donates $1 from each sale to one of six local charities.

Venturing outside of the Liberty Public Market, Seahive Station houses more than 23,000-square-feet of curated, handmade, and vintage goods from jewelry, clothing, and home decorating items to vintage tiki glasses and barware. You’ll find apparel, lifestyle and home goods, eyewear, and gifts in one streamlined space at Moniker General, where they conveniently serve coffee and cocktails to weary shoppers. We also love Pigment for its huge selection of plants, pots, and all the accouterments to keep them green and happy, but don’t sleep on their collection of fun lifestyle items, wellness goods, and apparel. Finally, niche shops like Apricot Yarn & Supply, Point Loma Tea, Imperfects and Fuze Jewelry will help you with the hard to buy for folks in your life.

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Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.