Where to Shop Small in San Diego

Support local retailers this Small Business Saturday.

If the thought of doing your holiday shopping at the mall has you breaking out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. Finding something thoughtful and unique for those last few friends on your gift list can be stressful, especially as the number of shopping days dwindles. Instead of spending hours cruising for an empty parking space or fighting the crowds to buy another mass-produced trinket, head out into your neighborhood, where you’ll find locally produced, one-of-a-kind artisanal products ranging from amazing artwork and unique apparel to handmade food items and elegant jewelry.

We visited three of San Diego’s most vibrant neighborhoods to find the season's most gift-worthy items. So grab your reusable grocery bags, your naughty/nice list, and check out some of our favorite small retailers:

barrio logan

Long known to locals as a 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 fourteen California Cultural Districts, 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 hand woven 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 features 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, 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 a 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. 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 dream catchers, 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, Style by Ilana 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 park-like 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 also conveniently serve coffee and cocktails. We also love Pigment for its huge selection of plants, pots, and all the accoutrements 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 Mo Records 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.