The Ultimate Shopping Guide to LA
From a very serious tennis shop to a bookstore that doubles as a community space, here are the 25 small businesses that should be on your list.
Online shopping is a wonderful thing—you have an endless number of stores right at your fingertips at all times, whether you’re battling insomnia at 4 am or stuck in the third hour of a soporific Zoom presentation at work. It is the height of convenience, it is the death of boredom. But it’s also a little like eating a cupcake, fun and fulfilling at first, but you're usually getting something that doesn’t actually fit your bodily needs. That is to say, online shopping is a great time eater, but the experience can’t hold a candle to real life, in-person shopping at the best stores in LA.
LA is, of course, an excellent shopping city, with offbeat boutiques and historic record stores, native nurseries and curated bookstores, brilliant small businesses and some of the best gourmet markets in the country. Whether you’re looking for holiday gifts for friends, birthday presents for family, host gifts, or just a special little treat for yourself, these stores are great options. Here is everywhere to shop in LA this winter:
Theodore Payne Foundation
Look out for: Native plants, seeds, gardening books, and low-key awesome merch
One of the coolest native plant foundations in town also has a fantastic retail arm out in Sun Valley. It’s the kind of place where you know you’ll get great advice, and they only stock really lovely climate-appropriate plants. Prices are great for iconic California flora like white sage and yarrow, coyote brush and snapdragons, and so much more. They also have a large library of seeds, gardening books, prints and home goods, and very cool shirts. And don’t miss their regular classes and workshops, and in the spring they give the absolute best wildflower updates.
Look out for: The finest artisanal European food products, snacks, and precious little treats
Even if the hosts tell you not to bring anything, the rule stands—never show up empty handed. And if you’re headed out to a party in the valley, there’s no better place to fill your hands than Epicurus Gourmet. The store is named for the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose teachings elevated worldly pleasures and the comfort of friends over more ethereal concerns, and Epicurus Gourmet is designed to facilitate just that. They have rows and rows of delicious little things, from cheeses and oils to spices and caviar, just the right touches to light up a winter evening with good company. And if you’re on board with tinned fish, it’s hard to beat their selection.
It's a Wrap
Look out for: Secondhand clothing left over from TV and movie productions
There are all sorts of shopping oddities hidden on Burbank’s wide, quiet boulevards, from year-round Halloween stores to vintage collectibles and a truly disquieting number of gun stores. But none of them are as fun or as perfectly Burbank as It’s A Wrap, a secondhand clothing store with a very specific specialty—they resell clothes from the wardrobe departments of TV and movie productions. A lot of it is basically brand new, essentially unused on a costumer or showrunner’s whim, and most of the rest were actually worn on camera. Yes, the shop can be a little cluttered, and not everything is guaranteed to be a great deal, but to be honest the dusty rows of overlooked Hollywood leftovers is a pretty good stand-in for Burbank itself, too.
Surfboards by Kennedy
Look out for: Custom designed surfboards, affordable surf gear, and friendly expertise
The deep Valley isn’t exactly a surf mecca—no one has romantic visions of catching sick waves then heading home to Woodland Hills. But it’s also easy to forget that the southwest end of the Valley is just a picturesque cruise through Topanga Canyon away from the killer breaks at Malibu. And in case you needed that point further driven home, there’s Kennedy Surf Shop, a 50-year-old institution in the surf community. They’ve been providing excellent, extremely friendly and knowledgeable service the entire time, carrying on the legacy of legendary shaper and owner Glen Kennedy even after his passing in 2019. They moved to a new location early this year, but the energy remains as chill as ever.
Look out for: Stationery, calendars, and the kinds of writing implements that make journaling fun
Everyone knows someone who loves to keep a real calendar. The tactile feedback of writing something down, putting it in a physical place, helps cement it in memory and gives future events the space and attention they deserve. Journaling can do the same for the recent past, codifying and clarifying history and feelings. For those people, there may not be a more purely pleasurable store than Shorthand, the beloved stationery and art supply store in Highland Park. The place is small but full of treasures, from smooth-writing pens and colored pencils in gorgeous polychromatic shades to binders, notebooks, organizers, planners, journals, and everything else. It is the kind of space that makes you breathe deep and believe that you can get your life in order and keep it that way, for a few minutes at least.
Look out for: Top quality women’s clothing at affordable prices
Sample sale exploring is a fun hobby for a lot of people, and the thrill of picking a needle from a haystack is hard to beat. But for the rest of us, who just want to go straight to the reasonably priced samples from high-quality fashion lines and skip the hassle, there’s the Runway. The store collects samples and overstock from a slew of great brands, with an emphasis on trendy local independent lines. There are always lovely pieces throughout the store, and the quality to price ratio is hard to beat.
The Racket Doctor
Look out for: Tennis gear, shoes, balls, clothes, and very cool niche merch
We love a store with thorough dedication to a theme, and Atwater’s beloved tennis store The Racket Doctor is nothing if not dedicated—their racket stringers typically wear scrubs emblazoned with the title “String Surgeon.” The shop has a vast selection of tennis rackets, all of which are available for an affordable weeklong demo so you can try before you buy. They have tons of tennis clothing, balls, grip tape, and shoes, and there’s also an excellent sale section in the back corner. And if you want to rep the LA tennis scene in high style, there’s a whole merch collection and installation from The Farmers Market Global.
Look out for: Artistic, independent, far out, and collectible comic books, graphic novels, and zines
Thanks in large part to the thunderous mostly-successes of Kevin Feige and the equally boisterous but decidedly more mixed bag of Zack Snyder, the world has become a little oversaturated with comic book concepts. But a visit to Secret Headquarters will refresh your admiration for the art form—their selection of independent and artistic graphic novels is a marvel, creative and weird and thrilling in the best ways. They bring in great books from big publishing houses, and they have their own imprint too, SHQ Publishing. As you might imagine, their shop lore is also on point.
The Dinosaur Farm
Look out for: Kids toys and games, of prehistoric and modern varieties alike
Mission Street in South Pasadena is the quantiest stretch of the greater LA area, a great place for Angelenos homesick for a small-town feel and a perfect stand-in for idyllic—and horrific—suburbia in any number of movies and TV shows. So it’s only fitting that South Pas would have one of the most charming toy stores in town, a dinosaur-themed but not dinosaur-exclusive shop with a wealth of wonderful things. They have toys, books, stuffed animals, costumes, and everything a future paleontologist could want.
The Cub House
Look out for: Bikes, plants, and far out bike-themed clothing
They will loudly proclaim that it’s not a bike shop, but the more appropriate slogan for the Cub House in San Marino might be “it’s not just a bike shop.” The radical custom bike store also has a super cool selection of desert plants, a coffee bar, and an in-house clothing line featuring apparel designed and made in LA. Quiet, sometimes stuffy San Marino is an unexpected place to find trippy designs and laid back hipster energy, but between Cub House and Pizzanista across the street there might be a bit of a vibe shift around here.
Look out for: Records, CDs, tapes, posters, movies, and music memorabilia
The old Amoeba is gone, along with its iconic storefront signage, but the self-styled “world’s largest independent record store” keeps rolling along in Hollywood, just a few blocks away from the classic spot. The new building may not have the same sort of chaotic charm yet, but it’ll get there. It’s still the best place to browse for used records, CDs, and posters, their live shows and signings are always fun, and it’s impossible to beat their selection of laserdiscs.
Look out for: Coveted sneakers and streetwear collabs
LA as a city is a hotbed of sneaker culture, with the right blend of fashionable and creative people with a casual-leaning ethos and a lot of disposable income. And no place represents that intersection better than the home grown heroes at Undefeated. The sneaker boutique opened more than 20 years ago, and now has some 12 locations at home and abroad, in places like New York, Las Vegas, and Japan. They always have a great selection of sneakers, they get every limited release that drops, and they’ve got a long line of insanely cool collaborations. They’ve worked with Converse, Jordan, and Vans, of course, but they’ve also come out with some off-the-wall stuff like Tudor watches, Malbon Golf clothes, a Galpin Auto Sports Land Rover, and they designed a full set of kits for Birmingham City Football Club.
Suá Kitchen & Superette
Look out for: Sichuanese snacks and AAPI-founded culinary goods
Local culinary star Jing Gao has become a national name with Fly By Jing, her line of Sichuan-style food products infused with the tingly mala of Sichuan peppercorns. Now she’s teamed up with Stephanie Liu Hjelmeseth to open Suá in Larchmont, a gorgeous boutique market filled with Chinese, Chinese-American, and AAPI-created food products. That means coffee beans from Nguyen Coffee Supply, Fossa Chocolate bars, noodles and sauces from Omsom, and so much more. There are also two refridgerated cases full of grab-n-go Sichuan-style food, designed for a quick lunch or to be the base of a family dinner, from Sichuan Chicken Salad to Cold Sesame Noodles, Chongqing Chicken Tenders, and more.
Look out for: Beer, wine, and snacks from regulars to rarities, with pop-up food out front
Maybe you stepped in to Sara’s Market for the first time to grab some toilet paper and a bag of Hot Cheetos, or maybe you drove from across town to check out an early pop-up from Evil Cooks or The Goat Mafia. But whatever brought you there, one thing is guaranteed to keep you coming back—owners Sara and Steven Valdes. They’re the warmest, nicest people in the business, quick with a smile and a suggestion, ready to remember you next time you come in. It doesn’t hurt that they have the best selection of craft beer, natural wine, local hot sauce, and killer tortillas in East Los, and they’re one of the best launchpads in LA for pop-up food vendors.
Look out for: Perfect Japanese gifts in a historic space
Very few shops in this town last more than a few years, but even among outliers Bunkado is at the far end of the graph—it’s been around since 1947, run by multiple generations and branches of the extended Ueyama and Tsukada family. The shop is full of Japanese home goods, crafts, books, toys, ceramics, and more, the perfect place to browse for a small, stylish, and meaningful gift for someone else or for yourself. It’s one of our favorite places to visit in Little Tokyo, and in the city in general.
Look out for: Curated culinary gifts and elegant hosting essentials from Japanese artisans
The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo has long been a hub for offices, events, and food. Now, it’s also a go-to spot for the finest home goods and Japanese culinary tools and gifts, curated by experts and JACCC leaders Jane Matsumoto and Patricia Wyatt. The pair traveled extensively through Japan to find the best artisans working across several mediums like gardening tools, ceramics, and cookware, and each product that they carry is truly exquisite. The store is new, but there are big plans for future events, workshops, and classes as well.
Rip City Skateboards
Look out for: Decks, clothes, and old school skater vibes
Skate culture has evolved a little bit over the last 45 years, and largely for the better. But vintage skate style is undeniably radical, the revolutionary underdog ethos, the devil may care energy, the trippy graphics. And walking into Rip City Skates feels a little like stepping back in time, to the ‘90s at least and maybe all the way back to ‘78, which is the year this killer skate shop opened. The place is thick with memorabilia, cluttered in a good way with vintage decks, stickered all over with logos from defunct and modern companies, and absolutely full of everything you need to roll out like it’s the glory days of Dogtown.
Surfas Culinary District
Look out for: Professional quality cookware, gourmet ingredients, and fun host gifts
If you’ve got a serious home cook—or an aspiring one, at least—on your list this year, you can’t beat the top-quality industrial cooking supplies at legendary Surfa’s. The warehouse-sized space has everything a cook or a host could desire, from chef’s knives and molcajetes to fun cookie cutters and toothpicks with little footballs on top. The family-run store also carries a wonderful selection of specialty pantry items like imported dried pasta, luxury oils and vinegars, and hard to find chiles and spices.
Look out for: Almost literally anything
No list of shopping in LA would be complete without a mega-market, and El Mercadito is the most fun in its class. The multi-story former warehouse has become a pillar of the Boyle Heights Mexican-American and Latinx community, with dozens of vendors selling all kinds of things from clothing to spices, school uniforms to ceramics and well beyond. There are also lots of great places to get antojitos, bionicos, aguas frescas, and desserts, and there are often mariachi bands on weekends and at prime time.
Look out for: Rare sneakers and high-end streetwear through a secret entrance
Gimmicks are only cool if you have the swagger to pull them off and the goods to back them up. Thankfully, the sneaker and streetwear store Bodega has both in spades. The gimmick is clear just from the name—the shop is hidden behind a fake loading dock in the far corner of ROW DTLA, and when you push through the dangling plastic door curtain you enter into a shockingly large space that’s big enough to have a convenience store-style facade set up in one corner. The rest of the shop is stocked with the coolest sneakers and the best high-end streetwear from hyped brands like Bode, Kapital, Engineered Garments, Stone Island, Brain Dead, and more. Bodega also does some of the best collabs in the sneaker game and beyond, from hikers with New Balance to a forthcoming miniature basketball hoop with Wilson.
Look out for: Books, art, events, and uplifting revolutionary ideology
Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff are doing beautiful things in West Adams with Rep Club, a book store, event space, and just an extremely beautiful and vibey shop and creative environment. They sell perfectly curated books, provide a fun and welcoming place for the community, and they host some truly excellent events, from readings to discussions and even Jeopardy-themed game shows.
Ramirez Beverage Center
Look out for: Booze, and lots of it
Before heading out to your next holiday party, take a turn through the aisles of Ramirez Beverage Center in Boyle Heights. The massive space is packed with drinks, from fine craft ales and ready-to-drink cocktails to a large selection of wines from around the world. For our money, though, agave distillates are the way to go here—they’ve got a particularly fantastic selection, and it’s a pretty damn cool move to be the one who shows up with an artisanal mezcal or rare bottle of pulque tucked into your arm like a football, instead of another bottle of a random Cabernet from Safeway.
Look out for: Fun and weird pre-computer technology, gifts, and props
Sometimes shopping is about more than actually buying things—it’s about the browse, the poke-around, the marvel at a store’s particularly cool inventory. If you’re in the mood to shop like that, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to look through than jAdis Props. The Santa Monica mainstay has a totally wild collection of curiosities, from vintage scientific instruments to analog tools and steampunk-style gadgets of all shapes and sizes. There are things for sale, definitely, including cool toys and art, and there are also props on display, which they regularly rent out to productions like Oppenheimer, Van Helsing, The Prestige, and more.
Look out for: Plants and ceramics, of course, in a little green oasis
South LA is short on green spaces, an injustice created in the halls of power that has yet to be adequately remedied. But if you pull up to the corner of Avalon and 54th, you might get a different impression. On the west side of Avalon is the South LA Wetlands Park, a slice of marshy green cut out of concrete. On the east side there’s Avalon Nursery and Ceramics, a dense thicket of plants for sale that feels like a dot of jungle in the big city. The shop has been open for some 40 years, with all sorts of plants both native and exotic, from succulents to trees, often at shockingly affordable prices. Things aren’t always perfectly organized or labeled, but that only adds to the fun of exploration.
The Salt Eaters Bookshop
Look out for: Curated books and events with a community focus
The Salt Eaters is a bookstore, of course, but over its few years in existence it has become what so many new businesses aspire to be—a community hub, a place where people run into old friends or make new acquaintances, a haven for people who share an interest in books, and specifically books that center Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Their selection is tightly curated and perfect, with famous Black authors and up-and-comers alike, from fiction to essays, history, theory, and more. They’re in the midst of a desperate struggle to keep their space amid gentrification and rising rents, and they have a crowdfunding campaign open and a cool new music-focused event series starting in December.