Your visit to San Diego will likely be so pleasurable that you'll want to take home a piece of SoCal to remind you of your sunny sojourn. Here are some neighborhoods -- and several specific shops -- that you'll want to head to in your quest for the perfect souvenir.
1. The Gaslamp Quarter's urban boutiques are sprinkled through a funky, happening 16-block downtown district. Independently owned stores (for clothes, unusual trinkets, home décor, pet fashion, skateboarding gear, and much more) stand side-by-side with major chains like Urban Outfitters, Quicksilver, Puma, and Volcom.
2. The Ocean Beach Antique District, along Newport Avenue, is a haven for antique buffs. Its hundreds of dealers peddle period furniture, fine estate wares, vintage jewelry, and unique collectibles.
3. If you've fallen in love with surfing during your time in San Diego, Fowlers (731 S Highway 101; tel. 858/436-7016) in Solana Beach is a cool little North County shop that carries everything you need to embody the surf culture, including jeans by a denim line called Blue Tattoo (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Mischa Barton are fans of their perfect fit). Check out the original art on the walls.
4. Cedros Design District, in Solana Beach, is the place to go for mod home furnishings and unique women's apparel.
5. Looking for luxe? La Jolla's Prospect Street is known as the Rodeo Drive of San Diego, what with high-end retailers like Cartier, Armani, and Saks Fifth Avenue. The street, which overlooks the ocean, is also known for its fine jewelry galleries.
6. You many not think of museum-rich Balboa Park as a place to go shopping -- but think again. Those very museums, especially the Natural History Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art, maintain wonderful gift shops which will especially appeal to lovers of art, science, and culture.
7. Old Town's shopping areas,like Plaza del Pasado and Bazaar del Mundo, sell folklore-inspired keepsakes that capture San Diego's colorful history. At these Southwestern marketplaces, you'll find handmade creations, Native American jewelry, and miniature paintings of Southern California landscapes. Be sure to stop into Tienda del Pasado, which stocks fascinating antiques from around the world, and La Panderia, a memorable sweets shop.
8. Any fashionista will love La Jolla's Haute Culture Boutique (5628 La Jolla Blvd; tel. 858/551-8665; www.hautecultureboutique.com).Aside from having an attentive, helpful staff, they sell super-cute duds and accessories made by designers that are sometimes hard to find in other retail outlets.
9. For the budget-minded shopper who still wants great things, Las Americas Premium Outlets (4211 Camino de la Plaza; tel. 619/934-8400; www.premiumoutlets.com) offer 25%-65% off brand names in more than 100 stores, including Banana Republic, Coach, Neiman Marcus, and Adidas. Tip: Get added savings by joining the free VIP Shopper Club.
10. Fashion Valley Shopping Center is San Diego's most popular shopping center; it gets more annual visits than Sea World, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo -- combined. If you're looking for stores that are unique from your home town, go elsewhere. However, if you don't mind seeing the retailers that you see everywhere else, come to this 1.7-million-square-foot, open-air mega-mall, which is home to Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, JCPenney, Apple, MAC Cosmetics -- and many, many more. There are also restaurants and an 18-screen movie theater. Watch this space: it'll soon undergo an extensive expansion.
Keep in mind, too, that Tijuana, Mexico is just south of San Diego's border. This is where the real bargains are to be found -- think duty-free jewelry, pottery, clothing, and tequila, all of which can be gotten with the U.S. dollar. If you're driving in, make sure to get appropriate car insurance, which is easily available at the border, and if you're a U.S. resident, don't bring home more than $400 worth of goods.
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