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Whether you're looking for a souvenir, a gift, or a quick replacement for an item inadvertently left at home, you'll find no shortage of stores in San Diego. This is, after all, Southern California, where looking good is a high priority and shopping in sunny outdoor malls is a way of life.

The Shopping Scene

Okay, so San Diegans have embraced the suburban shopping mall with vigor. Many do the bulk of their shopping at two massive complexes in Mission Valley where every possible need is represented; downtown has even adopted the mall concept at whimsical Horton Plaza.

Local neighborhoods, on the other hand, offer specialty shopping that meets the needs -- and mirrors the personality -- of that part of town. For example, hip Hillcrest and Uptown neighborhoods are the place to go for offbeat boutiques, while conservative La Jolla offers many upscale traditional shops, especially jewelers. And don't forget that Mexico is only 20 minutes away; tiendas (stores) in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, and Ensenada stock colorful crafts, jewelry, and clothing at bargain prices.

Sales tax in San Diego is 8.75%; savvy out-of-state shoppers have larger items shipped directly home at the point of purchase, avoiding the tax.

Large stores and shops in malls tend to stay open until about 9pm on weekdays, 6pm on weekends. Smaller businesses usually close at 5 or 6pm or may keep odd hours. When in doubt, call ahead.

Art & Crafts

While San Diego is not known as a powerhouse art city, you'll find some 25 galleries in La Jolla village alone; downtown, Little Italy, and North Park also offer a concentration of galleries. To get an overview of North Park's alternative art spaces, consider the Ray at Night gallery crawl (www.rayatnightartwalk.com), scheduled the second Saturday of every month from 6 to 10pm; more than 30 galleries, boutiques, and cafes participate.

Department Stores

You'll find plenty of major retailers in large shopping centers that provide ample opportunity to browse for gifts, mementos, or necessities.

Farmers' Markets

We love our open-air markets. Throughout the county nearly 50 regularly scheduled street fests are stocked with the freshest fruits and vegetables from Southern California farms, augmented by crafts, fresh-cooked ethnic foods, flower stands, and other surprises. San Diego County produces more than $1 billion worth of fruits, flowers, and other crops each year. Avocados, known locally as "green gold," are the most profitable crop and have been grown here for more than 100 years. Citrus fruit follows close behind, and flowers are the area's third most important crop; ranunculus bulbs from here are sent all over the world, as are the famous Ecke poinsettias.

Here's a schedule of noteworthy farmers' markets -- you can also check with the San Diego Farm Bureau (tel. 760/745-3023; www.sdfarmbureau.org).

There are several farmers' markets downtown. One is a seasonal affair, held in the square just north of Horton Plaza, running March through October on Thursdays from 11am to 3pm; call tel. 760/741-3763 for information. The Third Avenue market, specializing in Asian goods, takes place between Island Avenue and J Street. It runs throughout the year on Sundays from 9am to 1pm; call tel. 619/279-0032 for details. The very popular Little Italy Mercato (tel. 619/233-3769; www.littleitalymercato.com) is on Saturdays, 9am to 1:30pm, along Date Street, between India and Columbia streets.

In Hillcrest, the market runs Sundays from 9am to 2pm at the corner of Normal Street and Lincoln Avenue, 1 block north of University Avenue. The atmosphere is festive, and exotic culinary delights reflect the eclectic neighborhood. For more information, call tel. 619/237-1632.

La Jolla also has a Sunday market; it's held on the playground at La Jolla Elementary School, 7335 Girard Ave., from 9am to 1pm. Call tel. 858/454-1699 for more information, or go to www.lajollamarket.com.

Point Loma's open-air market is held on Sunday along the 2900 block of Canon Street, between Rosecrans and Shafter streets, from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Call tel. 619/795-3363 for information.

In Ocean Beach, a fun-filled market is held Wednesday evenings between 5 and 8pm (4-7pm Jan-Mar) along the 4900 block of Newport Avenue. In addition to fresh-cut flowers, produce, and exotic fruits and foods laid out for sampling, the market features art and entertainment. For more information, call tel. 619/279-0032, or check www.oceanbeachsandiego.com.

Head to Pacific Beach on Saturday from 8am to noon, when Mission Boulevard between Reed Avenue and Pacific Beach Drive is transformed into a bustling marketplace. Call tel. 760/741-3763 for more information.

In Coronado, every Tuesday afternoon the Ferry Landing hosts a produce and crafts market from 2:30 to 6pm; call tel. 760/741-3763 for more details.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.