In the Gaslamp Quarter, high rents have led to the influx of deep-pocketed chains and brand names, such as Adidas, 926 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/615-0287; www.adidas.com); Urban Outfitters, 665 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/231-0102; www.urbanoutfitters.com); Quiksilver, 402 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/234-3125; www.quiksilver.com); and G-Star, 470 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/238-7088; www.g-star.com). A few intrepid boutiques can still be found among the big retailers and the area's multitudinous eateries, though.
For hip and glamorous women's clothing, Project Runway contestant Gordana Gehlhausen offers her designs at GOGA by Gordana, 401 Market St. (tel. 619/564-7660; www.shopgoga.com); Kita Ceramics & Glassware, 517 Fourth Ave. (tel. 619/239-2600; www.kitaceramicsglass.com), stocks fine Japanese pottery and colorful Italian glass products. HatWorks, 433 E St. (tel. 619/234-0457), has had a presence in downtown since 1922; if you've got a head, they have something to fit your style, from Stetson to Kangol. Bubbles Boutique, 226 Fifth Ave. (tel. 866/236-9003; www.bubblesboutique.com), has all manner of handmade soap products, from Mary Jane hemp soap bars to banana shake-flavored bath "bombs." You can pamper your pooch with something from Lucky Dog Pet Boutique, 415 Market St. (tel. 619/696-0364; www.shopluckydog.com), where you'll find supplies swank and chic: collars, snacks, soaps, and bowls. Animation fans will want to duck into Chuck Jones Gallery, 232 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/294-9880; www.chuckjones.com); it features animation cels by the likes of Dr. Seuss and Jones himself, who was creator of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and others.
You never can tell what might pop up at Industry Showroom, 345 Sixth Ave. (www.industryshowroom.com), a "retail experiment" featuring art, design, and fashion in a DIY collective environment. Once a month, Industry Showroom also hosts its indie Bohemian Market, bringing in even more crafty vendors and entertainment.
You can continue your search for serious art, design, and home furnishings in Little Italy. The conglomeration of cool stores and galleries along Kettner Boulevard and India Street, from Laurel to Date streets, has become known as the Kettner Art & Design District. Throughout the year, Friday evening open-house events known as Kettner Nights are scheduled; for information, check www.littleitalysd.com. Among the district's highlights for modern furnishings and accessories are Boomerang for Modern, 2475 Kettner Blvd. (tel. 619/239-2040; www.boomerangformodern.com); Mixture, 2210 Kettner Blvd. (tel. 619/239-4788; www.mixturehome.com); and DNA European Design Studio, 750 W. Fir St. (tel. 619/235-6882; www.dnaeuropeandesign.com). Look for fine art at Scott White Contemporary Art, 939 W. Kalmia St. (tel. 619/501-5689; www.scottwhiteart.com), and Noel-Baza Fine Art, 2165 India St. (tel. 619/876-4160; www.noel-bazafineart.com).
The nearby Fir Street Cottages are a quaint cluster of festively painted stores where the highlights include Carol Gardyne, 1840 Columbia St. (tel. 619/233-8066; www.carolgardyne.com), which has hand-painted, one-of-a-kind silk scarves and wall hangings; Vitreum, 619 W. Fir St. (tel. 619/237-9810; www.vitreum-us.com), an artfully Zen shop that sells glassware, as well home decor, tea sets, tableware, and jewelry; and Rosamariposa, 611 W. Fir St. (tel. 619/237-8064; www.rosamariposasd.com), stocking exotic (but responsibly crafted) baubles and bangles from Indonesia and India.
Hillcrest & Uptown
Compact Hillcrest is an ideal shopping destination. As the hub of San Diego's gay and lesbian community, hip fashion and chic housewares are the order of the day here. There are plenty of establishments selling cool trinkets, used books, vintage clothing, and memorabilia; you'll also find a plethora of modestly priced globe-hopping dining options, too.
Street parking is available; most meters run 2 hours and devour quarters at a rate of one every 12 minutes. Some blocks have just one meter; use cash or credit card to get a receipt to place on your dashboard. You can also park in a lot -- rates vary, but you'll come out ahead if you're planning to stroll for several hours. There's no defined zone in which shops are found, so you may as well start at the neighborhood's axis, the busy intersection of University and Fifth avenues. From this corner the greatest concentration of boutiques spreads for 1 or 2 blocks in each direction, but farther east on University -- between 10th Avenue and Vermont Street -- you'll find another aggregation of good options, especially in the home furnishing category. Co-Habitat, 1433 University Ave. (tel. 619/688-1390; www.cohabitathome.com), has colorful decor and textiles from India; Nativa, 1003 University Ave. (tel. 619/299-4664; www.nativa-online.com), has a huge showroom with sumptuous furniture made mostly from plantation-grown South American wood. On the other side of University Avenue is a small shopping complex where the highlight is the contemporary clothing store Studio 1220, 1220 Cleveland Ave. (tel. 619/220-7344; www.studio1220.com).
If you're looking for postcards or provocative gifts, step into wacky Babette Schwartz, 421 University Ave. (tel. 619/220-7048; www.babette.com), a pop-culture emporium named for a local drag queen and located under the can't-miss HILLCREST street sign. You'll find books, clothing, and kitsch accessories. A couple of doors away, Cathedral, 435 University Ave. (tel. 619/296-4046; www.shopcathedral.com), is stocked with candles of all scents and shapes, plus unusual holders.
If all this walking is wearing a hole in your shoes, you can get a pair of urban-fabulous sneakers at Mint, 525 University Ave. (tel. 619/291-6468; www.mintshoes.com); then march yourself over to Kingdom, 3696 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/298-5464; www.kingdomsandiego.com), for some trendy threads to go along with your new shoes. Headgear -- from straw hats to knit caps to classy fedoras -- fills the Village Hat Shop, 3821 Fourth Ave. (tel. 619/683-5533; www.villagehatshop.com); there's also a minimuseum of stylishly displayed vintage hats.
Lovers of rare and used books will want to poke around the used bookstores on Fifth Avenue, between University and Robinson avenues. Though their number has decreased with the advent of online shopping, you can always find something to pique your interest. This block is also home to a couple of vintage clothing/second-hand style outposts: Flashbacks Recycled Fashions, 3849 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/291-4200; www.flashbackintime.com), and Buffalo Exchange, 3862 Fifth Ave. (tel. 619/298-4411; www.buffaloexchange.com).
To the north and east of Hillcrest are University Heights and North Park, which are brimming with interesting shops. You'll find independent-minded boutiques such as Mimi & Red, 3032 University Ave. (tel. 619/298-7933; www.mimiandred.com), and All Vegan, 4669 Park Blvd. (tel. 619/299-4669; www.allveganshopping.com), which offers cruelty-free clothing and accessories; there are also unusual gift stores such as Vintage Religion, 3821 32nd St. (tel. 619/280-8408; www.vintagereligion.com), selling jewelry, apparel, and collectibles inspired by global religions and cultures.
Running east from where Park Boulevard T-bones Adams Avenue is the area once known as Adams Avenue Antique Row. It doesn't have the concentration of antiques stores it once had, but along with vintage-clothing boutiques and dusty used book and record shops, there are plenty of coffeehouses, pubs, and small restaurants to enliven the excursion. The district stretches a couple miles from Arizona Street to Normal Heights, so it's best tackled by car. For more information, contact the Adams Avenue Business Association (tel. 619/282-7329; www.adamsavenuebusiness.com).
Old Town & Mission Valley
Old Town State Historic Park features restored historic sites and adobe structures, a number of which now house shops that cater to tourists. Many have a "general-store" theme and carry gourmet treats and inexpensive Mexican crafts alongside the obligatory T-shirts, baseball caps, and other San Diego-emblazoned souvenirs. Fiesta de Reyes, Juan Street, between Wallace and Mason streets (tel. 619/297-3100; www.fiestadereyes.com), maintains the park's old Californio theme, and features more than a dozen specialty shops, and three restaurants. Costumed employees, special events and activities, and strolling musicians add to the festive flavor at this quaint courtyard surrounded by shady arcades.
There's also plenty of shopping outside the park, too. Bazaar del Mundo, 4133 Taylor St. (tel. 619/296-3161; www.bazaardelmundo.com), has a gaggle of stores featuring Mexican and Latin American folk art, accessories, and clothing; Old Town's best spot for Mexican collectibles, though, is Miranda's Courtyard, 2548 Congress St. (tel. 619/296-6611). For museum-quality nautical antiques -- from sextants to diving suits -- check out West Sea Company, 2495 Congress St. (tel. 619/296-5356; www.westsea.com); or for a fine collection of Native American art and jewelry breeze into Four Winds Trading, 2448 San Diego Ave. (tel. 619/692-0466; www.4windsarts.com). You can also watch as one-of-a-kind glass art is created at Lowery's Hot Glass, 3985 Harney St. (tel. 619/297-3473; www.loweryshotglass.com), an Old Town staple since 1995.
Mission Valley is home to two giant malls, Fashion Valley Center and Mission Valley Center, with more than enough stores to satisfy any shopper, and free parking -- both can be reached via the San Diego Trolley from downtown.
Mission Bay & the Beaches
The beach communities offer laid-back shopping, with plenty of surf shops, recreational gear, and casual garb. If you're looking for something more distinctive than T-shirts and shorts, you'd best head east to Mission Valley or north to La Jolla.
For women in need of a new bikini, the best selection is at Pilar's, 3745 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach (tel. 858/488-3056; www.pilarsbeachwear.com), where choices range from stylish designer numbers to suits inspired by surf- and skate-wear. Across the street is Liquid Foundation Surf Shop, 3731 Mission Blvd. (tel. 858/488-3260), which specializes in board shorts for guys. For affordable shoes, check out the Skechers USA, 4475 Mission Blvd. (tel. 858/581-6010; www.skechers.com), at the corner of Garnet Avenue.
In Pacific Beach, Pangaea Outpost, 909 Garnet Ave. (tel. 858/581-0555; www.pangaeaoutpost.com), gathers more than 70 diverse artists and merchants under one roof; while San Diego's greatest concentration of antiques stores is found in the Ocean Beach Antique District (www.antiquesinsandiego.com), along the 4800 block of Newport Avenue, the community's main drag. Several of the stores are mall-style, featuring dozens of dealers under one roof, and although you won't find a horde of pricey, centuries-old European antiques, the overall quality is high enough to make it interesting for any collector. Most of the O.B. antiques stores are open daily from 10am to 6pm, with somewhat shorter hours Sunday.
If you've come to O.B. for that hippie vibe, you can find it alive and well at The Black, 5017 Newport Ave. (tel. 619/222-5498), an old-fashioned head shop that's a local institution, and Falling Sky Pottery, 1951 Abbott St. (tel. 619/226-6820), a collective of potters that's been around since the late 1960s.
It's clear from the look of La Jolla's village that shopping is a major pastime in this upscale community. Precious gems and pearl necklaces sparkle in their cases, luxurious Persian rugs await your caress, crystal goblets prism the light -- even if you're not in the market for any of it, it makes for great window-shopping.
The clothing boutiques tend to be conservative and costly (and mostly geared toward women), like those lining Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, such as Armani Exchange, Polo Ralph Lauren, Nicole Miller, and Sigi's Boutique. But you'll also find less pricey venues including Talbots and Banana Republic.
Laura Gambucci, 7629 Girard Ave., Ste. C3 (tel. 858/551-0214), bucks the staid trend with contemporary apparel for women; and a sexy, glamorous local line of bathing suits (for her and him) is at Sauvage, 1025 Prospect St. (tel. 858/729-0015; www.sauvagewear.com). Blondstone Jewelry Studio, 925 Prospect St. (tel. 858/456-1994; www.blondstone.com), has locally made designs as well, producing adornments that incorporate seashells and tumbled sea-glass "mermaid tears." Emilia Castillo, 1273 Prospect St. (tel. 858/551-9600; www.emiliacastillolajolla.com), features one-of-a-kind jewelry and home decor from a silversmith based in Taxco, Mexico.
You'll find modern and minimalist home furnishings at My Own Space, 7840 Girard Ave. (tel. 866/607-7223 or 858/459-0099; www.mosmyownspace.com), and Ligne Roset, 7726 Girard Ave. (tel. 858/454-3366; www.ligneroset-lajolla.com); the Ligne Roset showroom is ensconced in what had previously been one of the last single-screen theaters in San Diego. For something a little more traditional, look for the French country style at La Maisonnette, 7631 Girard Ave. (tel. 858/551-1222; www.lamaisonnettefrance.com). History buffs should not miss Ruderman Antique Maps, 7463 Girard Ave. (tel. 858/551-8500; www.raremaps.com), which sells maps, atlases, and books that date from the 15th through 19th centuries.
There are also more than 20 art galleries in La Jolla village. Although most won't appeal to serious collectors, there are crowd-pleasers such as the sensuous landscape photography at Peter Lik Gallery, 1205 Prospect St. (tel. 858/200-0990; www.peterlik.com); and Africa & Beyond, 1250 Prospect St. (tel. 800/422-3742 or 858/454-9983; www.africaandbeyond.com), with its contemporary and traditional African sculpture, textiles, jewelry, and furnishings. Serene, museum-like Tasende Gallery, 820 Prospect St. (tel. 858/454-3691; www.tasendegallery.com), has sculptural work; Joseph Bellows Gallery, 7661 Girard Ave. (tel. 858/456-5620; www.josephbellows.com), exhibits vintage and contemporary photography. Reopened in a new location is Quint Contemporary Art, 7547 Girard Ave. (tel. 858/454-3409; www.quintgallery.com), one of the best contemporary art galleries in the city.
A unique experience awaits at the Cave Store, 1325 Coast Blvd., just off Prospect Street (tel. 858/459-0746; www.cavestore.com). The shop is equal parts boutique and curio store (that also rents snorkel gear), but the main attraction is the Sunny Jim Cave, a large sea cave reached by a steep, narrow staircase that was tunneled through the rock more than 100 years ago; admission is $4 for adults, $3 for kids 3 to 16, free for 2 and under.
This rather insular, conservative Navy community doesn't have many stellar shopping opportunities; the best of the lot line Orange Avenue at the southwestern end of the town. You'll find some scattered housewares and home-decor boutiques, several small women's boutiques, and resort gift shops.
There is an excellent independent bookshop, Bay Books, 1029 Orange Ave. (tel. 619/435-0070; www.baybookscoronado.com), which carries a selection in many categories, plus volumes of local historical interest, books on tape, and Mexican and European magazines. In Good Taste, 1146 Orange Ave. (tel. 619/435-8356), has a small but choice selection of gourmet gift items -- in addition to a tempting display of luscious truffles and sweets. Zazen, 1110 First Ave. (tel. 619/435-4780), is a women's boutique with fine jewelry and accessories; and, if you're in pursuit of swimwear, poke your head into Dale's Swim Shop, 1150 Orange Ave. (tel. 619/435-7301), a tiny shop jam-packed with suits to fit all bodies, including styles from European makers seldom available in this country.
Elsewhere in San Diego County
The Cedros Design District, along the 100 and 200 blocks of South Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach, is an outstanding place for designer interior decorating goods. Many of the shops are housed in a row of Quonset huts that were once used by a company that made photographic equipment for spy planes. Today, you can find more than two dozen chic shops selling furniture, original art, imported goods, home decor, antiques, and clothing, plus a couple of good cafes. The strip is located just north of the Del Mar racetrack; reach it by taking the Via de la Valle exit off I-5 and going right on Cedros Avenue. The Coaster commuter train stops at the Solana Beach station next to the district. For more information go to www.cedrosavenue.com.
Garden fanciers will find North County the best hunting grounds for bulbs, seeds, and starter cuttings. North County nurseries are known throughout the state for rare and hard-to-find plants -- notably begonias, orchids, bromeliads, succulents, and ranunculuses.