Top 10 California Shopping Highlights

Written by: Editorial Staff

November 22, 2011
Filed Under Shop 

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One of the top ten California shopping highlightsContributed by Tim Brugger, Top 10 Guru

This was a tough one; Californian’s take their shopping seriously so there are so many options it can result in analysis paralysis; which I nearly succumbed to by the way.

For example, how can we have a list of shopping that doesn’t include El Paseo or The River at Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs you ask?

Because the following top ten California shopping highlights proved too much.

10. Haight Ashbury

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

Unlike any other California shopping highlight on our list, Haight Ashbury makes it purely on its significance in our culture and eclectic nature. In case you thought the 60’s and early 70’s were dead, take a stroll through the district and all will be revealed. Plus there are some of the coolest little shops you’ll find anywhere; incense abounds, vibrant colors and a slew of artisan crafts for sale you’ll find nowhere else in the world.

9. Rodeo Drive

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

Yeah, I know it’s almost cliché to wander the Rodeo Drive “scene” but what an experience. You’ll need to mortgage your eldest child to actually be able to buy anything, but ogling the snooty people toting their little dogs in custom designed doggie purses is worth the price of admission right there. And if you’re willing and able to meander a bit, there actually are a couple of spots to shop for the rest of us; Barney’s New York is one that comes to mind.

8. Pacific Beach

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

A list of California shopping Mecca’s wouldn’t be complete without at least one straight up beach town excursion, and our first one is Pacific Beach just North of San Diego. Loaded with souvenirs, surf shops and clothing from formal nightlife attire to kickin’ it in the sand, Pacific Beach makes for a great day of walking and shopping. Not to mention, where else will you find this kind of selection of Brazilian bikinis in one place?

7. 3rd Street Promenade

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

If you’re in or around the greater Los Angeles area, you’re not far from Santa Monica. And if it’s a California shopping highlight you’re in search of, you can do a lot worse than the Promenade. Yeah, it’s got all the big boys but what puts the Promenade on the list of Top 10 shopping destinations are the ancillary goodies. Sidewalk entertainment and some of the best restaurants and watering holes around will give you plenty to do well into the evening hours.

6. Chinatown

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

I’m trying not to inundate our list with San Francisco landmarks, but no California shopping list is complete without a mention of tooling around Chinatown. It’s like stepping into another world; a world with homespun silks and cloths, food markets lifted straight from Hong Kong and dropped smack dab in the heart of NoCal and people, lots and lots of people.

5. Santa Cruz

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

Located about ½ mile from the beach, the shopping district of Santa Cruz is perfectly designed for a day of carousing. Nice, big sidewalks mean a ton of outdoor cafes when you’re ready to take a load off. And there’s a great selection of upscale shops and boutiques to along with the more casual California shopping you’d expect from one of the world’s great surfing beaches.

4. Gaslamp Quarter

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

If ambiance is what makes the ideal California shopping trip memorable, you’d be hard pressed to find anything like the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. If ever there was an area made by shoppers for shoppers, this is it. It’s only (I say only, it feels much bigger) 16 blocks around, but with over 70 shops in this 150 year old section of town you’ll stay busy. And catch it at the right time to see street performers, pet parades and a host of other odd but pleasant distractions in between the golden tones of ringing cash registers.

3. Embarcedero Center

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

As with item #7 on our list, what makes the Embarcadero Center in San Fran such a great place to shop are all the extras. Sure, there’s great shopping with everything from high-end boutiques to local fare, but the atmosphere is what sets it apart. This is San Francisco at its finest and when it’s time to sit down for a drink or a bite, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better selection of dining options anywhere on the planet. If you catch the E-center on a nice, sunny Northern California day forget about it.

2. South Coast Plaza

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

I remember the first time I visited South Coast Plaza; I thought the guy was trying to steal my car. Turns out, he was a valet who was courteously suggesting that he park my rig for me whilst I amble. Valet parking at a shopping mall? I definitely was not in Kansas anymore. But man, what a place. The cinemas have gourmet food offered in a lobby that looks like a five star restaurant; there are four floors of stores offering everything you can possibly imagine and even an arts and cultural center on the premises. You may want to get a hotel near by, because this is going to take a while.

1. Santa Barbara

One of the top ten California shopping highlights

Perhaps more so than any other area on our list of California shopping highlights, Santa Barbara boasts the widest assortment of options. On the one hand, there are enough upscale shops to rival Rodeo Drive. But what places SB securely at the top is often these same stores are right next to one owned by a local artist or craftsman offering a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Yeah, its California so it’s nice and casual, but what struck me the first time I dropped in was how neat and tidy the entire city is. Put out a cigarette on the sidewalk here and you’ll feel like you’ve just defamed the Mona Lisa.

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