April 18 2012 11:47 AM

Unexpected discoveries in San Diego's tourist mecca

Frosted Robin cupcakes
Photo by Clea Hantman

Why on earth would anyone who lives in San Diego go to Seaport Village? It's a tourist trap with $5-an-hour parking. And $5 ice cream cones. And stores that sell wind chimes and mugs and flags and San Diego T-shirts in every size, from preemie to XXXL.

But it smells good. 

As in, fresh bay breezes and California lilacs. Even the ducks smell decent, which is saying something. Duck ponds usually reek of poo. Not here. And it's always cool, even on hot days. And the views are outstanding—blue water, Coronado in the distance, cute cobblestone paths. And there's an old carousel that dates back to 1895, and while it doesn't cost a nickel, it's less than that ice cream cone.

But if you need another reason to swing by for an afternoon, there's actually some interesting shopping to be had. The attraction isn't teeming with great shops—hardly. There's a place called the Cerveza Store and it basically sells frat jokes on a T-shirt. But there are also a few places worth checking out—and, really, walking along the water, taking a turn or two on a wooden horse, smelling some sweet-ass ducks and doing a little shopping sounds like a mighty fine day to me.

In fact, you could even do a bit of Mother's Day shopping. Does Mom like hot sauce? There's a closet of a store called Hot Licks that's packed with spicy barbecue sauce, spicier salsa and the hard, straight stuff. Maybe that's better for your brother's birthday. Or Father's Day.

Then head to Upstart Crow, a lovely independent bookstore that, unfortunately, crowds another aisle with slightly tacky gift items with each passing year. But most of them are kind of funny, like the Pee-Pee Teepee, which, as I'm sure you can guess, is a cone hat for baby-boy penises. But the place has an upstairs, as well. The selection is a mix of intellectual novels, beach trash and books about poop. Plus, there's coffee! I used to hang out here in my younger days when I lived Downtown—it was a nice waterfront walk away. There's still something so quieting and peaceful about the dark little alcove seats. Thankfully, they haven't filled those with Lambchop puppets, yet.

Back to moms. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the pretty little cupcake shop Frosted Robin. Listen, I'm over cupcake shops, too, but this one takes the cake (badum-bum!) The petite cakes are truly pretty and tasty. And the flavors are a bit off-the-beaten-track without veering into Cupcake Wars territory— watermelon, German chocolate and a spice-y chai-esque one were among the assortment. The only miss was the mint chocolate, which tasted like it was frosted with toothpaste. Still, it was very pretty.

I got a phone message in response to a previous column about my longing for a sock store.

Alas, On Bare Feet isn't what I was looking for. This store's great if you're in need of socks with a particular breed of dog on them, or that proclaim your fidelity to a certain alma mater. I want kneehighs of every textile and color! Dress socks with patterns! Tights of different weights! And this place has none of those. But my mom loves her Yorkie, so there still may be a gift here after all.

I've sung the praises of Urban Girl Accessories before, but it's been awhile, so here goes again: This is a fun store, particularly if you're looking for a gift. And Mom would love this store. I don't know your mom, but I know she would. Moms love sentimental jewelry. Moms love wine-glass accoutrements. And Moms love Vera Bradley, the designer that trades in paisley and floral cloth bags. They have every imaginable Vera—big totes and little ones, cross-body bags, rolling luggage, six different wallets, even a case for your curling iron. This selection puts the John's Fifth Avenue Luggage to shame. Plus, there's a ton of very feminine Toms (I thought I was over those, too, till I saw the selection).

You'll also find stores devoted to cigars, kites, swings, wooden toys, hats, flip-flops, soap, olive oil, Harley wear, music boxes and Christmas. Just head out of Seaport before lunch or dinner—the selection here is soggy at best. Until that rumored Mozza opens up nearby, take a short walk (or bike ride, or drive) to Little Italy for food. And more shopping.

Write to clea@sdcitybeat.com and bookmark her blog: sdcitybeat.com/urbanscout and superclea.blogspot.com.


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