You can purchase most of the gifts you need this holiday season within a 1.4-mile radius. In fact, with comfortable shoes, you could do it on foot. Or bike if you want the hipster points.
Think of this shopping journey as a giant board game. The “Go” square is on the popular intersection of 30th Street and University Avenue. Ready? Roll the dice and move three blocks east.
First game play? Aloha Sunday (3118 University Ave.). The name's kickback vibe permeates everything they sell, which is mostly aimed at men. Here you can pick up for your BF or lover an old-school, skinny, plastic Penny Skateboard in an array of lollipop colors. Or if your guy is less childish than mine, how about a manly Wood & Faulk canvas bag? It's very beachy / carpenter cool. They also have clothes that would fit any guy groggily climbing out of a VW bus, as well as a cool collection of used wingtips, boots and loafers.
Head back from where you came, west down University. Cross the street to Home Mercantile (3013 University Ave.). Stop in and buy your older brother an ironic Christmas sweater. They've got a ton. Then move up one square to the new vintage shop next door called Ms. Vintage. The inside looks like Diane Von Furstenburg's dressing room, circa 1966. The clothes are arranged by color, which makes for a glamorous Candyland feel, and a glorious chandelier hangs from the ceiling. You can pick yourself up a new gown, or a handbag and heels would make a lovely present for your sister.
Next, turn the corner onto 30th Street and into Pigment (3827 30th St.). The art and garden store has recently become so much more and is bursting at the seams with great gifts. Besides the wooly pockets (for your aunt) and the tiny succulents (got a teacher in your life?) they have floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with accoutrements for drinking and eating (like whiskey stones! And GoVino glasses! And Wild & Wolf folklore enamel plates!) plus non-toxic Clementine art markers and crayons, surreal animal ceramics and maybe my favorite present idea of the season, the Zoku popsicle maker. Who wouldn't want a fancy popsicle maker?
Take a slight detour west one block on University to Hunt & Gather (2871 University Ave.), where you can pick up cheap pins and zipper earrings, great used records and a vintage shirt or three for the cooler-than-you teens in your life.
Roll the die and head south on 30th. Yes, it's a long stretch, so feel free to skip a turn and grab a coffee—or a beer—before continuing to Pat's corner (3409 30th St.). You never know what you'll uncover in this giant junk pile of a shop. A garden gnome for the neighbor? A sweet white wicker dressing table for your niece? Totally possible and totally cheap.
Keep heading south past the jiggery-do inter section that is the 30th-Upas-30th config and soon you're in South Park. I've mentioned The Grove (3010 Juniper St.) a bunch lately, but don't skip it. They have gorgeous yarn for your knitting mom and political books for your pops. Next door at Clarity Soaps & Candles, you can pick up something for that person you need a gift for, but whom you don't really know. Homemade soap or a lovely candle works well in those circumstances. Back on fern Street, stop in Junc Life & Style (2205 fern St.) for a clutch with built-in knuckle rings for a handle, and then Make Good (2207 fern St.) for earrings that look like they're crafted from leather but are, in fact, made from colorful grocery bags. Bad Madge (2205 fern St.) is bound to have something for your sister-in-law. Vintage highball glasses, perhaps?
Head down to the Gala parking lot and nab some tacos at Mariscos German, then head to Crow Thief (3009 Grape St.), a haberdashery of sorts where you can get a handmade cotton shirt for your man. If you have lots of little friends, duck into So Childish (1947 30th St.) and grab some fake play tacos. If you don't have kids, skip a turn.
Back on 30th (it magically moved one street west), pick up a growler for your uncle at Stone (2215 30th St.) that he can refill later, and then continue on to Progress (2225 30th St.), my go-to gift HQ. A few of my favorite things: the mini Charlie Harper book, Mighty Wallets, the box of Progress-branded coffee (from Calabria) and caramel-sauce gift box, the Pantone toothbrushes, the retro ScandiPhone, the woodblock “alarm clock iPhone dock” and the is-it-a-mouse-or-polar-bear tree ornament. Plus, they carry the McSweeney's Lucky Peach magazine (a great gift for the literate foodie in your life) and a ton of adorable stocking stuffers.
And, like that, you're done. return to Go. Collect much thanks and gratitude.
Next installment? I promise to point you to gifts outside the hipster zone. I may even go as far as Kearny Mesa.