Here's my short list of what not to buy this holiday season: whipped-creme-flavored vodka.
And now here's my list of brilliant gifts to buy this December:
For my quirkiest friends, I'm going with a panda-shaped shower cap from Detour Salon & Store in Encinitas. Or perhaps the Poppy Treffy appliquéd pouches from the U.K. or the needlepoint fox doll made by Coral Tusk (indulgently expensive till you realize it was made with love, by hand), both at Solo in Solana Beach. Or perhaps the handmade tie-on neckties for children (or small adults) at the crafty Encinitas garage called MOM. I'm picking up the red VW bus Lego kit at the new LEGO store in Fashion Valley for my brother-in-law.
And for my crafty girlfriend, SpINKlers—interesting colors with which to soak your ink pads—at Paper Tales in Point Loma. Krink Markers are heavy-duty, write-on-anything grown-up markers, and Dick Blick in Little Italy has them, along with a zillion little stocking-stuffer gifts for everyone on your list. Exotic Gardens on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park has a giant fence full o' air ferns in various sizes, and if your recipient has any outside space at all, this is a truly cool gift—no green thumb necessary. Game Empire in Clairemont isn't just for D&D dorks. I'm coveting Skulls & Roses, a bluffing card game, and Train of Thought, a new twist on the guess-the-word party game.
Wanna annoy the crap out of people? One word: drums. San Diego has its own little drum shop—creatively called San Diego Drum Shop—in that weird business-park cluster of retail near the Grantville trolley station. Believe it or not, I plan to get a kit for my daughter. And then I'll pick up soundproofing materials from North Park's Olive Branch Green Building Supply.
I know, all too often I look to booze when it comes to gift-giving. Hey, it's what I want, so why wouldn't you? A bottle of Pretty Things beer from Pizza Port's Bottle Shop in Carlsbad tastes good and has a gorgeous label. Or, go for a pack of San Diego-based craft beers—Alesmith? Green Flash? Lost Abbey? Pick up a few at Windmill Farms in Del Cerro and then head next door to KnB to get a few more.
If you have a friend longing for the Northwest this holiday season, I spied a bunch of great Oregon brews at Bev Mo in Point Loma—there are some great bottles from Ninkasi, Deschutes and Rogue to be had.
Maybe this season calls for something merrier than beer? L.A.-based organic booze-maker Greenbar Collective uses lightweight glass, corn-fiber paper, soy-based inks, recycled and recyclable materials and corks, plus they plant a tree in the Central American rainforest for each bottle sold: 100,127 bottles = 100,127 trees. Stump's Marketplace in Point Loma carries the whole line: Tru Vodka and Gin, the Ixa Tequila and the Crusoe Rum. But my favorite is the Hibiscus Liqueur and the very cool Bar Keep Bitters. Stump's also has a few other awesome brands of fine liquor (Oban Scotch, anyone?).
For food gifts, if you can swing it, hit up the Saturday morning Little Italy Mercato for jam from Jackie's Jams, pickled veggies from Happy Pantry Pickles or spices from Just Spice. But if you can't time it just right, you can drop in at Market Basket, also in Little Italy, which carries a lot of the same local foodstuffs. Coronado Taste of Oils has metal jugs with spouts so you can literally taste every single one of the 30 or so varieties of oil and vinegar on hand. Buy a bottle or two or have them make you a basket. Likewise, over in La Jolla, We Olive carries a ton of different oils, and you can taste them, as well, but theirs are all from California. Plus, they have all sorts of olive-y things, perfect for small hostess gifts.
If you're in need of a last-chance— Crap, I have 10 minutes to find something!—gift, drop in at Whole Foods in Hillcrest, La Jolla or Encinitas. There you will find Green & Black's Hot Chocolate Mix, an array of spicy hot sauces with hilarious names, tea in pretty packages from around the globe, Lambrusco Wine Jelly—which just sounds, um, yum— and Vosges chocolate bars, including the now-infamous Bacon Bar.
Oh, and they have booze, too.