Big-box store shopping got you down? Mall crowds got you pulling out your hair? We got you. We went to the experts at 12 local and decidedly non-corporate boutiques to give readers the scoop on some of the hottest and most unique items to give this holiday season. From beard oils and coloring books to naked pots and hipster frogs, we’d like to think our 2015 gift guide has something for everyone on your list.
Fold Leather Co. Apron
Having just celebrated its one-year anniversary, Geographie Shop (2879 University Ave. in North Park) offers another holiday season of unique, original gifts. Owner Cindy Matherly is a transplant from Eugene, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest influence is reflected in her carefully curated inventory. The full-length denim and leather apron from San Diego-based Fold Leather Co. ($128) is "perfect for the barista or chef in your life," says Cindy, pointing out the brass clasps for a towel and tools. Not only is it rugged and utilitarian, it's pretty damn sexy, too. There's also the Eugene Half Apron ($105), which was designed especially for Matherly's shop and even named after the place she used to call home.
Wary Meyers Moisturizing Glycerine Soaps and Beard Oil by Balm & Co.
For those with friends, family, co-workers or germ phobic lovers to buy gifts for, maven (2946 Adams Ave. in University Heights) has Wary Meyers' Moisturizing Glycerine Soaps ($14). These adorable, handmade soaps are brightly striped and come in unique scents like tomato leaf, cucumber cilatro and mango red currant. "When people are stumped on a gift idea, it's the effortless gift you can give someone," says maven owner Alex Hall. If cutesy soaps won't cut it for the lumbersexual in your life, there's Balm & Co.ís Beard Oil ($18). The handmade oil is made with jojoba and kukui nut oils as well as softening essential oils that promote healthy hair growth and adds shine.
The Tanline Pot
What do you get your artistic friends when the boutique craft stores have become overwhelmingly twee and precious? Edwin Negado, owner of Gym Standard—the upscale sneaker/art/book store (2903 El Cajon Blvd. in North Park)—recommends the Tanline Pot ($65). Designed by Brooklyn artist Issac Nichols, these pots are a little bit surrealist, a little bit grotesque, and a lotta bit unforgettable. Shaped like the disembodied torso of a naked woman, these pots instantly bring to mind the work of Dali, but the tan lines make it intriguing and distinctly Southern Californian. According to Negado, "These vessels are made with light tan clay and hand painted with colorfast matte glazes. Great for plants, keys, pencils, change and other small, everyday items."
Galeria Acrylic Easel Set
At Artist & Craftsman Supply (3804 Fourth Ave. in Hillcrest) manager Chantal Wnuk is a fan of the Galeria Acrylic Easel Set ($45). It comes with 10 tubes of acrylic paint, a palette knife and palette, two brushes, one large canvas board and a sturdy A2-sized easel (approximately 16.5x23 inches). "I really like that it's designed like a drafting table," Wnuk says. Unlike most easels that teepee into a canvas-holding structure, this one is an adjustable solid plank of wood that can also be used for drawing. What's more, everything is already packed up neatly in a gift wrap-friendly rectangular box. It's a pretty kit for a beginner or for someone who wants to rekindle artistic passion.
Color Therapy Coloring Book
For the playful friend who's consumed by holiday woes, consider Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book for adults. Available at Pangea Outpost (909 Garnet Ave. in Pacific Beach), the activity book allows drawers to release creativity while they indulge in nostalgia. Store manager Susan Burland says these books are becoming an increasingly popular recreational activity because of their intriguing simplicity. "It brings back memories from when you were a younger kid sitting in front of the fireplace or the dining room table and you were drawing in a coloring book," Burland says. "Adults don't generally color, but these imaginative coloring books can help relieve anxiety." The book itself is $13 and coloring utensils are sold separately.
Shibori Dyed Wool Scarves
If you want a homemade gift without actually getting your hands dirty, Sarah Larson's got your back. She makes Shibori-dyed wool scarfs ($48) in her own sink. The traditional Japanese cloth-dying technique lends each scarf a one-of-a-kind look in shades of teal, sapphire and gunmetal. Its lightweight, 100-percent natural wool composition will harbor warmth without drowning you in sheep shearings. "They have more form to them so they stay cozy without looking like a sweatshirt around your neck," Larson says. The scarves don't wrinkle easily either, so they're an easy heat hack you can keep stashed in your bag. Larson's scarfs can be found at Often Wander at Noon (4993 Niagara Ave. #105 in Ocean Beach).
S'well Water Bottle
To save your friends from thousands of plastic-shaming glares this holiday, Pigment (3801 30th St. in North Park) co-founder Amy Paul says S'well's insulated water bottle ($25-$35) is a must-have. "Everyone in the shop uses them for water, but it'll keep things cold for 24 hours and hot things warm for 12 hours," Paul says. Built with stainless steel, cold water won't bead on the outside, and it won't leave a metallic taste in your mouth like a lot of aluminum bottles. They also come in a range of sizes and colors, including Sand Python, Monaco Blue and Titanium. And, S'well will plant a tree with American Forests for every bottle bought from its Wood Collection.
Reed Wilson Design West Coasters and A Heirloom CA Cutting Board
With hundreds of books, home wares and vintage design items to choose from, SoLo (309 South Cedros Ave. in Solana Beach) has long been one of our go-to, one-stop North County shopping destinations. Owner Carole Carden recommends the Reed Wilson West Coasters ($35 for set of four) and the AHeirloom California Cutting Board ($75 for the large, $45 for the small) as a complimentary set. "They're both made by small design companies," says Carden, pointing out that the cutting board has a brass heart where San Diego is located. "I like the earthiness and the fact that they're handmade. They're both serviceable, environmentally friendly and perfect for just about anyone who lives here."
Luigi the Frog BlaBla Doll
Luigi the Frog's handlebar mustache and suspenders suggest he might listen to obscure music and be a part-time mixologist, which certainly makes him one of the hippest of childhood companions. Made in Peru, Luigi is also a world traveler, though he and other BlaBla dolls can be purchased at Hi Sweetheart (7920 Ivanhoe Ave. in La Jolla). Storeowner Molly Rossettie says Luigi the Frog is ideal for the trendy parents in search of a well-crafted, vintage-inspired doll for their child: "He's a unique go-to buddy for kids and the dolls last through all kinds of dragging them around." Luigi's quirky friends include Confetti the Unicorn, TuTu the Dog, Mozart the Monkey, and Melody the Mermaid. The BlaBla dolls are all 100 percent cotton, washable and retail for $48.
Kriss Kringle Bowtie
Bowties are conversation starters—especially funky ones that come in patterns you can't get away with on traditional neckties. At The ZB Savoy Bowtie Co. (1028 Broadway in East Village), the hot holiday pattered bowtie is called The Kriss Kringle ($44). There's nothing subtle about this two-tone cotton neckwear. One side is a red, white and green argyle pattern, and the other side is a red, white and green striped pattern. One of the first bowties Zach Savoy made when he started the company in 2012, it's now one of his signature items. "Bowties are perfect gifts for men who like accessories," says Savoy. A complementary pocket square is $30, but you can buy both as a combo for $60. Bonus: One dollar from every purchase goes to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators
Any musician will tell you that musical gear or instruments are always a welcome sight under the Christmas tree. However, there's only so many instruments that'll fit inside a stocking or, fewer still, your own pocket. So for musicians on the go, there's a travel-friendly option: Teenage Engineering's PO-12, 14 and 16 Pocket Operators, available at Ajax Shope (2355 India St. in Little Italy) for $59. Each model has different functions, including synthesizers, drum programming and sampling, at the size of a calculator. "You get a real synth engine, punch-in effects, built-in speaker and even an alarm clockósuper rad," says Ajax owner Steve Sanders. "Even Ilan Rubin of Nine Inch Nails bought all three in our shop."
Seasoned USA x Lone Flag Wool SD Hat
Given the choice between a Padres hat or a soon-to-be L.A. Chargers shirt, showing your local pride can sometimes be an unfashionable exercise. Not so with the Lone Flag wool "SD" Hat ($59) which is made exclusively for Lone Flag (2690 Via de la Valle in Del Mar). Handmade in an old warehouse space by Seasoned USA in Pomona and fashioned to look like an old-school baseball cap, the small batch wool with bone applique lettering has made the navy blue cap popular with just about everyone, says Lone Flag owner Sam Larson. "It's been super fun watching these launch a year ago and now going to games or about the city in all areas and seeing people proudly wearing them," he says.