Best of L.A.

Best Of 2010

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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

Best Anime Shop
Jungle Special Collectors Shop

Little Tokyo’s anime mega-store, Jungle Special Collectors Shop, is split into two downtown locations. Jungle 1st is located on 2nd Street, inside the neighborhood’s main shopping plaza. Here you’ll find collectibles ranging from action figures to large sculpture-like renditions of popular anime characters. Jungle 2nd, on 1st Street, carries a nice selection of manga and anime DVD releases, along with clothing and CDs from popular Japanese rock and pop artists. Jungle 2nd frequently hosts special events and is well known for its J-rock artist in-stores. GPKism, Seileen, DJ SiSeN and Moon Kana all stopped by here in the past year. Jungle 2nd also offers occasional signings and panels from Japanese film stars and animators, as well as fan gatherings. 319 E. 2nd St., #103, dwntwn, (213) 621-1661; 325 E. 1st St., dwntwn, (213) 617-1661; animejungle.net. —Liz Ohanesian

319 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, 90012
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213-621-1661
Best Gifts for Your Garden
Rolling Greens

Rolling Greens is for things for your garden you can’t find at Home Depot — exotic plants and cacti, containers, statuary and other garden nonsense in four broad levels, sprawling down a hillside in the outer wilds of Culver City. I went there looking for some Mexican feather grass, that landscaping cliché that has become the staple of every new Southland mall. And, before you know it, I’m wandering and wondering, Would it be better to go with a cast-iron planter, or the zinc? Do I have space in the corner by the telephone pole for that nice wooden bodhisattva? And what about that topiary bush anyway? And I was thinking the distressed Mexican pottery would be good in my 4-foot patch of L.A. — maybe go for the whole post-Revolution hacienda-ruins look. Plenty of nonessential items to make your petty burgher dreams come true. 9528 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. (310) 559-8656; also 7505 Beverly Blvd., Mid-City. (323) 934-4500, rollinggreensnursery.com. —Jedd Birkner

9528 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City, 90232
MAP
310-559-8656
Best Literary Stew (1975)
Book Soup

One of the last large independent bookstores in Southern California, Book Soup, which bills itself as the “Bookseller to the Great and Infamous,” survived the death of longtime owner Glenn Goldman in 2009, as well as the competition from Internet shopping and the huge chain bookstores and their discounted wares. In fact, according to Book Soup staff, the West Hollywood landmark is booming. A big reason for that is Vroman’s, a major independent bookstore in Pasadena, which bought Book Soup after Goldman died, and over the past year has invested its deep-pocketed resources to maintain and build upon Book Soup’s inventory of more than 60,000 titles. Another reason is that Book Soup, which opened in 1975, still specializes in books customers crave in the areas of art, photography, film, music, literary fiction, L.A. noir, celebrity biographies and controversial nonfiction. The store continues to champion hard-to-find books by university, international and small presses, while offering author signings every week. If you want to learn about a world of ideas and transforming stories, Book Soup is the place to go. 8818 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd. (310) 659-3110, booksoup.com. —Patrick Range McDonald

8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069
MAP
310-659-3110
Best Backyard Inspirations
Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery

The Japanese garden district on Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles features three nurseries side by side, companion planted, as it were, for mutual benefit. Of them, Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery is the most artistic. As the name implies, bonsai is their specialty. But someone here has a keen eye for plant arrangements of all types — for the way in which dainty alyssum blossoms, say, complement a hefty profusion of petunias, mints and marjoram. Can a lowly house cactus inspire? It can here, jumbled into a pretty glazed clay pot with a squadron of weird little succulents. The place feels like nothing so much as someone’s wonderful backyard. Everything in tight spaces. Life bursting out of every corner. Yamaguchi’s is a great place for wandering, and it helps that the plants are happy, fat and healthy. The abundance of beneficial insects — ladybugs, bees, lacewings — zipping about is a good sign, too. Sales ladies Michiko and Kate won’t mince words about which plants will thrive in shade and which require hours of blazing sun. Lest we forget, gardening is science as much as it is art. To some, it’s practically religion. If she’s in good humor (and detects that you have a sense of humor), Michiko may even offer to whisper a blessing over your newly purchased plants. 1905 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 473-5444. —Gendy Alimurung

1905 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025
MAP
310-473-5444
Best Glamourpuss Posh Hotel (1939)
Hotel Shangri-La

With its $30 million redesign completed last year, the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica is the epitome of L.A. glamour — something that’s hard to define until you’re practically immersed in it. Built in 1939, the Shangri-La, with a glorious Art Deco design and superb beachfront location, has always seemed special, and it’s only gotten better with the renovation. Remaining true to its architecture, the pool area and dining room are tastefully sleek and modern, with an ultra-posh rooftop bar that offers great views, particularly at sunset, of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Pier. Nearly all of the rooms have an ocean view and come with flat-screen TVs, wireless Internet, super comfy beds and iPod docking stations. To top it off, Santa Monica Beach’s clean white sand is a short walk away. 1301 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 394-2791, shangrila-hotel.com. —Patrick Range McDonald

1301 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, 90401
MAP
310-394-2791
Best Tasteful Comic Book Geekitorium
Secret Headquarters

Secret Headquarters in Silver Lake is not the oldest, or the biggest, or the cheapest comic book store in Los Angeles, but it is the most beautiful. The impeccable nerd’s version of a man cave, this place is outfitted like a private library, with dark wood shelves, creaky wood floors, a ta , manga — then delve deep into one sub-specialty: alternative graphic novels. That Henry-Rollins-and-Glenn-Danzig-as-gay-lovers minicomic? They’ve got it. Along with Steve Reeder’s Cheetahs Never Win, Jeffrey Brown’s Cats Are Weird and Matt Haveron’s Harshmallow. What Secret Headquarters lacks in sheer bulk of mainstream titles (Isn’t that what the internet’s for?), owners Dave Pifer and David Richie make up for with atmosphere and knowledge. If you don’t speak geek, or don’t know what you like, the person behind the register here is happy to recommend something. No secret password required. 3817 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 666-2228, secretheadquarters.com. —Gendy Alimurung

3817 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026
MAP
323-666-2228
Best Happy Diggers and Do-Gooders

Founded and run by 2001 L.A. mayoral candidate Francis DellaVecchia, The Joyful Activist inspires and facilitates real-deal grassroots change, while sprinkling the eleventh-hour revolution in ridiculous amounts of fun. DellaVecchia and volunteers promote local, sustainable, eco-awesome groups, events and activities, while teaming up with sustainable and environmentally friendly outfits (including Venice Whole Foods and the Westside Permaculture Guild) to organize various local planet-improving endeavors, including beach clean-ups and community/teaching garden gatherings. Next on the Joyful Activist agenda is the Dudley Triangle Median Makeover, in which they’re slated to transform the once dried-out, downtrodden and forgotten patch of dirt across from Chiat Day’s infamous oversized Main Street binoculars by planting a great, big batch of native and fragrant blooming things while DJs spin, local musicians strum, and enthusiastic talk-walkers dig, plant, paint and change their (our) Venice for the better. joyfulactivist.com. —Dani Katz

Best Walking-Vagina Costumes and Other Halloween Must-Haves
Francisco’s Halloween Shop

Forget dried-up, yellowed Christmas trees on the sidewalk. There’s no sadder sight than a pumpkin in the Dumpster and empty Tootsie Roll wrappers in your trick-or-treat bag. The fun of shopping for Halloween, however, doesn’t have to end in November. After the seasonal pop-up shops have packed up and left, there are several Halloween stores open all year for your dress-up and decorating needs. Beyond the costumes (some already on sale), the specialties at Francisco’s Halloween Shop — a neighborhood mainstay for more than 30 years — include entire walls of Venetian carnival masks and fairy wings of every size and color, not to mention some really odd ideas for home décor (skeletal salad tongs) and even odder accessories, especially the abundance of cop and biker regalia (fake badges, leather wrist bands and bandanas). If you plan on going as a Rastafarian, your get-up wouldn’t look complete without a giant, plastic spliff that could double as a nightstick. And if you really want to look like death, show up in a body bag. You could be boring and come in only once a year, but Halloween Town, located in Burbank’s quaint Magnolia Park area, is both a hangout and a local attraction, with a Day of the Dead section; horror movie T-shirts galore; themed rooms, including a makeshift graveyard and replica of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion; and novelties from Edgar Allan Poe floormats to coffee mugs of Henry VIII’s wives (pour in hot liquid and watch their heads disappear). Traditions is one of those places Martha Stewart might wander into if she lived in L.A., and her chauffeur knew how to get to the Valley. No costumes, gore or plastic poop here; just dainty, handmade figurines, ornaments and other vintage and old-timey knickknacks, as well as dozens of Christmas trees decorated for all the major holidays. If the barking, animatronic dog at the entrance that pops out of a doghouse and retails for $3,000-plus is any indication, Halloween Club has everything. Part party supply store, it’s the size of an airplane hangar with more than a dozen aisles of children’s, plus-size, pet and naughty, adult-themed costumes just distasteful enough (walking vagina? sheep-humping farmer?) for West Hollywood. Francisco’s, 15834 Main St., La Puente, (626) 968-8340; Halloween Town, 2921 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 848-3644, halloweentownstore.com; Traditions, 8039 Deering Ave., Canoga Park, (818) 710-9747, christmastraditions.com; Halloween Club, 7107 Telegraph Rd., Montebello, (323) 726-2226, and 13310 Firestone Blvd., Santa Fe Springs, (562) 407-3284, halloweenclub.com. —Siran Babayan

15834 Main St., Gardena, 90248
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Best Socially Responsible Cell Phone Recycling

Angelenos are quick to slam the noxious mess caused by our friends at BP, but you’ll have to pry our cell phones from our cold, dead hands. Yet, these sleek, chic gadgets leach arsenic and other nasty chemicals into the earth and get ugly when incinerated. Enter 1 Earth Recycle and its nifty cardboard collection bins staked out at the Whole Foods in El Segundo and Venice. Recycling an old cell phone at either of these locales is as easy as taking out the trash. The group is in talks with other Los Angeles retailers to expand its reach. For businesses that want to corral such electronics from their entire staff, the collection point is in Hawthorne. There, recyclables must be accompanied with a form available at the group’s website. Still, it’s nice to know that Westsiders can have their environmentalism and the latest iPhone model, too. 225 Lincoln Blvd., Venice; 760 S. Sepulveda Blvd., El Segundo; 14680 Aviation Blvd., Hawthorne. 1earthrecycle.com. —Tibby Rothman

225 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, 90291
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Best Place to Meet a Cute Nerd
Stories

Echo Park’s Stories is the sexy little sister of the other indie bookstores in town. Selling primarily used fare, it’s located on the X-marks-the-spot hipster hub of the “Eastside” [Editor’s note: Yes, we’re fully aware we’re not using “Eastside” in the historical sense]. Ratty, tatty ’90s dresses swing on the slender hips of girls born in the ’90s as they peruse the art book section, trying not to hit you with what appears to be your mom’s Santa Fe-inspired shoulder bag, Boys in Elvis Costello glasses and preppy white sneakers flip through philosophy manuals, all of which might explode a mind if actually read. This is not to say the shoppers here aren’t serious readers or connoisseurs of the written word, but rather, the experience of going to Stories is as much about seeing what’s in stock as being seen. Stories has beautiful cards, decent iced tea, an inviting interior and one of the nicest outdoor garden areas to be found in the neighborhood — everything you need to rest and recoup after a lazy, hazy Sunday stroll down Sunset, where everyone you’ve made eyes at is on their way in. 1716 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 413-3733, storiesla.com. —Nikki Darling

1716 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026
MAP
213-413-3733
Best Skin-care Products You Want to Eat
Fresh

To walk into a Fresh skin-care store is to step into the land of milk and honey. Literally. To take but a single whiff of their Nectarine Milk soap is to bid a fond farewell to $13 plus tax. They make a sake bath wash so delectable you want to drink it. (Don’t, even if it is 50 percent sake.) Fresh is a multimillion-dollar company now and can be found in your higher-end shopping malls. But in the early 1990s, it was a humble apothecary business, one of the first to bring food-grade ingredients to the luxury beauty market. Fresh had the first body scrub, Brown Sugar Body Polish, with real brown sugar crystals in it. Its simple milk and chocolate lotions were revolutionary in a cosmetics industry successfully hawking products so high-tech it could teach Silicon Valley a thing or two. These days, Fresh’s packaging is still appealingly clean, and the lotions and potions still smell yummy enough to eat. The formula clearly works. The best way to a woman’s pocketbook, apparently, is through her stomach. 189 The Grove Drive, (323) 932-2580; 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City, (310) 552-0798; 1407 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, (310) 451-0302; fresh.com. —Gendy Alimurung

189 The Grove Dr., Los Angeles, 90036
MAP
323-932-2580
Best Li’L Artisans Market

Once a month, about a dozen local craftsmen set up shop next to a spot where locals get their Fix... Coffee, that is. On the last Sunday of each month, from 2 to 7 p.m., FIX Coffee Co. opens its outdoor space to DIY vendors who sell unique, handmade goods at the aptly named Local Artisans Bazaar. Freelance designer Veronica Hunt manages the monthly event, selling her own clothes and accessories under the label Screaming Chica. The relaxed, dog- and kid-friendly environment offers handmade jewelry, tie-dyed pillows, vintage aprons and shoulder bags that double as monsters. There’s also live music, with past versions of the LAB spotlighting chalk artists and face-painters as added attractions. And it’s free to browse. 2100 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park. labazaar.blogspot.com. —Tanja M. Laden

2100 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, 90026
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Best Anime Shop: Jungle Special Collectors Shop

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