Best Of :: Shopping & Services
This shop specializes in gangsta rap, be it the traditional English-language kind from South Central L.A. or the Spanish-infused kind from here and Latin America. N.W.A posters are on the wall and you'll find menacing airbrushed T-shirts, Chicano rap magazines and maybe even the works of Lil Eazy-E. But Sound of Music Records and Tapes has something for everyone: NFL-themed purses, California flags, doo-wop box sets, DVDs, even barbecue sets. At the back it becomes something of a head shop, with bongs, incense and giant Cheech and Chong–themed lighters. The staff tends toward the knowledgeable and charismatic, although, sadly, many of the mixtapes they'll recommend are not available here. Such is the peril of brick-and-mortar stores in the digital age. Still, if you're the kind of person who wants to inspect your Sublime poster up close before you buy it, you won't find a better store. 4956 E. Whittier Blvd., East L.A. (323) 261-9224.
Museum shops are pretty good places for last-minute gifts — you will find items quirky enough that the recipients probably will not have seen them and definitely will not have purchased for themselves. The Santa Monica Museum of Art has a tiny, super-focused version, called Gracie, its goods stacked neatly in the hallway between the entrance and the galleries. Some items you may have seen in other luxury-novelty stores, like a mug that looks like three espresso cups smushed together. Others are surprises, like the collection of plates stacked in the shape of a palace. No one needs these things. But you need to buy them for someone, and this museum shop makes it easy and pleasant to do so. Oh, and feel free to walk 10 steps more to see the actual museum, which has a $5 suggested donation ($3 for seniors, students and artists). Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., G1, Santa Monica. (310) 586-6488, smmoa.org.
Every group of friends has that one member who reliably delivers cool gifts with cards to match. In our case, said friend was willing to share her source: the Library Store at Central Library. Every nook and cranny of this smallish space is filled with books (of course!), many about L.A. or on themes such as cooking, gardening and literature; educational but fun toys that kids will adore; jewelry and gadget covers (iPad, Kindle, etc.) for book lovers; creative greeting cards and postcards; T-shirts and other garments; and unusual items such as colorful paper sculptures made by librarian Dora Ho from recycled catalogs. Now you, too, have access to one-stop cool gift shopping, down to the funky wrapping paper and artistic gift tags. Even better, proceeds support the Los Angeles Public Library. 630 W. Fifth St., dwntwn. (213) 228-7550, lfla.org/store.
If Los Angeles is the street-art capital of the world, then MidCity's 33third is the scene's Louvre. More gift shop than museum, this art-supply mecca has nonetheless hosted shows by such graf luminaries as Chaka and Revok (who was famously arrested there for vandalism). Although it claims to be the largest street-art supply store in the country, with 2,900 square feet of everything from Ironlak paint and nozzles to "drippers," it's also a showcase, with practice walls in the back and a dedicated gallery space under construction. And 33third is adding what's being billed as the planet's first street-art academy, Los Angeles Academy of Street Art, to debut mid-October. It's places like this that make L.A. the envy of cool kids around the world. 5111 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-City. (310) 694-3460, 33third.com.
"Giggle isn't just a baby store," the company literature says, "it's a new parent store." New parent! What did they do with the old parent!? And yet there is a singular transformation that takes place when a prospective buyer steps inside Giggle — it's readily apparent that it's one of the most chic, stylish stores for equipping a nursery in Los Angeles. From nursery and bedding supplies, to baby bouncers that undulate at a precise rate, to toys, strollers, carriers and other gifts, Giggle presents an oasis for the maternally harried and a break for the paternally worried, with its friendly, welcoming atmosphere, blessed lack of hard sell and emphasis on eco-friendly living from the cradle onward. The store's line of plush stuffed animals is particularly soft and comforting; they resurrect a simpler time in which all those animals were alive and so were you. 1120 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (424) 268-4539, giggle.com.
There are many choices for your smut-wear needs, but while you're digging through that 3-for-$10 thong bin, consider the ritual and the anticipation. Long before Victoria had any secrets, the place that started it all opened its doors on Hollywood Boulevard — in 1947! While that flagship moved a few blocks away in 2005, it's still the two-story king of lingerie. And, early this year, the 117-store company announced that it was for sale. Although Frederick's of Hollywood says it's on firm financial ground with a recent $24 million line of credit, you never know. Victoria could swallow it up. And while you have that picture in your head, appreciate what you have, L.A. — the world's mecca of unmentionables. 6751 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 957-5953, fredericks.com.