Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Pinup girls adorn the walls at this boutique, which has locations in Santa Monica, in El Segundo and in the heart of Hollywood. Started by twins Rosie and Renee Tenison, two former Playmates and pinup girls themselves, Varga caters to a fashion-savvy crowd looking back to a time when women dressed like women. With pencil skirts, silky blouses and tailored dresses, the clothes are equal parts smart and sexy. The racks change weekly, and the salesladies are some of the sharpest women on the block. "Varga girls are smart girls who want to look like a million bucks without spending that much," Rosie says. Think Forever 21 meets Anthropologie, in a cute boutique right down the street. 2714 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 310-8811; 730-C Allied Way, El Segundo. (310) 640-0700; 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Ste. 363, Hlywd. (323) 871-0786. vargastore.com.
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.
This laid-back Sherman Oaks shop has become a nerve center for garage bands, jazz musicians, classical players and others who work in the music industry — or aspire to do so. Owner Ed Walker is a bass player, and every staffer is a musician. Customers are drawn to the high-quality instruments — generally used, refurbished here and then sold for far less than new — as well as a busy repair division that can fix any woodwind or brass instrument. Baxter-Northup Music Co. is one of L.A.'s oldest businesses, and sheet music is still its most enduring sales item. Plenty of bands buy the Fake Book, which Walker explains "gives just the chord changes so they can fake it — to 600 songs!" Individual song sheets are popular with classical musicians, students and others. Celebrities and directors also stop by to browse — or to enroll their kids in the store's 25-teacher music school. 14534 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-7510, baxternorthupmusic.com.
So popular that it has expanded to three locations in the Valley and one in Brentwood, Soto/South is about well-made pieces that shout "Rodeo Drive" but rarely cost more than $65. A gorgeous line of pleather jackets, priced from $59 to a sky-high (for Soto) $88, features pieces such as a formfitting "distressed sand" faux leather jacket with plaid inserts. Layering is huge at Soto, which sells boyfriend sweaters with toggle buttons, faux-cashmere loose-knit sweaters, boxy-cut sweaters, elegant poncho sweaters and airy woven wraps. The colors are beautiful, including deep taupe, aqua-and-tan heather, black-and-white heather and wonderful shades of gray. Pair these items with nearly sheer, long-sleeve T-shirts and high-end (-looking) stretch jeans in skinny, boot-cut or flair for just $39 to $49. "We sell hundreds of them," says manager Debra Rosenstock. Not to mention giant hoop earrings for $38 and earthy faux-pearl necklaces. 4865 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; 13814 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 2899 Agoura Blvd., Westlake Village; 11724 Barrington Court, Brentwood. (818) 346-7686, sotoboutique.com.
Glittery, gauzy, short-skirted, bedecked items for dancing, barhopping and dating are the core fashions at the Area, located next to the far more costly Theodore in the Commons shopping center in Calabasas. Spend 30 minutes here and you'll wish you had a party to go to this weekend. At this highly affordable, friendly shop, you can try on 20 outfits without interruption if that's what you prefer, so going with girlfriends is practically required. Tight-fitting, double-knit bright blue or taupe cocktail dresses with heavy bronze beading or faux pearl bodices glimmer on racks stuffed with sparkling, thickly sequined V-neck pullovers, one-shoulder see-through chiffon blousons and tricked-out studded jeans. The staff will help you pair items such as a see-through ivory blouse decorated with a gold-rhinestoned, good-girl collar with a pair of off-white, crocheted lace ultra-shorts. You'll need a fancy meant-to-be-seen bra — good thing the Area has those, too. 4719 Commons Way, Calabasas. (818) 225-9111 (no website).
Warning: Shopping at Barney's in Beverly Hills can turn into an addiction, but at least you'll always look good. Need an elegant Ralph Lauren business suit? It's there. Want a zip lace-up combat boot by Maison Martin Margiela? You know where to find it. Desire a dashing mock-neck button cardigan by Brunello Cucinelli? It's at Barney's. The prices can be steep, but just keep an eye out for the regular sales events by getting the store's newsletter. 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4400, barneys.com.
—Patrick Range McDonald
Located in Lincoln Heights, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store is a 90,000-square-foot warehouse of top-notch "vintage" and used goodies: clothes by Vera Wang and Levi's, vintage women's and men's shoes, bookcases, draperies, linens, refrigerators and more. The beauty about this place is that while you're saving money on quality stuff, your dollars go to the homeless, the poor and other people in need. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international organization run by lay Catholics; it has operated in Los Angeles for more than 100 years. We love its guiding motto: "No act of charity is foreign to the Society." 210 N. Avenue 21, Lincoln Heights. (323) 224-6280, svdpla.org.
—Patrick Range McDonald
Everyone loves an independent bookstore, but World 8 is something even rarer: an independent video game store. Opened by gamer geek siblings Monse, Edgar and Israel in August 2011, World 8 stands out in a sea of GameStops. Inside, local kids recline on couches in front of big-screen TVs and happily beat the tar out of each other on-screen — no hustling customers away from demo units here. The store runs a brisk business in new and used video games, and you can trade in that old copy of Uncharted 3 for a respectable price. For gamers who grew up blowing dust out of cartridges, World 8 also deals in the vintage classics, ranging from River City Ransom to Conker's Bad Fur Day. The crowds pack the store for Friday Night Sissy Fights, an arcade-rules affair heavy on fighting games and trash talk. In an age when most kids berate one another via headsets over the Internet, there's something deeply comforting about hearing a teenager hoot in laughter as his friend goes down in defeat. 1057 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown. (213) 389-5212, world8.us.