Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Big things come in small packages, and no store is more representative of that adage than Pet Project, a fun, colorful and compact seller of everything the urbane dog or cat could ever want or need. Situated in the heart of downtown's core, this place is jam-packed with premium quality brands of pet food, along with an array of pet treats, leashes, harnesses, collars, toys, bowls and more. The woman behind the counter is engaged and friendly, obviously a pet fanatic herself, and the neatly organized store is refreshingly easy to navigate compared with Petco or PetSmart, which can be overwhelming. With downtown's urban dwellers being an especially pet-friendly bunch, Pet Project is the perfect neighborhood proprietor to keep the hounds and kitties happy. —Adam Gropman
548 S. Spring St., Ste. 107, dwntwn., 90013. (213) 688-7752, petprojectla.com.
Vinny's Barber Shop has a sort of unofficial slogan: "It's a haircut." And indeed, it is that. In a world where a million salons try to pose as the real McCoy, you need look no further than this East Hollywood spot for an old-school barber shop with a modern, contemporary vibe. At Vinny's, the five chairs are almost always full, with good tunes playing in the background. While you're encouraged to grab a beer while you wait, or have some coffee, beverages aren't a gimmick to cover up for substandard quality. Gents chew the fat about sports, work, dogs and cars — everything but politics and religion, which are expressly forbidden. Proprietor Omar Romero just happens to be the finest rockabilly recording engineer in the world. The tattooed gentlemen on his staff take the utmost pride in their work, doing everything they can to make customers look their absolute best. It's a haircut? Sure. And a '68 Chevelle is a car. —Nicholas Pell
852 N. Virgil Ave., E. Hlywd., 90029. (323) 426-9536.
Open just a few hours a week (Wednesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), this dusty, signless storefront is easy to miss. But if you glance through the window, you'll see an ancient wheelchair and crutches, old cans and bottles, and a selection of shiny silver toasters and waffle makers. Inside Metropolitan News, the mix is even more eclectic: a rocking horse, old maps, pins, plates, photos, car manuals, typewriters, wall phones, sheet music, desks, coffee cans and Edison wax cylinders. There are mysterious personal effects, too. Who is Nana Sterling, "the deep-breathing beauty"? These retro relics came largely from a crowded, chaotic amateur museum based in tiny Aguilar, Colorado, obtained by shop owner and history conservationist Jo-Ann Grace, whose office is next door. Get down there and get hunting — before the Beverly Hills antique dealers beat you to it. —James Bartlett
214 S. Spring St., dwntwn., 90012. No phone, no website.
The paucity of bookstores on the Westside can be disheartening, but Santa Monica's Angel City Books & Records has been a sanctuary for book-buying locals since 1998. Though small and narrow, the store is easily navigable and feels more cozy than cramped. Filled with a meticulously curated selection of used books, the store's range and specificity are staggering. A trove of Beat literature is just steps from a section devoted to Santa Monica history. Turn from the long shelf of poetry and plays and find yourself faced with a superb reserve of pulp fiction paperbacks. If you're looking for signed and/or first editions, see the glass case behind the counter. Angel City sells an equally excellent, albeit occasionally pricey, selection of vinyl, and whether you're looking for tomes or tunes, amiable owner Rocco Ingala is here to help. Call and he'll check the shelves for whatever you're after. Better yet, swing by and browse as he plays records over the store speakers. You may find something you didn't know you needed. —Max Bell
218 Pier Ave., Santa Monica, 90405. (310) 399-8767, angelcitybooks.com.
The Langham Huntington's new, 11,000-square-foot luxury spa, Chuan Spa, combines advanced skincare methods with Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, techniques — in fact, it's the only global spa brand based on TCM. That means a focus on yin and yang, the meridian system (jing luo) and the five elements (wu xing), plus more than 20 signature treatments with the guidance of an in-house TCM doctor. Try the Chuan Yu facial — meridian points on your face are stimulated with a massage featuring real jade, known for its healing qualities. Or how about the caviar and pearl facial, which incorporates protein-rich caviar and real pearl powder? The spa has a palate of soothing earth tones, incorporating wood, water and fresh flowers, with influences that include both the Chinese architectural and Pasadena's Arts & Crafts traditions. And did we mention the water beds? After your treatment, you are taken to the Dream Room, where you can melt into a heated water bed under a silk coverlet while you are brought a cup of tea that jibes with your constitutional type (wood, earth, metal, fire or water). Top that, anywhere. —Samantha Bonar
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 91106. (626) 585-6414, chuanspa.com/en/Pasadena/index.html.
The first thing optician Van de la Plante asks customers when they walk into his tiny eyewear boutique in Echo Park isn't about their eyesight — it's whether they'd like a glass of Scotch and a seat on one of two tattered, turn-of-the-century armchairs. The Scotch, poured from a beveled glass decanter on a wooden side table displaying biographies of Houdini and Tesla, is all part of the macho, vintage Americana lifestyle peddled by Gentlemen's Breakfast. Housed in a one-car garage off Sunset Boulevard, the anachronistic hideout specializes in original, 1960s dead-stock frames from Europe and Japan, all of which can be custom-fitted with either prescription or sunglass lenses. The glasses range in price from about $150 — for thick, nylon "prison glasses," which were distributed to prisoners in the 1960s because of their pliable and nearly indestructible frames — to upwards of $1,000 for 100-year-old Japanese welding glasses with rose-colored lenses. —Jennifer Swann
1101 Mohawk St., Echo Park, 90026. (323) 306-6766, gentsbreakfast.blogspot.com.
If you've ever dreamed of fixing your bicycle's flat tire, loose chain or squeaky brakes but don't have the slightest idea where to start, Bicycle Kitchen is here to help. The East Hollywood nonprofit offers full-service bike repair with a catch: You've got to do it yourself. For a suggested donation of $7 per hour, the "cooks," aka volunteers, will equip you with all the tools and skills you'll need to jazz up your ride or even build a new one from used parts. Monday is ladies' night, which means the shop is open only to women and transgender cyclists. Known as Bicycle Bitchen, Monday's weekly three-hour workshop is the best place to get your hands dirty while learning bike maintenance and mechanics, without any men around. At the most bitchin' bike party in town, you can crank up the tunes, turn up the good vibes and put the pedal to the metal. —Jennifer Swann
4429 Fountain Ave., E. Hlywd., 90029. (323) 662-2776, bicyclekitchen.com.
On a shaded stretch of Mission Street about two miles south of Old Town Pasadena sits Marz Boutique, a singular gift emporium with a dazzling selection of knickknacks, tchotchkes and curios — many of which you've probably never seen anywhere else. One of the best (or worst) things about this distinctive shop is that you walk in planning to buy something for a friend or niece or co-worker but seldom leave before also purchasing something special for yourself. From unique imports, handmade crafts, vintage baubles and fun housewares to artisanal bath products and unusual books, the store's selection practically compels browsing. The stuff in Marz isn't just inventory: It becomes a thoughtfully curated display of rare and remarkable objects, which manage to make the store appear welcoming and organized despite the volume of articles within. Marz also sells handmade cards, exquisite wrapping paper and eye-catching gift bags — but chances are you won't need them: The store offers gift wrapping that's just as appealing as the presents themselves. —Tanja M. Laden
1512 Mission St., South Pasadena, 91030. (626) 799-4032, marzgifts.com.
The VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital is the Cedars-Sinai of veterinary hospitals. The flagship of the national VCA chain and a teaching hospital to boot, this sparkling clean Sepulveda Boulevard location has animal dermatologists, endocrinologists, oncologists, dentists and acupuncturists. They've got underwater treadmills for fat cats and gimpy dogs. They do chemotherapy and behavioral therapy and stem cell therapy (yes, seriously). Here, it is not uncommon for a pet to have a team of health care professionals — a specialty orthopedic surgeon, a cardiologist and a physical therapist, say, might attend to a Pomeranian with a dislocated hip. You will marvel at the little yoga mats they pull out for your pet during exams, at the security keypads for each private exam room, at the ginormous parking structure. The place is proof that, in L.A., pampered pets get better healthcare than their humans. —Gendy Alimurung
1900 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A., 90025. (310) 473-2951, vcahospitals.com/west-los-angeles.
In an age of ever-larger art superstores, Top's Art Supplies still has human scale. The compact Koreatown store features the finest hand-picked, imported supplies — brushes and scissors from Japan, paper from India — along with neatly arranged collections of sketchpads, colored pencils, painting supplies and markers. Family-owned and operated since 1987, the store is a favorite with design students and proudly carries one of the finest collections of sewing notions anywhere, while a back room is dedicated entirely to supplies for children's science projects. Top's paint is always on 25 percent discount, while canvas is at 60 to 70 percent off — not to mention the twice-annual "back-to-school" sales. Equally impressive? The warm and attentive customer service, which Top's proprietors have down to an ... art. —Adam Gropman
3447 W. Eighth St., Koreatown, 90005. (213) 382-8229, topsartsupplies.com.
Looking to expand your shopping repertoire to include local boutiques that carry independent designers? Kelly Love and Fez Phez, owners of DTLA's Haus of Love, have you covered. Their shop is a platform for emerging design talent. It stocks mostly up-and-coming L.A. brands, as well as a few labels from London and Hong Kong. This boutique is not for the basics: You won't find plain T-shirts, jeans or fast fashion; rather, you'll discover and fall in love with a curated, unique selection of one-of-a-kind, quality, avant-garde clothing and accessories, most of which are produced here in L.A. Think chic mesh hoodies and tanks by Rojas, galactic-inspired laser-cut Plexiglas earrings by Marina Fini and organza-meets-denim-meets-plaid pieces by Rose La Grua. Haus of Love also hosts pop-up shops during downtown L.A.'s monthly Art Walk to showcase new artists and designers. —Elise Montecastro
600 S. Spring St., Unit 108, dwntwn., 90014. (323)420-3007, shophausoflove.com.
Dog "life coach" Tamar Geller's kennel, the Loved Dog, isn't so much doggie daycare as an awesome house party that your dog wishes he could go to every day. Here, Geller separates dogs based on temperament — mellow dogs upstairs in the 1,800-square-foot "lounge," hyper dogs downstairs in the 2,600-square-foot "play park." Within each area, dogs sort themselves out based on a pack hierarchy, though handlers will intervene if anyone steps out of line. Geller does not believe in pain or punishment but rather in happy, loving positive reinforcement. A cage-free kennel was a revolutionary idea when Geller first came up with it, back in 1996. A former intelligence officer with Israel's elite Special Forces, she fought long and hard to get the city to approve the concept. Similar facilities now are everywhere, but the original is still the best. —Gendy Alimurung
2100 Pontius Ave., West L.A., 90025. (310) 914-3033, theloveddog.com.