A good toy store can make even the grouchiest adult's eyes light up with wonder. Take this writer, for example. While making visits to the 10 stores on this list, I got aggravated with fellow Metro riders, spent too much time in traffic and walked much more than I should have on an empty stomach. Yet every time I entered a shop, I reverted to my elementary school self as I wondered, “How come this didn't exist when I was a kid?” and debated whether I needed to stock up on more blind box toys. (The answer, this time, was no.)
There are some fine toy stores spread out across the Los Angeles area. Whether you're looking for an environmentally friendly toy for a small child or a limited-edition designer piece for yourself, there's a shop that can fill your needs.
1. Anime Jungle
Spread out inside Little Tokyo Mall, Anime Jungle's diverse selection of toys and gift items is divided between three storefronts. The costume shop doubles as a stuffed-animal emporium and the collection goes far beyond the pastel alpacas that seem to be all the rage with the anime convention crowd. Find adorable, whimsical ferrets and furry, playful sheep here for the little kids. Over in the general toy shop, you can find collectibles geared more toward older kids and adults. There are rows of Pop figures to please fans of everything from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones. Got a Power Rangers mega-fan in your life? There are tons of gifts for him or her, too. You should check out the store's collection of mecha (Japanese robots) and kaiju (Japanese monsters), too. From tools for mecha collectors to vintage Godzilla dioramas, Anime Jungle has goods for DIY hobbyists and high-end collectors. Speaking of high-end, there's even a 60-inch Godzilla on the floor with a price tag that passes the $3,000 mark. The third Jungle shop is dedicated to anime. Aside from DVDs, this shop stocks all sorts of merchandise, from a stuffed Titan from recent hit Attack on Titan to Sailor Moon dolls. For the Neon Genesis Evangelion fan who has everything, there are even bikes based on the now-classic anime. 319 E. Second St., #103, Little Tokyo; (213) 621-1661, animejungle.net.
2. Kip's Toyland
An L.A. institution, Kip's Toyland hit its 70th anniversary this year. Tucked inside the Original Farmers Market, the compact shop is neatly stuffed with a mix of blasts from the past and this season's must-have items. The Star Wars toys stand prominently near the front of the store, but, before long you'll stumble upon old-fashioned Jack-in-the-Boxes, a bounty of toy instruments and a super cute toy medical box (which could double as a '90s-flashback lunchbox). Check out the career-minded educational sets here — an FX make-up kit may be perfect for your mini-movie fiend. Parking can be dreadful around the Farmers Market, but you can make the most of your trip by picking up holiday sweets from the local vendors as well. 6333 W. Third St., #720, Beverly Grove; (323) 939-8334, kipstoyland.com.
3. Puzzle Zoo
Puzzles are to be expected at this Melrose Avenue store, but there is more here than tiny picture pieces in sealed boxes. Puzzle Zoo is an all-ages toy shop, where you can get Tegu wooden blocks for the younger kids and Kid Root blind box toys for the older ones. What makes Puzzle Zoo stand out, though, is its selection of modeling compounds, several of which don't dry and are on display throughout the store. There are tubs of easy-to-mold Bubber and boxes of the slightly grittier Kinetic Sand. Look in the small gag-gift section for Poo-Dough. It's exactly what you think it is, and could be a perfect gift for jokester nieces and nephews. Let your siblings deal with fake turds on the dinner table. Puzzle Zoo also has two locations in Santa Monica, as well as one in Costa Mesa and the related Toy Zoo in Pacific Palisades. 7547 Melrose Ave., Fairfax; (323) 782-1020, toyzoo.com.
4. Wacko/Soap Plant
Wacko is an all-purpose gift shop with a wonderful selection of toys ranging from drugstore to designer. The stock leans toward items that appeal to adults as well as kids, so retro cartoon characters like Gumby mix with modern animation icons, like the gang from Adventure Time and Friendship Is Magic–era My Little Pony. For tiny tots, there are adorable items such as Sesame Street hand puppets. Grown-up film geeks will dig action figures from Alien and other blockbusters. You may also stumble across collector items and shop exclusives, like a Gigantor figure that is sold only through Wacko. This store is home to pioneering lowbrow gallery La Luz de Jesus, and the emphasis on art is apparent in the toy selection as well. Make sure you check out the book section at the front of the store. There are coloring books and paper dolls geared toward various age groups. Plus, the children's book section is beautiful, filled with pop-up books, exquisitely illustrated fairytale collections and other lovely tomes that will keep kids reading. 4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 663-0122, soapplant.com
5. The Dinosaur Farm
Based on a recommendation, I headed out to South Pasadena to check out the Dinosaur Farm. This toy store is a short walk from the Gold Line and is a must visit for anyone with a kid whose tastes leans toward the prehistoric. There is a whole room here dedicated to dino-goodies at various price points. Tiny, plastic figures are available for only 75 cents, but there are also collectible pieces available at a much steeper cost. This section is more like a lifestyle shop than a toy store; sure, you can get modeling kits here, but there are also dinosaur diaries, fake tattoos, bedding and decor. Even if your kid isn't obsessed with these prehistoric beasts, you'll certainly find something here. There is an extensive collection of educational toys and supplies — perhaps a Star Wars workbook can encourage your child to practice his or her math and reading skills. There's a large shelf section dedicated to Thomas and Friends and a doll-centric corner where you can find items like a Victorian dollhouse or a stable for toy horses. If you're looking for holiday-themed books, you can certainly find those here as well. 1510 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 441-2761, dinosaurffarm.com.
6. Karen's Toys
If you're driving down Ventura Boulevard, it can be really easy to miss Karen's Toys. Look for Encino Place, the big shopping center on the corner of Woodley with a carousel in the courtyard. Karen's Toys is located in the back, on the ground floor. The shop itself is much larger than it appears from the front, and its winding aisles reveal cool new finds with every turn. This is a good place to go if you're looking for brands such as Melissa & Doug, Brio or Playmobil. The kitchen-toy selection is impressive, featuring stylish Brio appliances and a multitude of tea sets along with items to help kids make their own pretend pizza parlors and ice cream shops. There are conventional items here, like Monster High and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures, but the selection features more educational toys and games. There are some holiday items in the shop as well, such as DIY ornament kits. Karen's Toys also has stores at Sherman Oaks' Westfield Fashion Square and Glendale Galleria. 16101 Ventura Blvd., #135, Encino; (818) 906-2212, karens4toys.com.
Local chain Aahs! is a one-stop shop during the holidays where you can get everything from dreidels to advent calendars to gift wrap to toys. Its selection is always on trend. Right now, this means that there's a massive selection of Star Wars items, from action figures to Stormtrooper-shaped handbags. If you happen to have a kid who doesn't care that “the Force Awakens” this month, don't worry, there's more. Lalaloopsy dolls, Pokémon toys and Hello Kitty items line the aisles here, too. For the person obsessed with Facebook stickers, pick up a Pusheen the Cat plush toy. Video game–obsessed kids might dig Call of Duty and Halo toy sets. Grab a Pulp Fiction doll for your favorite Tarantino fan or a Ouija board for the pal who likes a good scare. For higher-end gifts, Aahs! has Smart Balance Wheels, those strange hoverboard devices that have been popping up more frequently across town. I visited Aahs! in Encino, but there are several locations, including Westwood, Torrance, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Buena Park. 15960 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 907-0300, aahs.com.
8. Child's Play Toys
Thanks to a recommendation from my cousin, I headed down PCH to check out Child's Play Toys, a small store in a very large Redondo Beach shopping center. My first reaction was “Stickers!” There are loads of sticker books here in a variety of styles that certainly deserve a place on your kid's school binder. The stationery selection is great too, with brightly colored pens and scented erasers galore. Head to the back of the shop to check out the art supplies, such as paint-by-numbers kits based on famous works of art. For environmentally conscious families, check out Green Toys, which are made in the United States from recycled materials. There's also a nice selection of plush animals here, including stackable toys (similar to Disney's Tsum Tsum line) and cuddly hand puppets. At Child's Play, shoppers can help bring gifts to other children as well; when I stopped by on a recent Saturday, it was also taking toy donations. 409 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach; (310) 798-0869, childsplaytoys.com.
9. Pop Monster
Several people in the South Bay suggested that I check out Pop Monster in Torrance. This art-minded toy store is perfect for toy-loving adults on your gift list. Pop Monster specializes in designer toys and has shelves of items from well-known artists, including Luke Chueh, Gary Baseman, Junko Mizuno and many more. Tokidoki fans will be happy to find a large selection of items from the L.A. brand here. When I stopped by on a recent Saturday, it even had the Tokidoki Kittypatra figure, which envisions Hello Kitty in ancient Egypt. There is a small collection of unusual piggy banks, like a Godzilla one where the monster grabs your money, as well as other unusual finds. The selection of anime toys is heavy on Studio Ghibli–related items, like a figure of No-Face from Spirited Away and a Totoro music box. It also has a healthy selection of unusual Sailor Moon and Attack on Titan merchandise. Many of the items here are limited editions, so it is the sort of store where you will need to snatch up stuff when you see it. 24416 Crenshaw Blvd., #3, Torrance; (310) 325-8686, popmonster.net.
10. Tom's Toys
The folks who directed me to Tom's Toys in Montrose were on the mark. This large shop has everything from cymbal monkeys to science sets. If you're looking for Schleich animals, there's an ark load here, and for the kids who love fantasy tales, there are whimsical creatures, fairies and knights as well. The game section is impressive, with lots of choices for chess and backgammon players, and the holiday-specific items include cool finds like Little People nativity sets and Nutcrackers ready for kids to paint themselves. There's a drove of Breyer horses, complete with all the accessories that you probably don't need but will definitely want. With aisles of toys catered to nearly every taste and a few small rides in the back, there's a chance that your kids won't want to leave this place without a bribe. Tom's Toys also has stores in Beverly Hills and San Luis Obispo. 2281 Honolulu Ave., Montrose; (818) 249-2178, tomstoystore.com.