Los Angeles may be the only large city in the world in which a few shops strung together feels like serendipity. And the block on West Third just east of the Beverly Center is serendipitous, at least in terms of eclecticism and possibility. Anchoring the block are two old-timers: Freehand Gallery and New Stone Age. Freehand stocks a ton of great handmade ceramics and glassware, woodwork and jewelry, made by locals and not-so-locals. If you're looking for a unique gift, this is one of the smartest stops in L.A. — and you'd be supporting artists and artisans. Next door is one of the city's best emporiums: Entering New Stone Age is like going straight to your retail therapist, if interesting googaws, jewelry, housewares and just damn intriguing stuff is your thing. Aero & Co., one door east, is the Freehand/New Stone Age of L.A. clothing designers, showing Maxine Dillon, Purlieu, Elevate & Collide, Violently Attractive and Blood Is the New Black, among others, as well as Brooklyn's Octopi and Margarita Saplala. Shoes (Muzina) and jewelry (Moss Mills, Sid Vintage), too. After all this nice organic material, you need a dose of synthetics: The next shop's name, Plastica, says it all, but think colorful floor mats, baskets, pots, wallets and — straight outta Helsinki — Marimekko. Finally, check out Mellows, the new youthy Japanese boutique a few doors down, which mixes cool hats and clothing with vintage shoes. Of course, there are other great shops on West Third, including the exquisitely relaxed Noodle Stories — or is it relaxedly exquisite? — a couple of blocks east, which features higher-end women's lines such as Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Reinhard Plank, Viktor & Rolf, Y's by Yohji Yamamoto and a lot of designers a naif like me has never heard of (in a good way). Most importantly, there is Joan's on Third, to which you must repair for a preshopping Americano and pancakes or a postshopping ficelle or grilled vegetables and goat cheese sandwich. Top it off with an exquisite little chocolate thing, and relax. Freehand Gallery, 8413 W. Third St., L.A. (323) 655-2607, freehand.com; New Stone Age, 8407 W. Third St., L.A. (323) 658-5969, newstoneagela.com; AERO & Co., 8403 W. Third St., L.A. (323)653-4651, myspace.com/aeroandco; Mellows, 8363 W. Third St., L.A. (323)655-3377; Noodle Stories, 8323 W. Third St., L.A. (323)651-1782; Joan's on Third, 8350 ½ W. Third St., L.A. (323) 655-2285, joansonthird.com.

—Tom Christie

LA Weekly