Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Orange Countians have long lamented the disappearance of orange groves, old homes and alligator farms amid the march of progress. But the give-and-take between preservation and modernization has produced refreshing cultural oddities such as the tiny, white, wedding chapel in the middle of a Tustin shopping center's parking lot. Fitting about six people, Little Tree Church is a replica of Hopewell Church just outside Columbia, Tennessee, but it's not as old as it appears. In 1955, builder C.T. Gilbreath bought the surrounding property, which at that time included a Victorian house built in the 1880s, a barn, an orange grove, avocado trees and a large oak tree. He lived there with his family until 1960, when he decided to erect the Jamestown Village shopping center. Gilbreath tried to give the house away to anyone who would take it, but no offers came, so it was demolished. In the end, all that was left was the oak. Gilbreath wanted to do something more special with the tree than simply surround it with asphalt. He first thought about planting flowers around it, but what's so special about that? Adding a treehouse was discarded because of liability issues (yes, even in those days). Finally, he thought back to the Tennessee church he had gone to in a horse and buggy with his grandmother in 1912—the one she'd been attending since the Civil War. So Gilbreath created a miniature version with white-clapboard siding, a red-brick porch and that big oak rising out of the middle of it. The tree eventually became diseased and had to go. Gilbreath died in 1987, followed by his wife, Charlie May, in 2004, but the family still owns the Little Tree Church. A nearby shopkeeper used to unlock the chapel to show it to potential renters, but she retired. Sadly, without an on-site custodian, Gilbreath Family Enterprises says, it cannot currently rent the chapel out. For now, we can only gaze in amazement from the outside. Look both ways before crossing.
You can find small bike shops that deliver great customer service, but the inventory tends to be small, the prices high and the wait time for repairs staggering. Meanwhile, there are also the behemoth superstores where you know more about the bikes there than the certified, matching-blue-shirted sales staff, and your only communication with the repair department involves the happy face drawn on your sales receipt. Two Wheels One Planet, which has shops in Costa Mesa and Lake Forest and is rooted in a company that has been serving Orange County cyclists since 1959, represents the best of both sales and repair worlds. The inventory is massive, but so are the choices in types of bikes and range of prices. You can go in, say, for a beach cruiser you don't want to spend more than a couple of hundred dollars for, and a knowledgeable staffer will shuffle you over to the rows of bikes fitting your needs. By the way, Two Wheels One Planet hires actual riders. You see their bikes in the racks outside (also, thankfully, freeing up more parking spaces for cars). Tell them you want the best, and they'll gladly point them out. You won't be upsold or downsold, and whatever you buy, the staff will encourage you to bring it back in a few months for a free tune-up and to make sure everything's hunky-dory. The same service to customers, without ripping them off, extends to the repair department, which turns around broken bikes at an amazingly quick pace. Any piece of bicycle clothing or accessory you can think of hangs on the walls, as do some that never would have occurred to you.
Odds are, if you're thinking of taking your vehicle to a non-gas-station-adjacent car wash, you probably kind of love your car. So to give it the royal treatment without emptying your wallet, pull into this English-cottage-looking structure, where a basic hand wash with interior vacuuming and cleaning is only $12.99. Or if you want them to be a bit more thorough—think removing food stains and a complete wipe-down of everything, including windows and wheels—the prices go up to $24.99, and the waiting time will be a bit longer. Snacks and drinks are available in the lovely, clean interior. There is also a covered patio area—complete with live plants—where you can sit and watch your car getting some loving care (or just ogle what other people are driving).
It's not just record stores that are dealing with the scourge of online retailers and digital piracy. You can illegally obtain scans of comics almost as easily as mp3s, and online-only distributors are selling books at much steeper discounts than physical stores can afford. No shop in Orange County is better equipped to deal with this than Beach Ball Comics, which is actually organized (gasp!), clean (shock!) and well-lit (the horror!). Instead of being crammed with random junk, the store is tidy and inviting, with stock arranged logically—all of the new comics for the current week on one shelf, all of the ones from last week on another. These things sound like a no-brainer, but finding what you want at most comic stores can be as challenging as deciphering the ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion. And if you truly can't find something (or are looking for a recommendation), the chatty staff will be happy to help—also something that doesn't happen at nearly as many stores as it should.
Way better than the Rose Bowl's monthly monstrosity, where all the good stuff is cleaned out by 8 a.m., the Long Beach Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market is the best flea market in not only Southern California, but the whole state, too. Our best finds—including an old library-card catalog and gorgeous bar stools with the curlicued iron backs—are all from here. While the Rose Bowl's flea market might be world-famous, Long Beach's is much more manageable: easier to haggle, no crowds and less junk to filter out.
Banks, 58, has been selling fresh-cut dahlias out of her back yard for some 12 years now. It's home to more than 100 blooming dahlia bushes in vibrant purples, pinks, yellows, whites—any color you can think of—and the blooms are cut to your choice right then and there by Banks herself. She displays her colorful flowers in Newport Beach's Kéan Coffee every week during dahlia season (summer through fall), and the blooms come in all shapes and sizes—some are even larger than your face. If you don't hurry, you'll have to wait, though: Her fresh-cut dahlias are only available from June through October. Blooms range from $2 to $7 each, depending on size.
Though it can take forever to secure an appointment with your stylist of choice—we highly recommend Minako—Ability Hair Design brings the best and latest hair technology out of Japan right to Costa Mesa. These stylists do exactly what you want, make it better, and won't charge you a squillion bucks like those South County salons. Be sure to bring a photo of what you're looking for; the English here can be limited. Ability is also the only salon in the county to offer digital perms—a healthier body-wave perm to achieve that perfect beach hair. Most places charge $500-plus . . . Ability? Around $200. Trust.
Much has changed since Orange Coast Lumber opened here in the 1960s, but the store's reputation as the place to go for household lumber and associated tool needs has remained the same. Customer service is first-rate, with no one pushing you to buy a more-expensive piece of wood. The staff will just lay out the available options depending on the job you're doing; it's up to you to make the final call. And you can either back a truck up and carry the lumber out with you, or arrange to have it delivered by one of the store's two Ford F-Series flatbeds. Orange Coast Lumber is not immune to the ridiculous increases in wood prices caused by China hogging all the available timber, but the store strives to keep the tab at or below the competition in most cases. Plus, you can always achieve some savings in the screaming deals Orange Coast offers on equipment, such as (at this writing) $158 off what would normally be a $354 SkilSaw Mag-77 Worm Drive Circular Saw and 60 bucks off a Makita 8390DWPE 18V Cordless Drill Kit that would normally set you back $169.99 at the other places.
Any health nut who lives in Orange County is familiar with either the original Costa Mesa location or the tiny, quaint Mother's Market in Huntington Beach. But the modest vitamin shop was ready to expand—in a big way. Last year, the Mother's company moved into a giant, looming warehouse of wholesomeness in Santa Ana. It's like a vegan-friendly Costco. The new market's deli alone matches the size of the H.B. store—and their ready-made healthy cuisine rivals that of any vegetarian/vegan restaurant around.
One of the biggest problems for any home bartender is the inevitable bottle of [insert random alcohol here] that ends up gathering dust after the one time you made [insert weird shot here]. Not to mention the cost—as we all know, booze ain't cheap! Rod's Liquors in the Orange Circle, an otherwise-unassuming liquor store, looks like your typical stop-and-shop until you witness the miracle that lies behind their counter: alcohol. Anything you can think of, in all shapes and sizes—big, small, teeny-tiny. And the best thing about mini-bottles is that they come with recession-friendly mini-prices. Now you can finally mix up some Flaming Turd Rockets without the guilt of an abandoned half-gallon of Southern Comfort peach liqueur.
If you're in need of a new MacBook, laundry detergent, a stapler, a funnel cake, a puppy, a cinematic experience, crepes, a top-tier comedy show, a case for your BlackBerry, lingerie, a copy of Fallout 3 and a ride on a Ferris wheel—and you want to hammer out your ridiculous list of errands all at once—the best (and only) way to go is the Irvine Spectrum. Yes, Orange County is no stranger to shopping mega-centers, but where else can you walk out of a Target and strap on some ice skates? Despite this open-air South County mecca of commerce being made up almost entirely of national chain stores, the sheer expansiveness of its selection and relative ease of browsing makes for a great place to kill time or drop some green.
It's pretty. It's spotlessly clean. The prices are more than reasonable ($12 for a manicure, $18 for a pedicure, or $27 for a mani/pedi combo). The Nail Boutique even has those awesome massage chairs that come with remote controls. But what makes this salon truly stand out is nail technician Thuy. She's been there for six years and couldn't be more gentle or meticulous. You'll leave perfectly polished every time.