Best of OC

Best Of 2011

Neighborhoods

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  • + Costa Mesa
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  • + Dana Point
  • + Diamond Bar
  • + Downey
  • + El Segundo
  • + Encino
  • + Escondido
  • + Fallbrook
  • + Fontana
  • + Foothill Ranch
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  • + Fresno
  • + Fullerton
  • + Garden Grove
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  • + Hawaiian Gardens
  • + Hermosa Beach
  • + Highland
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  • + Indio
  • + Irvine
  • + Julian
  • + La Canada Flintridge
  • + La Habra
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  • + La Mirada
  • + La Palma
  • + Ladera Ranch
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  • + Maywood
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  • + Montclair
  • + Mountain Center
  • + Mt Baldy
  • + Newport Beach
  • + North Hollywood
  • + Northridge
  • + Norwalk
  • + Oceanside
  • + Orange
  • + Out of Town
  • + Palos Verdes Peninsula
  • + Panorama City
  • + Paramount
  • + Pasadena
  • + Pioneertown
  • + Placentia
  • + Pomona
  • + Portola Hills
  • + Rancho Cucamonga
  • + Rancho Palos Verdes
  • + Rancho Santa Margarita
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  • + San Bernardino
  • + San Clemente
  • + San Diego
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  • + San Juan Capistrano
  • + San Marino
  • + San Pedro
  • + Santa Ana
  • + Santa Monica
  • + Seal Beach
  • + Sherman Oaks
  • + Sierra Madre
  • + Signal Hill
  • + Silverado
  • + Solana Beach
  • + South El Monte
  • + South Gate
  • + South Pasadena
  • + Stanton
  • + Studio City
  • + Sunset Beach
  • + Temecula
  • + Torrance
  • + Trabuco Canyon
  • + Tustin
  • + Twentynine Palms
  • + Universal City
  • + Unknown
  • + Venice
  • + Villa Park
  • + Westminster
  • + Whittier
  • + Wilmington
  • + Woodland Hills
  • + Yorba Linda
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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

Best Dancing-Teapot Maker

Sometimes, you don't know you need something until you see it. That's the case with most of Kazem Arshi's creations. You could sip your coffee out of any dingy ol' store-bought cup, or you could get your morning caffeine kick while gazing at the turquoise-hued glaze inside your handcrafted mug. Tough choice, right? The local pottery whiz has an artistic eye, hence his graphic-design degree from Cal State Fullerton. He got a feel for the wheel more than 15 years ago in a community-college pottery class. Arshi's menagerie of creations runs the gamut from small, practical household items—such as vases and mugs—to bigger, not-as-practical-but-really-cool treasures, such as dancing teapots. Have a friend who loves to dance and drink tea? Well, then, Arshi's intentionally lopsided, porcelain clay pot is the perfect gift. But what about your kite-loving and kimono-obsessed friends? No worries; Arshi's teapot collection has them covered, too. And his prices won't break the bank. Browse through the items on his Etsy.com store, and you'll find a $15 vase and a $10 ring holder. Another plus about buying from him: There's no middleman. Arshi is both the artist and the seller, so he knows his products—and he can look at them with a critical eye. The price of one of the teapots listed on his website was discounted "because the body of the teapot leans forward a little bit." Fittingly, he named it the Swept Away Teapot. If you're still not convinced Arshi is the best damn potter around, go check out the comments section on his website. All of the more than 140 comments are positive, and most of them drip with the gushy obsession of a high-school love letter.

Best Trend

Hope you held onto those Donnie Wahlberg posters: Another decade from the past has become all cool and retro, and this time, it's the 1990s (la vida loca?). Eighties nostalgia is so 10 years ago. It seems like everyone has jumped in on the craze. MTV brought back Beavis and Butt-head and—get this—music videos. The Backstreet Boys and New Kids On the Block got back together to perform for swarms of once-tweens (Justin who?). Newt Gingrich has considered a presidential run. Teen witches replaced teen vampires. Christina Applegate is still hot. It's easy, we suppose, to long for the days when the now-legal, pouty Olsen twins chirped adorable one-liners ("You got it, dude!"), and the only terrorists we worried about were dinosaurs destroying theme parks. Yes, we love the '90s! Now, if only we can bring back the Clinton-era economy and Metropolis in Irvine. . . .

Best Mall
South Coast Plaza

Sometimes, you just have to go with the obvious. If you're gonna go to the mall, you might as well go to the mall, the holy grail of Orange County consumerism, the reason why the words "Costa Mesa" sit beside Beverly Hills, Paris and Milan in designer ads in glossy magazines. It's a place where a concierge will check your bags when your arms get too tired, where personal shoppers are at your service (for a fee, of course), where your electric Jaguar can juice up at the charging station while you shop. Even if you're more, well, recession-chic like us, it's always fun to play Pretty Woman, dressing up (yeah, you've gotta dress up) and prancing around the fancy cluster of shops: Prada, Burberry, Armani, Gucci, La Perla, Hermès, Versace and Chloé. The 2.8 million-square-foot complex houses all the usual mall stores, too, including H&M, Banana Republic and Nine West, as well as the major department stores and a list of eateries from acclaimed gourmet to fast food. Shopping has never looked this good.

3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 92626
MAP
800-782-8888
Best Vintage Store
Captain's Helm

Located in a former auto garage, the Captain's Helm exudes hipster chic, yet it skews more thrift store than vintage store. There's a nice selection of graphic tees and polo shirts, some with interesting graphics such as Reagan's face twisted in all sorts of grotesque contortions accompanied by nasty, lovable captions; these run anywhere from $8 to $12. And don't miss the selection of Captain's Helm T-shirts featuring obligatory line drawings of a crusty rowboat guy. Included in the mix are shoes, boots and jeans, as well as—bizarrely—surfboards. And like any forward-thinking secondhand store, there's also a sizable collection of used vinyl. All of which gives the savvy shopper plenty of reasons to check this spot out.

Multiple Locations
Best Green Department Store
Seed People's Market

This place offers nearly all the creature comforts the eco-conscious soul could desire, except for organic produce. Like a subspace passage to Portland, Seed People's Market touts "products with a purpose" and carries countless handmade and recycled items arranged artfully about the shop on whimsical art-installation-like displays. The result resembles a miniature Patchwork Festival operating seven days a week. You'd be hard-pressed to find another establishment in Orange County from which you can walk away with Patagonia outerwear, a package of hand-printed stationery and a pair of decorative bear-eared headbands. Nestled in the heart of the Camp in Costa Mesa, not only does the store offer an array of guilt-free gift-worthy items, but it also has a café and a second-floor crafting studio, with regularly scheduled classes. So if you're feeling particularly productive, you could roll over to Seed, get your birthday shopping done, learn how to repurpose old copper wire into a new birdhouse, grab some coffee and wrap up by chilling out on the patio while shooting the shit next to a campfire.

2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 92626
MAP
714-708-2277
Best Place to Buy Something Cute (Though Completely Unnecessary)
tpt home

In the SoCo Corner off Interstate 405 is the home-decorating behemoth known simply as tpt home, pleasing shoppers and infuriating the grammar police. The year-old shop is the size of a giant warehouse—one entire wing is dedicated to fake flowers and faux topiary (look no further to satisfy those artificial-Christmas-tree needs). Calling itself "Orange County's destination for inspired home décor," tpt definitely has an OC aesthetic and is perfect for those Newport Beach residents who had to fire their interior decorator when the market crashed. Any knickknack can be found—need some colored glass balls to finish off the table setting? Maybe an assortment of tin bud vases? A sequined bird statue? Yep, all can be found here.

3305 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626
MAP
657-269-5595
Best Antique Shop
Grandma Darlings Antique Mall

This mall houses about 80 different booths and rented spaces of antiques ranging from vintage clothing and furniture to kitchenware and estate jewelry. If you're looking for an oddball collector's item from early last century, this is a fantastic place to start. There are gorgeous-but-very-un-PC fur coats, sunglasses, tin signs, furniture—and damn, that's a lot of Barbie dolls. The quality of items is exceptional! With 10,000 square feet of space, this old-stuff wonderland is a perfect way to spend an afternoon, wandering around looking for that quirky treasure you never knew you totally needed. Plus, it's called Grandma Darlings, which is absolutely adorable.

1819 Redondo Ave., Long Beach, 90814
MAP
562-498-2704
Best Place to Find Modern Kitsch
Otto

Call it hoarding with style. Shoppers at Otto tend to need things, lots and lots of things. They can’t help it. The things at this cozy art-and-design promised land in downtown Fullerton are unique, inspiring and just plain rad. Take, for instance, the designer-coveted George Nelson bubble lamps and Ole Flensted mobiles dripping from the ceiling, or the pop surrealist prints by Tim Biskup and Jason Freeny blaring on the walls. Every nook and cranny bursts with zany, conversation-triggering goods—colorful Tokidoki toys, Gama-Go wallets, those strange-but-cool Uglydoll plushies, a rubber-chicken handbag—all curated by OC style-setters Mike and Pam Atta (who also own the vintage furniture shop next door, Out of Vogue).

111 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, 92832
MAP
714-526-3142
Best Place to Score Space-Saving Household Items for Your Tiny-Ass Dorm Room or Bachelor Suite
Kitchen Land

If you've ever resided in a college dorm, you know how it feels to live in a space so small you can't undress two at a time without worrying about making accidental ass-to-ass contact. If you just so happen to have also set foot in an apartment in East Asia, you know the experience is not much different. However, if there's one thing the Asian design has over the U.S., it's space-saving efficiency. Kitchen Land, nestled deep in the heart of Garden Grove's Little Seoul, is an obscure supply shop neatly brimming with an array of adorably colored, stackable, sleekly fashioned household wares to help you make the most of your broke-ass living situation. Once past the threshold, you'll be greeted by an electronic "Thank you for coming!" Then you're slammed by a tidal wave of stuff, including (but not limited to) indoor slippers, exfoliating towels, sake serving sets, cutlery, rice cookers, condiment containers and $2 straw brooms that will put your dust-buster to shame. If price is an issue and customer service isn't (expect to encounter limited English), forget Mitsuwa and explore the nether-regions of Kitchen Land for some great deals on cute appliances with amazingly high utility.

9580 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, 92844
MAP
714-539-8860
Best Used-Book Store

With its concrete floors and 2-inch-by-4-inch latticed ceiling, {open} Books has the lofty urban charm of its vinyl-store neighbor Fingerprints, as well as a comparable hipness quotient. The front foyer hosts a vintage Remington typewriter and vintage miniature TV sets, and a fixed-gear bicycle hangs from the rafters. We'll forgive the store the last one, reminding ourselves of its cool selection of books and live events. Shoppers are immediately greeted with some top-notch alternative titles, such as Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, a collection of poems by Andrea Gibson exploring the world of a wounded soldier. There's also a small cart holding budget titles, with one book available for $1 or 3 for $2. What sets {open} apart from many other bookstores is its eye for talent and desire to give voice to local artists by turning the store into a de facto gallery. A recent installation included the works of Suzanne Walsh, whose preferred medium is wood. The shop also serves as venue for the likes of Vacuum Bell singer Will Morrison.

2226 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, 90814
MAP
562-499-6736
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18838 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 92708
MAP
714-963-3122
Best Used-Camera Store
Fullerton Cameras

Sometimes, there's a real upside to the march of technology having nothing to do with the advancements themselves. Take the evolution of cameras. With digital now the reigning mode of photographic arts, there's a wealth of old-time cameras available for a good price. And the images they produce are every bit as good, if not better, than what digital offers. Thankfully, there are places such as Fullerton Cameras to collect a respectable, dust-free inventory of film cameras and accessories and offer solid counsel on their maintenance, use and repair. Having trouble finding someone to work on your medium-format Mamiya C330? The guys at the used-camera store will know what to do. Located near Fullerton College, this spot offers a 10 percent student discount on certain items. They also rent a wide array of Nikon and Canon lenses and sell lots of state-of-the-art digital products.

809 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 92832
MAP
714-441-2443
Best Mom-and-Pop Guitar Shop
Rockit Music

The problem with shopping at a big-box music-instrument retailer happens when, within three minutes of grabbing your dream axe from the wall display and strumming a few licks, you're pounced on by a salivating floorman who immediately refers to you as "bro." As in "I see you got your eye on that axe, bro." The beauty of shopping at a spot such as Rockit Music is it's devoid of a high-pressure sales crew. It's stocked with tons of musical goodies focusing on Fender and Gibson electrics, as well as Fender and Mesa Boogie amps and a large selection of acoustic guitars. Operated by a core group of guys with more than a century of combined musical experience and run by the same owner for the past two decades, it also has a diverse range of drum, bass and guitar teachers capable of taking students in any direction they want to go. Best of all, they shred.

1039 E. Imperial Highway, Brea, 92821
MAP
714-674-0640
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Best Dancing-Teapot Maker: Kazem Arshi

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