Best Of :: Shopping & Services
On the outside, it's a nondescript, cream-colored industrial-park suite. On the inside: a uke-topia, complete with bamboo stalks and fake plants. More ukuleles than you ever knew existed line the walls of this Hawaiian-themed shop. Even ukulele experts would be hard-pressed to name an existing uke-related item the store doesn't carry. Ukulele books? Check. Cases? Check. Note cards, Hawaiian leis and other kitsch? Check, check and check. Whether you're a rookie or a pro, Island Bazaar is your place. The ukes range in quality and price, starting at $50 and peaking around $3,000. The staff are friendly and helpful; as it says on the website, "If we know you are dropping in, we would love to make a fuss over you." But if you tell the salespeople you're just looking, they'll leave you alone and head back to the task at hand—strumming. Aside from selling ukuleles, Island Bazaar also offers lessons and several jam sessions every week. Beginners can learn on Wednesday nights. Then on Fridays, the Surf City Strummers work on a new play list each week and boast the best snacks of all the uke groups. If you stick around all day, and it's the last Friday of the month, you can play along during gospel night. It even sets up concerts by ukulele greats—musicians have traveled from Hawaii and Canada to play at the shop—and charges just 20 bucks. Oh, yeah, and don't forget to grab an "EvolUKEtion" T-shirt on the way out.
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. . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.