Best of OC

Best Of 2011


  • + Aliso Viejo
  • + Anaheim
  • + Arcadia
  • + Avalon
  • + Azuza
  • + Bakersfield
  • + Balboa
  • + Bellflower
  • + Beverly Hills
  • + Brea
  • + Buena Park
  • + Burbank
  • + Cabazon
  • + Capistrano Beach
  • + Carlsbad
  • + Carson
  • + Cerritos
  • + Chatsworth
  • + Chino Hills
  • + Claremont
  • + Colton
  • + Corona
  • + Corona Del Mar
  • + Costa Mesa
  • + Coto de Caza
  • + Covina
  • + Culver City
  • + Cypress
  • + Dana Point
  • + Diamond Bar
  • + Downey
  • + El Segundo
  • + Encino
  • + Escondido
  • + Fallbrook
  • + Fontana
  • + Foothill Ranch
  • + Fountain Valley
  • + Fresno
  • + Fullerton
  • + Garden Grove
  • + Gardena
  • + Glendale
  • + Granada Hills
  • + Hawaiian Gardens
  • + Hermosa Beach
  • + Highland
  • + Huntington Beach
  • + Indio
  • + Irvine
  • + Julian
  • + La Canada Flintridge
  • + La Habra
  • + La Jolla
  • + La Mirada
  • + La Palma
  • + Ladera Ranch
  • + Laguna Beach
  • + Laguna Hills
  • + Laguna Niguel
  • + Lake Forest
  • + Lakewood
  • + Las Vegas
  • + Lawndale
  • + Lomita
  • + Long Beach
  • + Los Alamitos
  • + Los Angeles
  • + Malibu
  • + Manhattan Beach
  • + Marina Del Rey
  • + Maywood
  • + Midway City
  • + Mission Viejo
  • + 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
  • + Redlands
  • + Redondo Beach
  • + Riverside
  • + Rossmoor
  • + Rowland Heights
  • + San Bernardino
  • + San Clemente
  • + San Diego
  • + San Francisco
  • + 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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People & Places

Readers' Choice


Best Of :: Shopping & Services

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
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
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
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
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
Best Place to Find Modern Kitsch

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
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
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
18838 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, 92708
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
Best Ukulele Store
Island Bazaar

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.

16582 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, 92647

Best Used-Camera Store: Fullerton Cameras


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