Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Whenever a business advertises its opening year, it's usually a good sign. Harbor Freight Tools has been selling to your granddaddy since 1977. The company began as a mail-order catalog and has since grown into a significant hardware retailer, with stores all over the U.S. Yet it's not this charming attainment of the good ol' American dream that makes Harbor Freight the best—it's that it feels like a neighborhood store right off Main Street. It's small enough to be manageable, but established enough to carry almost everything you need at ridiculously low prices. Need welding tools, miniature drill bits, bandsaws, jigsaws, lawn gnomes or something you never thought you needed with the American flag on it? Harbor Freight stocks it all.
Family-owned auto shops are still the way to go in a world of EZ Lube drive-thrus and the Walmart-ification of car work. Adolfo Lopez runs Excel Auto Care in Lake Forest, and his crew can get you in and out pretty quickly, whether you need a new muffler or work on your catalytic converter. His guys—Sergio, Hector and Alex—know their nuts, so if your hooptie needs a tune-up, push it into their shop. And say hi to Hoss, the bulldog. Just don't do finger-guns on him: An otherwise friendly fella, that's the one thing that gets him riled up. Oh, and call ahead, as the place is always hopping with cars. The not-well-kept secret of this shop's great service has gotten out over the years.
Pound for pound, there are probably more vintage Volkswagens—split-window Kombis and Squarebacks, sleek Kharmann Gias and boxy Things, and Bugs upon Bugs upon Bugs—in Orange County than anywhere in the United States, driven by surf bums and weekend warriors alike. But the damn things break down similar to a subprime loan, so a good mechanic is a must. And while OC does have more than a few specialists, the true VW enthusiast knows the best repair shop is down Imperial Highway in Downey at Al's VW. Not only do Alfredo Reyna and his crew specialize solely in Volkswagen engines and offer quick service at affordable prices, but their shop is also located in a sea of VW specialists—paint jobs, sound systems, bodywork and the like. And Al's is just minutes away from Bill and Steve's, the Southland's ultimate original VW parts store, which VW owners already visit because their damn love always breaks down.
For sneakerheads, finding a rare pair of kicks is akin to stumbling upon the Hope Diamond. And in OC, there's no greater treasure chest than Attic, a streetwear shop on steroids across from Knott's Berry Farm. Inside the industrial-warehouse-like space, limited-edition and vintage sneakers are displayed on a mechanical conveyor belt for fanboys to salivate over. Gems have ranged from the Air Max Infrared Hyperfuse to the Foamposite Pro Gym Green to the Hundreds Selvedge Denim Johnson. But get 'em while you can—new releases come and go as quickly as the Space Shuttle Endeavor. And if you happen to notice a line of hipsters wrapped around the store, move those stylin' feet fast.
Hipster or hippie, gangster or gamine, everyone wants a hoppin' sound system for their transportation, be it a lowrider, Lexus or Vespa. Bristol Sound, off—you guessed it!—Bristol Street in Santa Ana, can service all of those vehicles, transforming even the lowliest, oldest car into a movable concert. It sells all the great stereo systems; offers more speakers than there are stars in the sky; and works fast, honestly and cheaply. And the staff will assist you in shaping your stereo needs, whether you want the lush sounds of classical music to dominate or want a bass level that'll turn your bones into pebbles.
Believe it or not, traditional barber shops have become their own scene in the past few years, with true-school cutters leading a pack of poseurs that has opened shop with all the trinkets of the trend, from rockabilly memorabilia to beer on tap. That's fine, save for the sad fact that the stench of pretension has crept into many of these joints. Enter brothers-in-blades Philip Hernandez and Eric Webb, co-owners of Circle City Barbers in Old Towne Orange. These vets present a laid-back atmosphere where a man can get a clean cut and a straight-razor shave without the too-cool preening that marks so many of their competitors' shops. Man-talk about bikes and broads is common here, and you're just as likely to hear classic rock as you are to hear Misfits and Johnny Cash. Spend about 45 minutes in one of their chairs, and you'll be hooked for life—or at least as long as you live in SoCal. It's a bullshit-free barber shop, so don't even bother to ask for an appointment.