The General Store
Best Sex Shop
1779 Newport Blvd., second floor, Costa Mesa
Most adult shops throw the sex right in your face and make you feel dirty about it. It's common practice to display rows and rows of obscenely oversized appliances right over the $1.99 bin of discounted VHS tapes with the phrase "cream pie" in the title. Ick. Between the greasy guy behind the counter and the two-for-one anal-trainer sets, shopping for sex toys has become anything but sexy. Where has all the mystery gone? To Wicked Chamber. Owned by mother-daughter team Jeanne and Bright Ryan, the female-friendly boutique's emphasis is not the act of sex itself, but rather the foreplay leading up to it. Sure, there's the typical stripper-esque poly-blend naughty-nurse costume that can be found in any adult store, but Wicked Chamber also has a selection of upscale corsets and bodices in velvet, satin and lace. For the more adventurous, there's an impressive array of bondage items in leather and vinyl, including every size whip this side of a circus. Yes, they have vibrators, too, but the secion is discreetly tucked in the back of the store. Wicked Chamber brings a ladies' touch to the world of adult toys.
Best G-String Shop
Strings By Judith
644 E. Katella Ave., Orange
Why bother with the overpriced delectables at Victoria's Secret when OC has its own 29-year-old G-string shop? Founded by Judith Hill and her husband, the small shop offers a slew of other naughty products but is best known for its line of "strings." The original designs are still made by the shop's three veteran seamstresses.
Best Cigar Shop
Red Cloud Fine Cigars and Tobacco
118 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton
40 Plaza Square, Orange
Enter Red Cloud's walk-in humidor, perpetually set at a balmy 70-percent humidity, and your pores will open and inhale the earthen nuance. In other words, you'll soon smell like a stogie. But that's not a bad thing, especially if you're a fan of $60 Partagas 160s or the Fuente Fuente OpusX, which are only occasionally available and sell for around $30 a pop. If you don't know a Cohiba from a coat hanger, don't worry: Red Cloud's employees are knowledgeable and will recommend the best cigar for your lack of taste and wallet-to-fat ratio. If you're a heavy hitter, consider a year's membership ($250) to the cigar lounge. There you can puff freely, sip scotch, and indulge in a variety of leisure activities such as cards, darts, pool, or a ridiculously oversized game of chess.
Best Toy Store
Toy Boat, Toy Boat, Toy Boat
3331 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar
879 Newport Center Dr., Fashion Island, Newport Beach
1827 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach
21111 Newport Coast Dr., Newport Coast
Locally owned and operated, Toy Boat (for short) carries the kinds of toys that get short shrift in the Xbox era. For parents interested in raising their children with slightly more thoughtful playthings, Toy Boat carries a wide range of well-made, stimulating and/or educational toys, re-emphasizing the brain in children's entertainment. With free gift-wrapping and free in-store assembly of trikes and wagons, Toy Boat will convince your children that expanding their minds isn't nearly as painful as it sounds.
Best Used Book Store
Once Read Books
5422 E. Village Road, Long Beach
Located in Long Beach's nearly hidden Parkview Village Triangle, Once Read Books seems to be going strong even as other local used-book stores are going the way of . . . well, functional literacy in general. Anaheim's Book Baron is closing its doors, and Long Beach's historic Acres of Books is next on the list, if the developers have their say (and it's looking like they will unless Acres can convince some activists to lie down in front of the bulldozers). Yet Once Read Books still stands, a testament to the enduring power of recycled culture. With Once Read's selection of more than 35,000 used, out-of-print and rare books, you'll have no problem finding something worth your time. They even keep the fancy ones in a genuine vault, a remnant of the building's previous life as a jewelry store in the '40s. Best of all, during open hours, they roll out the bargain cart, which generally contains a lot of old manuals and encyclopedias, chock-full of pictures you can cut out for scrapbooking. And for those of you who are over the whole reading thing, they'll even buy your old books if they can use them, giving you valuable cash you can then use to pay for TiVo.
Best Book Store That's Not Open Anymore
You know how (mostly) everything in Orange County is a chain? Book Soup wasn't. (Well, their former "sister store" is located on LA's Sunset Strip . . . but that doesn't count anyway.) We mourn you, Book Soup. Not only did you always, always, always have great music playing—ranging from Gainsbourg to indie bands du jour, the perfect accompaniment to the perfect literary search—but we were able to locate books here that couldn't be found elsewhere beyond the Internet. You carried some relatively lesser-known titles, including some that covered local bands. But you did always stand out—stuck there in South Coast Plaza, right across from Bottega Veneta and next to Cartier. Even your interior was different, reminiscent of a certain dimly lit, former Beat hangout in San Francisco's North Beach, actually. It just wasn't your sort of place, Book Soup. Or time. You just didn't belong. But will it ever be? Alas, Book Soup really did close this past spring. And in its place will spring a brand-new Versace store. Cruel fate.
Best Shooting Range
Evan's Gunsmithing Shooter's World
1637 N. Brian St., Orange
Range Master Pat Potvin says what sets Evan's apart from the rest is they won't just treat you like well-armed cattle. Flexibility is the key, Potvin says, and Evan's can help you do anything with a firearm within the limits of the law. That means patrons can buy custom-built assault weapons, and then test them out with hollow-point bullets. A special rubber backing allows Evan's to use such ammunition; many ranges have steel backings that will "shoot shrapnel back at you," Potvin says. (But don't bring in your assault weapon unless you have a permit, he stresses.) Instructors are available by appointment only, but Evan's has staff on-hand at all times to answer questions.
Best Dollar Store
99 Cents Only, Santa Ana
1514 N. Main St., Santa Ana
The 99 Cents Only chain may have outlets around OC, but the best sits right next to OC Weekly Headquarters on Main Street in downtown Santa Ana. The long lines that greet the counter clerks daily (even at noon, when folks should be having lunch) stand as testament to the small fact that the locals know it, too. The massive store carries everything from milk to condoms to "LA's Totally Awesome All Purpose Cleaner." Fresh fruit, batteries, massive rolls of toilet paper—you name it. Even, bizarrely enough, pregnancy tests.
Readers' Choice: 99 Cents Only
Best Place to Buy Ass-Kicking Supplies
OTM Fight Shop
17424 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach
Bashing people's brains out with your fists, knees and elbows isn't just a hobby for assholes and short guys with an unscientifically diagnosed "syndrome" anymore; it's gone mainstream. And whenever something goes from underground to mainstream, you can bet there's an entrepreneur ready to capitalize. Nowhere is this more evident than at OTM Fight Shop, a retail store dedicated to nothing but fight supplies. What once had to be purchased from catalogs with Chuck Norris on the cover now can be bought quickly and in-person. Gone are the breathless nights waiting for your shiny yellow "Nack Suk Cao" Muay Thai trunks to be shipped from overseas, as OTM carries several colors and sizes. Don't worry if you don't have a training partner: If you have $115, you can purchase OTM's life-sized, more-than-100-pound throwing dummy. No more sleeping alone!
Best Liquor Store
Hi-Time Wine Cellars
250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa
Even the mighty Beverages and More chain has nothing on this virtual mini-mall of vice under one roof. The claim to fame, as the name suggests, is an underground wine cellar some 3,000-square-feet in size that resembles a massive shoe store, with wine bottles on display instead of sneakers. There's a tasting bar, open in the afternoon, that occasionally goes less highbrow for such events as beer-and-chili-dog tastings. But then there's an entire upstairs, with a walk-in beer fridge, wide keg selection, and liquor ranging from giant jugs of cheap Jim Beam to $3,000 special batches of Johnnie Walker. A walk-in tobacco humidor boasts around 400 types of cigars. And they also do homemade chocolate! Remember the first time you stepped into a Toys R Us as a kid? This is as close as it gets for grown-ups. The only complaint any boozer worth his margarita salt could possibly have is that the store doesn't stay open late—even on Saturday, you only have until 9 p.m. to take advantage. But you can always order online.
Readers' Choice: Hi-Time Wine Cellars
Best Smoke Shop
Hi-Time Wine Cellars
250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa
Part of the draw is the fact that Hi-Time is probably the county's biggest and best-known wine cellar and liquor store (see Best Liquor Store), which means you can always count on finding the right sherry, brandy, or aquavit to go with your stogies. But what really makes this the best smoke shop in the county is the huge, walk-in humidor and extensive selection of cigars, pipe tobacco, cigarettes, pipes, ashtrays, lighters, humidors, cutters and every possible accessory you can imagine for your unhealthy habit.
Best Shoe Shop
326 Los Molinos, San Clemente
Established in San Clemente by Jay "Sparky" Longley, Rainbow Sandals stands proud on its own two huaraches. Rainbow's flip-flops are guaranteed to last for life, and they are so freakin' comfortable you might just wear them forever. Longley started Rainbow sandals by assembling 15 pairs of the sandals per day out of his garage, bringing his creations to the 1974 Sawdust Festival. The shoes became so popular that he soon opened a factory in San Clemente. Today, they are so big that the sandal manufacturing is outsourced to China. Each sandal is hand-made, complete with a non-skid leather surface that molds to the foot, ensuring the perfect fit for everybody. Even people with bunions.
Best Car Wash
Checkered Flag Hand Car Wash
5289 Alton Pkwy., Irvine
Do yourself and your car a favor and say no to the mechanical drive-in car wash at the gas station. Sitting in line doesn't do much for sanity, and the rotating buffers will almost always scratch up your ride. The hand car wash is definitely the place to go for quality, and the ultimate hand wash experience can be found at Checkered Flag Hand Car Wash. The inside-out treatment on your car runs $13.99 and lasts around 10 minutes. Spend that time inside the lounge area, where free fancy-pants coffee (French vanilla cappuccinos, espressos, mochaccinos and more) or hot chocolate is available, as is free Internet access.
Best Place to Soil Yourself
The Plant Stand
2972 Century Place, Ste. A, Costa Mesa
Located around the corner from the Camp, the Plant Stand blends in with the crowd of other bland, concrete structures on a street of mainly office buildings and industrial warehouses . . . but don't let that fool you. Once inside, you'll discover that the huuuuge warehouse is full of indoor and outdoor nurseries housing thousands of different types of plants—tropical, succulents, flowering plants, ficus, indoor palms, orchids and even plumeria!—and all for you to choose from at more than reasonable prices. Even if you're not one for greenery, it's just fun to wander the many large rooms inside the Plant Stand full of things that you've probably never seen before. The Plant Stand actually supplies many of the major home-improvement stores (I've seen their clay pots at the Home Depot), but now everything is provided for you in one convenient location. Plants are always an easy, surefire way to spruce up the house and yard—that is, if you can manage to keep them alive.
Best Place to Waste Six Hours and Possibly Sprout a Pimple
Cyber Cafe Express
440 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa
The Cyber Cafe Express doesn't actually have coffee, but it does serve up a huge bank of gaming computers, all of them with high-speed connections and loaded with the hottest, geekiest video games on the market. Bring some friends, then gun them down in the Star Wars universe or team up for some hot wizard-on-orc action in World of Warcraft. If you believe simulated fictional war on other planets or casting spells on goblins is the unofficial national pastime of undersexed, acne-scarred teens, you can simply hang out and balance your checkbook, or whatever other boring crap serious people do on-line. Membership is free, and computer time costs only $2 per hour ($5 per hour for nonmembers).
Uncle Bob's Pawnshop
10596 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove
There's an old saying that goes, "If it ain't been in a pawn shop, it can't play the blues." If a horn or a guitar is in a pawn shop, that instrument has likely followed one of two paths: It was either purchased for a child who simply grew tired of the pursuit and gave it up, or it once belonged to a broke, starving, junkie musician whose heart has been breaking ever since he had to pawn his only love. That, or everything in there was stolen. Any way it got there, a pawnshop is a great way to pick up something on the cheap, and why not keep it in the family? Go to Uncle Bob's Pawnshop, and peruse the garden of sadness and great deals. That it's in a shabby part of town and looks shabby just adds to its charm.
Best Guy-Friendly Mall
The Westminster Mall
1025 Westminster Mall, Westminster
Let's face it, men, most modern-day malls are not for you. If they have stores specializing in anything other than female fashion, it tends toward the blah, metrosexual style. Remember how awesome malls used to be, when you could buy videos (what a concept, huh?) and cool man-stuff ranging from an obscenely shaped beer mug to a talking Freddy Krueger action figure? Well, good news: The Westminster Mall is still cool like that. Spencer Gifts, Suncoast Movies and K-B Toys may have closed down most of their locations elsewhere, but they're still alive and well here. By the time you read this, a massive two-story Target will be open for business, and you can slake your thirst with an old-fashioned Orange Julius! That's not to say there's nothing for the ladies. The clothing stores so popular at other malls exist here, but just not to the exclusion of everything else. And any food court that has both a Wendy's and a gourmet gelato stand is good for the whole family. Need a tall cold beer? There's an Outback Steakhouse just outside with Foster's on tap. Shopping trips need no longer be feared, dudes.
Best Way to Make Your Car's Exhaust Smell Like Onion Rings
Convert to bio-diesel at Beach Benz
7492 Slater Ave., Huntington Beach
(866) 440-4122 or (714) 842-9816
Stewart's is practically the last bastion of surf wax and other assorted surfing needs in Orange County. Owner Bill Stewart has been shaping and selling boards in Orange County for decades. His designs have not only had a wide influence in the world of all surfboard construction, but they have also basically defined the industry standard in longboard design. Go down to the water in south OC, specifically near San Onofre, and you will see a Stewart longboard float by before you have a chance to get your hair wet. In the lower section of the store (a former clay factory), you'll find surfboards new and used, short, long and fun, but if you still can't find one the perfect one for you, Stewart's will design one for you. The price for a good, 10-foot Stewart isn't cheap, but you'll own one of the best surfboards on the planet. Plus, the hot girls who work there will occasionally give away free surf wax. The best things in life really are free.
Readers' Choice: Jack's Surf Shop
Best Health-Food Store
The Living Temple
7561 Center Ave., Ste. 40, Huntington Beach
If you can get past the strange medieval architecture that characterizes the Old World Village shopping center in Huntington Beach, you're in for an unusual treat at the Living Temple, where you can munch on gogi berries or raw cacao while thumbing through the eclectic book and DVD collection maintained by owner and health guru Robin Arthur Jones. He's usually there to answer any and all questions, and he also hosts movie nights and monthly raw-foods festivals.
Best Place for Musicians
5752 E. Second St., Long Beach
Well, let's face it: eBay is slowly putting everyone out of business. And that includes specialty music equipment shops. But really: You can't test out that '59 Fender Tweed Amp, or see if that Gibson Ripper really doessound like Rick Danko's online. And why is it going for a $2,000 Buy It Now price anyway? Meet Gogo Guitars, the Orange County/Long Beach area's only answer to finding boutique pedals, amps and higher-end/vintage guitars that you'd have to normally make the journey to LA for. It's the type of place you go to when you want to seek refuge from the 12-year-olds showing off their skillz and often-too-helpful sales people with curtain haircuts who populate your local Guitar Center.
Best Record/CD Store
4612 E. Second St., Long Beach
In this dire age of freeloading downloaders, crap major-label product (okay, some things never change) and clueless RIAA machinations (suing potential customers = bad policy, generally speaking), massive respect must go to any independent record shop that's still in business. Since 2003, about 2,700 music emporia have become defunct. So it is especially heartening to visit Fingerprints, which seems to be thriving in its hip little corner of Long Beach's Belmont Shore district. Selling both new and used vinyl and CDs, as well as books, mags, band T-shirts, collectible figurines and other cool accouterments of the music-freak lifestyle, Fingerprints caters to folks with deep, exceptional taste (to thank them, it often holds in-store concerts). This shop is really tailored for folks who like to get their fingers dusty riffling through moldy vinyl, people who consider WaxPoetics their bible, DJs who have gigs in small venues, obsessives who take notes while they read music blogs. Fingerprints stocks a wide range of genres, and its staff seems to know a lot more than most record-store clerks (stellar DJ/musicians such as Elvin "Nobody" Estrela and Dennis Owens work there). You can satisfy your indie-rock fix, of course, but Fingerprints will also attend to your more esoteric needs, like vintage funk and soul, psychedelia, dub, reggae, jazz, experimental, electronic, and underground hip-hop. Tons of interesting releases from tiny indie labels crowd Fingerprints' shelves. It's a bit overwhelming to spend an afternoon browsing there, but ultimately rewarding for your music collection and education. When the White Stripes wanted to open their own temporary, SoCal-based record store to hype the release of the new Icky Thump album in July, Fingerprints received the call to set up and operate the makeshift establishment in the old Tower Records Sunset location. That's respect, brothers and sisters.
Readers' Choice: Second Spin
Best Skate Shop
Liberty Board Shop
330 N. Brea Blvd., Ste. B, Brea
Liberty may be pretty cozy inside, but the knowledgeable staff makes up for the cramped quarters. Unlike many other skate shops—or any other specialty shops, for that matter—the employees never exude that snotty you're-not-a-real-skater-and-I'm-better-than-you-anyway attitude: They are always friendly and helpful, whether you're a novice or pro. And as a bonus? Good music is always playing overhead.
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