With summer in full swing, it's time to hit the beach — for sunning, yes, but also for shopping.
There's a new level of sophistication in shopping along the coast. Locally owned boutiques with a curated point of view are changing the flavor of beach towns from beer-soaked spring break haunts to chic retail and dining destinations.
The style renaissance is fueled in part by the success of Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which this spring was dubbed by GQ magazine the chic-est street in America. With stores in Craftsman-style houses and beach bungalows, along with ping-pong tables and comfy outdoor seating that encourage visitors to linger, even the retail scene has a friendly sense of community.
"Abbot Kinney has an energy that you cannot find anywhere else in L.A.," says fashion maven Jeannie Lee, who recently opened a second outpost of her popular 3rd Street boutique Satine on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, selling $500-plus designer clothing by Jenni Kayne and Alexander Wang alongside wetsuits by Cynthia Rowley for Roxy. "No matter what day of the week or time of day, there are always people on the street. Since we have been open I noticed that we have little to no down time. The level of traffic coming into the store is intense."
Stylish, new independent boutiques have been cropping up in Manhattan Beach (Dawn Baker), Hermosa Beach (Deep Pocket Jean Co.) and Long Beach (Port, Long Beach Trading Co.) too, as fashion industry vets have moved from L.A. to the beach cities and designers and merchandisers who came of age working for surf and skate industry giants have left to start their own lines and retail endeavors.
"Hermosa is filled with authentic creativity," says David Borgatta, who opened Deep Pocket Jean Co. on Pier Avenue in Hermosa eight months ago after working as a designer for 25 years at Quiksilver, Guess, Hollister and other brands. "The old Hermosa is changing. It's more about lifestyle, and not just partyers and drunks. We also have a lot of pro athletes living here."
We surveyed the scene and came up with coastal shopping itineraries that sample stores in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, the South Bay and Long Beach. But let's start with the most chic of streets, Abbot Kinney.
On Abbot Kinney, just steps away from the sand, the boardwalk and the drum circles, high-end fashion and design stores sit alongside pot pharmacies and bike shops. Although the area is steeped in the powerful legacy of the surf-skate culture stretching back to the neighborhood's 1970s Dogtown days, even its beach T-shirt shops have been elevated now to something more special. It adds up to an eclectic mix of shopping opportunities from Venice to Westminster boulevards.
With a bright blue exterior painted with two bunnies by local graffiti artist Jules Muck, the new Satine (1508 Abbot Kinney) can't be missed. Lee's vision of luxury fashion in Venice comes in a relaxed beach bungalow setting. There are cheery Thakoon dresses, cuddly Jenni Kayne sweaters, Ancient Greek Sandals footwear, Eugenia Kim straw hats, Meredith Wendell macrame clutches and sleek Rochas totes, as well as eclectic goodies such as green tea Kit Kats and crochet iPhone covers, inspired by Lee's love of Japan.
At the other end of the street, Heist (1104 Abbot Kinney) was one of the first fashion boutiques to open on Abbot Kinney at the dawn of the street's renaissance, in 2004. It has a European flavor, featuring Isabel Marant floral dresses and fringed sweaters, Of Two Minds tweed jackets, Dieppa Restrepo booties, K. Jacques sandals, Jerome Dreyfuss totes and Pippa Small semiprecious stone jewelry.
Pamela Barish (1327 1/2 Abbot Kinney) also opened her store in 2004. A die-hard Venice local, Barish has adopted her own 100-mile-radius rule, and all of her clothes are made within it. Her spring collection includes picnic-ready gingham, eyelet and polka dot fit 'n' flare dresses, solid sheaths, skirts and tops with Peter Pan collars.
There's lots here for the more avant-garde set too, beginning at Guild (13351/2 Abbot Kinney), where you'll find Band of Outsiders lace shorts, distressed Greg Lauren jackets and Ronald Pineau studded clutches. Salt (11381/2 Abbot Kinney) is less rock 'n' roll, with modern-looking clothes from Elaine Kim, Hache and Hartford.
Mona Moore (1112 Abbot Kinney) is the place to find cutting-edge shoes by Balenciaga, Marni and Martin Margiela, while Waraku (1225 Abbot Kinney) has hard-to-find kicks for men and women, like gingham check Nikes, Marimekko print Converse and split-toe Sou-Sous, alongside Japanese streetwear brands.
For leather accessories, San Francisco-based designer Kendall Conrad (1121 Abbot Kinney) specializes in bags that incorporate traditional techniques of Spanish saddlery, including sleek styles with fringe, tassel or whipstitch trim and brass hardware, as well as leather wallets and cuff bracelets.
You'll find men's canvas totes, messenger bags and accessories at Jack Spade (1132 Abbot Kinney), and Lucite bracelets and other fashion jewelry at Alexis Bittar (1612 Abbot Kinney).
And for an olfactory treat, Venice-based Strange Invisible Perfumes (1138 Abbot Kinney) and New York-based Le Labo (1138 1/2) recently formed a "Perfume Commune," co-existing in side-by-side storefronts where they spritz the art of custom perfumery.
The Stronghold (1625 Abbot Kinney), L.A.'s first denim brand circa 1885, worn by Charlie Chaplin in the "Little Tramp" and Henry Fonda in "Grapes of Wrath," has its flagship on Abbot Kinney. The place has an old-fashioned vibe and features the house-label jeans, alongside goods from other American heritage brands, including Alden shoes, Russell moccasins, Filson bags and Dickies shirts. Don't miss the chic carpet bags for women either.
Steven Alan (1601 Abbot Kinney) has a preppy vibe, with button-down shirts for men and women, Lauren Moffatt cotton dresses in delicate prints, Clare Vivier envelope bags and Soludos espadrilles.
In Venice's boho spirit, L.A. designer Karyn Craven recently opened her first Burning Torch (1627 Abbot Kinney) store here. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with breezy tunics in bright silk prints, exotic beaded bed jackets and dresses, woven leather tops, upcycled blouses and chunky necklaces.
Principessa (1323 Abbot Kinney) also has the gypsy look down with Mara Hoffman tribal print dresses, and Winter Kate kimonos, Mexican blanket bags by Totem and cutoff, concho-decorated boots by Luxury Jones.
There are lots of home design and gift boutiques along the way too. Zengara Trading (1507 Abbot Kinney) is the place to go for global, fair-trade home goods, including baskets made in Senegal, and papel picado in Mexico, as well as upcycled cashmere sweaters with whimsical appliques and Sven clogs. Firefly (1409 Abbot Kinney) has Kerry Cassil and Pink Chicken tunic stops and Work Custom jeans, plus gifty items, books and candles.
Huset (13161/2 Abbot Kinney) specializes in Scandinavian design, including Malene Birger dresses and housewares by Marimekko. And A + R (1121 Abbot Kinney) owned by Rose Apodaca, a fashion writer and former L.A. Times editor, and her husband Andy Griffith, is a global bazaar of fun with recycled paper speakers, Globe outdoor BBQ grills, Tanya Aguiniga rope jewelry and lots of other goods.
On Abbot Kinney, even the beach T-shirt shops have been elevated to a stylish new level. Alternative Apparel (1337 Abbot Kinney) may be based in a suburb of Atlanta, but the design studio is in L.A. and the flagship store is in a Craftsman house in Venice, which shows off the super-soft jersey T-shirts, tanks, dresses and sweats, along with flip-flops, friendship bracelets and canvas bags in a tranquil setting with a landscaped garden in back. The crocheted surfboard covers in the window were created in the spirit of the Yarn Bombing movement, by the store's interior design team Danny Gonzalez and Hope Thurman.
Prairie dogs with wings and bicycles with Western saddles instead of seats are two examples of the quirky graphics you will find on the organic cotton T-shirts at Topo Ranch (1219 Abbot Kinney), a Venice-based brand inspired by the historic Topo Ranch between Monterey and San Benito counties, where many westerns were filmed. Across the street, Aviator Nation (1224 Abbot Kinney) is the creation of Paige Mycoskie, sister of Toms shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. The born-in-Venice brand is built on 1970s-inspired, retro sporty cool T-shirts, sweats and hats with slogans such as "Pray for Surf" and "California Is for Lovers." No pretentiousness here: The sales staff can go barefoot if they want and there's a bar in back for keg parties, complete with Aviator Nation beer koozies.
For lunch, you can't go wrong at Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney). And now, there's a takeout counter, too if you want to grab something to eat at the beach or on the sidewalk.
Sure, you've got the board short- and bikini-wearing permanent spring-break crowd, which is what makes it feel like you're on vacation year-round in the South Bay. But a new culture of locally owned shops and restaurants is offering something else too.
In Hermosa Beach, right on Pier Avenue, Gum Tree (238 Pier Ave.) is a cafe and boutique in a Craftsman house that has become a local gathering place. It's owned by husband-and-wife team Will and Lori Ford (he is the chef, she is the buyer). The boutique side features gifts and clothing for beach living, including colorful See tunic tops, delicate chain necklaces by Chan Luu, African print potholders and aprons from the Sankofa Foundation in Ghana, handmade floral teacups from Australian designer Samantha Robinson, Sea Bags made from recycled sails and the Fords' own private-label candles. (The "gypsy" scent is terrific.) In the cafe, try the meat pies, a nod to Will Ford's Aussie roots.
Surf and denim industry vet David Borgatta opened Deep Pocket Jean Co. (200 Pier Ave.) eight months ago, selling his own line of men's made-in-America denim crafted with extra-deep pockets alongside hibiscus-print linen shirts from Scott James, and other styles by Reyn Spooner and New England Shirt Co. The place is also a barber shop, cigar shop and guy's hangout, where you can pick up things like pocket knives, Truefitt & Hill shaving cream and Will Leathergoods wallets — or just sit and watch the game on the big-screen TV.
Across the street, Wicked+ (145 Pier Ave.) is a modern-day general store full of "things you didn't know you couldn't live without," many of them made in Los Angeles, including Linus Bikes, Brooks bicycle saddles, Topo Ranch T-shirts, Baxter of California skin care, Handsome Coffee Roasters beans and handmade Chemex grinders.
In Manhattan Beach, former stylist for Ellen DeGeneres and 7th Avenue refugee Dawn Baker (1016 Manhattan Ave.) opened her namesake boutique in August 2010. "I love that it's a small town with a big city feel like my ex-home Manhattan," she says. Her point of view? It has to be easy. She sells her own breezy designs (colorful maxi skirts, silk tunics and V-necks) alongside Go Silk tops, Brochu Walker knits, Paige denim, raw leather Mara Carrizo Scalise clutch bags, foldable flats by Yosi Samra and Lena Bernard druzy quartz necklaces.
Opened by Nancy and Dana McFarland in 2004, the Beehive (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) has a funky mix of colorful contemporary clothing and accessories, including Jen's Pirate Booty Mexican blanket-stripe hoodies, Maison Scotch nautical striped tees, Paul and Joe Sister jumpsuits and Hasbeen clogs, along with Cleobella bags, Shaggo skateboards and sugary bin candy to snack on. The shop also has its own eponymous fragrances in lemon drop and honey blossom flavors.
Wright's (232 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) also owned by the McFarlands, has a more grown-up sensibility, with Closed Denim, Rag & Bone knits and Isabel Marant tops.
Lulu's (300 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) is the place to go for high-end lingerie and sleepwear by La Perla, Hanky Panky and Only Hearts, Henry Cuir sandals, Annick Goutal fragrances and European bath and beauty products..
Blvd. (320 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) mixes surfwear by RVCA, O'Neill and Quiksilver Women's with contemporary print and striped dresses and tops by Mara Hoffman, Laugh, Cry, Repeat and Love Zooey, colorful woven JadeTribe bags, Splendid flip-flops and plenty of denim, of course.
Third Gallery (208 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) specializes in beachy cocktail wear, including tropical caftans by Camilla Franks, dresses by Trina Turk and Nanette Lepore, shoes and tops from Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent. The proprietor also owns Dolly Rocker (212 Manhattan Beach Blvd.) next door, which is more casual, with bohemian chic togs by Johnny Was, Sunner and Kerry Cassill.
For lunch, stop into MB Post (1142 Manhattan Ave.), where the bacon cheddar biscuits are addictive.
Heading South to Redondo Beach, Alandrea (18091/2 S. Catalina Ave.) has a deep assortment of boho beach looks, including lace jackets by Sam and Lavi, striped maxi-dresses by Graham and Spencer, "I Love LA" T-shirts by Wildfox, paisley skirts by Gypsy and tops with crochet details by Velvet.
In Palos Verdes Village, Poppi (2325 Palos Verdes Drive) has jeans from Hudson, Genetic and DL 1961, cute paper shoes by Common Good, Parker sundre DL 1961sses and Tory Burch tunics. Next door, Lemons & Sugar (also 2325 Palos Verdes Drive) features locally made gifts and jewelry such as handmade notecards and leather cuffs.
Even farther south on the Peninsula, Terranea Resort's Marea (6610 Palos Verdes Drive S.) boutique is a destination worth visiting for Seaton seahorse-patterned cashmere sweaters, breezy Isabel Marant blouses and lace dresses, sparkly beach cocktail wear by Diane von Furstenberg and Gryphon, fine jewelry by Kimberly McDonald and Jennifer Meyer.
Newport Beach shopping is a study in contrasts. The area has a variety, including one of the top designer fashion boutiques in the world (A'maree's), hometown stores on Balboa Island and a particularly unusual shop with upcycled beachwear that quietly subverts the tradition of Orange County's corporate, big-money surf brands.
A'maree's (2241 W. Coast Highway) has been the standard bearer for high fashion in the O.C. since 1976. The family-owned lifestyle boutique features cutting-edge European fashion from Celine, Balenciaga, Azzedine Alaia, Rick Owens and Dries Van Noten, alongside Japanese brands Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe and Sacai — all filtered through the lifestyle prism of Southern California — plus loads of exclusives that the owners find on their travels.
For summer, there's a huge display of wispy tunics and sundresses by L.A.-based label Dosa, as well as artful piles of sandals by Golden Goose. Be sure to check out the totes by Luisa Cevese from Milan, made of very chic-looking recycled textiles, and the natural hemp rugs and throws from Japan.
A'maree's moved into its current digs on the waterfront of Newport Harbor in 2010. The modernist building was designed in 1961 by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey, who would go on to design the Norton Simon Museum. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and glass portholes allowing views of the yachts passing by on the water outside and the fish swimming below. This is a shopping experience not to be missed.
Next door is Yoki's Garden (2429 W. Coast Highway), the new home of Jeff Yokoyama's unorthodox surf-wear brand Generic Youth, a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces made from discarded beach towels.
Inside the small shop, hoodies, vests and board shorts feature patchworks of logos, prints and colors that blur together like sun-soaked memories of summers gone by (an embroidered Ralph Lauren Polo Pony, the slogan "Aloha '96" and an old Maui & Sons shark logo, for example). Yokoyama uses zippers, hoods and ribbed hems from hoodies from Goodwill to round out the garments, making them 100% repurposed.
Yokoyama, a 25-year vet of the surf industry, founded iconic beach brands as Maui & Sons, Pirate Surf and Modern Amusement, before selling them and going on to start Generic Youth in 2007. He also works with the University of Southern California athletic department, using discarded athletic uniforms and repurposing them into some of the funkiest collegiate garb you've ever seen. You can watch the seamstresses doing the cutting and sewing in the back.
A few miles south along Mariner's Mile, the historic midcentury building known as the Cove (410 W. Coast Highway) was destined for demolition until last year, when it reopened as a retail complex with a handful of boutiques owned by female entrepreneurs, featuring a variety of goods. Blend features fashionable yet easy-to-wear clothing such as Mother Jeans, Clover Canyon blouses and Ulla Johnson dresses. And MerMade Designs has coastal-inspired home décor and gifts.
Across the bridge on Balboa Island, at A'maree's Sale Away (332 Marine Ave.), the boutique's sale shop, you can score Dries Van Noten and Givenchy dresses, Sacai sweaters, Lanvin and Pierre Hardy shoes at up to 70% off.
Along the rest of Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, you'll find plenty of garb for the beach and sunset cocktails. Check out Five Seas (224 Marine), Sunny Days (304 Marine) and Etc. Etc. Etc. (312 Marine) for laminated canvas bags in seaside prints by Halsea, which is based in Costa Mesa, Toms shoes and Superga sneakers, Johnny Was tunics, Alice & Olivia and Diane von Furstenberg sundresses and Parker beaded jackets.
For lunch, try the poke and the fish tacos at Bear Flag Fish Co. (407 31st St.).
Laguna Beach is the place where art and surf meet. The area's luxury resorts and annual summer-long arts festival guarantee a steady stream of visitors. When it comes to fashion, there are concept shops, boutiques and one of Southern California's best independent surf shops to tempt them.
When surf industry vets Dana Marron and Laura Hart quit their day jobs and opened their store Laguna Supply (210 Beach St.) in 2008, they brought contemporary fashion to Laguna Beach in a big way. Today, their boutique is full of dresses and tops from A.L.C., Isabel Marant and Tucker; Maison Scotch striped T-shirts, Closed Denim, Lemlem caftans and Painted Bird crocheted shoes.
But before them, Fetneh Blake (427 N. Coast Highway and 1476 S. Coast Highway) was a true fashion pioneer. When she opened her shop in 2001, she introduced Laguna Beach to high-end, avant-garde European designers such as Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Olivier Theyskens. Since then, she's added a second location and several other lines. A few of her current favorites are Japanese rock 'n' roll line If6Was9, oxidized diamond jewelry by Irit (worn by Michelle Obama) and scarves by Faliero Sarti.
Anastasia (470 Ocean Ave.), also on the cutting edge, is a cafe and concept store featuring artfully ripped and draped clothing by Vivienne Westwood, Lost and Found, Plein Sud and Unconditional.
H. Laguna Beach (1045 S. Coast Highway), owned by the same people who run H. Lorenzo in L.A., mixes high fashion and boho beach to spectacular effect, with tribal-print sundresses and maxi-skirts by Mara Hoffman and Haute Hippie, as well as relaxed tailored jackets from Iro, linen and lace cardigans from Japanese brand Vlas Blomme and lace trench coats by Sacai.
Continuing on the boho beat, Lala (1145 S. Coast Highway) is textile designer and Laguna local Kerry Cassill's lifestyle boutique, featuring Indian-inspired ikat, floral and dot prints on everything for the body and home, including tunic tops, robes, placemats, napkins, pillows, bedding and upholstery fabric.
Another gem, Hillary Kids (374 Ocean Ave.) offers a sublime selection of sweet, European-style children's clothing for infants, girls and boys, including Liberty print bloomers from Caramel Baby & Child, organic cotton ribbon dresses and cotton polo shirts from Go Gently Baby, rompers by Stella McCartney and ballet flats by Bloch.
Thalia Surf Shop (903 S. Coast Highway) is one of Southern California's coolest independent surf store, with hard-to-find retro style surfboards, Japanese wetsuits and plenty of limited-edition finds, including the recently launched Vans x Rit Dye board shorts and Reef's closed-toe Resrv collection. Also, don't miss the retro-style women's wetsuits and swimwear by Seea, ponchos and bikinis by Tallow and the tropical print Van Doren sneaker collection in the Vans shop-in-shop.
Of course, these days, stand-up paddleboarding is giving surfing a run for its money. Founded in 2010, Stand Up Paddle Co. (1103 S. Coast Highway) is Laguna's very own burgeoning stand-up paddleboard lifestyle brand, offering boards, rentals and lessons, as well as paddleboard-related apparel such as T-shirts with the slogan "Get Up, Stand Up."
For lunch, stop at Zinc Cafe & Market (350 Ocean Ave.) where the tofu Thai salad and the coconut chocolate chips cookies are out of this world. Grab a little beach reading at Laguna Beach Books (1200 S. Coast Highway), which has an entire section devoted to surfing lit.
Just a few blocks from the harbor, 4th Street in Long Beach has been a vintage-lovers paradise since grande dame Kathleen Schaaf opened vintage emporium Meow in 1986. Along "retro row" between Cherry and JuniperoAvenues,you'll find tiki mugs, rockabilly crinolines, roller derby skates. But that's not all. In the last couple of years, new independent retailers have brought the hipster-heritage look to the area too.
One of the newcomers is Port (around the corner at 402 St. Louis Ave.), which opened last year and has a weathered utilitarian vibe. The store stocks skate-surf brands like Matix and FreshJive, along with Herschel Supply bags, Raen Optics and Pointer shoes. Port also has its own branded T-shirts, caps, sunglasses and beach towels inspired by Long Beach's nautical heritage. Don't miss the Ebbets Field flannel hats for Port in store now.
Another newish player on the Long Beach retail scene is skate industry vet John Tubbs, who opened the East Village clothing store Dixie, celebrating vintage motorcycle culture, on Linden Avenue in 2011. Long Beach Trading Co. (2148 E. 4th St,) followed in February, focusing on workwear made in the U.S.A.
Moxi Roller Skate Shop (2132 E. 4th St.), opened by Long Beach Roller Derby queen Estro Jen, specializes in quad roller skates that are anything but basic. "Fashion on wheels," is how she describes the designs in leopard print, hot pink suede or featuring Hello Kitty graphics. Or you can customize your own.
Songbird (2240 E. 4th S.) specializes in novelty gifts (pirate-themed Band Aids, sushi pens) and clothing, including pin-up-style dresses by Sailor Jerry and Bernie Dexter, and "I Love Ghetto Long Beach" tees. Flirty and feminine is the mood at Blu Button (2112 E. 4th St.), which stocks retro-inspired dresses by Tulle, Down East Basics and Yumi, along with shoes by Seychelles. Almost everything in the store is less than $100, and there are also a few vintage items in the mix.
Imonni (2106 E. 4th St.) also mixes the old with the new, offering a well-edited selection of vintage dresses, tops and sweaters, along with upcycled elastic waist skirts in colorful prints and embellished denim jackets, vintage jewelry from YSL and Chanel, Jeffrey Campbell shoes and cute sun hats.
When it comes to vintage, Meow (2210 E. 4th St.) is a blast from the past, with 1,800 square feet of psychedelic print sundresses, acid-washed jean jackets, ladylike beaded cardigans, Mexican print circle skirts, Osh Kosh overalls and Snoopy scarves. The store specializes in vintage dead stock for men, women and children, and you're always sure to turn up a quirky find. On a recent visit, I spotted a creepy-cool sweater with Ronald McDonald's mug on the front.
One of the more affordable vintage stores on the strip, La Bomba (2222 E. 4th St.) has on-trend denim cutoffs dyed in neon colors, retro dresses from the 1940s to the 1960s and lots of things for men, including Pendletons and bowling shirts. (Most items are less than $50.) The monthly "Style in a Pile" sales, where shoppers paw through heaps of polyester and other stuff and everything costs $2 to $5, are legendary.
Next door, Replay Vintage (2220 E. 4th St.) has a Western flair, with paisley scarves tied to tooled leather bags and lots of cowboy boots.
Sneaky Tiki (2234 E. 4th St.) has a terrific selection of vintage Hawaiian shirts, 1940s, '50s and '60s dresses (they include the sizing info on the price tags, which is immensely helpful), Lucite purses and tiki-themed gifts and cards.
And Inretrospect (2122 E. 4th St.) is an antique mall with vendors selling midcentury furniture, David Weidman paintings, old vinyl, housewares, costume jewelry and designer fashion from the 1960s and '70s.
For a pit stop, try the awesome Mexican mocha at Portfolio (2300 E. 4th St.).