Looking for alternative gift ideas? Here are 10 local, interesting and fun places to try

It's OK to avoid the mall during Christmas or turn off your one-size-fits-all computer website. In fact, you probably will find some better gifts if you went to real-life shops with actual human beings.

To help you along, here are some alternative gift ideas. Think outside of the big box, and I'm sure you'll find these gifts unpredictable but fun — perhaps providing you with some Santa swagger.


10. Daiso Japan, 14280 Culver Drive, Irvine,

It's like a dollar store, only better. Most items are $1.50, with nothing costing much more than $10. A stocking-stuffer paradise, it's also just a quirky, inexplicable gift store. Where else can you get those airline neck pillows for $3? The kicker here is that the fabric resembles a vintage 1970s shag carpet — in a good way.


9. Santa Monica Seafood, 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa,

Christmas is filled with fish stories, so why not join in? The ultimate fish source for restaurants throughout Southern California is Santa Monica Seafood, and stopping by the local retail outlet is like visiting the world's oceans lined up in a display case. Since 1939, it's been providing responsible seafood: wild opah from Fiji, loin-cut swordfish fillets from Costa Rica, wild Norwegian halibut. Gift cards are available starting at $10.

8. Gunthers Supply Co., 324 W. 4th St., Santa Ana,

It's been suggested that Santa actually wears Red Wing boots — the classic Moc No. 875, to be exact. And it would make sense that he gets them in Santa … Ana. Enter Gunthers Supply. If you want solid and burly with a touch of flair — like a stout pork-pie, moss-green Brixton hat — then go to Gunthers. Boots are $260. The Brixton is $52.

7. Laguna Hills Nursery, 1829 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana,

No, it's not in Laguna Hills (it used to be). But thankfully this nursery is somewhere, because it's a reminder of what a nursery is supposed to be: real, no-nonsense sustainability. Deciduous fruit trees? Check. Plants you can eat? Check. Humility? Check. If you want to decrease your carbon footprint, start in your own backyard. Take a course from owner Gary Matsuoka. He'll sort you out.

6. The Dragon and the Rose, 1636 E. Edinger Ave., Suite U, Santa Ana,

If you find this place, you get bonus points. It's hidden in an industrial park, but that just adds to its eerie allure. Less like an actual store and more like a labyrinthine storage unit, the Dragon and the Rose is famous for its crystals. In fact, it has a monster citrine for $1,200 that allegedly helps you with success and mental clarity. If that's too pricey, there are hundreds of other crystals that are less expensive.

Also, the store claims to have the "largest selection of Wiccan, pagan and metaphysical supplies in Orange County." I would not challenge that claim or you might mysteriously disappear in the labyrinth.

5. National Geographic Fine Art Galleries, 218 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach,

There are only four National Geographic Fine Art Galleries in the world, and one of them recently opened in Laguna Beach. Who doesn't like beautiful, stunning photography professionally mounted? Prices range from about $2,000 to $15,000.

4. EscapeX Rooms, 17911 Sky Park Circle, Suite C, Irvine,

Get locked in a room for $30. Then put on your thinking cap and figure out how to get out. You have an hour. One of the hottest diversions right now is escape rooms. They are popping up in various industrial areas throughout Orange County. EscapeX Rooms offers the Murder Manor and Casino Heist.

3. Beach Cities Scuba, five locations (Cypress, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach),

If scuba diving is on your bucket list, don't wait for some future exotic vacation. Some of the best diving in the United States is right here in Southern California. And Beach Cities Scuba is a great place to get started. It offers certification classes year-round and help hooking up with local boat trips. For roughly $500, you can be certified and get your first dives under your belt. Remember, breathe and have fun.

2. Classic Mustang Rentals, 1745 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa,

Yes, you can rent fancy Ferraris and Lamborghinis in Newport Beach, but why not don your Steve McQueen leather gloves and drive a classic Mustang instead? Besides it's a lot cheaper and less nerve-wracking. Prices start at $150 for four hours. No guarantee, however, that you will actually look like the actor while driving.

1. Charities. And the No. 1 gift suggestion is to give to local nonprofits.

Some options in Orange County include the Boys & Girls Clubs; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Goodwill; Second Harvest Food Bank; LGBT Center OC; Orange County armories (Santa Ana and Fullerton); and the Orange County Rescue Mission.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at