In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world's best cities. From food markets and bookshops to vintage and homegrown design stores, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
Yet the city’s charm has also inspired an impressive contingent of creative makers, producers and designers who create and curate a host of vintage and modern items for the picking. Here’s where I, as a longtime San Diego resident, find the best souvenirs, gifts and other original treasures all over town.
Best for a souvenir: Sea Hive Station
Sea Hive Station in Liberty Station overflows with more than 150 vendors selling vintage and handmade goods. Many are from local makers and producers, like San Diego Honey Company single-origin varietals such as orange or avocado blossom honey, as well as artisanal infusions like habanero pepper or lavender. You’ll also find upcycled picture frames and planters from Reclaimed Goodness, turquoise jewelry from La Huera Designs, and wide- and floppy-brimmed wool and straw hats from Laura Vega Millinery. I’m particularly drawn to Sarong Social Club’s colorful kimonos and caftans in tropical prints and breezy materials that easily transition from weekend brunch to the beach.
Best for vintage: Bad Madge & Co.
Head to San Diego’s South Park neighborhood to find Bad Madge & Co., which specializes in all things mid-century, plus select items from the ’80s and ’90s. Here, you’ll find everything from glassware and ceramic table lamps to dresses, scarves and the occasional lava lamp or two. Together with her expert team, owner Tanya McAnear leans her background as a fashion instructor and runway-show producer to present highly curated vintage lifestyle goods for the home and wardrobe. I’m always drawn to the vintage dressers and consoles that feel simultaneously timeless and stylish.
While you’re in South Park, take a design-oriented stroll: perusing the neighborhood’s historic craftsman-style homes is just as satisfying as the discoveries at Bad Madge. Make an afternoon out of it by also visiting such contemporary-design-shop neighbors as Thread + Seed for maxi dresses and denim jackets, and Gold Leaf for swimwear, kids’ clothes and accessories, paper goods and more.
Best for design: Moniker General
Moniker General is the place to find flowy rompers from Rhythm, elevated basics from Banks Journal, Raen sunglasses, and Moniker’s eponymous soy-wax candles in scents that I can’t get enough of, like coconut and amber, or palm leaves and sea salt. The shop also carries art prints and notepads made with sustainable paper from Wilde House Paper, which always make great gifts.
Beyond the shopping opportunities, the space is also a coffee shop and cocktail bar. A number of places to sit and gather make it an ideal spot for hunkering down with a laptop. In the evenings, Moniker General hosts live music, comedy shows and other community-minded events. Find it at Liberty Station (Sea Hive Station is a neighbor), a former naval-training base that has since transformed into a center for shopping, dining and the performing arts.
Best food market: Little Italy Mercato
Billed as the largest farmers market in San Diego, the six-block-long Little Italy Mercato on Saturday is a lively affair. Plan to get to the Little Italy neighborhood early (before 11am) to browse and nab a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables from local and regional farms like Gilbert and Lee Farm, Gaytan Family Farm and Indian Summer Farms. While you’re at it, the Mercato is also a place to find fresh flowers, eggs, nuts, olive oil and prepared foods, from Brothers Products dips and spreads to cinnamon rolls and other baked treats from Milk & Honey Bakery.
Depending on the season, I’m scouring for delicate, sweet figs at one vendor, sniffing out goat cheese at the next, and snapping up fresh bread from local purveyors like Hommage Bakehouse. And if I happen to mosey past Maya’s vegan cookies, I’m definitely going for the chocolate chip.
Best bookshop: Home Ec
While Home Ec isn’t a bookstore per se, it does house one of San Diego’s larger cookbook collections within a colorful culinary emporium. They are on display alongside kitchen and garden wares ranging from low-waste items like beeswax reusable food wraps, multi-purpose cleaning cloths, bento boxes, farmers-market totes and more.
When I ducked into the shop recently seeking shelter from an uncharacteristic San Diego rain shower, I gasped with excitement at all of the book titles I recognized, like Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat and San Diego native Nicole Ponseca’s I Am a Filipino cookbook. Home Ec also serves as a pick-up point for edible goodies from local food makers, from empanadas to cakes. Home Ec opened in 2019 within the James Coffee Co. warehouse-like “Space” in Little Italy.