AT ITS BEST, SHOPPING is about more than just “spending money”. It’s about poking around, picking, choosing, trying things on, and finding something that “fits”—not just your body, but your personality.
If you want to have fun shopping you have to let go of guilt (the guilt of buying something and the guilt of not buying something) and allow yourself the freedom to browse without worry. This stop and smell the lavender-infused-lotion approach to commerce may not lend itself to the frantic spend-money-or-else feel of a mall, but the mentality fits Laguna Beach’s up and coming districts perfectly.
Best of all, you don’t even need a car.
THE HIP DISTRICT. Take the free trolley to Brooks Street, where you’ll see a carved wooden statue of Eiler Larsen, the original Laguna Beach greeter. Below the statue, look for Michael Minutoli, who has taken over where Larsen left off—offering passing cars Larsen’s trademark wave and smile, plus smooth dance moves, and a few words of encouragement.
This corner is really the nexus point of the HIP (Historic and Interesting Places) District. It’s also a haven for shopping lovers, with a variety of retail offerings and plenty of food and beverage options.
FOR THE FOODIE: Step inside Sapphire Pantry, right next to Sapphire Laguna, to find those rare ingredients that passionate home cooks love. The shop carries world famous Jamón Iberico, small batch jam, house made pastries, and more than 100 types of artisanal cheeses. These are items you can’t find just anywhere and a true food lover will appreciate them deeply.
FOR THE FASHONISTA: Just north of the Greeter statue, Lala is an open, breezy storefront on the beach side of PCH. Owner Kerry Cassill is widely renowned for her floral printed linens and dresses. Her aesthetic feels at once well traveled and cozy. These are the sort of combed cotton fabrics that make you want to curl up to watch the sunset after a day on the beach.
Another block north and back on the other side of PCH, The Shop celebrates their proximity to the ocean by making every day feel like summer. The swimsuits, sundresses, and sandals found inside are the very definition of Southern California style.
FOR THE READER: Laguna Beach Books survived the indie-bookstore slowdown by creating a welcoming environment, hosting events with celebrated authors, and offering a great list of “staff picks”. To step inside the shop is to join a community of book lovers with a staff that’s excited to help every reader find stories they’ll love. Best of all, they feature an entire section on Laguna Beach and Orange County.
FOR THE SWEET TOOTH: The Chocolate Soldier makes their melt-aways, truffles, and chocolates right on site. The vanilla melt-away is a star, and the truffles (many of which are infused with one alcohol or another) are all smart bets—but the best experience is to find a quiet moment between customers, share your preferences with the kindly staff, and let them steer you in the right direction. You might even get a free sample out of it.
FOR THE WAVE RIDER: Laguna Surf and Sport isn’t just a neighborhood surf shop, it’s an institution and, for generations of Laguna Beach’s best young surfers, a place where they can talk waves on the clock—just a few feet from the Pacific. Pro surfers like Hans Hagen, Brandy Faber, and Ryah Arthur all count themselves as part of the LSS family and yet the vibe isn’t insular or exclusive at all. Whether you need a board or just board shorts, this is a good place to browse around.
PEARL DISTRICT. Head south—via trolley or on foot—to the Pearl District, between Bluebird Canyon Drive and Diamond Street. In this newly minted district, you’ll find shops that are able to take bold risks because they don’t have the high rents of being downtown. There’s also a fun neighborhood spirit in the air and access to some of the most secluded beaches in town. If the timing is right, try to catch some live music at Mozambique, right in the heart of “The Pearl.”
FOR THE HIPSTER: Pearl Street General features specialty products like pickled green beans, artisan pastas, and beer-bread mix. While these offerings might not be quite as “general” as the store’s name suggests, they are perfect for Laguna’s young, creative set. With DIY culture on the rise, the shop is great for perusing, getting ideas, and ensuring that all your flavor-infused olive oil needs will be met.
FOR THE WINE ENTHUSIAST: The Wine Gallery specializes in rare and limited production wines. Perhaps the best part about shopping there (aside from the spectacular pizzas) is the fact that the staff is eager and excited to share knowledge and help you cultivate your palate. Point being: you don’t have to be a time-tested aficionado to enjoy your visit. Heck, you don’t even have to know the difference between a merlot and a cab.
FOR THE DO GOODER: Stop off at The Soul Project on your route back toward downtown. Besides selling ocean-inspired clothing from other brands, The Soul Project scouts local artists and hires them to make private label items. The store also fuses shopping and philanthropy by donating one dollar for each item sold to charities connected to the “soul places” that the shop owners and resident artists hold dear.