California isn’t just known around the world for its spectacular vistas and innovative culinary scene, it’s also a haven for some of the country’s best boutiques. From the Napa Valley to Venice, California’s freewheeling spirit is reflected in small, locally owned shops that offer one-of-a-kind finds.
“Let’s face it, it's very easy to just get online and order stuff, so independent retailers really have to up their game,” says Stephen Monkarsh, owner of Just Fabulous in Palm Springs. “We go out of our way to support local artists and many of our items are made exclusively for us. I curate the store myself, so when you look at the entire collection of items, you'll never find all this anywhere else.”
Whether you’re scouting for meaningful holiday gifts on Small Business Saturday or looking for a little something for yourself any time of year, California’s got you covered. To discover great independent shops, look beyond major cities and suburban malls. Smaller towns with walkable shopping districts are magnets for quirky, independently owned businesses that offer unique items and personalized customer service.
And don't be afraid to ask for shopping recommendations at the local visitor's center—that's why they're there. Better yet, if you find a boutique that really speaks to you, ask the proprietor to point you to likeminded stores.
“We really work hard to appeal to our clients and to make the shopping experience special and fun for them,” Monkarsh says. “If you aren’t feeling fabulous when you walk in, you will when you walk out.” Here are some ideas on where to find great gifts across the state—while at the same time checking out some of California’s coolest small towns and neighborhoods.
It’s hard to beat the stroll-and-shop magic of the Sonoma Plaza and Healdsburg's downtown square, yet two of Sonoma County’s best boutiques can be found beyond these historic town squares. Bosworth & Son in Geyserville, founded in 1911 and still owned by the same family, is the place to go for Stetson hats, cowboy boots, leather goods, apparel, and books by local authors. Robindira Unsworth in downtown Petaluma, named for the internationally known jewelry designer who calls Petaluma home, carries gorgeous boho-chic baubles and a wonderfully curated selection of clothing and home décor items.
Famous for its mud baths and mineral spas, Calistoga might just be Napa Valley’s most laid-back town. Among the eclectic shops lining Lincoln Avenue you’ll find Blackbird, a California-centric boutique filled with home décor, bags, bath and body products, stylish glassware, and plastic-free kids’ toys. Across the street at Mad Mod Shop, vintage-inspired women’s clothing and accessories reflect the retro style of Andrea Hoogendoorn, the shop’s exuberant owner. For more great shopping options, take a walk down Main Street in St. Helena, or stroll Napa's Riverfront.
Enchanting shops abound in Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its romantic stone-paved alleyways. Bee Bark & Moss specializes in hand-painted market bags, totes, pouches and pillows made from hemp, organic cotton, and recycled materials—all designed and hand-crafted by the shop’s owners. Since 1959, visitors have flocked to the Cottage of Sweets, an utterly charming British-style candy shop housed in a 1922 storybook cottage. Along with nostalgic candies, the confectioner satisfies sweet-toothed shoppers with housemade fudge, 50 types of imported licorice, gummis, and other treats.
Paso Robles’ walkable downtown shopping district combines low-key sophistication with a subtle cowboy vibe. Pick up locally made epicurean goodies and gifts at General Store, an everything-a-foodie-could-want purveyor of cookbooks, cocktail supplies, artisanal jams, hot sauces, honey, and spice blends, including many items made exclusively for the shop. With an owner who was born in Sweden, raised in South Africa, and educated in England, Bijou on the Park is a haven for books, women’s fashion, candles and décor with international flair.
Dubbed as “Mod Mecca” by Architectural Digest, Palm Springs is the place to find mid-century modern décor and other design-forward treasures. The Uptown Design District hosts more than 50 boutiques and galleries, including Just Fabulous. The shop features books on everything from architecture to drag, along with fun pool floats, original art, Jeff Koons-inspired balloon dog sculptures, and a plethora of Golden Girls kitsch. Michael Weems Collection presents an eclectic array of jewelry, porcelain trays, Joshua Tree prints, and “autoerotica”—retro scenes painted on vintage car parts—handmade by the artist himself.
Venice is a buzzing Los Angeles County beach town with a bohemian soul, from the colorful Venice Beach Boardwalk to trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, brimming with stylish shops and beautiful people. General Admission is inspired by all things California, and it shows in the store’s collection of cool casual menswear and accessories. Here you’ll find brands like Octopus is Real, Garret Leight, and Brain Dead, in a chill atmosphere where browsers are invited to sip-while-they-shop with a cold brew. Other great stores include the Scandinavian-themed Huset; the interior design store Tumbleweed & Dandelion; and the impeccably stylish Heist.