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Great Gift-Giving Picks — San Diego-Style

Where to find the perfect presents for everyone on your list

Whether you're shopping for yourself or hoping to bring home a special gift for a loved one, San Diego has you covered. The key is to find those unique items that create lasting memories. Check out these 12 hidden gems to achieve exactly that!

By: Sandra Veum, Personal Shopper

San Diego's Art Museums

Our city's art museums — including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Mingei International Museum, the Timken Museum of Art and the Museum of Photographic Arts — are some of the best places to find those one-of-a-kind pieces that truly stand out. Each has well-curated collections of items featuring specific artists, while also carrying everything from jewelry, scarves, coffee-table books, candles and mugs to camera bags, handbags, paintings, sculptures and pottery. Each museum specializes in thoughtfully designed pieces that represent both local and international artists. Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park is a collective of individual local artists and craftsman studios circling a colorful courtyard – a perfect place to purchase a beautiful piece of glass or artwork.


Housed in an award-winning restored warehouse in Solana Beach's Cedros Design District, this collective emporium features unique artists and vendors carrying distinctive gift options for you or your loved ones. Here you'll find everything from furniture, hand-crafted housewares, jewelry, antiques, handbags, leather goods and children's toys, to clothing, coffee-table books and more. They will even gift-wrap your special item using their gorgeous paper to make it a truly special presentation.


Who doesn't like a pair of new sunglasses — especially when they're born in the area you're visiting? This San Diego-based company launched its brand in 2012 with a surf coach who wanted to shake up the sunglass industry and create shades that didn't blend in and were affordable for everyone. Fast-forward to now: Blenders offers prescription, blue-light and snow lenses as part of its sunglass collection. You'll find their signature "Life in Forward Motion" stripes on every pair. It's a symbol of passion and progress and a reminder of where you are now and where you aspire to be.


First launched as an eBay store in 1999, this ultra-luxury re-commerce brand is the first of its kind and is headquartered in coastal Carlsbad. If you're seeking a hard-to-find designer handbag, shoe or accessory, then look no further. This buying experience is by appointment only and is truly a luxurious experience. Once you select the items you're interested in as a gift, they're brought down on a conveyer system and presented by an expert who can help walk you through the pieces you're interested in.

Stone Brewing

Anyone who knows craft beer knows Stone Brewing. Founded in 1996 in San Diego, Stone was among the first to introduce the West Coast-style IPA, helping inspire the craft beer movement. Now it's the ninth-largest craft brewer in the United States, and carried in all 50 states and over 40 countries. But the brewer also has great retail offerings at its World Bistro & Gardens locations in both Escondido and Liberty Station. You can purchase everything from specialized tap handles to branded apparel accessories, glassware, bottle openers, mixes, candles, coffee and out-of-this-world sauces.

World Famous San Diego Zoo

Opened in 1916, the San Diego Zoo is considered one of the best zoos in the world. The zoo spans 100 acres and is home to more than 12,000 rare and endangered animals, representing more than 650 species and subspecies. It's one of the best places to take home mementos for children and adults — everything from your favorite plush stuffed animal to apparel and accessories, drinkware, toys, artwork and educational items. The multiple gift shops on-site have everything you could desire.

Sea Hive Station

Located in Point Loma at Liberty Station, the historic naval base turned town square, this 23,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor space is home to over 150 San Diego-based, handpicked brands, artists, designers and vendors. Sea Hive carries everything from vintage items to local food products, plus candles, jewelry, clothing, accessories, home goods, toys and more. You won't want to miss shopping for gifts here.

Arts District Liberty Station, Barracks 14-17 and 19

One of the best gifts to bring home is a piece of art that represents the destination you're visiting, and Arts District Liberty Station is a prime place for San Diego artists to showcase their works. Barracks 16 houses Five Art, where five independent artists came together to collaborate by tapping into each other's creative energies. If you're looking for a unique piece of art, their studio and gallery offers something for everyone. (Note: Some of the artists' lofts are accessible by appointment only.)

prAna, Vuori, Nixon, & Reef

San Diego is fortunate to have multiple environmentally responsible clothing and accessories brands originating in our own back yard. Let us introduce you to some of the most popular lifestyle brands that we are lucky to call local.

Originating out of Carlsbad, prAna is a responsible athleisurewear and activewear brand with a commitment to clothing that's sustainable and stylish. Check out their store in Carlsbad. Vuori, based in Encinitas, offers clothing for the active lifestyle, with a commitment to ethical manufacturing, sustainability and community. Locations are in Encinitas, Del Mar, La Jolla, and soon the Fashion Valley Mall. Another Encinitas brand is Nixon, known for their watches, accessories and clothing. Their commitment to using recycled materials from ocean plastics results in eco-friendly products. Nixon can be found at various retailers throughout San Diego, including Moniker General, Sun Diego and South Coast. Another sustainable brand is Carlsbad-based Reef, founded by two brothers who moved from Argentina to La Jolla back in 1984. The company started out making sandals for surfers and today offers apparel, footwear and accessories for children and adults. The brand is committed to protecting the oceans and reefs. You can find Reef products at most larger retailers, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Macy's, as well as Rip Curl, Tillys and Salty Crew.

El Nopalito

This family-owned restaurant, market and tortilla factory began over 37 years ago in Encinitas, offering some of the most delicious handmade fresh corn tortillas, fresh salsas and beef jerky. Not only is El Nopalito known for these food items, but they now offer apparel and hats. You can order online or find the products in larger supermarkets such as Vons and Jimbo's North County. One of the best ways to take home some of San Diego's homemade chips and salsa is to buy it at El Nopalito Market and eat at the adjacent restaurant, known for daily specials of pollo en mole, barbacoa and chicharrones.

Old Town

With more than 40 unique shops and live entertainment, Old Town Market is a great place to find that so-local gift at one of San Diego's historic landmarks. Originally built as the Saint Joseph's rectory at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Beech Street in downtown, the building was moved through the streets to Old Town San Diego in 1940. Once in Old Town San Diego, the building was a seminary, convent, community center, and, during World War II, it was a USO. The building was restored in 2003 by Historic Tours of America and is registered as San Diego Historical Site Number 323. Experience a free museum of actual artifacts found on the site of the "Birthplace of California."

Wheelhouse Gift Shop

Just steps away from the Flagship Cruises & Events dock along San Diego's sparkling Embarcadero, the cozy Wheelhouse (operated by Flagship) offers all the San Diego souvenirs your friends and family back home could ever want — and plenty for you, too! The shop is stocked with everything from hats and hoodies to mugs and magnets, plus such practical items as sunscreen and shade. You'll love browsing through all the great items here and picking out the perfect San Diego keepsake.

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