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The Best of San Diego 2024: Retail

The hottest local shops and boutiques to treat yourself this year
Best of San Diego 2024 Retail featuring The Good Loop pop-up shop
Photo Credit: Justin Nunez

Best Trade Secret

The Good Loop

The impulse-purchase jacket. The tired tee. The jeans that don’t actually fit. Bring them to one of the Good Loop’s stylish community clothing swaps; for each item you contribute, you can choose something new (or new to you) from the racks. Makenzie Lowe, who grew up thrifting, started the pop-ups in 2019. “I wanted to create a space where everyone was welcome to participate in the most sustainable fashion option: reusing what already exists,” she says. These aren’t sad castoffs—one woman found her rehearsal-dinner dress at the Westfield UTC event— and leftovers go to local charities.

Best Place to Get Lit

TAP Lighting

No, we’re not talking about overpriced shots of Hennessy, Jack Daniel’s, or Tito’s in a shadowy nightclub. Think tungstens, fluorescents, and halogens in a palace of illumination. TAP Lighting is a historic fixture of Hillcrest, showcasing hundreds of antique lamps, chandeliers, and other pieces valued up to $10,000. The business is still shining bright, but it has plans to vacate the Hillcrest residence this month for a spot in downtown La Mesa.

Best of San Diego 2024 Retail featuring Terra Bella Nursery in the Midway District
Courtesy of Terra Bella Nursery

Best Beans With Your Greens

Terra Bella Nursery

If your garden hosts three hardy succulents and the potted remnants of what was supposed to be a “low-maintenance” plant, you’re not the only one. Luckily, SD’s mild weather makes it possible to revive your green-thumb ambitions at any time. Terra Bella Nursery is the ultimate wonderland of lush foliage and gardening essentials, set aglow by the reflecting light of a massive disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Its newest location in the Midway District also houses Selva Coffee House, so you can peruse with a matcha to match the greenery.

Best Un-fried Plantains

Sun Bum

Sun Bum smells like a good time. Beaches, vacations, carefree days—it’s summertime in a bottle, with a banana aroma reminiscent of retro tanning oils. Unlike the UV-courting and coral-bleaching blends of yore, however, the San Diego–born brand (which sold for $400 million in 2019) shields skin instead of fricasséeing it and won’t wreck reefs. You can nab a bottle at any drugstore, but the Encinitas flagship store stocks every product, setting sun-loving hearts afire while keeping their exteriors unburnt.

Aerial View of San Diego's $1 Billion Chula Vista Bayfront redevelopment project
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Best Bay-utification

Chula Vista Bayfront Redevelopment

Don’t get us wrong—roadwork and city renovations aren’t always our idea of positive news (especially when they add 15 minutes to our commute to work). But this $1.2 billion bayside project in Chula Vista is promising to be worth leaving the house a little earlier. Scheduled for completion in 2025, the redevelopment will include a new park, resort, convention center, RV resort, and residential area, creating space for locals and visitors to enjoy Chula Vista to the fullest.

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Best Boutique That’s Not All Board Shorts


South Park’s AYI (which means “auntie” in Mandarin) twins the scrupulously curated boutiques common in certain parts of LA and New York—which is exactly what makes it such a standout in San Diego. The AAPI-, queer-, and woman-owned storefront is the rare IRL outpost for if-you-know-you-know brands like Elisa Johnson and The Line by K, with a small, always-worth-a-gander gallery in the back curated by owner Carly Miller Chen (an artist herself).

Best of San Diego 2024 Retail featuring local independent bookstore Verbatim Books in North Park
Courtesy of Verbatim Books

Best Bookworm Habitats

San Diego’s Best Local Bookstores

Whether you’re an autobiography buff or romance reader, you’re sure to find the page-turner you’re searching for at these local shops.

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Best Place for Suckers

Rainbow Service Center

If you have a malfunctioning vacuum, Mike Insana probably knows how to fix it. His family’s 47-year-old Clairemont shop is jammed with models awaiting repair. Lots of them are Dysons (“They’ve got a fantastic marketing department,” Insana says.) Others are so old—like the squat, silver-domed Rainbow from the ’70s—it’s practically impossible to find parts. Customers ask Insana to try anyway. “People are attached to their vacuums,” he says. “I think it’s more of an attachment to the memory of a loved one using it than the actual machine.”

Best Beauty for Everybody (Really)


As a young beauty junkie, Filipino-American scientist Anna Bueno learned that “universally flattering” was all too often industry-speak for “suits a narrow set of shades of pale.” The San Diego–based clinical researcher partnered with former Sephora exec Mike Modula to found skincare brand Sepia, testing their products on volunteers across the full Fitzpatrick scale, which measures the amount of melanin in the skin. Sepia’s flagship formulation, a retinol serum, tackles melasma and wrinkles on visages of all varieties.

Best of San Diego 2024 Retail featuring clothes from vintage thrift store Sea Hive Station
Courtesy of Sea Hive

Best Places to Pop Tags

San Diego’s Best Thrift Shops

As a longtime vintage lover, deal hunter, and fast-fashion hater, I’ve developed a system for finding top-notch clothes at a steal. To help other would-be ballers on a budget, here’s a list of the best thrift and vintage stores up and down the coast.

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Best Incoming Retail Therapy

Westfield UTC Expansion

Alert the bank, call your accountant, rip the bottom off the ol’ piggy bank. One of San Diego’s largest and most-frequented malls is in line for another makeover, luxurious enough for even diehard online shoppers to shut their laptops. The construction will introduce a new two-story restaurant building and nine new storefronts by the spring of 2026, so, luckily, there’s still time to start saving up those coins.

Best Place to Catch ’Em All

TC’s Rockets

Tucked away in a strip mall in Allied Gardens is a nerd’s paradise. Retro Star Wars toys, bins of Ninja Turtles, DC and Marvel action figures, Magic the Gathering and Pokémon cards, a sea of new and used comics… whatever franchise strikes your fancy, you’re bound to find something to add to your collection—plus a bunch of people to play DND with.

See our complete list of the Best of San Diego here


By SDM Staff

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