Is there even a way to say that 2020 has put us all through the wringer without sounding like a cliché at this point? Probably not. But boy, has it.
From booksellers to restaurants to boutiques, no business in L.A. has made it through this year unscathed That’s why we designed this holiday shop-small guide, to spotlight our favorite local businesses, makers and products. These shops reflect everything that makes this city great, places that have, despite the Amazon explosion, kept L.A. from turning into a wasteland of big box stores and Walmart parking lots. These are items that you might not find anywhere else from vendors who — after this tumultuous year — could certainly use some love.
We have a list of 2020 releases by L.A. area writers you can pick up at your local booksellers, LAist staff picks that highlight businesses we adore and want to help stay afloat, as well as some local charities and organizations that have certainly been affected by this year’s economic downturn.
From Cypress Park to Venice, from Northridge to Compton, we’ve dug deep to find the best (and in some cases, the most delicious) things L.A.’s small businesses have to offer.
We hope our picks brighten up this holiday season for you and all the folks on your gift-giving list.
Sunset Boulevardier – Silverlake
From Sabrina Minx and Danielle Motor, arguably the two most stylish mixologists in town, Sunset Boulevardier offers beautifully packaged beverages for your holiday needs. Remember when people could make us fancy drinks in bars? Now you can get a little of that in pre-batched form, without leaving your home. | Visit their website
Little Flower Candy Company – Pasadena
The caramels that launched an empire! These sea salt caramels remain Little Flower’s best- selling item, and for good reason. Sweet, salty, melt-in-your-mouth and sinfully addictive, these tasty treats come packaged in varying amounts, depending on how much you will (or won’t) share. Little Flower offers a variety of other items for the holidays and their windows are full of goodies, if you’re up for making a trip to this adorable Pasadena gem. They also carry giftable merch like tote bags, hot chocolate kits and their very own cookbook. | Visit their website
Chichen Itza – South L.A.
This habanero hot sauce is magical, period. It’s flavorful, just the right kind of spicy (tingly but doesn’t burn your mouth) and pairs well with just about every kind of protein. Chichen Itza also has a cookbook available in Spanish or English, if you want to bring some tastes of the Yucatán into your home. This is a one-stop-shop for any foodie who’s tired of the same-old same-old. | Visit their website
August: Uncommon Tea – Downtown
We’ve drunk gallons of this locally-made tea since the pandemic began. Something about the ritual of steeping seems just right for these uncertain times, and August’s team delivers memorable and unusual blends that are not to be missed. Take Arabesque, which tastes like “sandalwood incense, spiced orange, vanilla” and feels like “wandering the moroccan medina.” Sounds pretty good, right? A delectable way to escape your apartment in a cup. | Visit their website
Amass – Downtown
We recently covered the unconventional hand sanitizers Amass dreamed up earlier this year — that pivot helped keep them financially viable through the pandemic. But this gin is what started it all. Made from locally-sourced ingredients like reishi mushroom and hibiscus that reflect the “terroir” of Los Angeles, this delicious dry gin is perfect by itself, in a martini, or mixed up in a fancy cocktail. | Visit their website
Goodies – Atwater
Are you looking for some hip, tasteful kitchenware that won’t cost you a small fortune? Goodies has the perfect variety of super cool home goods, like this simple wood mortar and pestle or these textured breakfast plates that will make you feel like you’re dining at a sleek hotel restaurant, instead of your own couch. Just look at these mugs and tell us you don’t want them. The best part? Everything in the store is $25 and under. | Visit their website
Harriet’s Cheesecakes – Inglewood
Founded in 1983, Harriet’s Cheesecakes is a family-owned and -operated Inglewood institution. Handmade daily, their cheesecakes come in dozens of flavors from traditional to sweet potato and pumpkin praline. Note: if you’re going to make someone’s Golden Girls Christmas dreams come true, make sure to call a day ahead with your order. | Visit their website
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LOCAL RESTAURANT MERCH
Restaurants have been hit hard by the coronavirus, especially now that L.A. has shut down outdoor dining again. Want to do your part to keep L.A.’s dining scene alive? We rounded up some of the best merch out there to help you support your favorite local joints and get some holiday shopping done at the same time
L&E Oyster Bar Show your love for shellfish and the Dodgers with this shirt from L&E.
Love Hour makes a mean smashburger and a stylish, comfy hoodie to boot.
Bar Ama‘s bacon and eggs T-shirt is our pick to represent the most important meal of the day. All day.
El Cochinito‘s gift box features another nod to the Dodgers, this time in both T-shirt and tote bag form, plus coffee from their new Silverlake venture, Tropical.
Wax Paper makes fantastic sandwiches, and we’re not just saying that because they’re all named after NPR “celebs” (Have you tried the Larry Mantle?). Their totes are fab too.
Gjusta has a bevy of pantry staples on offer, but their Honey trio happens to be our fave. The flavors? Sage, walnut and “seeded”-who even knew that was a thing?
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GIFTS FOR ART LOVERS
Barnsdall Virtual Art & Craft Fair – East Hollywood
Barnsdall Art Center hasn’t been able to provide their beloved slate of in-person art classes since March, and this year they’ve decided to make their annual holiday craft fair virtual. Browse their site by medium to find work from over 20 local artists. The selection includes ceramics, jewelry, home goods, clothing, painting and more. All profits go directly to the artists. | Shop here.
Betsy Carter Ceramics
Betsy Carter used to be a regular at neighborhood craft markets in pre-pandemic times, where you could check out her pottery in-person. But fear not, her lovingly made kitchen and home ware is available on the web. We especially love her speckled matte white mugs, which are perfect for some hearty winter tea. She also makes lovely dinner bowls, ceramic birdhouses, hand-glazed planters and this adorable match-striker. | Visit the Etsy store.
These Days – Downtown
These Days is a downtown L.A. treasure of a gallery/store/publisher, all in one. Their brand focuses on embracing “creative rebellion and nonconformist culture” through their careful curation of shows and goods. With some beautiful Cassavetes and Raymond Pettibon Black Flag pieces in the mix, their vintage poster collection is not to be missed. While you’re there, might as well grab some original art, vintage jewelry or clothing for the rebellious-at-heart. | Visit their website
Adewole Arts – San Pedro
If all this time indoors has made you a bit stir crazy and you feel like getting out of the house, Adewole Arts is offering outdoor, socially distanced ceramics classes. Or if you’re fine with staying in, but still want that special gift, take a peek at their collection of hand-thrown ceramics by founder April Adewole. | Visit their website
Owl Bureau – Highland Park
Looking for an art or photography book for the person who appreciates both minimalist decor and the humor in Martin Parr’s photographic work? Owl Bureau is your spot. They have a great selection of books on art, photography, design and fashion. Their Instagrammable store space in Highland Park is open for socially-distanced browsing so, if you’re up for it, you can take a minute to flip through a physical book and forget about the world for a little while. | Visit the website
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One Down Dog – Multiple locations
It’s been a tough year for indie gyms and yoga studios, but One Down Dog has managed to stick it out, thanks to their many online course offerings (from vinyasa to restorative and meditation), workshops and COVID-safe outdoor classes. A five-pack of online classes will run you $60. The studio also offers gift cards, lightly used,discounted yoga gear from their physical space, and a selection of cute merch. | Visit the website
Pony Sweat – Multiple locations
These “fiercely non-competitive” dance aerobics classes moved online when the pandemic began, but they’re just as wild and fun as before. There’s no way dancing it out to Bikini Kill with some Jane Fonda hip swings won’t cheer you up. And at $5 a class, this is an easy gift for anyone who needs to let loose and sweat it out. | Visit the website
What do you do when you realize you are entirely too attached to your phone? Former Angeleno turned #VanLife nomad, L.R. Laggy built a meditation timer and alarm clock to deepen his meditation practice and get his phone out of his bedroom for better sleep. It’s an easy to use little device with three phases for meditation, plus soothing sounds to bring you in and out of your practice (or sleep) without getting sucked into your phone. A simple solution for a modern dilemma. | Visit the website
Marcella Kroll is an artist, tarot reader, metaphysical teacher and podcast host (who isn’t these days?). Her site offers guided meditations at varying lengths that can be used over and over again. From grounding meditations to past-life healing, her courses run the spiritual gamut. | Visit her website or find her mediations here.
Patrick Santa Ana
A makeup artist by trade, Patrick Santa Ana already has a line of cosmetics, but it’s his HonorYourself vegan and cruelty free skin products that drew us in. This Balanced Bath/Treatment mask can be used everyday to exfoliate and hydrate the skin that maybe you haven’t been taking the best care of, during these trying times. He has many other skincare offerings from oils to body balms for sale, all handcrafted and ready for pampering. | Visit his website
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – North Hollywood
Whether you like it or not, the pandemic beard is a thing. And men who have never cultivated that kind of growth don’t always know how to care for it. That’s where BPAL’s Aristotle beard oil comes in. Made from GMO and petrochemical-free oils, then scented with “Oman frankincense, Greek sage, and white juniper” (and never tested on animals) this oil is just the thing to get your loved one’s scraggly face situation in order. | Visit their website
This has been the year of anxiety. Election, pandemic, lockdown — there’s been plenty to worry about. Beverly Chills’ “Nano Drops” CBD tincture aims to help ease some of the stress. Made from pesticide-free hemp, the drops completely dissolve in beverages (no oil slicks on top of your drink) and purport to have the effects of four times the average CBD oil out there. | Visit their website
Restore – Venice
Made in California, this fancy bath soak features magnesium, sea salt and lavender oil to “restore the body’s cellular processes.” We don’t know if the science of that holds us, but tbh, we could all use a nice-smelling bath right now. Burro Goods also has other bath products, plus all kinds of self-care goodies for your gifting needs. | Visit their website
Ashton Michael – Hollywood
Known for the celebs he dresses (Hello, Beyonce, J. Lo, Nicki Minaj, etc.), Michael has dipped his toe into home goods with a line of soy blend candles. From leather and lavender to cashmere and tuberose, these scents are just right for unwinding in the tub or cozying up with a book on a cold (OK, 60 degree) winter night. | Visit his website
Latinx With Plants – Boyle Heights
Latinx With Plants was founded in 2019 in response to the Black plant influencer movement on Instagram, as a way for Latinx folks to create community and connect to nature. Beyond their eastside brick and mortar shop, they offer pop-up plant buying events and gift cards to green up your space. Plus, they carry some lovely embroidered “planitas” themed masks on their site, if you’re looking for some merch to go with your monstera. | Visit their website
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The Left Bank – Atwater
This family-owned and operated thrift store on the “banks” of the L.A. River recently opened for super safe in-person shopping (they only let four people in the store at the time and have a sign-up sheet for contact tracing). Since March, their staff has been seamlessly modeling/selling items from their well-curated vintage collection every morning via Instagram Stories; you can purchase by DM/Venmo. The shop has a great collection of new giftable items, too — think earrings, sparkly socks, fuzzy bucket hats and California pride mugs. | Visit their website and Instagram
Lindquist is known for her eco-conscious goods made for fair wages right here in L.A. This sweater is made from upcycled cashmere, the perfect material to snuggle up in while stuck at home, or look fantastic while lounging about. Her site has many other upcycled items on offer as well as some fashion-forward masks and even home goods. | Visit her website
Prospect Pine is a side project of chef Josef Centeno of Bar Ama and Orsa & Winston. Centeno uses indigo and other organic materials in his dyeing process on his original designs for clothing and accessories. These linen coveralls look like they’d be the perfect pandemic outfit. Dress ’em up, dress ’em down, but always stay comfy and stylish. The site offers coveralls, masks, aprons and more. | Visit their website
Blue Cut is a project from husband and wife design team Chachi Prasad and Karam Kim, founders of premium denim line, Bishop. This heavy duty canvas apron comes in four colorways, all of which feature the artwork of Oakland based artist Alex Bowman, titled “Planting Change”. Each purchase of one of Bowman’s collab aprons provides at least five aprons to Black-owned businesses around the country. Get a beautiful apron, give five in return, not a bad deal. We’re also super fond of their cheeky Cabròn shirt.| Visit their website
Amba is a company founded by Ghanaian American friends Essie Blankson-Turner and Jessie Ashanti. They carry pillows and throws made from indigo mudcloth, unique batik robes for stylish at home lounging, and hand-woven baskets. | Visit their website
Stay Up Stay Safe (SUSS) is a company that grew from friends Seulgi Burns and Daria Hines making thousands of masks for health workers in the beginning of the pandemic. Now a self described “side hustle,” they make masks, mask bags, mask “wranglers” (think eyeglasses chains) and more. Anything to keep you safe and chic in their wildly patterned hand-made goods. | Visit their website
Espacio 1839 – Boyle Heights
Espacio 1839, a combination gift shop/community radio station, is located in the heart of Boyle Heights. Their Selena Is My Homegirl T-Shirt speaks to us, and is a perfect gift for anyone devouring Netflix’s Selena: The Series (although, J. Lo as Selena forever we stan). Sadly, they’re sold out of their “BidiBidiBomBom” nameplate necklace, but there’s plenty of other great gift picks in their tiny eastside shop. | Visit their website
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BOOKS BY LA WRITERS
We reached out to Stories Books and Cafe‘s super knowledgeable staff for their list of L.A.-based authors who dazzled them with new releases this year. An indie eastside treasure, Stories has a cafe full of tasty treats and lots of thoughtfully curated, giftable goodies. They also just launched a gofundme campaign and could use some community support.
Below you’ll find their picks, plus links to the indie shops where you can grab them.
A Handful of Earth, a Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia Butler by Lynell George
“A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler offers a blueprint for a creative life from the perspective of award-winning science-fiction writer and “MacArthur Genius” Octavia E. Butler. It is a collection of ideas about how to look, listen, breathe—how to be in the world.” (via Angel City Press) | Available at The Book Jewel and Diesel: A Bookstore
The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland by Walter Thompson Hernandez
“A rising New York Times reporter tells the compelling story of The Compton Cowboys, a group of African-American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the proud, centuries-old tradition of black cowboys in the heart of one of America’s most notorious cities.” (via Harper Collins) | Available at Chevalier’s, Stories Books and Cafe
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
“A novel of haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she finds an ominous note on a walk in the woods.” (via Penguin Random House) | Available at Vroman’s, Booksoup
Set The Night On Fire: L.A. In The Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener
“Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with principal figures, as well as the authors’ storied personal histories as activists.” (via Verso Books) | Available at Stories Books and Cafe, Eso Won Books
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
“A hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy set in the Brooklyn projects of the late 1960s. This alone may qualify it as one of the year’s best novels. However, McBride . . . has constructed a story with a deeper meaning for those who choose to read beyond the plot, one that makes the work funnier, sweeter, and more profound.” (via Washington Post) | Available at Eso Won Books, Skylight Books
The System by Ryan Gattis
“Played out in the streets, precincts, jails, and courtrooms of Los Angeles, The System by Ryan Gattis is a breakneck journey through every phase of the American criminal justice system.” (via PanMacmillan) | Available at Diesel: A Bookstore, Vroman’s
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OKTheStore – Silverlake
Every little kid stuck inside probably wants a giant stuffed animal to snuggle with right now. It’s just that simple. Also, it’s adorable. While you’re there, OKTheStore has lots of cool gifts for the big folks in your life, too. | Visit their website
Children’s Book World – Cheviot Hills
For the budding scientist in your life (aged 10 and up), Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World is a beautifully illustrated New York Times bestselling book focused on women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Children’s Book World has an awesome staff that’s happy to help you pick out books for all categories of young readers. | Visit their website
Lost & Found – Hollywood
We selfishly picked this adorable hat in the hopes of getting to see legions of small people looking like little raccoons all around town. It comes in sizes that fit up to age 5, but if it went bigger, we’d probably grab one for ourselves too. Lost & Found also carries non-raccoon-themed clothes and goodies for everyone in the family. | Visit their website or shop in person
La La Ling – Los Feliz
This artful can of crayons would look great on display in your home, or in a big mess on the kid’s floor. Either way, we’d like to think Andy Warhol would approve. The crayons have names like “Pink Cow,” “Space Fruit Peach,” and “Cream of Celery Soup,” and will hopefully keep the little ones occupied and away from screens for a little while. La La Ling’s other kid’s offerings range from 0-10 years old. | Visit their website
Huzzah! Toys – Venice/Playa Vista
These forts are like tinker toys on steroids. Kids can build them into all kinds of shapes and sizes, then just toss over a blanket or sheet and voilà, you’ve got yourself a fort. The website says it’s good for kids age 5 through 95 and we have to say, at this point in lockdown, a cozy blanket fort doesn’t sound so bad. Find forts and much much more at Huzzah! Toys, a west side institution. | Visit their website
Monkey Pants – Little Tokyo
Full disclosure: this lounge set is another item that we just want to see children wearing all the time, everywhere. And who doesn’t want a mini Totoro running around their house?! According to Monkey Pants’ site, it’s their number one selling item, but don’t miss out on all the other delightful things they’ve got in stock too. | Visit their website
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LAIST STAFF PICKS
House of Secrets – Burbank
“The staff at House of Secrets comic shop is friendly and knowledgeable, and they have a great selection of graphic novels that would make perfect holiday gifts for family and friends. They’re also doing an excellent job keeping the store COVID-safe, enforcing masks, and limiting capacity, for in-person shopping” — Mike Roe, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Pickett Fences – Larchmont
“Pickett Fences has an awesome pajama selection and good stocking stuffers like the ‘Merry Juana’ holiday socks I got for my brother-in-law, and all sorts of cute holiday/ home things.” — Megan Larson, Senior Producer, Take Two
Colores de Mexico – Pasadena
“In addition to tile, Colores de Mexico have a colorful range of ceramic giftable offerings.” — Mariana Dale, Early Childhood Education Reporter
Sunny Blue & Sweet Rose Creamery – Santa Monica
“Sunny Blue may not be a place to get holiday gifts, but getting healthy, fast, take-out from there is a gift you give yourself. They are the home of the made-to-order, hand crafted omusubi, salty, savory rice and protein balls wrapped in dried seaweed. Need desert? Sweet Rose Creamery is the Santa Monica ice cream maker who will spoil you for all other ice cream. The mint flavor of the chocolate mint chip is so fresh, it seems like it was made right from the garden. And there’s no fake green color. It’s a bit pricey, but a pint of that would make an excellent gift.” — Darby Maloney, Editor, Take Two
Now Serving – Chinatown
“Now Serving was one of the last stores I shopped at in person before everything changed. I visited them in Chinatown to buy a copy of Baking at République, and stayed much longer than planned to browse their selection of cookbooks, tools, aprons, ingredients, and cards. My stay-at-home hobby has been tuning in virtually for their Q&As with cookbook authors and scrolling through their Instagram for meal inspiration.” — Carla Javier, Education Reporter
Bunkado – Little Tokyo
“Bunkado is an amazing shop in Little Tokyo with traditional Japanese gifts, that’s been open since 1946!” — Peter Hernandez, Newsletter Manager
HomeState – Multiple locations
“HomeState in Highland Park, East Hollywood and Playa Vista has great egg nog.” — Oscar Garza, Editor
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This L.A. based charity has planted more than 3 million trees locally, since they were founded in 1973. Right now, they also have a wildfire challenge match going until December 31. Donate any amount, up to $50,000 and their board of directors will match it. Funds will go towards helping clear dry brush and invasive plants from fire prone areas, as well as replanting. | Visit their website
Hollywood Food Coalition
Since 1987, the Hollywood Food Coalition has been providing meals, and basic items like sleeping bags and clothes to folks in need, through a large volunteer and donor program. They’re currently accepting canned goods and hygiene supplies through their Community Exchange. Monetary donations work too. | Visit their website
No Us Without You
Founded by two hospitality industry veterans, No Us Without You provides food security to undocumented back of house workers, who’ve been unable to access pandemic-related assistance from state and federal sources. They’re currently accepting donations to keep families fed this holiday season. | Visit their website
Theodore Payne Foundation
Founded in 1960, TPF’s mission is to make Southern California communities environmentally sustainable, through education and preservation. Their Adopt-an-Accession seed program supports the preservation of their local plant specimen seed bank. | Visit their website
Every year, the USPS receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa from kids in need. Their yearly holiday program invites you to adopt a letter and make a kid’s wish come true. Help out the post office, help out a kid in need and have a turn at being Santa. | Visit their website
Union Station Homeless Services
Established in 1973, this organization is the lead service agency for people experiencing homelessness in the San Gabriel Valley. They offer meals, showers, medical referrals, bridge housing and much more. Their Amazon wishlist is open and accepting donations, or you can always make an old fashioned monetary donation, too. | Visit their website
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LAIST AFTER DARK
Olivia de Berardinis is the queen of pinups. She’s been painting beautiful ladies since the late mid 70s, making her mark on the art world and in Playboy magazine. Her site has offerings at every price level from this affordable postcard collection, all the way up to some spendy but original fine artwork. Is there a better way to brighten someone’s day, than sending them a little piece of Hollywood glamour via the good old fashioned postal service? | Visit her website
Clare Herron has been making eco-conscious lingerie since 2007, focusing on dead stock, organic and vintage fabrics. If you or someone you know is looking to spice up their quarantine undie game, this is the place to look. Added bonus: Clare Bare offers custom sizing for all body types. | Visit her website
Soey Milk is a Sci Arc grad originally from Seoul, Korea, known for her detailed and lush renderings of ladies in saucy private repose. A fine artist, she’s been showing her work in L.A. and around the world professionally since 2013. Her online store offers prints and original work as well as this 12-piece postcard set, perfect for staying in touch with that special someone. | Visit her website
MarcoMarco – Hollywood
Marco Morante, a CalArts grad, is known for his risqué men’s underwear that is “miles from bland and lightyears from boring.” But it was this cheeky social distancing beanie that really spoke to us. It comes in two colors, the white on white being our fave, perfect for making a sly statement, while staying warm and cozy in your quarantine. | Visit his website