Los Angeles offers shopping at its finest: great shopping districts, easy parking, lots of sales and stores from the ridiculous to the sublime. California fashion has a unique style, tailored to the pleasant climate, outdoor living, movie glamour and laid-back attitude.
BEST SHOPPING DISTRICTS Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills remains an insanely popular tourist attraction. If you can afford to shop at Prada and Fred Heyman, you don't need us to tell you about them. If you can't afford them, feel free to gawk at the windows -- just be sure to give a wide sidewalk berth to the shopping bag-laden tourists.
Santa Monica Boulevard, as it runs through West Hollywood, is as gay as shopping gets in L.A., limited mostly to gay books, toys and novelties, gym wear and low-end fashion. A Different Light (8853 Santa Monica Blvd; 310/854-6601) could well be the country's premier gay bookstore. Book signings and readings are frequent. Baby Jane's of Hollywood (7985 Santa Monica, in the French Market; 323-848-7080) not only has a great selection of autographs and movie posters, it specializes in 8x10 photos of male celebrity nudes.
Legendary Melrose Avenue is worth a trip just to see trendy teeny-boppers, browsing used clothing stores like Aardvark (7579 Melrose Ave; 323-655-6769), notable mostly for their collections of vintage 501 jeans. Parallel to Melrose, West Third Street (not to be confused with Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica) is a destination for specialty shops including Traveler's Bookcase (8375 W Third St; 323-655-0575), Flight 001 for ineffably stylish travel accessories, and Freehand (8413 W. Third St; 323-655-2607) with art-quality crafts, jewelry and housewares.
Lining Melrose Avenue and Robertson and Beverly Boulevards in WeHo, the "Avenues of Art and Design" are for those who want to decorate their homes like celebrities?or just shop among them. Highlights include furniture and housewares from Minotti (8936 Beverly Blvd; 310-278-6851), Armani Casa (157 N. Robertson Blvd; 310-248-2440), and Japanache (146 N. Robertson Blvd; 310-657-0155). Or adorn yourself with clothing from John Varvatos (8800 Melrose Ave; 310-859-2970), Maxfield (8825 Melrose Ave; 310-274-8800) and James Perse (8914 Melrose Ave; 310-276-7277).
Out in Santa Monica, celebrities also tend to frequent the expensive clothing, children's, and gift boutiques of Montana Avenue. Third Street Promenade is one of L.A.'s most pleasant places to amble thanks to street performers and topiaries shaped like dinosaurs, though there's little shopping that you can't find elsewhere. A nice compromise is Main Street on Santa Monica's more homegrown south end, and, about a quarter-mile away, hip Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which cuts a diagonal through Venice. Abbot Kinney is lined with vintage furniture and minutely specialized boutiques, like art books or trendy athletic shoes.
Equally hip is Los Feliz Village, bounded by Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues north of Hollywood Blvd., with fresh, fun shopping and "is he gay or just super cute?" people-watching. Half Off Clothing Store (1806 N. Vermont; 323-665-1526) sells brand new, casual men's and women's clothes for ... guess how much. Gay-owned SHOW (1722 N. Vermont; 323-644-1960) offers original, custom-designed furniture, lighting, home and accessories. Titles at Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont; 323-660-1175) include gay-themed publications, and there's a regular schedule of readings by local and nationally renowned authors.
Finally, the Rose Bowl Flea Market (1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena) is the Mother of All of L.A. Flea Markets, 5 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month. The de rigueur outfit: sunscreen, shades and a big floppy hat.
BEST 4: SHOPPING MALLS The Grove (Fairfax between Beverly and Third; 888-315-8883), which incorporates the historic Farmer's Market, turns shopping into a Disney-like experience. Look for dancing fountains, a trolley and old-world design around its courtyard, mixed in with the chains (Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch), excellent restaurants, a 14-screen cinema, and the all-important American Girl Place. The Grove's a frequent gay date spot.
The recently upgraded Westfield Century City Shopping Center (10250 Santa Monica Blvd. at Avenue of the Stars; 310-553-5300) will convert all but the most mall-dreading shoppers. It's anchored by Macy's, Bloomingdale's and a gorgeous multiplex, its outdoor courtyards, and exceptional food court.
The Beverly Center (8500 Beverly Blvd. at La Cienega Boulevard; 310-854-0071) was designed to evoke Paris' Pompidou Center, and it does, sort of. Right next to Cedars-Sinai Hospital (perfect if you take "shop till you drop" literally), you'll find the usual mall retailers and a high percentage of smaller, interesting boutiques.
Hollywood and Highland is worth a visit even if you're not a shopper, for the Kodak Theatre, home to the Academy Awards (you can tour it when the theatre is dark). The over-the-top design owes much to early movies, and you can stand on a catwalk for dead-on views of the Hollywood Sign.