If the out of the ordinary sparks your shopper's imagination, several spots around Orange County offer refreshing alternatives to homogeneous mall fare. A few of the standouts:
Piecemakers Country Store in Costa Mesa wouldn't exactly qualify as the area's best-kept secret. In fact, it has a loyal following and widespread reputation. But this big, two-story emporium filled with handmade crafts and reminiscent of grandma's house is distinctive for its quality of merchandise and one-of-a-kind feel.
Located in an unassuming business park on Adams Avenue, Piecemakers is owned and operated by a closely knit group of Christians who make most of its stunning quilts, old-fashioned dolls, woodwork items, painted porcelain, woven baskets, braided rugs and other offerings.
The women who make these wares and operate the place also teach on-site classes, and the 11,500-square-foot store is stocked with all manner of supplies: bolts of sumptuous fabric, plastic dolls' eyes, fanciful beads and buttons, ribbons in all colors, silk flowers, paints, calligraphy utensils and more.
Mass-produced knickknacks, most with a country flair, also line the cheery shelves and display cases, as well as jewelry, candles, potpourri, unusual cards and homey Christmas decorations. An upstairs tearoom with lace curtains and an irresistible redolence serves freshly made cookies and scones, sandwiches and steeped brew in delicate china.
Piecemakers Country Store, 1720 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa. Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5:30 p.m. (714) 641-3112.
Vastly different from this, yet rich with possibilities, is Little Saigon in Westminster.
On Bolsa Avenue in the heart of the nation's largest Vietnamese community looms Asian Garden Mall, a bustling indoor bi-level shopping center with a huge, pagoda-like facade. Walk inside and you won't think you're in Southern California any more.
Stores announce themselves with Vietnamese (and English) signs, fast-food stands serve Asian delicacies, whimsical Chinese kites hang overhead and musty incense wafts from small Buddhist shrines set up inside each shop.
A standout is the abundant supply of graceful jade jewelry. Simply designed bracelets imported from Hong Kong range from under $100 to $10,000, and there are pendants in the shape of frogs and Buddhas, bead necklaces and rings. Some vendors will negotiate on price.
Imported chic French fashions--often available in small sizes only--at both high and low prices are also sold, as are mostly costly European shoes and leather bags by Bally, Ted Lapidus, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior and other designers.
Less expensive items include beautiful cloisonne flower vases for around $20, colorful indoor lanterns, coffee mugs or tea sets and embroidered pajamas, all from China. For under $5, Chinese good-luck charms dangling from red braid might make good stocking stuffers. Bring cash. Some stores don't deal in plastic.
The Asian Garden Mall (9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster) has a total of 150 shops, including a 60-merchant fine jewelry center.
Also in Westminster, the Asian Village (9191 and 9211 Bolsa Ave.) offers photography studios, custom-made shoes and the 99 Market, with its array of gourmet foods from around the world. Liberty Square (9888 Bolsa Ave.) has restaurants, Vietnamese lacquerware and fashions. And at the Little Saigon Plaza (9842 Bolsa Ave.), you'll find a wide variety of international foods at the Little Saigon Market.
Most stores on Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and almost all are open on Christmas Day. (714) 839-2257.
For friends and lovers of hobby fanatics--or anyone with kids--Hobby City in Anaheim may be Mecca. Twenty-three shops take up 6 acres, where Cabbage Patch dolls are adopted, miniature enthusiasts indulge their addiction and model planes or elaborate train sets may be bought.
A teddy bear store in the shape of a tree marks the entrance to the 36-year-old establishment, owned by Bea DeArmond, who owns and operates the city's 3,000-piece Doll and Toy Museum. From wood to wooly, the bears here run from 50 cents to $2,600 for an original hand-carved specimen by Robert Raikes of collectable bear fame.
Other stores cater to the stamp and coin collector, gemologist, knitter and makers of boats, cars, rockets and planes, and toy train and doll-house enthusiasts.
The complex also has a restaurant as well as an electric-train ride for children, so bring them along.
Hobby City, 1238 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (some shops stay open later). (714) 527-2323.