For those who like local, one-of-a-kind finds, here’s a list of the best boutique shopping cities in the U.S.
When I’m visiting a new city, the last place I want to go shopping is in a big box mall. I could just as well stay home and see the same chain stores. No, what I like to do is find the one-of-a-kind shop, where the owner is often behind the counter and not only sells me something unique, but can offer tips and insight on their hometown. While just about every city has its own pockets of cool boutiques, here are the places where you’ll find the best boutique shopping in neighborhoods and streets that are rich in character and great shops (in no particular order).
The South End neighborhood in Boston is a mixed bag of tiny independent shops, trendy restaurants, cafés and bars, all found in about one square mile. The main drags are Tremont and Washington Streets, with plenty of side streets to explore. The area south of Washington is called “SoWa,” where an ever-evolving scene of artists and funky shops sprout up. Visit the South End Business Alliance Web site at www.southendbusiness.com for a list of shops.
A boutique shopper’s paradise, New York has myriad neighborhoods where connoisseurs of the unique and fabulous can score a fabric find in a matter of minutes. SoHo, the Village and the Lower East Side are well-established boutique destinations. A new favorite, however, is 5th Avenue in Park Slope, which is lined with shops ranging from stunning fabrics and designs made by at-risk women, mainly from India and Bosnia—Ashaveza, 59 Fifth Ave.; to clothes and jewelry from local designers, creative children’s stores and consignment shops; to gourmet goodies for pets—Buttercup’s Paw-tisserie, 63 Fifth Ave. Excellent restaurants and cafés abound, but be sure to grab a cup of the best java in town at Gorilla Coffee, 97 Fifth Ave. Take the F train to the 7th Avenue stop and walk west two blocks to Fifth, then north; or the R train to Pacific and walk east one block.
The “Magnificent Mile” is Chicago’s most famous shopping district, but if you want to go off the beaten path, head to the Wicker Park/Bucktown area on the northwest side of the city. Dozens of boutiques run the gamut from jewelry to clothes to crafts. Should you need nourishment, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants to choose from. The main streets where shops are concentrated are on North, Damen and Milwaukee Avenues and Division Street. Visit www.choosechicago.com for other neighborhood information.
Decatur, just east of Atlanta and west of Stone Mountain, is easy to get to on public transportation, though you may regret taking it if you have a collection of bags from shopping too much! You’ll find more than 200 stores to explore, as well as restaurants, nightlife, attractions and galleries. You’ll want at least a whole day to check out the area. A comprehensive guide to shops can be found at www.decaturga.com.
Forget Rodeo Drive—boutiques line West 3rd Street in Los Angeles with a variety of goods and treasures for less than high-end prices. Many of the designers are waiting for their big moment, so snatch their clothes before they (and the prices) hit the stratosphere. More details can be found at www.discoverlosangeles.com.
The Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is a four-block open-air pedestrian mall located downtown where mostly locally-owned stores can be found. The area is close to the University of Colorado, so you’ll be assured of finding several bookstores, in addition to jewelry and funky clothing shops. Visit www.boulderdowntown.com/shopping for a list of shops.
SoCo, or South Congress Avenue, offers a plethora of clothing shops and loads of goods unique to Austin. There’s everything from vintage jewelry to shoes to art. Every first Thursday of the month, shops stay open until 10 p.m., when a mix of events is offered, such as poetry readings and culinary tastings. More info at www.austintexas.org.
For boutique shopping in Miami, Lincoln Road has seen its fortunes rise and fall, but these days it’s a popular, funky outdoor pedestrian mall with a few mainstream stores, but plenty of independent shops to make it worth your time. The street is a mecca to local artists, and there are loads of galleries to explore as well as a variety of restaurants where people-watching (and celebrity spotting) is popular. Visit www.shoponmiamibeach.com for info on what you’ll find.
Hayes Valley, west of Van Ness Avenue, is the place to go for high-end, chic clothes, art galleries and cool houseware shops in San Francisco. Like so many areas that were once avoided, the neighborhood transformed from scary bad to scary cool. A strong neighborhood association has blocked chains from coming in. There’s a variety of dining spots and bars to check out when you need a shopping break. Visit www.hayesvalleyshop.com for a list of shops.
The Ballard neighborhood of northwest Seattle not only has a surplus of eclectic boutiques, it’s a gorgeous place to wander around. The nationally registered historic district is a tree-lined bonanza of dozens of locally-owned shops selling everything from clothes to shoes to jewelry. A guide to the area can be found at http://inballard.com.
New York section contributed by Donna M. Airoldi.