Finding the perfect gift can often be a challenge especially as kids get older and their interests become more specific. I have purchased hundreds of birthday gifts, holiday gifts and baby gifts over the past seven years living on the Westside in LA and wanted to share with you my favorite places to shop. Our mantra at MomAngeles is to #ShopLocal. Yes – Amazon is easy, and yes sometimes the fastest choice, but the buyers at each of the stores below has a keen eye, unique taste in toys and helpful sales people who can guide you by age and interest to items you probably would never find by yourself online. Plus ALL of these stores gift wrap for free right there in the store. And they will put a little store sticker on the package so the recipient knows where to take the gift should they need to exchange it. (PS – If you’re visiting LA and are wondering where all the celebrity moms shop -this is the list. Look up any of these stores in Google and you’ll find dozens of images of Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, J Lo, Rachel Zoe and other celeb moms shopping in these stores. I have personally never seen them but the paparazzi claim otherwise.)
One of my favorite places to shop is Star Toys in Brentwood. From the outside this fairly understated store doesn’t look like much. There’s no big window display or balloons waving outside. Just a gray wall with a big red star at the top. But sitting at the counter in the doorway you will always find owners Leonard and Caroline. This store has been around for ages and the owners have been going to toy shows and buying toys and books for way longer than you’ve been a parent. They’ve been in the business so long, they’re kind-of old school…no website or Facebook page. But you can find them on Yelp. Once inside the place seems a little small, but there’s ample selection. The shelves go from floor to ceiling and Caroline keeps them super organized and well-stocked. They have one of the best selections of educational toys I’ve found plus a unique selections of items I haven’t seen everywhere else. And just when you think you’ve made it to the back of the store, boom, you turn a corner into another narrow room filled floor to ceiling with toys. In the back room you will find arts and crafts, girls craft kits, toddler toys and more. Can’t find something? Ask Caroline or Leonard. They always have great suggestions. (PS – you can get Bizainy items here too!)
Conveniently located next to Susie Cakes on San Vicente and featuring a toddler carousel out front, Jenny Becs is hard to miss. When you enter Jenny becs you are greeted by a baby nursery decor window display and a small selection of baby gifts. A little further in are dress up clothes and an awesome book section! Owner, Jenny is one of the best kids book buyers I’ve found. She reads every single book thats in her store and knows why something is cute or might be a little scary. She picks titles you haven’t seen elsewhere and has a knowledgeable staff who can actually pull the books off the shelf and tell you about them. Looking for crafts, games, legos, ride on toys or baby dolls? You’ve come to the right place. And don’t forget these ladies gift wrap. At check-out you will also find all kinds of cute costume jewelry, nail polish and stickers to tie onto the outside of the gift.
Toy Crazy has four locations in SoCal (in the Country Marts in Marin, Montecito, Malibu and Brentwood) and offers the same great personalized service in each one. These are all smaller stores with less volume than some of those mentioned about but they always have cute items that make great last minute gifts and the staff is always happy to wrap them up for you. Last summer we bought a Boogie Board at the Malibu location and they wrapped it up for us! Owner Melissa Moore keeps clients up to date on her latest finds on her blog and we just love that this is a mom-owned business! So be sure to stop by when you are at any of the Country Marts and see for yourself!
Aero Hobbies & Games
We have more suggestion for you too. This place isn’t fancy or flashy and you’re not going to run into any celebrity moms there…unless they are secretly involved in multi player, role playing games like World of Warcraft. Aero Hobbies & Games on Santa Monica Blvd in Santa Monica is a haven for the game culture folks who meet there to paint miniatures for their role playing games or play games at the big table in the center of the room. The girl running the register has purple hair and lots of tattoos and piercings. She’s more Venice or Hollywood than she is Santa Monica…and lucky for us she knows a ton about games. Aero Games carries some of the best, most creative and interesting board games. We picked up our new family faves Monster Factory, Rat a Tat Cat and Penguin Fishing on our last visit there. You cannot shop online. You have to go in person. Ask a lot of questions because you will undoubtedly discover something new at Aero.
LAURA NIX GERSON is the Founder & Editor of MomAngeles a site she launched because she was planning a lot of playdates and her friends kept asking her where to go and what to do. So it seemed easier just to put it all online in one place. In a past life Laura was a publicist, event marketer and web producer….oh wait, she still is. Laura is a regular contributor to Modern Mom and Babble. She is also the CEO of Nix Gerson Media. Follow her @MomAngeles.