Aviator Nation

Aviator Nation in Venice sells retro sporty T-shirts, sweats and hats. It's the creation of Paige Mycoskie, sister of Toms shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times / July 2, 2012)

With summer in full swing, it's time to hit the beach — for sunning, yes, but also for shopping.

There's a new level of sophistication in shopping along the coast. Locally owned boutiques with a curated point of view are changing the flavor of beach towns from beer-soaked spring break haunts to chic retail and dining destinations.

The style renaissance is fueled in part by the success of Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which this spring was dubbed by GQ magazine the chic-est street in America. With stores in Craftsman-style houses and beach bungalows, along with ping-pong tables and comfy outdoor seating that encourage visitors to linger, even the retail scene has a friendly sense of community.

"Abbot Kinney has an energy that you cannot find anywhere else in L.A.," says fashion maven Jeannie Lee, who recently opened a second outpost of her popular 3rd Street boutique Satine on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, selling $500-plus designer clothing by Jenni Kayne and Alexander Wang alongside wetsuits by Cynthia Rowley for Roxy. "No matter what day of the week or time of day, there are always people on the street. Since we have been open I noticed that we have little to no down time. The level of traffic coming into the store is intense."

Stylish, new independent boutiques have been cropping up in Manhattan Beach (Dawn Baker), Hermosa Beach (Deep Pocket Jean Co.) and Long Beach (Port, Long Beach Trading Co.) too, as fashion industry vets have moved from L.A. to the beach cities and designers and merchandisers who came of age working for surf and skate industry giants have left to start their own lines and retail endeavors.

"Hermosa is filled with authentic creativity," says David Borgatta, who opened Deep Pocket Jean Co. on Pier Avenue in Hermosa eight months ago after working as a designer for 25 years at Quiksilver, Guess, Hollister and other brands. "The old Hermosa is changing. It's more about lifestyle, and not just partyers and drunks. We also have a lot of pro athletes living here."

We surveyed the scene and came up with coastal shopping itineraries that sample stores in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, the South Bay and Long Beach. But let's start with the most chic of streets, Abbot Kinney.


On Abbot Kinney, just steps away from the sand, the boardwalk and the drum circles, high-end fashion and design stores sit alongside pot pharmacies and bike shops. Although the area is steeped in the powerful legacy of the surf-skate culture stretching back to the neighborhood's 1970s Dogtown days, even its beach T-shirt shops have been elevated now to something more special. It adds up to an eclectic mix of shopping opportunities from Venice to Westminster boulevards.

With a bright blue exterior painted with two bunnies by local graffiti artist Jules Muck, the new Satine (1508 Abbot Kinney) can't be missed. Lee's vision of luxury fashion in Venice comes in a relaxed beach bungalow setting. There are cheery Thakoon dresses, cuddly Jenni Kayne sweaters, Ancient Greek Sandals footwear, Eugenia Kim straw hats, Meredith Wendell macrame clutches and sleek Rochas totes, as well as eclectic goodies such as green tea Kit Kats and crochet iPhone covers, inspired by Lee's love of Japan.

At the other end of the street, Heist (1104 Abbot Kinney) was one of the first fashion boutiques to open on Abbot Kinney at the dawn of the street's renaissance, in 2004. It has a European flavor, featuring Isabel Marant floral dresses and fringed sweaters, Of Two Minds tweed jackets, Dieppa Restrepo booties, K. Jacques sandals, Jerome Dreyfuss totes and Pippa Small semiprecious stone jewelry.

Pamela Barish (1327 1/2 Abbot Kinney) also opened her store in 2004. A die-hard Venice local, Barish has adopted her own 100-mile-radius rule, and all of her clothes are made within it. Her spring collection includes picnic-ready gingham, eyelet and polka dot fit 'n' flare dresses, solid sheaths, skirts and tops with Peter Pan collars.

There's lots here for the more avant-garde set too, beginning at Guild (13351/2 Abbot Kinney), where you'll find Band of Outsiders lace shorts, distressed Greg Lauren jackets and Ronald Pineau studded clutches. Salt (11381/2 Abbot Kinney) is less rock 'n' roll, with modern-looking clothes from Elaine Kim, Hache and Hartford.

Mona Moore (1112 Abbot Kinney) is the place to find cutting-edge shoes by Balenciaga, Marni and Martin Margiela, while Waraku (1225 Abbot Kinney) has hard-to-find kicks for men and women, like gingham check Nikes, Marimekko print Converse and split-toe Sou-Sous, alongside Japanese streetwear brands.

For leather accessories, San Francisco-based designer Kendall Conrad (1121 Abbot Kinney) specializes in bags that incorporate traditional techniques of Spanish saddlery, including sleek styles with fringe, tassel or whipstitch trim and brass hardware, as well as leather wallets and cuff bracelets.

You'll find men's canvas totes, messenger bags and accessories at Jack Spade (1132 Abbot Kinney), and Lucite bracelets and other fashion jewelry at Alexis Bittar (1612 Abbot Kinney).

And for an olfactory treat, Venice-based Strange Invisible Perfumes (1138 Abbot Kinney) and New York-based Le Labo (1138 1/2) recently formed a "Perfume Commune," co-existing in side-by-side storefronts where they spritz the art of custom perfumery.

The Stronghold (1625 Abbot Kinney), L.A.'s first denim brand circa 1885, worn by Charlie Chaplin in the "Little Tramp" and Henry Fonda in "Grapes of Wrath," has its flagship on Abbot Kinney. The place has an old-fashioned vibe and features the house-label jeans, alongside goods from other American heritage brands, including Alden shoes, Russell moccasins, Filson bags and Dickies shirts. Don't miss the chic carpet bags for women either.

Steven Alan (1601 Abbot Kinney) has a preppy vibe, with button-down shirts for men and women, Lauren Moffatt cotton dresses in delicate prints, Clare Vivier envelope bags and Soludos espadrilles.

In Venice's boho spirit, L.A. designer Karyn Craven recently opened her first Burning Torch (1627 Abbot Kinney) store here. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with breezy tunics in bright silk prints, exotic beaded bed jackets and dresses, woven leather tops, upcycled blouses and chunky necklaces.