A true Southern California beach town, Venice Beach is famous for its boardwalk, where skating musclemen sashay past cheesy trinket shops. But one mile east, Abbot Kinney Boulevard has recently become the pleasant polar opposite: a long, mellow street of independent boutiques.
Surfing Cowboys has everything a dude could want (1624 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310/450-4891). In 1999, former fashion photographers Wayne and Donna Gunther began turning their studio, where they also lived, into this shop, stocking it with collectibles, mid-century furniture, and art. Antique surfboards, roughly hewn wooden tables, and rare hula-girl figurines can cost upward of $1,000, but there are also plenty of reasonably priced mementos, such as vintage surf posters (from $25) and the store's popular CHARLIE DON'T SURF T-shirts, a reference to Apocalypse Now ($18).
Creative types have long been attracted to Venice, and the gallery Ten Women puts their efforts on display (#1237, 310/452-2256). Contrary to what its name implies, Ten Women is a co-op that actually includes 21 painters, sculptors, jewelry designers, and photographers, who all split the rent, sell their wares, and staff the counter. Each artist works a three-hour shift once a week, so there's always an informed clerk on hand. Jewelry designer Phyllis Kalionzes creates dangling earrings with imported early-20th-century glass beads ($20); Peggy McKeever bakes colorful, tangled telephone wires into sculptures in the shape of women's dresses (from $20).
Best friends Katherine Kemp and Kim Michalowski run Ananda Shakti, a boutique with affordable goods that have a global vibe (#1354, 310/399-4186). Necklaces imported from Brazil are made of dried seeds and nuts strung together on twine ($38). They also stock a line of shirts with drawings of Buddhist temples ($30) by a Venice-based company called Custom.
While many area shops find friends and couples partnering, friends Erinn Berkson and Elizabeth McConocha decided they needed their own spaces--sort of. Berkson's seven-year-old Firefly stocks clothing, jewelry, accessories, and pampering products, such as aromatic eye pillows ($18) stuffed with dried herbs and flowers (#1413, 310/450-6288). There's a cottage in the back, where two years ago McConocha opened In the Garden (310/450-3828). Outdoor lamps of iron and weather-resistant paper ($50) sit alongside garden gnomes ($39).
French-trained jewelry maker Sandrine Klein sells her work at The Goddess (#1507, 310/314-1494), and on the first and third Sunday mornings of each month, she and her staff teach a class called Bead & Breakfast. A handful of gemstones, a chain, and a clasp start at $25--the coffee, pastries, and advice are free.