Shopping And Services

Best New Restaurant: Lalla Grill -- Bartender Kristin Walker (left), server Kristi Marenger

The experience pressed heat to her cheeks. Sweet, sauna-like humidity moistened her inner thighs. Her temples beaded with delicate pearls of perspiration. Bess Oph’s body was completely alive and in the moment. Bikram Yoga was intense, not unlike her ongoing affairs with the Carmel Valley Athletic Club (the Best Health Club flipped all her switches, and sent her temperature rising way above 105 degrees) or Trotter’s Antiques (the gorgeous wood grains left her lightheaded). She balanced this intensity with the soft caress of the best pamper protocols offered by Spa on the Plaza, Aqua Blue and Mantra. As she would lie under hot river stones, a whisper would find its way up her spine, along her neck and to her supple lips: “Life in love with Monterey County,” it came quietly, “is a wildly, ravenously rewarding affair.”

BEST NEW BUSINESS OF 2008
MY Museum
425 Washington St., Monterey 649-6444, www.mymuseum.org

Kids and parents rejoiced when this 9,500-square-foot, nonprofit kids museum/indoor amusement park finally reopened last November (from its former location in Cannery Row to downtown Monterey). Seven distinct galleries/play stations include golf, the beach, theater, ag, treehouse, hospital and house construction – a microcosm of Monterey County. The museum recently celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday with an appearance by the Cat in the Hat; it schedules special play dates like the Skylab planetarium (an inflatable “igloo” that fits 30); and coming soon: a March 29 demo by Chef Brandon Miller, an April 10 Easter Egg hunt, and local author Brad Herzog on Earth Day, April 22.

BEST ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY BUSINESS

Evolve 108

108 Webster St., Monterey 6

48-1080, www.evolve108.com

Since opening last August, designer boutique Evolve 108 has won the hearts of tree-huggers and fashion plates alike. “We wanted to make sure we had a lifestyle store where people can enjoy every aspect of moving in a green direction, whether it’s organic cosmetics or chemical-free clothing – an inspiration to themselves and to the Earth,” says Davia Moore, a Pacific Grove High alum who co-owns the shop with her mother, Desiree Cromwell. The store’s custom-built interior features recycled walnut fixtures from Watsonville, bamboo flooring, nontoxic paint and low-emission lighting. Tree-free paper and meticulous recycling keep the store’s carbon footprint dainty. And then there are the products: accessories made from reclaimed materials, pesticide-free fabrics, green home goods and ethically created fashion. “When you think eco-friendly you think hippie-dippie, like hemp shirts,” says sales associate Jamie Oksas, “but our women’s line is sophisticated and classic, eco-friendly and also pretty and feminine. It’s not just yoga pants.”

BEST SHOPPING CENTER
Del Monte Shopping Center
1410 Del Monte Center, Monterey 373-2705, www.delmontecenter.com

An excellent concept: Throw together the best in good eats like P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Islands Fine Burger & Drink and California Pizza Kitchen in a 675,000-square-foot, outdoor center. Add some some top-notch shops like Banana Republic, Lucky Brand Jeans, Pac Sun, White House | Black Market, Pottery Barn and Macy’s, to name a few. Conveniently locate a Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery and the LALLA Grill, so the shopping and dining experience can be fully enjoyed (with the necessary coffee, ice cream, martini, or all of the above) before or after a movie at Century Cinemas.

BEST PLACE TO BUY ART/CRAFT SUPPLIES
Beverly’s Fabrics and Crafts
2090 N. Fremont St., Monterey 646-5141 | 344 Main St., Salinas 322-1508, www.beverlys.com

Founded in 1968, the 22 locations of Beverly’s have everything you need for your big or little projects: ribbon, paint, beads, glue, fabric, paintbrushes, yarn, feathers and shelves towering with possibilities and ideas. Beverly’s also offers classes on a variety of creative genres and its website features printable coupons (this month, potted trees, 3-5 feet, regular price: $79.99; with coupon: $38.88). Whether you have plans to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel, or maybe just knit a scarf for a loved one, Beverly’s is your starting point.

BEST ANTIQUE SHOP
Trotter’s Antiques
590 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove 373-3505

For extreme antique enthusiasts in the know, Trotter’s is a treasure trove of 17th-20th century antiques. Upon entering the store, novices may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of furniture, artwork and one-of-a-kind pieces of history in pristine condition. Lee Trotter has been seeking out the best antiques on the Peninsula for nearly four decades, mostly from the wealthy estates in the Carmel/Pebble Beach area. Everything in her P.G. store – dating back to the 1700s – is guaranteed to be an original piece. No replicas, no joke.

BEST BANK
Wells Fargo
Various locations throughout Monterey County (800) 869-3557, www.wellsfargo.com

Ten branch locations in Monterey County. ATMs everywhere – malls, supermarkets and stadiums. Free online banking. No monthly checking fees. Twenty-four hour phone assistance. Relentless theft protection. These are the things that make the Stagecoach good. The fact that it does all these things with relentless reliability, allowing clients to relax while banking on the go – makes it the Best of Monterey County.

BEST BIKE STORE
Joselyn’s Bicycles
398 E. Franklin St., Monterey 649-8520, www.joselynsbicycles.com

From tricycles to race-ready speed machines, Joselyn’s Bicycles pedals at all levels. It’s in customer service, though, where it finds another gear – the staff springs to action with attention and insight to build, tune and fully repair any bicycle, regardless of if it has been purchased at Joselyn’s. Pre-triathlon, huge weekend road rumble, or epic Fort Ord mountain bike mania – or simply a relaxing cruise down the Rec trail – brake by JB’s.

BEST SAILING SCHOOL
MPC Boating
100 Campus Center, Seaside 582-4271, www.montereyboating.org

Plunge into an unfamiliar and serene world where dolphins, sea lions, whales and otters rule, and the wind is your only guide. Taught by American Sailing Association certified instructors, CSUMB offers ASA certification programs (enrollment is also available through MPC, which at one time ran the program; today the program is MPC’s in name only). Beginning with the most basic sailing all the way to bareboat chartering, learn the vocabulary of the salty dog: trimming, tacking, jibing and steering. Also learn the maneuvers: docking, man overboard recovery, heaving to and reefing. Along with the adult certification classes, CSUMB offers youth programs for 8-18 year olds.

BEST BOOKSTORE-USED
Book Haven
559 Tyler St., Monterey 333-0383, www.abebooks.com

The Book Haven is the real deal: a used bookstore with rare hardbacks and paperbacks on everything from theater to philosophy to butterfly collecting. Co-owner Guy Rodriguez gives the collection, which is especially strong in maritime and military history and art, special attention. One recent find: a first edition of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, an appropriately counter-culture find, to the browser’s obvious delight.

BEST BOOKSTORE-NEW
Borders
2080 California Ave., Sand City
899-6643
Borders Express
1301 Munras Ave., Monterey 373-0987, www.borders.com

Worldwide chain Borders is a purveyor of cutting-edge literature – or at least the Sand City store is. There, you can find Roberto Bolano’s sprawling 895-page opus 2666: A Novel and scattershot genius William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central. Of course, Borders stocks popular titles like President Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and John Grisham’s latest, too.

BEST CAR DEALERSHIP-NEW
Victory Toyota
5 Heitzinger Plaza, Seaside 393-3020

Everybody wins with this dealership’s large selection of new and certified pre-owned vehicles, supremely competitive pricing, a service department that’s open seven days a week, knowledgeable and friendly staff, and complimentary shuttle service. Throw in the arguably strongest lineup of cars and trucks on the road, and it’s a Victory all the way around.

BEST CAR DEALERSHIP-USED
Cardinale Motors
3 Geary Plaza, Seaside 393-0600

Its range of dealerships means great selection – buyers can pull from the inventory of any of Cardinale’s many lots. Its financing program, as flexible and democratic as any in the area, means more people can find the ride that’s right for them. Best of all, its family-owned identity means buyers get to deal with longtime locals. Sold.

BEST CAR REPAIR
Tom’s Monterey Auto Repair
870 Abrego St., Monterey 372-5854, www.tomsauto.com

“From oil change to engine exchange.” That’s Tom Hillesheim’s motto for his auto shop, and he (and his employees) deliver. The store’s experienced mechanics will perform “any service” on “any car.” So, whatever your make or model, whatever is broken or just a bit wobbly, you can get it fixed at Tom’s.

BEST CARWASH
El Estero Car Wash
590 Fremont St., Monterey 373-1801, www.elesterocarwash.com

This place is misnamed. El Estero… fine. While the chariot is getting buffed, glossed and flossed, a stroll along the scenic neighboring namesake’s lakeshores is nice (simply make sure that you’re not gone long – despite their popularity, these guys are militantly considerate in their 20-minute-a-wash ethic). But as the wax goes on, “wash” sounds a little off. It’s more like car “spa.” The highly customizable options (Bronze? Silver? Gold? Platinum? Á la carte?) include everything from console cream protectant to an underbody rinse – and fragrance.

BEST COMPUTER STORE
Apple Store
240 Del Monte Center, Monterey 647-4480, www.store.apple.com/us

Apple is awfully controlling when it comes to its expensive proprietary technology, but the products are so well crafted and stylish that they are next to impossible to resist. This store is a one-stop Apple specialty shop. The Genius Bar serves steaming piles of Genius to answer all your questions; you can also make an appointment with a dedicated specialist to take you around the store to find the computer that best suits your needs. Add in-store technical service, and the standard is set for premium computer stores everywhere.

BEST DIVE SHOP
Bamboo Reef
614 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey 372-1685, www.bambooreef.com

In a bay full of dive buddies, these dudes are the amphibious set’s best friend. When they aren’t taking local amphibians around the globe – upcoming trips will hit Indo, the Phillipines and the Channel Islands – they’re dispensing great gear and wise guidance. And like any diver worth his bottled air, they are also adept at another key skill: administering awesome underwater adventure stories. Have John tell you the one about how he kept a huge halibut from dragging him and his spear gun out to a watery death (and how he prepped said flounder for the grill).

BEST DRY CLEANERS
Vapor Sudden Services Cleaners
1193 10th St., Monterey 375-5221

Friendly and family-owned since 1921, Vapor’s is home to all of your dry cleaning needs. The family prides themselves on eco-friendly cleaning solutions, and pay close attention to detail, listening to what customers want, which keeps patrons coming back. Maybe someone wants a crease, and someone else hates creases. Missing a button, get it sewed on. Detail. Detail. Detail. This is what makes it tailor suited for a Best Of.

BEST ETHNIC MARKET
El Rancho Market
346 Reservation Road, Marina 384-5151

Israel Castro and his family have held down the fort – as it pertains to Mexican and Central American food and goods – at the same Marina address for 21 years. The secret to their success? A prepared food menu that keeps people flowing through to pick up carnitas, burritos (including a “very, very big” breakfast burrito for $3.25, Israel says), and rotisserie chicken; a butcher shop stocked with boneless chuck, sirloin, queso fresco and more; a staple of beans, rice, chiles, produce, spices and Jarrito sodas; and, Israel says, check-cashing service. And piñatas – can’t forget the piñatas.

BEST FLORIST
Swenson & Silacci Flowers
432 Alvarado St., Monterey 375-2725 | 110 John St., Salinas 424-2725, www.onlineflowers.com

Bees, brides, and big-hearted folks all across the county love Swenson & Silacci Flowers. With its roots in the rich Salinas soil, Swenson & Silacci has been prepping specialty bouquets for any occasion and delivering smiles since the days of Steinbeck. Boss man: Don’t forget Administrative Professional Week (formally known as the apparently p.c.-squeamish Secretaries Week) coming up next month. If you’ve got a good one, you know well why they deserve a full week of floral goodwill. An early e-commerce success story, S&S does dandy business out of their digital storefront, and also out of their two locations in Salinas and Monterey.

BEST REAL ESTATE COMPANY
Coldwell Banker
3775 Via Nona Marie, Carmel 626-2222 | Junipero and Fifth, Carmel 626-2224 | Ocean Avenue and Lincoln, Carmel 626-2225 300 | 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach 626-2223 | 501 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove 626-2226

Assuming you still have a job and can afford to make mortgage payments, there may never be a better time to buy a house in Monterey County. Interest rates are scraping the floor, once-staggering prices have dropped to reasonable levels, and the inventory, or number of homes available for purchase, is great. So says Rita J. Lewis, managing broker for Coldwell Banker. With 140 local brokers manning five offices throughout the county, Coldwell can get your happy feet in the door of your very own starter home in Seaside, or down the Big Sur Coast, where your dream crib awaits. So what separates Coldwell from the rest? “We have the most professional, ethical, competent team on the coast,” Lewis says, “and we put clients’ needs first.”

BEST GOLF SHOP
Golf Mart
2040 Fremont Blvd., Seaside 583-1000

From fairway woods and wedges to utility hybrids and Guerin Rife Black Barbados putters, the 12,000-square-foot store stretches beyond the golf enthusiast’s wildest dreams. Golf Mart not only offers a gargantuan inventory, competitive prices and a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, it also offers a full-swing simulator, a vector-launch monitor to make sure you really get the right club, and professional service from some of the most knowledgeable folks in the game. Assistant manager Bill Moore says a couple of employees have even played in USGA Championships.

BEST HEALTH CLUB
Carmel Valley Athletic Club
27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel 624-2737, www.cvaconline.com

Tucked away in the milk-n-honey sublimity called Carmel Valley is CVAC, a ranchette-style facility with perfectly manicured stone walkways, heated outdoor lap pool, officious looking bocce grounds, endless tennis courts, and about as much top-end hardware as can be procured for the exercise rooms inside. Tread roughly on the industrial strength Life Fitness, Cybex and Hammer Strength brand gym machines, or go with the flow of the hot yoga, spin, Pilates, and “body combat” classes staffed by pros and sprinkled through each and every day. The only noticeable deficiency: a real basketball court, which us hoopsters must hope will be addressed with signature CVAC class by the new GM, Carmel High Basketball head coach Ryan Sanchez. (Wink, nudge.)

BEST YOGA STUDIO
Bikram Yoga Monterey Bay
170 Central Ave., Pacific Grove 333-1007, www.bikramyogamonterey.com

Hot yoga is not for everyone. With the heat cranking and the pores pouring, it can be a bit much for those with weak systems or heart conditions. But those who practice it swear by its restorative powers with reverent zeal. Regular attendee Mike Cook plans to take 150 classes this year, and happily ticks off the completed classes on his calendar: “It brings joy to my life, provides focus and relaxation.” A combination of meditation and yogic exercise performed in a room that is heated to a healthy swelter, Bikram devotees claim increased flexibility, endurance and a cleaner system that gets regular toxin flushing. Once cleared, get thy decrepit self to Bikram, where the pleasant heat of B/M/S (body, mind, spirit – what did you think it meant?) transformation awaits.

BEST MASSAGE THERAPIST
Mirek Kozicki Mind-Body Therapy Center
1 Soledad Dr., Monterey 655-2808, www.mindbodytherapycenter.com

Mirek Kozicki is probably the most eclectic masseur you’ll ever meet. The Polish émigré’s checkered career includes a stint teaching Polish Language and Culture at DLI, serving time as a techie, and adventures all over the world as he and his wife, Jolanta, study up on the latest in massage alternative-health techniques from all over the globe. As he kneads through the stresses of work, he entertains with soothing, humorous takes on the state of the world. He’s got strong hands and a huge heart, which is probably why he’s a consistent winner in this category.

BEST HOTEL
Monterey Plaza Hotel
400 Cannery Row, Monterey 646-1700, www.montereyplazahotel.com

You don’t need to be a tourist to enjoy the luxury-in-our-own-backyard that is the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa (in fact, locals receive special deals at the Plaza). Perched over the Bay, its water-facing rooms offer dramatic views of the coastline – and who doesn’t enjoy falling asleep to the sound of lapping waves? Spa treatments, sipping cocktails and whale watching on the Schooners Bistro patio, and breakfasting along with otters and cormorants (critters and humans remain separated by bay-view windows) at the Duck Club Grill aren’t too shabby, either.

BEST SPA
Aquablue Skin & Body Spa
229 Main St., Salinas 422-2500, www.aquabluespa.com

The mission of Aquablue is the same as it was in 2003 when it opened: relaxation, rejuvenation and results. It starts with prime real estate in historic Oldtown Salinas. Next, it’s the ambiance of falling water, soft music and a buffet of simply elegant aromas. And that’s all before you get to the front counter. Bottom line is, owners Frank and Debbie Savino have this place fine-tuned to perfection, from the skin and body treatments to the seemingly endless collection of massages and therapies. It could take months to experience them all. Might we suggest starting now.

BEST SALON
Mantra
Mission and Seventh, Carmel 626-1223, www.mantrasalon.com

Weekly readers love the Zen-ish-ness of the place: the locale in the Court of the Fountains, the immaculate beauty of the shop, and the obvious commitment to making every appointment an entire event. Walk in the door, and tea is waiting. Need a haircut? You’ll be getting a neck and scalp massage, too. Having roots touched up? Hand massages and make-up touch-ups are part of that ritual. We dig the new chakra spray body mist line. We think numbers six and seven, insight and wisdom, are actually making us smarter – or at least making us smell and feel pretty darn good.

BEST BARBERSHOP
SuperCuts
488 Alvarado St., Monterey 375-2887 | 925 Playa Ave., Ste. A, Sand City 583-9054 | 1211 N. Davis Road, Salinas 754-6667 | 1506 Constitution Blvd., Salinas 444-8137, www.supercuts.com

With the economy getting swept into the trash like all the trimmed locks of locals (which the Super staffers do with conscientious consistency), people need to get in and out quickly without losing quality or liberating too much coin. Here is the place where that happens. With style. True story.

BEST TANNING SALON
Malibu by the Sea
2024 Del Monte Ave., Ste B, Monterey 643-9378, www.malibubythesea.com

Whether with sprays or rays, this place can give you a ’do and darken your hue all in the same appointment. With the most modern equipment available, you’ll get bronzed, and the salon’s skin and nail care will make you up in colors to complement your new pigmentation.

BEST PLACE FOR SKINCARE
Spa on the Plaza
201 Alvarado St., Monterey 647-9000, www.spaontheplaza.com

Monterey’s original luxury spa recently completed a remodel and expansion and now boasts more than 6,000 square feet of spa, health and fitness services. Along with a full menu of services – like the anti-aging tropical wrap and papaya enzyme facial, and warm riverstone massage – the Spa on the Plaza also offers guests complimentary use of its fitness center, showers, steamroom, whirlpool and plunge pool. And while its skilled staff rub, scrub and smooth cares and worries away from your body and mind, your soul can rest assured: the spa’s a member of the Organic Trade Association.

BEST FURNITURE STORE
Poppleton’s
299 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey 649-3083, www.poppletonshome.com

Poppleton’s allows customers to customize, or buy direct from the floor. Its many skilled designers are eager to suggest a fitting ensemble for any home: iron canopy beds, Tibetan hand-knotted rugs (if these don’t suit you, try the hand-woven Aubusson), silver crystal lamps, chests – and don’t leave without a good book case, and high-back, leather-dimpled chairs. Across the room a Louis XVI roll-top desk lends itself well to the idea of these must-have chairs. Upon departure try not to regret leaving that beautiful Alsace bureau desk behind. Or, you can always come back for it later.

BEST JEWELRY STORE
Gasper’s Jewelers
447 Alvarado St., Monterey 375-5332

Diamonds are forever, and at Gasper’s, customization makes them the perfect gift. The family-owned jewelry store offers an array of elegant diamonds and gems cut with pure precision. There is also a selection of high-quality platinum, white and yellow gold designer pieces. Gasper’s has been showcasing its selection of one-of-a-kind jewelry with knowledgeable customer service since 1989.

BEST INTERNET PROVIDER
Red Shift
712 Hawthorne St., Monterey 655-8710 | 1124 S. Main St., Salinas 755-7700, www.redshift.com

There are plenty of Internet options at this hi-tech, Green Certified business: satellite, residential and commercial DSL, wireless, T1, and super broadband. But proof positive that this group is committed to Internet for all: It offers dial-up. So for Monterey County residents still using Windows 95 and AOL, there is hope. With free phone support 365 days a year, subscribers are sure to get help for their web problems without waiting on hold forever.

BEST MEN’S CLOTHING STORE
J. Lawrence Khaki’s Men’s Clothiers
3744 The Barnyard, Carmel 625-8106, www.khakisofcarmel.com

Are you a man? Do you wear clothes? We certainly encourage you to, if only for public outings. The flat-out finest can be found at Khaki’s – as even our lesser competitors on the fashion beat (Esquire) have recognized, voting Khaki’s of Carmel one of the best men’s stores in America – and thereby placing them in the company of Bergdorf Goodman, Mario’s in Seattle, Louis of Boston and Harold’s of London. The labels here include Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali, Diesel, Isaia, Robert Talbott. The label for Khaki’s itself: world-class.

BEST WOMEN’S CLOTHING BOUTIQUE
Bliss Boutique
266 Main St., Salinas 757-4055

Sure we may be in the middle of the deep, dark recession rivaling the Great Depression. But that doesn’t mean you have to dress like it. Find spring’s hottest looks – flowery, floaty tops, Maxi dresses and boyfriend jeans – at prices that won’t send you to the soup line. This perennial fave among fashionistas also sells chic accessories, including handbags and jewelry.

BEST SECONDHAND CLOTHING BEST THRIFT STORE
Goodwill
708 E. Alisal St., Salinas 424-5346 | 1045 N. Main St., Salinas 755-8668 | 729 Broadway Ave., Seaside 394-1212 | 571 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey 649-6056, www.goodwill.org

Weekly distribution chief Aaron Thomas’ look reflects his gift for thrift: He sits in a pimpy ’80s Adidas jumpsuit (or a vintage velour shirt) in a tall, lime-green office chair beneath a huge fantasy-wizard painting next to a mug the size of a volleyball and reads THINK BIG. When asked to rank the options out there, the man who knows secondhand like the back of his hand is succinct: “Goodwill is pretty much it. It’s the place,” he says. “It should be a verb. Like Google.”

BEST SHOE STORE
Hedi’s Shoes
Ocean and Mission, Carmel 624-5580 | 3630 The Barnyard, Carmel 625-2055, www.hedi.com

Birkenstock? Check. Donald J. Pliner? Check. Ecco and Ugg? Check check. We’re big fans of the bare foot. Frankly, we have a penchant for perfectly pedicured toes. But when those days come when we simply must dress our feet, we like to do it here, where we can find absolutely everything. It’s no wonder, actually, considering Hedi’s does shop the entire freakin’ world – and we don’t mean on the Internet – to find the perfect shoes and shoemakers for our sweet little footsies. Don’t trust your tootsies to many. But trust Hedi’s absolutely.

BEST STORE FOR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Wise Music
233 Monterey St., Salinas 424-7885, www.myspace.com/wisemusicstore

Pete Wise keeps his customers coming back by satisfying every musician’s weakness: an insatiable appetite for fresher and better equipment. Say you want to upgrade that Squire for a Gibson. Wise Music will apply 80 percent of the purchase price towards the new ax. “We don’t always win on that, but it makes them come back,” Wise says. “Nobody else does anything like it. A lot of music stores say ‘no returns.’” Add in the constant rotation of used equipment, and Wise Music supplies prime grazing for fickle music heads.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD MARKET
Grove Market
242 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove 375-9581, www.grovemarketpg.com

For 40 years, Grove Market has been more than just the well-stocked grocery store around the corner. The friendly folks on staff are your always-chatty friend, sure-I’ll-spot-you-a-stick-of-butter neighbor, and personal culinary consultant rolled into one. Want well-marbled prime rib for that dinner party you’re having this weekend? Ask the guys at the meat and deli counter. Too tired to cook dinner tonight? Grab a roast chicken and a tub of just-like-homemade potato salad. Need some recipe ideas? One of their family or customer-submitted recipes will suffice. Grove Market even delivers.

BEST OUTDOOR GEAR STORE
REI
145 General Stillwell Drive, Marina 883-8048, www.rei.com

REI doesn’t transport you up a powdery peak or beside the smoky warmth of a backpacker fire, but the store gives you all the gear you need for any nature jaunt, from a Tahoe snowboard trip to a weeklong trek through Yosemite. Quality outdoor equipment can be pricy, but becoming a member saves you green. Not only do you receive a 10 percent refund for most purchases every March, but members can take advantage of routine sales and the Marina store’s quarterly, used-gear sale (next one is April 4). While shopping for hiking boots and sleeping bags at REI, you can almost smell redwood bark and roasted marshmallows.

BEST NURSERY
Valley Hills Nursery
7440 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel 624-3482, www.valleyhillsnursery.com

Don’t call Rick Richardson a plant geek. As far as the winning nursery owner is concerned, there’s nothing nerdy about flora – and local gardeners and landscapers agree. “We pride ourselves on our customer service and our plant selections,” says Richardson, who bought the business from his mother and stepfather three years ago. Ornamental gardeners love the rainbow of bedding colors, even in winter; and eco-landscapers are impressed by the deer-resistant, drought-tolerant and organic variety. Valley Hills’ product line even includes some fauna – ladybugs and lacewings and mantises to eat pests, and free mosquito fish to keep pond-breeding skeeters in check. When asked about the weirdest plant in his shop, Richardson only hesitates a moment before quipping: “Probably one of my employees.” Three cheers, then, for these beloved plant weirdoes.

BEST LOCAL PET STORE
Posh Pets
170 Fountain Ave., Pacific Grove 375-7387, www.poshpetspg.com

The cat is out of the bag. A neighborhood pet store for 12 years, Posh Pets has all of the studded leashes, cat houses, couture t-shirts (including one tiny T that proclaims “I’ve Got Issues,” and another that asks “Got Treats?”) that you would expect, plus a healthy supply of raw and organic pet foods for just about any critter. “Our customers tend to be people who care about the well being of their pets, and care about the products they feed them,” owner Kelly Lehrian says. As a charitable effort, PP has dedicated window frontage and a store wall as donated space to AFRP adopt-a-cat and rabbit programs. Several resident felines prowl the aisles, including a hairless purrer named Merecat who has quite a fan club. Pets are welcome to visit and pick out a baby (toy, in pet owner parlance) of their own. Splurge a bit and take home a sushi and conch dinner for your beloved lap-sitter. Just don’t let the cats (or wabbits) out when you come in.

BEST VETERINARIAN
Ocean View Veterinary Hospital
109 Central Ave., Pacific Grove 649-4111, www.ovvh.com

Dr. Frank Kocher’s pet care will help you heal your critter, whether they need medication, surgery, or just for their people to give them a little less kibble during the day. The clinic will treat virtually anything mammalian, and they have been doing it for many years. Why, even our poll of the pets that have been treated there revealed a 95 percent satisfaction rating! Okay, not really, but if it were possible, they surely would.

BEST PHARMACY
Ordway Drugs
499 Alvarado St., Monterey 372-8085, www.ordwaydrug.com

As one of the oldest businesses on the Central Coast, years of local ownership have made this independent pharmacy a long-time winner. Originally built on the corner of Franklin and Alvarado in 1904, Ordway has expanded its size and services, offering locals the personalized customer service that chain stores just can’t give. With a promise to “meet or beat any price in Monterey County,” Ordway Drugs almost takes the sting out of buying those daily insulin shots.

BEST PHOTO STORE
Green’s Camera World
472 Alvarado St., Monterey 565-1234 | 350 Main St., Salinas 424-5247, www.greenscameraworld.com

Green’s Camera World has been serving both Salinas and Monterey for some time now – since 1921 to be exact. For Green’s, it’s a mix of things that keeps it going: one-on-one customer service, good prices and the only place on the Peninsula that develops slide film (at the Monterey store). It also develops medium format film. All locations have a nice selection of cameras, accessories and a friendly staff.

BEST GROCERY STORE BEST ORGANIC PRODUCE MARKET
Whole Foods
800 Del Monte Center, Monterey 333-1600, www.wholefoodsmarket.com

As grocery stores scramble to keep pace with the public’s blooming eco-awareness, natural and organic products timidly surface among the stacks of synthetic staples on conventional market shelves. But the chain that’s always been ahead of the curve is maintaining its comfortable lead with Weekly readers. Whole Foods remains the only place on the Peninsula where health-conscious customers can find MSG-free veggie bouillon, bulk nutritional yeast and organic turkey sausage; browse abundant displays of pesticide-free fruits and veggies; pair sustainably-grown wine with raw, hormone-free cheese; and nibble on samples of jalapeño-spiced tortilla chips with cold mango salsa. It’s worth the premium to know that Whole Foods products contain no trans fats or artificial ingredients: because what’s healthiest is also the tastiest.

BEST SELECTION OF LIQUOR
BevMo!
1900 North Davis Road, Salinas 442-2411, www.bevmo.com

Here, spirits, cervezas and savignon blancs are but the beginning, young grasshopper. When they say more, they mean it: cheeses, mixers, glasses, goblets, pourers, gourmet snacks, shooters, sauces, syrups, specialty sodas and so on. Imagine everything from a seemingly infinite index of popular red wines – Portuguese to Pessagno – to obscure green fairies (that’s absinthe, and it’s got a dozen of the domestically approved options). Mo is better.

BEST WINE MARKET
Trader Joe’s
570 Munras Ave., Monterey 372-2010 | 1170 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove 656-0180, www.traderjoes.com

Wine should be made for the masses – as Trader Joe’s reminds us. They have stuff that can be swirled, sniffed and slurped without causing insufficient fund failures. (Don’t be afraid to move past the bottom shelf values to mild investments that yield even more bang for Bordeaux.) And since the U.S. struggles to make goods for less in ways that Europe or South America, do not, T.J.’s stocks accordingly – and eclectically. For checkbook challenged oenephiles looking to taste the wines of the world, check this joint: Roll your wagons into Sheryl Harriman’s wine aisle (she plays wine chief at P.G.’s outlet) and get tips from an expert. With cheese and baguettes waiting nearby, you may see teeth-stained tribe members waltzing in and asking aloud, “What should I pair with this Pinot?”

BEST SEAFOOD MARKET
Sea Harvest
598 Foam St., Monterey 646-0547 | 100 A Crossroads Blvd., Carmel 26-3626 | 2420 Highway 1, Moss Landing 728-8686

Here’s a great little recipe for Sea Harvest’s wild salmon from Alaska or farmed salmon from Canada: Marinate the slab of fish in a mixture of Dijon mustard, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper and then broil. Now, we gotta figure out some good ways to cook up the market’s mussels, clams, Hawaiian tuna and local seafood including sanddabs, red snapper, swordfish, fillet of sole and grenadier.

BEST GOURMET/KITCHEN SHOP

Clementine’s Kitchen

465 Canyon Del Rey Blvd., Del Rey Oaks 392-1494, www.clementineskitchen.com

Drew Chernoy and David Babcock understand the good life. David is a wildly creative Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and Drew has a good head for numbers. They have an apartment in Paris and visit regularly because – because it’s Paris. Their store is full of merchandise as diverse as the latest type of peeler and the fanciest magnificent European dishware. Plus, you can learn how to cook properly in one of the many classes, buy great gourmet food, wine and cheeses, and watch Drew worry endlessly about what hair-brained idea David is coming up with next. This store is great goods and great fun.

BEST CATERING COMPANY
Michael’s Catering
445 Reservation Road, Suite U, Marina 884-2400, www.michaels-catering.com

Teplitzky’s Catering seemed a bit much for word-weary Peninsulans to handle, so Chef Terry, or T-Squared as he’s known, settled upon Michael as an easy to remember name. That’s where the simplicity ends as this CIA-trained, highly experienced talent helps pedestrian events metamorphose into extravaganzas with his unlimited food expressions. From simple company gatherings to world-class galas, Michael’s Catering turns your hosting from humble to hooray in less time than it takes to spell Teplitzky.

BEST PLUMBER
A&R Plumbing
1720 Contra Costa St., Sand City 624-2047, 394-7221, www.aandrplumbinginc.com

A&R Plumbing does it again. The people have spoken and declared they want A&R handling their pipes. Whether needing a new home plumbed, or working on that dream remodeling project, A&R does it all – earthquake shut off valves, sewer and drain cleaning, appliance installations, and the list goes on. It’s a traditional, full-service plumbing company with more than 35 years of service to the community. Traditional, meaning A&R charges you for what you get: time and material. No flat-rate scams where your hard-earned money goes down the drain.

BEST ELECTRICIAN
John Moore Electric
302 Dela Vina Ave., Monterey 373-7117

John Moore is one of the most avid electricians in Monterey County. With 65 years of diligence and dedication to the electrical trade under his belt, his number-one priority is customer service. With a traveling range from Monterey to Big Sur, John Moore and his highly experienced staff come to the front door of any electrical situation with their “do it all” mentality.

BEST HARDWARE STORE (TIE)
Forest Hill Ace
1136 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove 372-3284
Pacific Grove Hardware
229 Forest Ave, Pacific Grove 646-9144

Weekly readers know lots of do-it-yourselfers in Pacific Grove and not all of them are schizophrenic. Many of them, however, can’t seem to keep the names of the two hardware stores on Forest Avenue straight. One is known as PG Hardware and it is as venerable a small-town hardware store as ever graced the planet. It is smack dab downtown, and it’s crammed from floor to ceiling with everything from replacement water heaters and chisels to the occasional monarch butterfly cut-out. The other store is known as Forest Hill Ace: It’s in a strip center, is a little bigger and seems to have more tools and paint, and nobody can miss the bargain tables out front. Both of these stores are staffed by the kind of friendly know-it-alls that take a lot of the mystery out of trying to solve a new household problem. And since the voters this year blended their two names, we are going to congratulate both of them as Best.

BEST TATTOO PARLOR
Gold Coast Tattoo
639 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey 642-9404, www.goldcoasttattoo.com

Jack London once wrote: “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” Tattoos are sublime. They are sexy, mysterious, dangerous, expressive, sometimes campy, and an art form that’s more than 5,000 years old. The Gold Coast crew has been renowned purveyors of this ancient and transcendent means of expression in Monterey for 33 years. And these guys are proud of every flesh canvas they perforate. “All the work we do stands out,” tattoo artist Orlando Ferron says. “We’re always trying to progress.”

BEST GIFT SHOP
Never on Sunday
251 Pearl St., Monterey 372-1051, www.never-on-sunday.com

Find fun, quirky gifts for everyone on your list at Never on Sunday, Weekly readers’ go-to spot for everything from French linen tablecloths, vintage Parisian street signs, Greek soaps, Dia de los Muertos figurines, Ugly Dolls and Chan Luu jewelry, just to name a few. And who can resist a cat-butt air freshener or “Looking Good for Jesus” lip balm? Whoever they are, we admire their restraint.

BEST PLACE TO BUY MUSIC
Do Re Mi Music & Video
26135 Carmel Rancho Blvd., Carmel 625-1229

In addition to a rock CD selection that stretches from AC/DC to Frank Zappa, Do Re Mi has blues, country and jazz sections along with smaller genres including big band and Dixieland jazz. So that you know what you are getting, Do Re Mi has nine CD listening stations set up around the store with a variety of CDs from The Killers’ Day & Age to Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone.

BEST SURF SHOP
On the Beach Surf Shop
693 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey 646-9283, www.onthebeachsurfshop.com

When owner Kelly Sorensen first opened On the Beach Surf Shop in 1986, it was a 1,600-square-foot basement store in Carmel. Now, Sorensen has a 6,000 – square-foot shop, which opened back in 2004, that has been designed to look like a tropical village. Though it’s radical (pipes are painted to look like bamboo, and the floor seems like a beach), what boarders really look for in a surf shop is the gear. On the Beach delivers with snowboards, skate decks, paddleboards and a variety of surfboards.

BEST PLACE TO RENT DVDS
Hollywood Video
120 Country Club Gate Center, Pacific Grove 658-0996 | 1130 Fremont Blvd., #207, Seaside 393-9093 | 1276 S. Main St., #B, Salinas 771-0812 | 1586 Constitution Blvd., Salinas 442-1533

You may notice that there’s one less Hollywood Video in Monterey County. Early last year, the movie rental franchise closed their Marina branch. But in a Netflix world, things could be a lot worse. Hollywood Video has always been the kind of video store that hovers respectively, between the Blockbuster and the mom-and-pop sensibility. It carries classic films like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Renoir’s Grand Illusion as well as big-budget Vin Diesel flicks. Netflix may be stiff competition but Hollywood Video comes through at 10pm when you get that sudden urge to watch a movie.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A CELL PHONE
Verizon Wireless
1680 Del Monte Center, Ste. 12G, Monterey 644-0858 | 836 Playa Ave., Sand City 393-8290 | 1970 N. Main St., Salinas 442-7850 | 1245 Northridge Mall, Salinas 449-3812, www.verizonwireless.com

Gone are the days when a cell phone was a clunky status symbol wielded by the wealthy and chic. Celly’s are now as ubiquitous as a wallet or a pair of shoes; one simply doesn’t go out without it, and everyone has to have one, or two. Verizon is the triumphant telecommunications offspring of the Ma Bell annulment, and now stands atop the industry that has revolutionized every aspect of modern life, from how businesses operate, to news reportage, to the updatable honey-do list.

BEST SHOE REPAIR
Federico’s Shoe Service
542 Abrego St., Monterey 649-3322

Is that spiked heel on your favorite stilettos breaking off? Sole of your hiking boots a little weathered? Bring that beloved pair to Federico’s, a place with status beyond shoe repair. Opened in 1939, Federico’s is a gateway in time, characterized by its mom-and pop-atmosphere, affable service, and (not to forget) the little mechanical man working overtime in the shop’s window. As for those stilettos, you’ll promptly have your stomp back.

BEST TOY STORE
Thinker Toys
Seventh and San Carlos, Carmel 624-0441 | 480 Del Monte Center, Monterey 643-0907, www.thinkertoys.com

Long live the Actual Toy: The pliable, buildable, throwable, posable, explodable (with supervision of the equally under-aged brother, of course) toy! Far too much precocious creative stoke is lost to the widening maw of the digital realm these days, but thankfully there is still a toy store that Santa himself would be proud to post residence. Seaplanes and sidewalk chalk, science kits with eyeballs and hand bones to build, model cars and dragon kites, elves and ponies, Lincoln logs and Playmobile, fart generators, simple spinners and yo-yos, teepees and unicorns await imaginative youngsters. It’s a compact, old-school toy store, not an overreaching corporate warehouse for Chinese electronics, and it should be considered a local treasure, a creative buffet for county youth. Did we mention the choo choo’s, and submarines, blocks and lions and… MOMMY!

 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY CLASSIFIEDS

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