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Best New Business of 2009: Monterey Mirror Maze

Best New Business of 2009 >> Monterey Mirror Maze

751 Cannery Row, Monterey

649-MAZE, www.montereymirrormaze.com

When this place promises you’ll “lose yourself in the fun,” it’s not hype – at least not for some. Enter a labyrinth of light and mirrors and you might zip through in a minute. Or, you could find yourself helplessly crying “uncle” and screaming for assistance. The staff does rescues. Some have better luck at the Maze’s other attraction: a laser obstacle course, sort of like the one in The Da Vinci Code, in which you run as fast as possible without bending one of the neon green beams. A haunted maze is on tap for Halloween.

Best Environmentally Friendly Business >> Dress for Change

223 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove

324-4844, www.dressforchange.net

AnnMarie and Luke Shenefield take eco chic to a whole new level with Dress for Change, a downtown P.G. boutique where the men, women and children’s clothing is made from 100 percent organic cotton, silk, hemp, wool, bamboo and other natural and sustainable fibers. With providers like Global Girlfriend, specializing in fair-trade apparel and accessories hand-made by artisan women in poor countries, and Indigenous, which peddles organic, stylish, fair-trade clothing, it’s practically a crime against nature – and fashion – not to shop.

Best Shopping District/Center >> Del Monte Shopping Center

1410 Del Monte Center, Monterey

373-2705, www.delmontecenter.com

There’s really no comparison. From furniture to lingerie, eyewear to ice cream, Del Monte has it all. Mall-rats love the selection, and the open-aired, foliage festooned plaza subdues even the most spiteful shopper. Everyone from the middle-schooled to the middle-aged can find something to do at Del Monte. Movies, live music, wine tastings, Santa sightings, sales, and eco-friendly events make Del Monte Shopping Center deserving of all the kudos coming its way.

Best Place to Buy Art/Craft Supplies >> Beverly’s Fabrics and Crafts

2090 N. Fremont St., Monterey, 646-5141

344 Main St., Salinas, 422-1508

www.beverlys.com

Beverly’s has everything one might need to decoupage a bulletin board or build an Easter basket. Polka-dot ribbon, acrylic paint, pretty paper, fuzzy fabrics, forsythia stems, and beads galore. Their bins overflow with ideas, and their shelves tower with possibilities. Their website is a great resource – coupons and project ideas are good and plenty – and their staff is willing and eager to help customers find that last hidden gem.

Best Antique Shop >> Cannery Row Antique Mall, Monterey

471 Wave St.

655-0264, www.canneryrowantiquemall.com

This is everything an antique store isn’t. Musty? Nah. Cluttered? No way. Pretentious? Please. Cannery Row Antique Mall prides itself on being accessible for everyone from the casual collector to Antique Roadshow junkies. “Our dealers know what people are looking for,” manager Claudia McCord says. “There’s enough here that you’ll feel like you’ll find a jewel in a haystack, but it’s prominently displayed and doesn’t have the clutter you’ll find in most stores.” Plus, McCord says, dealers, many of them locals, stay on top of the trends to bring customers exactly what’s hot in the antique world. The latest must have? Ceramic stovetop CorningWare.

Best Bank >> Wells Fargo

Various locations throughout Monterey County

1-800-869-3557, www.wellsfargo.com

This team races to serve: No customer waits longer than a minute, and each is welcomed with a smile. Wells Fargo’s first-class customer service includes good-morning greetings, follow-up phone calls, addressing customers by name, and short, speedy lines. Wells Fargo provides the personal service of small-town community banks, while wearing the big-bank suit and tie. By putting customers first, this wagon is winning the race.

Best Bike Store >> Joselyn’s Bicycles

398 E. Franklin St., Monterey

649-8520, www.joselynsbicycles.com

In a garage-like building on a rugged street corner, Joselyn’s clean, well-stocked bike store has a second identity as a down-and-dirty bike shop. The rows of shiny cruisers, sleek road bikes, mountain climbers and hybrids that glimmer in the Franklin Street storefront contrast with the rows of wrenches and loose tires that hang on the walls of the repair garage around the corner on Adams. In addition to offering a bunch of bike brands and more than 60 styles of helmets, Joselyn’s delivers a variety of services, from tune-ups to complete overhauls.

Best Bookstore (Used) >> Book Haven

559 Tyler St., Monterey

333-0383, www.abebooks.com/home/guyrodriguez

Jerry Welling and Gus Rodriguez owned Yesterday’s Books in Moss Landing for 14 years before taking over this downtown Monterey bookstore almost six years ago. They kept the name, consolidated their 50,000 used books, and have kept people returning for a steady diet of knowledge. The store carries titles by prominent authors like Steinbeck (which they have to stock new because they can’t find used copies; they order 100 Cannery Row copies a year), London, Stevenson, Hemingway, Christie and the Bronte sisters. They don’t do events, nor sales; what they do is offer up unseen qualities like decades of expertise, the earthy smell of old books, a peaceful sanctuary and a camaraderie with other book lovers. “As [independent local] book dealers,” Welling says, “all of us get along well and refer customers to each other. It’s a nice little network of stores.”

Best Bookstore (New) >> Borders Books and Music

2080 California Ave., Sand City, 899-6643

Borders Express

222 Del Monte Center, Monterey, 373-0987

www.borders.com

Borders isn’t just for browsing. It’s also for people-watching in the coffee shop or curling up with a book to see if you want to buy. The book selection is wide and varied, and if it’s not on the shelf, the staff will order it. A decent magazine selection is on display, as are newspapers from around the world. If you want to write it yourself, choose from notebooks and journals of many shapes, sizes, and designs, plus movies and music, toys and chocolate.

Best Car Dealership (Used) >> Cardinale Automotive Group

2 Heitzinger Plaza, Seaside

800-308-6036, www.cardinalewayseaside.com

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be painful. The family-owned Cardinale Dealership makes the sometimes-arduous process much easier with an inventory of hundreds of reliable, secondhand vehicles that are searchable online and available from any of their five dealerships. They also offer special financing opinions, friendly and knowledgeable salespersons and several cool rides under $10,000 – like a torch-red, 2003 Ford Mustang GT.

Best Car Dealership (New) >> Sam Linder

300 Auto Circle, Salinas

424-1500, www.samlinderhonda.com

You’ve probably seen the commercials and heard the buzz on the radio, but Sam Linder knows Hondas. The dealership is the only one in California to win the national Honda President’s Award five consecutive times. “Even from a greeting standpoint, customer satisfaction is our goal,” says General Sales Manager Al Feria, who’s been with Sam Linder for six years. “If you take care of people, it’s a good way to do business.”

Best Car Repair Shop >> Tom’s Monterey Auto Repair

870 Abrego St., Monterey 372-5854, www.tomsauto.biz

Ask around for a car repair shop recommendation, and many will refer you to Tom’s. Running shop in a neat, old garage near downtown Monterey, Tom’s mechanics repair nearly anything, and they will do it efficiently and even vacuum your car while making an exterior fix. Tom’s will also find out why that pesky check engine or service engine light insists on being illuminated.

Best Tire Shop >> Sullivan’s Tire Pros

Seaside Auto Center, 1730 The Mall, Seaside

394-6561, www.sullivanstire.com

Rubber runs in the blood of Sullivan’s Tire Pros owner Pat Sullivan. His pop started the business in 1950, and ever since Junior bought him out in a year no one can remember, it’s been the younger Sullivan’s pride and joy. “I just enjoy the business,” Pat says. “I love meeting people.” Recommendations bring about 90 percent of customers, Pat reckons. A television, wireless Internet and, Pat claims, one of the cleanest shops in America turn out many a satisfied customer who quickly pass on the tip of the best tire shop in town.

Best Car Wash >> El Estero Hand Car Wash

590 Fremont St., Monterey

373-1801, www.elesterocarwash.com

There’s no reason to wash the car yourself when there are professionals who can save water, do it better, and keep the price reasonable. Here they’ve been doing that for over 50 years, so they know what they’re doing. Not sold? They use environmentally friendly detergents and recycle their own wash water. The fact that they use lamb-wool mitts and hand-dry all vehicles puts the high-end car owner at ease. Prices for exterior vehicle washes start at $11.50 and go up to $27.95, if you’re oneof those who like to flaunt your bling-bling ride. To add to El Estero’s already stellar status, they offer complimentary coffee and have greeting cards and sunglasses for sale. Put on your stunner shades, show your grill and drive out looking like a baller.

Best Place to Buy a Motorcycle >> Monterey County Harley Davidson

333 N. Main St., Salinas

424-1909, www.montereycountyhd.com

Don’t settle for one of those sporty, pretty-boy bikes. If you’re gonna ride, ride a hog. Monterey County Harley Davidson is the Central Coast’s only authorized dealership. As the ad campaign reminds us, Monterey County is Harley Davidson country. Because speeding down Highway 1’s winding ocean vistas and vertigo-inducing cliffs on a Harley beats riding in the back of a mini-van any day.

Best Computer Store >> The Apple Store

240 Del Monte Center, Monterey

647-4480, www.apple.com/retail/delmonte

Inside many a composting, whole-grain eating Styrofoam-hater beats the heart of a human being truly in love with an iPhone, hopelessly devoted to an iPod and tethered to a Macbook – in short, an anti-corporate type with an unshakeable loyalty to a corporate behemoth. The Apple Store is sleek, elegant, and offers the opportunity to sit face-to-face with a Genius (his T-shirt identifies him as such) who can often solve your computer problem in a jiff. The store sells cool accessories and service is quick, even when the store is packed.

Best Dive Shop >> Bamboo Reef

614 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey

372-1685, www.bambooreef.com

Any Scuba Steve worth his BCD has told his dive buddy about the depth of underwater insight these guys provide. Their classes, equipment and service compare handsomely with any outlet’s, but it’s their stories of halibut hunting and sea lion diplomacy that best speak to their passion and expertise. (Ask John about raising boulders of jade to the surface off Big Sur.) And as if the unparalleled preserves of Point Lobos weren’t enough, in coming months these ambitious amphibians are leading trips to Indonesia, Philippines and Bonaire.

Best Dry Cleaners >> Vapor Sudden Services Cleaners

1193 10th St., Monterey

375-5221

A deep-cleaned commitment to customers makes Vapor Cleaners tailor-suited for this Best Of. Dropping off a jacket before 10:30am guarantees same day pick-up, complimentary delivery is available, and a drop-off box makes after-hours errands easy. Tailors are always quick to replace a broken button or repair a loose seam, free of charge. Just ask; they will note it, and it will be done.

Best Ethnic Market >> Mi Tierra

1000 Broadway Ave., Seaside

394-8113

Between the voluptuous green glass bottles of Squirt and ¡Sponch! marshmallow cookies, the dried peppers and fresh tomatillos, the shelves full of hot sauce and the cool coco juice from the can, this heaven-sent, hangar-shaped grocery is far more Monterrey (Mexico, that is) than Seaside. But if the piñatas and pork chicarrones don’t have the shopper swooning in the sweet embrace of our sister to the south, she need only move past the queso fresco and eye-popping piggybanks shaped like Batman and Chivas soccer balls to the taqueria in the back, one of the Peninsula’s hidden wonders, for a splash of hot menudo or a taste of tender tripe.

Best Florist >> Swenson and Silacci

110 John St., Salinas, 424-2725

432 Alvarado St., Monterey, 375-2725

www.swensonandsilacci.com

Monterey County has said it with Swenson and Silacci for 65 years. Mark Silacci, son of one of the original owners, still runs the place, which is now a floral empire – one of the 100 biggest florists in the country, with a 10,000-square-foot superstore in Salinas, another shop in Monterey and an online service. On Feb. 14, the biggest day of the year for roses, Swenson and Silacci rents a circus tent to hold them all. This year, it dispatched 1,500 orders on Valentine’s Day weekend alone. And at Swenson and Silacci you can buy local: Some roses, carnations and gerbera daisies are grown in Monterey County.

Best Real Estate Office >> Coldwell Banker

Offices in Carmel, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Prunedale, Salinas and Soledad

www.coldwellbanker.com

When real estate rattled this past year, some Americans cautiously poked their heads out of the sand to find great bargains in a market that had rearranged itself in their favor. Coldwell Banker made sure that locals were well served during the market-wide upheaval. They did it with professional class and integrity, and earned their Best Of with a keen eye for their clients’ practical needs, rather than their wildest dreams. Things had to improve eventually, and thanks in part to the customer-driven efforts of Coldwell Banker realtors, they are.

Best Golf Shop >> Golf Mart

2040 Fremont Blvd., Seaside

583-1000

Not far from world-famous Pebble Beach nearby, Golf Mart offers some spectacular comprehensiveness in its own right. A wall of shoes, crazy hats and a giant putting green offer an afternoon (and maybe longer) of everything golf. A knowledgeable staff of golfers will share the tricks and tips to get you swinging like Tiger.

Best Health Club >> Best Yoga Studio >> Carmel Valley Athletic Club

27300 Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel

624-2737, www.cvaconline.com

With Carmel Valley Athletic Club’s all-new cardio strength equipment, aqua fitness in the swimming pool, private and group mat Pilates, and fitness classes ranging from Zumba to Body Pump (rapid fat-burning class that uses barbells to tone and condition muscle) to Body Combat (combines karate, boxing, Tai Chi and kick boxing moves), there’s no excuse not to exercise. If you’re still able to find one, let CVAC’s personal trainers give you that extra little kick in the butt. Its hot yoga, warm yoga (a blend of Iyengar and Forrest yoga) and Hatha yoga stretch and strengthen body and soul.

Best Massage Therapist >> Amy Rogers

Om Oasis Yoga and Wellness Center

631 B Cass St., Monterey

920-8566, www.omoasis.com

Amy Rogers is becoming a new best friend to those who struggle with chronic pain and severe stress. Her specialty goes beyond your everyday, tough-week-at-work or afternoon-with-the-girls massage; Rogers brings relief to those who suffer from frozen shoulder and neck pain, lower back sciatica and plantar fasciitis (pain and inflammation of the heel). Ten years of experience, working closely with chiropractors, acupuncturists, and local doctors brings a new focus to her massage techniques – pain relief.

Best Hotel >> Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

400 Cannery Row, Monterey

646-1700, www.montereyplazahotel.com

In addition to its stunning oceanside patio, where you’re close enough to talk to an otter, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa lures locals with special offers. From December through January, residents can shack up their family and friends for $99 a night. Want a free appetizer at Schooners Bistro or a discount at the Duck Club Grill? Through March, Monterey Plaza is offering a passport to its outlets. Stamp the whole passport and enter a drawing to win a weekend getaway.

Best Spa >> Aquablue Skin & Body Spa

229 Main St., Salinas

422-2500, www.aquabluespa.com

Aquablue has been a mainstay in this category since owners Frank and Debbie Savino welcomed their first customer back in 2003. They’ve perfected the business of pleasure and happiness with a simple goal of making the world outside go away for just a little while. The two-plus-hour relaxation package – facial, massage, hand and foot treatments – is to die for. If the boss is buggin’, escape reality for a specialty 30-minute lunchtime quickie instead. It doesn’t get any better.

Best Salon >> Oya

201 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey

656-0570, www.oyainc.com

Can there be too much of a good thing? If so, Oya hasn’t gotten that memo. Forget that the minimalist-chic, glass-encased salon carries the swankiest products, like Kérastase and Bumble & Bumble. The artists here have résumés that don’t just keep up with the Joneses, but downright embarrass them. While you’re coifing it up, toss in a mani-pedi or a stop at the brow bar for a tweeze. Too much of a good thing? Riiiight.

Best Place for Skin Care >> Spa on the Plaza

201 Alvarado St., Monterey

647-9000, www.spaontheplaza.com

Weekly readers routinely award Spa on the Plaza, an organic trade association member, with top honors for its treatments. With more than a dozen facials on its menu – including an Ayurvedic and a Myoxy caviar facial, which uses botanical Botox, beluga caviar and pearl extract; microdermabrasian; and compulift, a nonsurgical face lift – it’s no wonder they’re all aglow. The Spa also offers several specialty eye and lip treatments, waxing, wraps, scrubs, polishes and complete packages, like the anti-aging tropical wrap and papaya enzyme facial to keep your skin looking its best.

Best Furniture Store >> Mums’ Place

246 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove

372-6250, www.mumsfurniture.com

The mystery of the name remains, but after 23 years as owner of Mums Place, Mugo Persakyan really doesn’t care. “My approach is getting the latest design at the best value,” Mugo says. “Value, value, value, without compromising quality. We keep quality at a high level.” Furnishing homes is Persakyan’s business, and he and his employees are the perfect guides for any amateur interior designer looking to spruce up her casa with the best furniture around. His wife, Talin, will soon open up a second, boutique-style store in Pacific Grove, solidifying Mums Place’s influence on Central Coast home furnishings.

Best Jewelry Store >> Gasper’s Jewelers

447 Alvarado St., Monterey

375-5332, www.gaspersjewelers.com

Appraisals, repairs, custom design – Gasper’s does it all. It’s not unusual to walk through the double doors and see Gasper himself behind the counter, overseeing his latest projects. This family-owned jewelry store is celebrating 20 years of service to Monterey County. During this time, they have brought silver, white and yellow gold bangles, strings of pearls, vibrant Murano glass, prestigious watches and diamonds galore to our residents. Unique, designer pieces paired with customer service that is a cut above earns Gasper and his staff their Best Of standing.

Best Internet Provider >> Red Shift

712 Hawthorne St., Monterey, 655-8710

1124 South Main, Salinas, 755-7700

www.redshift.com

What would you do if your e-mail took so long to load you couldn’t check it 89 times a day? Or if you couldn’t get to a YouTube video of dueling praying mantises or grooving Capoeira players in a few mouse clicks? Thankfully Red Shift is here, keeping people’s digital lives flowing smoothly as a streaming video, and making sure they stay constantly connected to the ever-changing frontier of cyberspace.

Best Men’s Clothing Store >> J. Lawrence Khaki’s

3744 The Barnyard Shopping Village, Carmel

625-8106, www.khakisofcarmel.com

Jim and Connie Ockert have been habadashering Khaki’s fanatics for a decade and a half at this Barnyard den of dressing to the nines. They know what boys like. Now they’re taking their act to Carmel Plaza, where walk-by traffic will increase dramatically, introducing Khaki’s to a whole new battalion of future faithful. With plans to introduce more for women, Khaki’s is poised to elevate its status as one of the nation’s top retailers for service, selection and style to an even loftier height. Subtly, yet with great command, Jim and Connie have inserted the Khaki’s brand into our cultural consciousness – whether we realize it or not, we have always known where we want to wind up when we want to dress up.

Best Women’s Clothing Boutique >> Bliss Boutique

266 Main St., Salinas

757-4055

Perennial winner Bliss Boutique has added new lines – like Jack’s bright, structured pieces that transition perfectly from daytime office attire to evening cocktails and Freedom of Choice’s earth-friendly denim – to old faves like Free People and Miss Me jeans. “We’ve stuck with what works: fun, detailed and something special,” owner Mia Cruz says. Shop for bright colors, lace, and soft, feminine tops, skirts and dresses for spring and summer. Don’t forget accessories: layering pieces, scarves, statement necklaces and earrings. “Sparkle for evening, rhinestone cuff bracelets, big, jeweled earrings with multi-colors,” Cruz says. “The jewelry section looks like a candy store.”

Best Secondhand Clothing Store >> Plato’s Closet

402 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey

641-9919, www.platoscloset.com

Teens and twentysomethings searching for deals on Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle or Forever 21 can score at Plato’s. The aforementioned labels are the store’s niche, along with a smattering of swankier True Religion and Juicy Couture. Sellers are also welcome to exchange less-than-year-old, gently used duds for cash, but don’t get your hopes up. With so many recession-ravaged sellers, the store can afford to be choosier. Plato’s is a chain with stores from Anchorage to Atlanta, but word has it that the Monterey outpost is one of the most fashion-forward.

Best Shoe Store >> Hedi’s

Ocean and Mission, Carmel, 624-5580

3630 The Barnyard, Carmel, 625-2055

www.hedi.com

Hedi’s carries shoes for every walk of life, from Tamaris boots and shoes (a German brand sold exclusively in the U.S. by Hedi’s) to Beautifeel pumps and sandals to UGGs. The store’s two locations are a shoe-lover’s dream – wall-to-wall flats, stilettos, and every heel height in between. And for those not fortunate enough to live in Monterey County, Hedi’s website sells shoes across the country.

Best Store for Musical Instruments >> Wise Music

233 Monterey St. Salinas

424-7885, www.wisemusicsalinas.com

Wise Music’s dominance in musical instrument inventory comes down to its breadth and bargains. Whether you want to thrash and wail your ax like Dimebag Darrell or finger-pluck a nylon-stringed acoustic like Rodrigo y Gabriela, Wise will hook you up. Besides the wall of new guitars and killer Mesa Boogie amps, the rotating, used selection always presents great deals. Want a better snare drum? Wise offers up to 80 percent trade-in value for gear purchased there.

Best Neighborhood Market >> Grove Market

242 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove

375-9581, www.grovemarketpg.com

This Quonset hut in the middle of downtown is the archetype for this category. Dream up “neighborhood” and you likely envision Victorian and Craftsmen homes scattered amidst small locally owned businesses with clean sidewalks and a smidge of busy-body gossip. Look up “market” and local produce, a decent Scotch selection, cornstarch, an awesome butchery, and small kitchen appliances are totally on the list. Stop in at P.G.’s Grove Market and you’ll see the very definition of the best.

Best Outdoor Gear Store >> REI

145 General Stillwell Drive, Marina

883-8048, www.rei.com

REI is an outdoor Mecca where you can find a cozy mummy sleeping bag for your next campfire, slip on some amphibious shoes for river walking, stock up on dehydrated beef stroganoff for backpacking, and try on some slick cycling shorts for road biking. It’s all quality gear – and if you don’t like it, take advantage of REI’s generous return policy. Want to put all that quick-drying clothing to use? Check out the free workshops. Next up: climbing Half Dome in a day.

Best Nursery >> McShane’s Nursery

115 Monterey-Salinas Hwy, Salinas

455-1876, www.mcshanesnursery.com

Nursery? Hah! This sunny South Salinas treasure is a horticulturist’s temple and a casual gardener’s paradise. Oh, sure, you can pop in for a few bulbs or seeds to sow on a sunny Saturday. But there’s more: landscape design, weekly workshops, fountain and pond installation, and so on. Want to start a butterfly garden, build a backyard shrub maze or wage full-scale war on gophers? Bring it.

Best Local Pet Store >> Stone’s Pet Shop

1122 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove

375-4471

Monterey is known for its birdies: eagles, condors, snowy plovers, even the rare South Californian Double Bird, seen only in times of great heat around the intersection of Canyon Del Rey and Del Monte. Fitting, then, that a bird-loving pet store such as P.G.’s own Stone’s Pet Shop would soar away with this award. Stone’s offers top-quality food and gear for just about every domestic animal in the shop, which at 60 years is one of the nation’s oldest. Need a hamster castle? Stone’s has it. Does Bowser have a hankering for a non-alcoholic doggy beer? Stone’s. And birds? Defititely Stone’s, where bird lovers tweet freely.

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Best Pharmacy >> CVS

Various locations throughout Monterey County

www.cvs.com

CVS Pharmacy has all those last-minute, emergency needs covered: Sudafed, Pinot Grigio, hair colorant, salty snacks, greeting cards, milk. Most locations open at 7am, and some never close. No matter what time of day, customers can always manage their prescriptions and order refills online. Its website also offers information such as weekly specials, pharmacy hours and upcoming clinics (seasonal flu shots, H1N1 vaccinations). Being an ExtraCare cardholder has its benefits; the more money spent, the more Extra Bucks earned. And a new green program gives you dollars for re-using bags.

Best Photo/Camera Store >> Green’s Camera World

350 Main St., Salinas, 424-5247

472 Alvarado St., Monterey, 655-1234

Corner of San Carlos and Fifth, Carmel, 624-8880

Green’s Camera World is an integral business for both the budding photographer and the jaded professional shooter. All three shops stock the newest and coolest toys, from cameras and lenses to more specialized lighting and darkroom tools. Green’s is also the only shop in the county that still processes E-6 – slide transparency film – in-house. A friendly staff brings rolls of knowledge into the equation for best camera shop.

Best Grocery Store >> Best Organic Produce Market >> Whole Foods

800 Del Monte Center, Monterey

333-1600, www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/monterey

From its support of local farmers to its extensive collection of beers from around the globe, Whole Foods is Monterey County’s best grocery store and organic produce market, by decree of Weekly readers. It’s also the exception to the don’t-shop-when-hungry rule – goody samples, from cheeses to cookies, mean you can skip the at-home appetizers and get straight to the main course, say, chicken taco pizza or quinoa veggie loaf with mushrooms and peas, two of the budget-friendly recipes featured on Whole Foods’ website. The Del Monte Center store also offers personal shopping and delivery service, so you can enjoy wholesome goodness and skip the traffic.

Best Selection of Liquor >> BevMo!

1900 North Davis Road, Salinas

442-2411, www.bevmo.com

Pick up a giant bottle of Svedka vodka ($16.99) and some Cointreau liqueur ($3.99) and Campari bitters ($2.59) at BevMo! for some blood orange martinis, and you will be the most popular cocktail maker at the party. Whether you drink Corralejo tequila, Tanqueray gin or Malibu rum, BevMo!’s got your booze covered and at prices that rival Costco’s. Pre-order online and your liquor will be ready to pick up within an hour.

Best Wine Market >> Surf n’ Sand

Sixth and Junipero, Carmel

624-1805, www.carmelsfinest.com

Fermin “The King of Junipero” Sanchez and the Sanchez Gang own the corner of Sixth and Junipero, no question. With Bruno’s Market and Surf n’ Sand, there’s not much you can’t find, from soup to nuts, along with drinkies to wash them down. At Surf n’ Sand, Ryan “Coach” Sanchez aggressively markets wines, spirits and beer to compete with the largest retailers, but still retains that down-home Carmel vibe. There are plans for a full-on tasting bar, but for now, the best way to catch some sips from S&S is to show up for one of the periodic tasting events at cool venues throughout the Peninsula, which have turned into must-attend local happenings.

Best Seafood Market >> Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurants

598 Foam St., Monterey, 646-0547

100A Crossroads Blvd., Carmel, 626-3626

2420 Highway 1, Moss Landing, 632-2574

1136 S. Main, Salinas, 422-0253

www.seaharvestcarmel.com

A veritable trio of seafood convenience stores for the Monterey Peninsula, Sea Harvest’s three locations turn over the catch, guaranteeing freshness. Buy it raw or buy it cooked; bring home a meal, or plop down at a table and enjoy the bounty on-site; or take advantage of housemade sauces, deli condiments and fresh bread that make home prep simple.

Best Gourmet/Kitchen Shop >> Clementine’s Kitchen

465 Canyon Del Rey Blvd., Del Rey Oaks

392-1494, www.clementineskitchen.com

David Babcock, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, and Drew Chernoy, a Le Get the Details Right-trained businessman, make up the team that has owned this category since they first opened Clementine’s Kitchen way back when. Babcock is completely nuts about all the things that matter to foodies and homemakers, and brings in the widest and best assortment of international culinary equipment, tableware, gourmet food items, wines, and tools for all chefs – pro or amateur. And Clementine’s teaches you what to do with it all, offering classes in everything from knife skills to cooking. Dorothy McNett, a longtime local pro, helps out with classes, adding another element of substance to an already impressively substantive establishment.

Best Plumber >> A&R Plumbing

1720 Contra Costa St., Sand City

394-7221, www.aandrplumbinginc.com

As professional humans, plumbers are vastly underrated. Who do you call when the unthinkable geysers from every pipe in the house? Plumbers keep us clean and sane all at once – no small feat. Thankfully, A&R Plumbing has a wrench and a smile for every scenario. They are 35-year veterans of the local water works, with a long list of vital services and a traditional pricing structure based only on time and material. When your flow is no-go, A&R is there when you need them.

Best Hardware Store >> Pacific Grove Hardware (“Pacific Grove Ace”)

229 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 646-9144

Forest Hill Ace Hardware

1136 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 372-3284

www.acehardware.com

It’s true. Household repairs do induce schizophrenia. Say you need that thingy that connects to the deal that floats in the back of your toilet? Get yourself to Ace Hardware on Forest in Pacific Grove. They’ll tell you the proper name and sell you the part without a lot of tool belt attitude. They’ll send you off with installation instructions and bring you back with real hometown customer service. Lucky for us delusional ones there is a store at the top of the hill and one in downtown: both Ace Hardware, both on Forest, both in Pacific Grove – only the therapist knows for sure knows which winner is which.

Best Tattoo Parlor >> Gold Coast Tattoo

639 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey

642-9404, www.goldcoasttattoo.com

Gold Coast has done a lot of tattoos in 34 years. They’ve been all over Monterey County since 1976. “We’re the longest established shop in the county,” said Casey Hendricks, who has been running the books for 10 years. “None of our artists like to limit themselves in their abilities. Everything they do is learning what they can about their art.” Customers constantly come in for interesting pieces, including a pigeon with the word “dirtbag.” Hendricks puts tat culture best: “It’s not just a shop, it’s a lifestyle.”

Best Gift Shop >> Never on Sunday

251 Pearl St., Monterey

372-1051, www.never-on-sunday.com

If you can’t find a gift for everyone on your list at Never on Sunday – and at a variety of price-points – chances are, the giftee isn’t worth gifting. Beloved late proprietress Jenny Fry leaves a legacy of eclectic and unusual, sassy and elegant gifts, home décor, PJs, cards and art. Whether you’re hot for Día de los Muertos figurines, sensuous Greek soaps, one-of-a-kind necklaces or Cat Butt air fresheners, this Old Town Monterey gift shop has it all, and then some. But, like the name says, never on Sundays.

Best Place to Buy Music >> Do Re Mi Music & Video

26135 Carmel Rancho Blvd., Carmel

625-1229

Not only does Do Re Mi owner Charlie Costanza know his customers by name, he’s got their CD catalogs memorized. “People will bring stuff to the counter. I will say, ‘You’ve already got that,’” Costanza says. He and his wife Nancy have run the music store for 33 years, offering personal service, tangible browsing (66 listening stations) and an amazing variety – from reggae to oldies rock. At a time when most people buy music online, Costanza says boomers still love to buy music from a human and make special orders.

Best Surf Shop >> On the Beach

693 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey

646-9283 or (wave), www.onthebeachsurfshop.com

Opened in ’86 by Kelly Sorensen, the shop offers just about anything related to the surf lifestyle: wax, wax combs, surf magazines, boards, board shorts, rash guards, sunscreen, resin, fiberglass, DVDs, and photos of local hellmen dropping into enormous waves at local breaks.This is enough toinspire Montereyans to be proud of their local tubes. A display of great white shark victim Todd Endris’s surf-chomped surfboard reminds passersby to co-exist with other surfers, as they may save your life or at least help your odds. When the waves go flat, remember that this place offers skateboards and accessories, snowboard gear, andbus trips to the snow at Kirkwood. There’s no reason to have cold feet about stopping in; they have one of the biggest selections of UGG boots around.

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

Less shopping than experience, more detective sport than bore or chore, plying the plunder at Goodwill helps our explorative well-being as much as it aids the area’s needy. And oh, the scores in store. Pairs of brand-name Seven jeans? Monterey’s store has six. Fake plants for the sun-free corners of the crib? Seaside has a leafy stash. Delicate blue-and-white Japanese dishes? Bet you that stuffed unicorn at the Alisal store they have china like that at North Main. The Lighthouse branch is even holding semi-monthly auctions at noon every other Saturday (the next one’s March 20) with some surprisingly attractive items for the assembled: In the past, a set of silver flatware went for $3,000.

Best Place to Rent Videos/DVDs >> Blockbuster Video

Various locations throughout Monterey County

www.blockbuster.com

With the demise of Hollywood Video in P.G., Seaside and across the nation, Blockbuster Video is left to carry the banner of big-chain video store. Fresh out of restructuring, with about nine locations in the county, one less competitor to contend with, and a deal with TiVo to deliver digital movies to counter NetFlix, it looks like it’s in good shape to keep providing county folks with blockbuster titles like The Hangover, 2012 and Dark Knight, as well as lesser-known works like Irreversible by Gaspar Noe and Happiness by Todd Solondz.

Best Farmers Market >> Old Monterey Farmers Market

Alvarado Street, Monterey (Tuesdays 4-8pm, rain or shine)

655-2607, www.oldmonterey.org/farmers.html

Oh, the joy of ripe heirloom tomatoes paired with organic basil. Kale simmered in ginger marinade. Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice straight from the calloused hands that pressed it. Founded in 1991, the Old Monterey market was around long before Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan made eating local a mainstream pursuit, and Monterey County’s bodies have been healthier for it. We’re blessed by Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest, to have one of the country’s rare year-round growing seasons – and loyal market customers savor every wholesome bite of it. Though we don’t blame anyone for grabbing a piping-hot churro on the way out.

Best Shoe Repair Shop >> Federico’s

542 Abrego St., Monterey

649-3322

What were you doing in 1940? These people were fixing shoes! In the words of Mike Jones, Carmel accountant, “When I lived in Minneapolis, they had all kinds of places like that. But here they’re the only one, and they can fix just about anything.” Whether it’s shoe polish, shoe horns, laces or repairs, these folks are in a class of their own. Not only are they friendly, but their service is excellent and they get the job done in a few days. Remember: Make sure your belt matches your shoes.

Best Toy Store >> Thinker Toys

Del Monte Center, Monterey

643-0907

Seventh and San Carlos, Carmel

624-0441, www.thinkertoys.com

The Del Monte store just turned 11 – baby potatoes compared to the Carmel store, which just ticked off its 40th. Founded by Bob Miller and currently kept thriving by business partners Mark Phillips and John Horner, Thinker Toys has positioned itself as a place of early childhood creativity and development. A playful roster of classic toys includes hand puppets and a theater, science and construction kits, puzzles of art scenes and dinosaurs, toy instruments, kites, arts-and-crafts sets, board games and the like. “Toys are a strategic part of growing up,” Phillips says. “That will never change. What we’re selling now is what we were selling in the ’70s. We’re on our third generation of [customers] now.” Check out, for kicks, the $3 Puddle Jumper: It just might sever your kids’ ties with PlayStation and Wii for a while. And take note of the free gift wrapping and 30-day money-back guarantee.

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