Even those with hearts as pure as driven snow can become froth-mouthed, white-knuckled maniacs when dealing with holiday mall shopping. Just thinking about the fight for parking, the canned Christmas music, the screaming children, and the long, slow-moving lines is enough to induce a headache. To save your sanity and turn giving back into something truly better than getting, spend your shopping forays strolling some of our favorite neighborhood commercial districts. No cookie-cutter stuff here. This is where you'll find original gift items and quality places to take a break over a glass of wine or freshly ground espresso drink.
Although some may grumble about its trendiness, Virginia-Highland really is a pleasant little neighborhood to walk through. A variety of shops, restaurants and bars line the shady intersection offering the proverbial something for everyone.
Atlanta Beads (1186-E N. Highland Ave., 404-541-2322, www.atlantabeads.com) Make a personalized bracelet, assemble some supplies for your crafty brother, or buy a gift certificate for a class, sparking creativity in your stepmom.
Highland Pet Supply (1186 N. Highland Ave., 404-892-5900, www.highlandpet.com) Don't neglect Bowser and Fluffy. Here is a zoo of bones, balls, toys, nips and other pet accessories, plus gift certificates for training classes or time in the self-serve dog wash.
Atlanta Book Exchange (1000 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-2665) This crowded used bookstore has fantastic out-of-print art and cookbooks, and other excellent selections (they are picky book buyers) that make for original gift shopping.
Mooncake (1019 Virginia Ave., 404-892-8043) Reminiscent of pretty Parisian boutiques, Mooncake stocks jewelry by local artisans and gorgeous vintage-inspired clothes, gowns and pajamas. French label Lilith and L.A. designer Rozae Nichols are favorites.
Dish (870 N. Highland Ave., 404-897-3463) Even just a nice glass of Syrah ($6-$9) and some rosemary pine nut popcorn is worth the mini-hike down to this luxuriously relaxing restaurant that's a distinguished eye- and palate-pleaser.
Little Five Points
Old favorites and new surprises make L5P a shoo-in for holiday shopping. Think beyond the standard for some real gift-giving success.
Sevananda Natural Grocery (467 Moreland Ave., 404-681-2831, www.sevananda.com) Teas, herbs, natural soaps and organic fruit bars will make a gift basket with real heft. Gift certificates also come in increments of $5.
Ooo! Baby (419 Moreland Ave., 404-522-5511) Cute and trendy, this new corner spot's brightly colored baby raincoats and tiny, sassy shoes are aww-inspiring.
Little Five Corner Tavern (1174 Euclid Ave., 404-521-0667) This new location for people-watching is also good for warming up with some better-than-bar-fare, including fried artichokes, steamed deli sandwiches, or shrimp and grits.
Pink Flamingos (1166 Euclid Ave., 404-577-2025) It is impossible to leave here without a fantastic bracelet or necklace. A big Sanrio selection (Chococat, Hello Kitty, etc.), plus home and bath accessories and flax clothing will also help flesh out more of your list.
Bang-On (1152 Euclid Ave., 404-222-6466, www.bang-on.com) Bang-On is perfect for all those nieces, nephews and cousins you barely know. Choose a shirt, and then one of hundreds of fun iron-ons for an "original" tee made while you wait.
Edgewood Retail District
Believe it or not, it is possible to find independent shops within the folds and creases of this big-box behemoth. Show some support for these pioneers on the backside of Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Sole Shoes & Accessories (1245 Caroline St., Suite 100; 404-523-1777) Adorable shoes and bags abound in this new location, with designers like Kenzie, BCBG and Frye all in decorative rows. Its expanded jewelry section makes this a great place to hit for all the ladies on your list.
Stanton Home Furnishings (1250 Caroline St., Suite C-120; 404-586-9000; www.stantonhomefurnishings.com) More than just sleek modern furniture here! Pick up a coffee table book, some Vera Wang dishes and a few Archipelago candles for a sophisticated holiday glow.
Beauty Fetish (1230 Caroline St., Suite B; 404-586-0085) Gift certificates for mani/pedis and hair styling sessions are available, along with chic products by Phyto/PhytoSpecific, Lollia, Paul Mitchell and M.O.P.
Ru San's (1220 Caroline St., Suite A-200; 404-653-9886) Already an Atlanta favorite for sushi and tempura, Ru San's has a glossy new location that includes a buffet. Its massive selection of rolls, maki and nigiri make it a great place to escape from the surrounding sea of asphalt.
East Atlanta Village
Nestled just beyond the reach of Moreland Avenue off I-20 lies East Atlanta, where it's possible to combine function with funk and find a solid spectrum of satisfying things for the hipster and the homebody.
East Atlanta Arts & Antiques Bazaar (470 Flat Shoals Ave., 404-581-0105) Browsing this open showroom of booths is much more pleasant than in other packed-to-the-ceiling antique shops. Look for standout gifts like hatboxes, leather suitcases, paintings, fur stoles and vintage glassware.
Bound to be Read Books (481-B Flat Shoals Ave., 404-522-0877, www.boundtobereadbooks.com) A perfect literary neighbor for the area's bars and boutiques, this brand-new independent bookshop has an impressive collection (considering its size) of art books, fiction and nonfiction. The resident kitty will be especially happy you came by to play.
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