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By Miriam Raftery

November 19, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – This holiday shopping season amid a pandemic, we’ve scoured the shops and online stores across San Diego’s East County to find our recommendations for gift items unique to our region.  Our picks include many artisan and locally hand-crafted treasures, farm-fresh humanely raised foods, delicious sweet treats, warm and stylish wearables, and gifts that benefit local nonprofits including a wildlife sanctuary. This year, we’ve chosen many places offering online ordering  as well as locations allowing ample social distancing.


Located in Grossmont Center at 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, La Mesa, the new Grossmont Public Market (photo, top) is our favorite new retail find of the season.  The store features a wealth of gift items all hand-crafted by local artisans. Examples include gemstone-studded cutting boards, inlaid wooden plant holders, dolls in international costumes, colorful clothing, jewelry, nonperishable food items, plants and more.  The store has no website, but it’s located in the mall across from Macy’s.


Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona is offering gift certificates for private family/household camel encounters—a wonderful way to brighten a child’s holiday season. Their online gift shop also has such indulgent items as camel milk bath and body products, camel milk chocolates, and more. Remember the gifts of the wisemen who came on camels?  You can evoke the ambience with camel milk soaps scented with frankincense and myrrh.


The exotic animal rescue facility, Lions Tigers and Bears, in Alpine has an online gift shop with items such as custom crafted coffees, clothing, wildlife gift cards, magnets and more.  Or buy a gift certificate to visit lions, tigers, bears and other rescued wildlife at the facility, or splurge on a stay at the Wild Oak Wild Nights bed and breakfast guest house on site.  All proceeds benefit the nonprofit’s rescue efforts of exotic animals born in captivity that have suffered abuse or neglect.  This is the place to find the purr-fect gift for the wildlife lover on your list.


“Every woman is unique, should always feel fabulous and dress fierce,” is the motto at Uneeke Boutique, a delightful women’s clothing and accessory store at 3674 Nebo Dr. in La Mesa with stylish items at affordable prices. From snuggly sweaters and caftans to elegant holiday attire, you’ll find gifts to please the ladies on your list here.


It’s worth the drive to Julian, a historic gold rush town in East County’s mountains, for some socially distanced shopping at the Julian Mercantile. The store offers treasures from around the world as well as many items made in Julian. Fun finds include handmade pottery, leather goods, candles, jewelry and more. The shop is located at 2111A Main Street, Julian. The same owners also operate Julian Imports and Julian Trading Company, all worth visiting for those seeking out special gifts you won’t find elsewhere. 


Bighorn Fudge in Borrego Springs has sold over 100,000 pounds of delicious fudge candy since the family-run business began back in 1998.  You can shop online and have their fabulous fudge shipped directly to your home. Choose from many flavors such as rocky road, jalapeño chocolate swirl, chocolate cheesecake or raspberry chocolate swirl, to name just a few choices—perfect to bring cheer to Santa or use as stocking stuffers. Their fudge is also sold in the exclusive gift shop at the Hotel del Coronado, or you can visit their store in Borrego Springs near the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.


Three Sons Farms in Ramona has pasture-raised chickens and eggs that can be delivered to your home – along with options such as a CSA box full of fresh fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses and honey. What could be more appreciated than a midwinter gift of produce and other farm-fresh foods such as this month’s offering that includes pomegranates, persimmons and juicy citrus?


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