Best of the East Bay
Health and Beauty
This year’s Best New Boutique is nowhere near the main shopping drags, but it is pulling in the masses like it’s smack-dab in the middle of downtown. Its name? Erica Rae’s Unique Boutique.
Opened by Erica Kramer less than a year ago, this little shop offers hip, edgy clothes by lines such as XCVI, Miss Me, Bella Dahl, Yemee, Triple Five Soul, and Level 99. There are shoes, belts, bags, sunglasses, and a top crop of unusual jewelry by the likes of Rings Eclectic (created by San Leandro artist Melanie Lynn Macy and featured in Harper’s Bazaar and InStyle).
It’s not just great goodies that make Erica Rae’s a hit. It’s that the people here are really, really friendly. “I want to be like a Cheers boutique, where people come in and I know their name,” says Kramer. “It’s like they are coming into my home and playing in the closet. I don’t push sales. I don’t want anyone leaving here feeling like they’ve paid too much or bought too much.”
So what’s new with this new boutique? A smattering of trendy togs for kids ages seven through 14 by lines such as Miss Me Kids and It Jeans. Spread the word.
Erica Rae’s Unique Boutique, 1208 Boulevard Way, Walnut Creek,
(925) 934-1588, http://www.ericaraes.com
Place to Buy Jeans and Favorite Designer
If you love going to Samantha Lee and its sister shop, Sam, for blue jeans and all sorts of other fun clothes, consider yourself lucky. You are about to hit the jackpot.
Next month, owner Samantha Campbell is due to re-open Samantha Lee in a new and bigger location on North Main Street, just steps from the old shop. And with more space, the boutique will be able to offer an even larger selection of blue jeans in a dazzling variety of sizes, styles, and washes, as well as plenty of twirl-about space for inspecting your rear.
Campbell’s own wardrobe captures summer’s breezy mood. “There’s nothing in my store I wouldn’t wear,” she says. And for every inch of style, she’s got a yard of substance. Her shops host monthly parties benefiting a number of charitable causes.
Top sellers at Samantha Lee are the fresh-squeezed fashions of Juicy Couture, by Los Angeles designers Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor. Diablo readers picked Juicy as their favorite designer.
"Juicy reinvents itself every season,” Campbell says. “And you can wash and dry [the clothes] a million times. They’re easy, and locals love it.”
Samantha Lee, 1378 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-7267; Sam, 1388
N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-5502, http://www.boutiquesam.com
The Bar Method, 1946-A Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-1946,
Changes Salon & Day Spa, 1475 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, (925) 947-1814,
Branden Zych, Raymond Marc Salon, 1310 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek,
Laser Hair Removal
Renu Age-Defying LaserSpa, 4680 Tassajara Rd., Dublin, (866) 966-7368,
Macy’s, 1301 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 279-3333; 341 Sunvalley Mall, Concord, (925) 689-3333; 1300 Stoneridge Mall Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 463-3333; http://www.macys.com
Debbie Lindsay, Tribez, 111 Town and Country Dr., Ste. G, Danville, (925) 362-8600,
Men’s Business Casual
Atlas, 1356 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 933-8050, http://www.atlasshops.com
Raymond Marc Salon, 1310 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, (925) 947-2800
Contra Costa Pilates Center, 1280 Boulevard Way, Ste. 210, Walnut Creek, (925) 938-2022, http://www.contracostapilatescenter.com
Place to Buy Makeup
Nordstrom, 1200 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 930-7959; 1600 Stoneridge Mall Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 463-5050; http://www.nordstrom.com
Place to Buy a Suit
Daskalos, 1216 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 937-1808,
Place to Buy Sunglasses
Art and Science of Eyewear, 3547-B Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 283-2244
Place to See and Be Seen
Broadway Plaza Fountain, Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, http://www.broadwayplaza.com
Sexy Dress Selection
Elisa Wen, 1192 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 906-9500
Footcandy, 1365 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 937-3668, http://www.footcandyshoes.com
Street for Boutique Shopping
North Main Street, Walnut Creek
Tai Chi Class
Sugi Studios, 1924-B Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill, (925) 588-2727 (studio),
(925) 934-3120 (office), http://www.sugistudios.com
Arachne’s Thimble, 1487 Newell Ave., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-5251
Essy’s Tailoring & Clothier, 4555 Hopyard Rd., Ste. 18, Pleasanton, (925) 734-8088
Salon Terrazzo, 12131 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon, (925) 833-8085
Clarissa Bridal, 1424 S. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 930-0214, http://www.clarissabridal.com
Place to Buy Unique Shoes
“Great shoes!” is my favorite compliment. And whenever I stroll down Prospect Lane in Danville, my pace quickens as I approach a little slice of shoe heaven called Aglie’ (pronounced all-yay), named after the town where owner Terri Klobas’s grandparents lived in Italy. She sells shoes made only by Italian designers, such as Dusica Dusica and Claudia Ciuti, or by other European designers who use fine Italian materials. Most boutiques don’t sell shoes for the workplace, but Aglie’ has killer slingbacks. Klobas makes sure she stocks styles and designers that you won’t find anywhere else, ensuring that her customers often hear, “Great shoes!”
Aglie’, 122 E. Prospect La., Danville, (925) 838-2112, http://www.aglieshoes.com —Carolyn Rovner
Place to Buy Handbags
Since Belinda M Designs opened five years ago, East Bay bag-aholics have packed this tiny store on Walnut Creek’s North Main Street in search of the perfect purse, and more often than not, they have found it.
The boutique also sells fabulous clothes, shoes, and jewelry, but let’s just get hung up on the bags for a moment. Classic to kitschy, there are myriad species of clutches, purses, handbags, and hold-alls that congregate on shelves here and huddle in corners there. You will likely find a well-behaved brown leather doctor bag sitting sensibly next to a flirty fuchsia and tangerine purse that looks like it should be swinging in the ’60s. There are hand-painted handbags by New York’s Nancy Lucia and funkily colored and black-and-white striped leather bags designed by the boutique’s owner, Belinda McNeely.
But the jewel in Belinda M’s crown is this: the price. By designing her own bags and importing others directly, McNeely is able to keep costs down. There are no outrageous price tags here, just fabulous, original, well-made bags.
Belinda M Designs, 1372 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 934-0938,
Quickie Beauty Treatment
What do you order at a Brow Bar? A new look, of course.
Professionals at these drop-in counters, in local Macy’s department stores, wax, tweeze, and shape your brows into a perfect face-flattering frame. A no-appointment policy makes the service ideal for gals on the go, but expect to wait a few minutes for your turn on busy weekends. The treatments are no more than 15 minutes, and the aesthetician will pass you to a make-up artist to touch up your makeup afterward.
The bars, operated by Benefit, a San Francisco cosmetic company, are open 10:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m. seven days a week. An eyebrow wax costs $18.
Brow Bars are located at Macy’s in Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza, (925) 279-3333, Ext. 2323; Concord’s Sunvalley Shopping Center, (925) 689-3333, Ext. 2323; and Pleasanton’s Stoneridge Shopping Center, (925) 463-3333, Ext. 2323. —Martha Ross
Perched atop our vibrating spa-chair thrones, we really, really wanted to try Pinkies’ princess pedicure, which comes with a fabulous tiara. But it’s reserved for kiddies 12 and under. Drat. Among the offerings for big girls are natural and not-so-natural nail services (you get to keep the file), a callus treatment, eyelash and eyebrow tint, and plenty of hair removal options (Brazilian, anyone?).
Expect to leave feeling light and twinkly toed, toting a shopping bag full of private-label products. One item you won’t want to forget is the acclaimed Cellular Detoxifying Salt Scrub, which you can use on your whole body, including hands and feet, and which will keep you buffed to a satiny finish between appointments.
The French mani and pedi come highly recommended by perfectionists. Upon seeing our flawless piggies, we squealed, “Oui! Oui! Oui!” all the way home.
Pinkies Nail Salons, 3333 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-1229,
There’s something unusual about this year’s best yoga teacher: He’s not just a yoga teacher. Bikram East Bay’s director, Billy Wee, who pocketed most of your votes, works as a self-employed financial planner, is father to four children, and likes to powder ski in his spare time.
The 49-year-old Bikram boss is a walking, talking, downward-dog example of how yoga can become a part of real life. And this, he says, is one of the things that makes him a better yoga teacher. “You have to find a way to integrate yoga into your life,” says Wee. “One of my life missions is to bring Bikram to the suburbs so that busy people with full lives and families can integrate it into their regular schedule and receive the benefits, because that is exactly what I’ve done.”
Bikram, Wee’s yoga of choice since he was 17, is a 90-minute class of 26 challenging poses done in temperatures of around 105 degrees. Nine years ago, Wee opened his first yoga studio in Orinda, then one of only five Bikram studios in the world.
Now, he’s got two additional studios, in Walnut Creek and San Ramon.
Wee teaches at least one class a week (usually Monday at 5:30 p.m. in Walnut Creek) and takes a class as a student every day. Why? So that he can empathize with and be on the same road as his own students. “Instead of just commanding my students to do it,” he says, “I’m trying to motivate them from the inside, so that they want to do it.”
Bikram East Bay, 1 Orinda Way, Ste. 2, Orinda Village, Orinda; 3120-C Crow Canyon Rd., San Ramon; 2021 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek; (925) 988-9642 (all locations), http://www.bikrameastbay.com
Women’s Hair Salon
Tribez in Danville isn’t just a hip full-service salon. It’s like a beauty parlor version of a teaching hospital—on a mission to train future professionals and pioneer new techniques. And it has a maverick overseeing its academy: Troy Foustino, whose official title is artistic director. He’s a San Ramon-reared hair guru who splits his time among Tribez, his society clientele in Beverly Hills, and styling assignments for TV and magazines.
Foustino has a singular vision about styling aesthetics, which he preaches to the beauty college graduates admitted to Tribez’s six-month training program. He says that a good cut requires technical precision and an understanding of the “geometrics of hair.”
Like the best physicians, Foustino is a superb diagnostician. Trainees watch as he spends time with first-time clients, assessing face shape, coloring, body type, and personality to recommend the best cut. Even with more conservative clients, he can suggest styles that are cutting-edge but don’t push them outside their comfort zones. A consultation and haircut with Foustino costs $100; other Tribez stylists start at $50.
Tribez, 111 Town and Country Dr., Ste. G., Danville, (925) 362-8600, http://www.tribezsalon.com
When it comes to Nia, a fusion fitness class that melds dance with martial arts, Shelly Ross is more than just a teacher—she lives Nia (pronounced KNEE-ah.). Ross has been teaching the classes since 1997, and she embodies the primary principle of Nia, which is the joy of movement. She is strong and graceful (did I mention, she has a body to die for?) and teaches by example, connecting body and mind while having great fun and inviting students to learn about themselves. She even takes her top students on an annual weeklong Nia retreat to an exotic destination. Mostly, her classes are just fun. How many people can say that about their gym workout? Ross teaches in Walnut Creek, Berkeley, and Oakland.
For information about her classes, go to http://www.studio1320.com , and click on Schedule. —Susan Safipour
Shawn Burke is a freelance makeup artist who worked for years in Hollywood before motherhood prompted her to seek a less frantic pace in her native Northern California. Last year, she opened Herringbone, a small boutique beauty shop in Berkeley where she sells her favorite brands of designer cosmetics and offers personalized makeup coaching.
Given Herringbone’s Berkeley location, it’s not surprising that many of Burke’s clients prefer a natural look. “Most women like looking like themselves, only a little better,” she says. Some of her clients rarely use cosmetics and feel intimidated by the whole process. Burke tries to make them feel comfortable by matching them with the right blush for their skin tone or by showing them just how to apply eye makeup. “I want to help them let their guard down and feel confident about what they’re doing.” Herringbone also offers facials.
For a consultation with Burke, call for an appointment. Consultations cost $75, but the fee goes toward any products you buy.
Herringbone, 1527 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 649-9442, http://www.herringboneshop.com —Martha Ross
A professional bra fitting is essential. If “the girls” aren’t right, your whole outfit is ruined. A well-fitting bra is truly the foundation of a woman’s wardrobe, and the staff at Bonne Nuit know their “stuff.” Get it? Bra … stuff?
Bonne Nuit’s bra fitters take measurements, adjust straps, and recommend bra manufacturers and styles that fill customers’ needs. It also has the most beautiful bras—feminine and frilly European unmentionables—from which to choose. By the time you’re done, “the girls” will look like “ladies.”
Bonne Nuit, 1387 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 935-1195, http://www.bonnenuit
lingerie.com —Carolyn Rovner
As connoisseurs among us know, a facial can be transcendent. As we also know, once you get tucked into the buttery-soft linens of the treatment table, a facial can be an hour-long infomercial during which the sales pitch usually follows along the lines of your skin being, oh, really, so trashed that you’re going to need the $25 supplementary serum and then a few $60 bottles of stuff to take home.
Stop the madness—and head to Skin Ovations, where the emphasis is on providing you with a luscious layering of delicious-smelling potions, a massage that will leave you levitated about seven feet above the daily grind, and advice to help you care for your skin easily and well.
Believe it or not, facials at Skin Ovations are just $45, and owner Victoria Moore often sends you home with free samples of products in tiny plastic containers—and a suggestion that you look for similar products at the drug store! And this is a woman who donates her services to women who are victims of domestic violence. Just opened in January, Skin Ovations has already outgrown its small, second-floor suite behind Burger King in Danville and is moving downstairs. It’s no wonder.
Skin Ovations, 822 Hartz Way,
Ste. 204, Danville, (925) 968-9217,
You gotta love products that leave your skin feeling totally clean. Skincare pro Pamela Swartz says she doesn’t use the oils, including coconut oil, that nearly all cleansers use to make sudsy bubbles, because they leave a film on your skin.
Swartz, who opened Walnut Creek’s Acne Treatment Clinic 17 years ago, makes 12 different blends of her cleanser. One should be right for your skin. But if it isn’t, she’ll call her chemist to mix up a brew just for you. She also makes sunscreen and custom makeup that won’t clog your pores.
Also, new last year was her Rejuvenating Trio, a gooey serum loaded with antioxidants that keeps skin moist and plumped. Swartz’s focus is preventing acne without drugs, but her products work for anyone who wants clean and healthy skin. She must be doing something right: Her potions are delivered from her nondescript office on Alpine Road to 42 countries on six continents.
Acne Treatment Clinic, 1225 Alpine Rd., Ste. 201, Walnut Creek, (925) 933-8425, http://www.acnetreatment.com —Susan Safipour
Buzz through Bali Nice Boutique too quickly, and you may overlook a one-of-a-kind bauble casually draped on a display. Gorgeous clothes, singular jewelry, tons of accessories, shoes, and bags—including Mary Frances and Isabella Fiore handbags and Olivia Rose Tal shoes—are displayed everywhere. Owner Maureen Prisby selects unique pieces from her travels all over the world, creating a shopping Shangri-la.
Bali Nice Boutique, 3000 Danville Blvd., Ste. H, Alamo, (925) 855-1117 —C. R.
Three years ago, Silvia Duchene of Danville wanted to get in better shape. But she’s not a “gym person,” and she says her kids, then two and six, wouldn’t have liked being left with fitness club babysitters.
So her husband gave her 10 sessions with a personal trainer who could satisfy both her fitness and child-care needs: Heather Sumulong, who, with her husband, Carlos, runs VQ Fit Pros in Walnut Creek. Certified trainers, Heather and Carlos specialize in house calls, bringing equipment and expertise into the homes of moms like Duchene and executives like her husband.
These days, Sumulong comes to Duchene’s house once or twice a week, after Duchene has taken her daughter to school. Joining them are Duchene’s neighbor, Gina, and Gina’s preschool-age son, who plays with Duchene’s son while the moms work out. Sumulong herself has two young children and so guides routines that accommodate occasional interruptions from the kids. She puts both women through heart-thumping, strength-training exercises using portable equipment like boxing gloves and a medicine ball. She also gives them advice on nutrition, which is “huge” for Duchene, a self-professed snacker. Says Gina, “She holds us accountable, but she’s not intimidating. When she comes in, she makes me feel strong and important and athletic.”
VQ Fit Pros, (925) 969-1595, http://www.vqfitpros.com
Make an appointment with Laura Bartron, the nutritionist at Renaissance ClubSport in Walnut Creek, and you will not be scolded for eating fried foods, fast foods, or 10,000-calorie dessert items. What she does is explain how those calories add up, what it takes to work them off, and what healthy choices you might want to try instead.
I spend time learning about my clients’ health history, lifestyle, preferences, and obstacles as they relate to their goals and work to develop a program that is practical and tailored to their individual needs,” she says.Then she divides the program into achievable phases. “This way, people don’t become overwhelmed,” she says. “They remain motivated because they enjoy the success of making small but progressive changes that get them to where they want to be.”
Bartron also gives them plenty of resources, such as recipes, meal plans, shopping lists, and online diet analysis—plus the truly motivating follow-up consultation to keep clients on track.Easy as pie, eh? Well, make that a fruit smoothie with protein powder, and Bartron would approve.
Laura Bartron, (925) 942-6366,
Renaissance ClubSport’s casual, colorful luxury attracts a time-crunched professional crowd who take wellness, in its various forms, seriously. So we decided to find out which healthful endeavor is most rewarding: 50 minutes on a treadmill or 50 minutes in the hands of Lauren, one of R Spa’s resident massage therapists.
First, the Swedish massage. The knots in our purse-toting shoulders softened to Lauren’s deft touch and the sounds of relaxing music (which proved too faint to disguise our grumbling stomach), and our limbs morphed into glorious Jell-O. As for the fancy treadmills overlooking the pools, they looked incredibly enticing. But we skipped cardio for a leisurely dinner and a glass of Chardonnay at C-blue’s Wet Bar and Bistro, and the experience was just as satisfying. We lived vicariously through the glistening, Adidas-clad gym-goers prancing around the lobby.
Among the gym’s acclaimed features? A cycling studio, bar, gourmet deli, smoothie bar, and child care. Also worth a mention: Tae Bo Bootcamp instructor A. J. Camarce trained with Billy Blanks, of fitness infomercial fame. His killer workout alone could be worth the monthly dues, which start at about $118.
Renaissance ClubSport, 2805 Jones Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-8700, http://www.club sports.com
New Western Wear Shop
You don’t have to line dance or even like Keith Urban, but if you wanna kick up your style, you’re going to have to go a little bit country. What could be cooler than a pair of pointy-toed cowboy boots, a leather belt studded with silver, and a straw cowboy hat? Winner’s Circle Western Wear has everything a cowgirl needs—um, except the horse.
Winner’s Circle Western Wear, 6200 Center St., Ste. G, Clayton, (925)-673-5305 —Susan Safipour
Vintage Clothing Shop
Back in 1998, Labels Luxury Consignment made headlines when it offered Margaret Lesher’s wardrobe for sale. This month, the boutique is again at fashion’s forefront with a new location on Main Street, next to Footcandy, in Walnut Creek.
The move and makeover mean more visibility, more fashion, and more square feet (500 more, to be precise) in addition to the usual champagne frills and catered trunk shows. Among the shop’s current celebrity sellers are the infinitely chic Rita Moreno, as well as the Turlington family.
Couture creations from Chanel, Christian Lacroix, and Versace are interspersed with vintage Pucci and Halston, plus contemporary labels such as Seven For All Mankind, Paper Denim & Cloth, Citizens of Humanity, Joie, and Marc Jacobs. For bargain shoppers, the thrill is in the hunt, which unearths new finds every hour. Diablo readers adore the carefully edited selection of suits, furs, cocktail frocks, and formal gowns. We spent an entire afternoon having fun building an outfit from sassy separates and au courant accessories.
Owner Lynn Nice, a bubbly brunette who lives up to her name, scans incoming consignments with an eagle eye. The Montclair resident acquired a wealth of insider-trading secrets while managing high-end consignment shops in Newport Beach and Dallas. Feel free to drop off the contents of your closet without an appointment.
Labels Luxury Consignment, 1367 N. Main St., Walnut Creek, (925) 952-4566
Before you begin a full-body massage at Changes Salon & Day Spa in Walnut Creek, the masseuse will ask if you’re interested in paying a little extra to use Personal Alchemy products. Don’t even think about it—just say yes.
Developed by Changes owner Bonnie Waters and sold in March to her friend and former co-worker Tiffany McCauley, the all-natural, organic beauty product line includes salts, oils, balms, and creams in four luscious scents. McCauley mixes and bottles each by hand in her Concord home. The ingredients are from the United States and France, and according to McCauley, are “so natural you could practically eat them—not that you’d want to.”
You can also buy Personal Alchemy products from Changes and treat yourself at home.
Personal Alchemy, (925) 429-2628, http://www.personalalchemy.com —LeeAnne Carson