823 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz
OK, so the first shop on my list of awesome thrift stores is not, actually, a thrift store. But what the heck? My love for Ravani trumps the rules. This is the place to go if your Burning Man style is to match the desert goddess within—the store is full of bejeweled, colorful Indian imports, from belly dancing costumes and flowy patterned tops and pants to extras like bindis and tubes of henna. The owner, Preeti, hand selects and buys everything for the store in Rajasthan, India, and plays an infectiously upbeat soundtrack of Bollywood love songs in the shop. I recently bought a beautiful, exotic tunic-style dress from her that has proven to be an all-around good buy: it works as a beach cover-up, a dressy top when paired with slacks or tights, and, in no time at all, I’ll be rocking it on the Playa.
All Shook Up
861 41st Ave., Santa Cruz
This 41st Avenue establishment offers a downright smorgasbord of men’s and women’s costumes and funky vintage wears. The prices aren’t particularly great, but if you let the cashier know that your purchase is headed to Burning Man, they’ll give you 10 percent off.
Busy Bee Thrift Store
2628B Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz
Blink and you’ll miss it. This is possibly the smallest thrift store in the world, and is tucked away in a parking lot off of Soquel Drive with just a small sign alerting passersby to its presence. But Busy Bee proves that size doesn’t always matter: the small selection of clean and quality clothes, jewelry, scarves, bags, and plants (yes—plants) are dirt-cheap. Almost everything is under $5, and many items are only a dollar. Adding to its mystery, the shop (although “roadside stand” might be a better description) is only open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1010 Pacific Ave # C, Santa Cruz
I’m partial to this Downtown Santa Cruz store for a few different reasons. Among them is the friendly, welcoming staff and the fact that they stream Los Angeles oldies station K-EARTH 101, which reminds me of growing up in SoCal, belting “Build Me Up Buttercup” and other gems in the car with my family. But nostalgia aside, Retro Paradise has the best selection of reasonably priced, Burning Man-appropriate accessories: wigs, leggings, tights, fishnets, bandanas, faux fur boot covers, and so on.
392 Pioneer St., Santa Cruz
This is where donations that weren’t good enough for Goodwill stores come to die—or get snatched up by you. After all, one person’s trash is another’s Burning Man costume, no? If you haven’t been to this legendary Santa Cruz pit of hidden treasures, take heed: it’s not exactly a pleasant experience, digging through the vast troughs of questionably-sanitary items, elbowing other serious treasure hunters out of your way, and worrying about the potential health risks of the place. But it is all suddenly worth it when you check out and realize that you just bought some useful garments for mere cents. They are open Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Get there early—the floods of thrifty shoppers fight their way in as soon as the barn’s doors open, and they don’t leave much behind once they’ve worked their way through the bins.
What are your favorite places to find Burning Man costumes? Tell us in the comment section below.