Best Athletic Shoe Shops


Photograph courtesy Flickr/Jamie Rothwell

In sports where the participants live and die by their feet—we’re talking skateboarders, runners, basketballers, and tennis players here—finding the right shoe should assume an almost Odyssean urgency. Plagued by plantar fasciitis? Looking for more support as you race to the net? Or just dying to share your days of glory in those ’80s Reebok pumps? Specialty shoe stores will commiserate about your aches and pains, encourage a little name-dropping, and even help you strategize the running of your first (and maybe last) marathon. Once you’ve found that perfect shoe, you can bargain hunt at the chains (we like Sport Chalet and Chick’s) or shop online. But we’re betting you’ll be back.

Ollie, Ollie Oxen Free
For athletes whose insouciance is legendary, skateboarders are surprisingly fussy about their footwear. Perhaps that’s because their playing surface of choice is concrete and steel. Skaters large and small mitigate the ouch factor at ZJ Boarding House (2619 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-392-5646), where there are at least 15 manufacturers to select from, including best-sellers Emerica and Lakai and the ever-popular Vans. The staff, skaters all, are happy to discuss toe box toughness, the merits of vulcanized soles over cupped, and why canvas feels better than suede. It also has bragging rights: In 2007, ZJ’s skate team triumphed in the statewide “Battle of the Shops” competition.

Miles to Go Before You Sleep
The attention you get at Phidippides (16545 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-986-8686) will likely evoke awe. Boxes and boxes of shoes emerge from the back, and your gait is scrutinized as you jog along the covered arcade outside. Founded 28 years ago by college roommates Charlie Hoover and Craig Chambers, a revered marathoner who died this year (his memorial service was attended by an SRO crowd at a Pacific Palisades auditorium), the store has long been a temple of distance running. But even casual joggers are treated like they’re training for hundred-milers. While club members get discounts, as do students, expect to pay more than at big-box stores. Also popular with the fleet-feet set is Run With Us (235 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, 626-568-3331). The selection is superb and includes road-racing models. But on a busy weekend the knowledgeable, well-meaning staff can be spread thin.

Full-Court Dress
Sporting goods retailer Adrian Vaughan was tired of schlepping across town for size 13 basketball sneakers, so three years ago he set up ATeam Shoe Shop in his South Bay neighborhood (1112 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310-376-0100) to cater to the big guys. The emphasis is on retro icons, from the Nike Dunk and Reebok Pump Omni Light of the 1980s to the 1956 Bob Cousy sneaker in Celtics green. Pau Gasol (size 14) and Lamar Odom (size 15) shop here—the Laker center favors the John Varvatos Converse while his teammate, under contract to Nike, still can’t wait to get his hands on the latest Air Force 1 styles. Other sports and decades are well represented, from track’s classic 1960s Onitsuka Tigers to Adidas’s signature 1970s Rod Laver tennis shoes.

At first glance, Tradition (2895 Agoura Rd., Westlake Village, 805-497-4717) looks like it focuses solely on suburban sneakerheads. Co-owner Jason Gaines was a high school basketball star who played for Loyola Marymount, so there’s a sampling of current and classic competition designs, from the just-out Kobe Hyperdunk to the retro Air Pippen. Here’s where sports meets style (with an assist from co-owner Andrew Kline, a former Fred Segal buyer), featuring shoes you could play in both on court and off.

Top Spin
Atwater Village’s Racket Doctor has a bigger inventory, but Tennis Ace (12544 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-762-8751; 21910 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, 818-226-9942) has strong opinions. Owner Bruce Man-Son-Hing is a former tennis pro who played for UC Irvine and whose daughter Sabrina is on the Calabasas High team. If you’re lucky, you’ll be served by Bruce’s father, Ivor, who will listen to your spiel about bad sprains or lost agility and come back with advice on which shoe might resolve your problems. Then you can expand the conversation to politics, history, and geography as a steady stream of customers passes through to pick up their restrung rackets.