San Francisco City Guide
| By Kate Zentall, CatalogLink Editor
|Face it: SF is simply the coolest city that ever was. Seriously. Perfect size, civilized weather, intriguing topography, gorgeous vistas, eclectic, human-scale architecture, delightful neighborhoods that blend trendy with twee, rough with refined. A venerable city with stylish social snobbery alongside equally stylish social responsibility. Turn a corner and you'll find retro chic, arty uppitiness, alternate lifestyles, and a veritable cauldron of cultures. Decidedly urban, it's also low-rise enough (beyond deepest downtown) to impart a sense of place, context, and tolerable scale.
Home to social upheavals - Beats in the '50s, flower power in the 60s, gay revolution in the 70s, green movement in the 80s, dot-com madness in the 90s - SF is now ground zero for the world of cyber on the one hand and the sustainable food movement on the other, which kind of says it all. Like we said, pound for pound: SF, definitely the coolest dude in the room.
Shopping in this embraceable city is marked as much by meandering as by mall mawling. Ask locals about their favorite shops and get diverse, passionate votes for their gems flung all over town. (Or no votes at all, lest the object of their affection get overrun.) San Franciscans are fierce about their faves, and lucky for us they're plenty of them to go around.|
|Way to start at the beautiful bay, at the Embarcadero's awesome historic Ferry Building Marketplace, where it's all about checking out both the scenery and scene -- the happy hordes of locals and visitors, the bazaar of kiosks outside selling crafts, jewelry, artwork, and clothing, and the many shops and eateries in the marketplace itself celebrating food in all forms. . . . Craving caviar? Amble into the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Café for a selection of international and California roes that Anna Karenina would swoon over. Or check into cheese heaven at Cowgirl Creamery
for some Humboldt Fog or Midnight Moon, then roll right next door to Acme for a baguette of crunchy-fresh sourdough to devour outside on a bench by the water. And if you've been really, really good, stop afterward at dainty little Miette for some lavender shortbread or French macaroons. . . . Thus inspired to make food your life, toodle on over to a massively well stocked Sur la Table, or to the lovely ceramics, cookbooks, baskets, and tools at The Gardner. You may find it hard to pass up Far West Fungi for tasty 'shrooms, or the two shops specializing in local olive oils (Persian Lime, Roasted Garlic, or Blood Orange grab you?). And if you possibly can, catch the ab-fab Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets, which picky locals throng to. (1 Ferry Building, The Embarcadero, S.F., CA 94111; 415-693-0996)
Continue for mega shopping at UNION SQUARE, just a short walk away, considered the biggest shopping mecca in town (and some say west of the Rockies), with shops and chic dept stores ringing the square itself (huge mothership Macy's, with a massive shoe selection people come all the way from L.A. for; Neimans, with its magnificent stained glass; Saks Fifth Avenue and the way-popular Saks Mens, the dernier cri in guy threads).
The huge new, splashy Westfield San Francisco Centre on the south side of Market impresses with its bright, glittery marble and grand columns and boasts the West Coast flagship Bloomie's, the 2nd-largest Nordstrom in the U.S., and 170 boutiques, shops, and services, including the new Edition by Banana Republic accessories boutique, exclusive to S.F., featuring limited-edition bags, bling, shoes, and the rest, plus such diverse emporiums as Sanrio
, True Religion, Naopleon Perdis cosmetics, H&M, Fredericks of Hollywood, Charles David, Calvin Klein, Boss, Bose, Bebe, BCBG, Bandolino. Of course there's an incredible food court, and the movie theatre is a hidden gem -- less hectic and crowded than at most multiplexes. (865 Market St., S.F., CA 94103; 415-512-6776)
Also in the Union Square area and outside the confines of that spectacular mall, you're in good company with old-San Francisco institutions like jeweler Shreve & Co, Gump's gifts and housewares, and clothier Wilkes Bashford, plus an amazing array of still more shopping-and-stopping ops: Barneys New York, Baccarat, Montblanc, the country's first Goyard luggage boutique, Niketown, Loehmann's, YSL, Brooks Bros., Flyfishing Outfitters, Lululemon, de Beers, Cartier, Coach, Armani, Three Bags Full, Judith Ripka, Prada, Ross, Gucci, Levis flagship, Diesel, a constellation of art galleries, hotels, theaters, restaurants, and of course hometown goodie Ghiradelli Chocolate.
The neighboring intimate, very Euro-ambient, pedestrian-friendly MAIDEN LANE, with its designer shops (Hermes, Chanel, Escada, YSl, Diptyque, Montblanc, London Sole, MIX,Marc Jacobs) and tres stylish cafes, is also home to the Xanadu Gallery, the only building in town designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, whose interior was a precursor of NY's Guggenheim Museum.
Proceeding more or less south and into town, you'll find the four towers and low-rise shops of the EMBARCADERO CENTER, located between the Waterfront and Financial Districts and offering a collection of 70 different restaurants, spas, services (doctors, dentists, opticians), and shops, including Ann Taylor, Banana, Gaps, Nine West, plus a great art cinema and a huge outdoor ice-skating rink Nov.-Jan. . . . A tad farther south, in the heart of the Financial District, the atrium'd Crocker Galleria, which may remind you just a little of Paris's Musee D'Orsay, features a harpist, a Thursday farmers market, and 25 specialty shops and designer boutiques, Polo Ralph Lauren among them, as well as unique treasures like Karibu Kenya, selling ethnic, fair-trade jewelry and leather products. The huge clock will signal you to take a break to sample some of the myriad multi-culti food offerings. (50 Post St., at Montgomery, S.F., CA 94104; 415-393-1505)
Step into another world at JAPANTOWN, the largest and oldest such enclave in the U.S., with its fascinating, rich, and sometimes quirky selection of all things Japanese. Interested in the traditional? Check out Katachi's samurai swords, helmets and armor, figurines, geisha dolls, picture frames, water fountains, and novelties; Kohshi's huge selection of imported incense and scented candles, soaps, salts, ceramics, ironware, art, and unusual gifts; Asakichi's antiques, tea ceremony utensils, and handmade, silk-screened rice paper; Dentoh's papier-mache traditional masks, kokeshi dolls, kimono and happi coats, obi, toys, and hand-blown, hand-painted wind chimes. . . . More current but equally well crafted and authentic are the origami books and paper, brush-painting art supplies, and scads of other fine papers at Paper Tree; the mix of traditional everyday Japanese tableware and one-of-a-kind pieces and pottery at Shiki; the pop culture kitsch (miniature anime characters, stuffed animals, cell phone charms, etc.) at Moritaya; or the anime toys, action figures, collectibles, video games, model kits at jpnTOYS. And that's not even cracking the surface of the other Japantown offerings, which include noodles, sushi, movies, and oh yes, thank you, God, the Kabuki spa.
Which brings us to nearby CHINATOWN, with the greatest concentration of Chinese people (about 80,000) outside of Asia and the most densely populated area of S.F., lodged squarely between North Beach and Union Square. Eclectic, bustling, colorful, and packed with myriad shops selling herbs and teas, fans and parasols, silks and brocades, hand-carved dragons and Buddhas, traditional and modern clothing, and food food food, it's a major tourist draw. But real Chinese live and work here, and the feeling is definitely of another place, if not another time. Highlights include the Great China Herb Co., operational for nearly 100 years and outfitted with original cabinets and a Chinese doctor on hand; trendy Treasure, with its women's clothes, accessories, bags, jewelry; Mei Qing, for its more traditional fashions; Peking Bazaar, for discount sarongs, pajama sets, raw silk kimonos, dolls, lanterns, jewelry, tea sets, dishes, and housewares; The Great China Art Co. for china and knickknacks; Clarion Music Center, for just about any instrument you can imagine, Chinese or no; Domo Oro, for unique jewelry; the silks, bedspreads, housewares, and tea sets at elegant Asian Renaissance; the paper lanterns, whimsical accessories, and “hell notes” to accompany the newly departed into the Next World at Supernatural Exquisite; and the great selection of books, candles, accessories, and silk clothing at Asian Image.
HAYES VALLEY, a bit farther into town and west of Van Ness Avenue, is a swell destination for chic, high-end clothes, art galleries, and cool houseware shops. Like so many other urban areas in so many other urban centers, this neighborhood has gone from scary bad to scary cool, and a strong neighborhood association has resisted the march of chains and big boxes, making room for even more offbeat galleries and art emporiums (like Polanco for Mexican folk art, Tazi Designs, for Moroccan, or The African Outlet), antiques and furniture shops, gift and clothing boutiques (like multi-designer apparel showcase RAG, or Ver Unica for high-velocity vintage, or Smaak for simple and bold Scandinavian threads); fun destinations (like the Urban Kitting Studio, or Babies, where it's all about pets), and dining spots and hip bars. Art and commerce embrace warmly here, and we bask in the afterglow.
Swinging a bit south, the stretch of FILLMORE between Sacramento and Geary, in lower Pacific Heights, offers a surfeit of beauty outlets, retailers, and salons, plus perfumeries, trendy stores, antiques shops, fancy interior-design boutiques, furniture designers, clothiers like Marc Jacobs and Eileen Fisher, and high-end consignment shops (Repeat Performance) in a picturesque Victorian setting. . . . SACRAMENTO STREET itself packs quite the wallop in its short shopping stretch between tony Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights, with kicky high-end boutiques and home furnishings shops (cashmere sofa throws, anyone?), antiques emporiums, fantasy shoes at Fetish (could it have a more perfect name?), and ever more high-end designer resale shops (like Goodbyes Consignments for men and women).
Way change of scene now, at CLEMENT STREET from about 3rd to 12th Streets, for a wonderland of inexpensive Asian goods, discount kitchen supplies, and some of the best ethnic restaurants in the city, not to mention what many consider the best bookstore in town, Green Apple Books - which sells volumes both new and used, plus music and DVDs; a step back in time, and in the very best way.
Keep the funk fest going, because, yes indeed, HAIGHT ASHBURY lives. (OK, gentrified and mainstreamed, but hey, times change.) Now called the Upper Haight, the stretch of Haight Street between Central Avenue and Stanyan Street is where you'll get the blasts from the psychedelic flower-power past, but with an updated twist--the '60s through a postmodern lens. Find a way-eclectic mix: piercing and tattoo salons (Mom's Body Shop for starters), Amoeba Records (huge for vinyl, CDs, indie music, in a refurbished bowling alley), True (hip-hop fashions), and vintage, vintage vintage at Aardvarks, Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads, Martini Merchantile.
On a smaller, artier, less contrived scale, there's the LOWER HAIGHT, with its boutiques and salons (between Scott and Fillmore). Check out the home furnishings (Mickey's Monkey, for kitsch and collectibles), cool tunes (Rooky Ricardo's, Groove Merchant, Jack's), gifts and treasures (Xapno, for flowers, cards, jewelry, and everything nice, as well as Feathers and Scales) clothing (Trunk, Upper Playground, P-Kok, Y-Que) - the hits just keep on comin'.
And it's on to THE CASTRO, longtime center of the gay community and home to just about the liveliest street life in the city (and girl, batten down those hatches on Halloween). Tons of clubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, and unique shops (with nary a babyGap in sight), plus impressive Victorian homes up Liberty, make for one great big fat scene. Clever little shops like Does Your Father Know?, Under One Roof, A Different Light Bookstore, and quirky Cliff's Variety make you realize you're not in Kansas anymore, as do clothing palaces like Diesel and boutiques like Clobba, Citizen, and All American Boy, not to mention (pass the smelling salts, honey) Worn Out West, with broken-in leather goods of … all … kinds. . . . Over the hill lies the far more restrained residential Noe Valley and its charming 24th Street shopping strip, where you'll find great eateries and gourmet shops (like the awesome 24th Street Cheese Company), plus bookstores and shops impossible not to peek inside of, like Just for Fun/Scribbledoodles for whimsical gifts, and Global Exchange and Cottage Industry, both selling imported crafts, jewelry, clothing, housewares, trinkets, and toys, all supporting fair-trade 3rd-world suppliers.
You're now not far from the MISSION, which has is own singular eco-culture and fab Valencia Street for glorious, unconventional (tho not unstylish) shopping from 16th to 24th Streets. Super vintage clothing, ethnic clothing, hipster clothing; more housewares, furniture, knickknacks; colorful and funky jeans shops, alternative oddities. . . . Dip into the little golden gourmet foodie area on 18th street between Valencia and Dolores to find treasures at Bi-rite Grocery, Bi-rite Creamery, Tartine, and Delfina restaurant. . . . On Mission Street, just a block away, enter a whole other country south of the border, from the authentic Mexican restaurants and taquerias, markets, produce stands, and bakeries to the inexpensive souvenir and clothing stores. |
|AWESOME ODDITIES: It's all happening on Valencia Street, starting with Paxton Gate, the eccentric gardening store cum natural history boutique, wonderful weirdness impossible to describe. Treasures and oddities, curiosities of garden and nature--all live in a gothic plant store that's its own little shop of horrors. Awesome range -- teas, iridescent beetles, chem. kits, loupes, vintage botanical prints, fossils, small skeletons, carnivorous plants, medical books, landscaping services. Check out the tiny garden and pond in back - gadzooks. For kids too. (824 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-824-1872). . . . Next door is the renowned 826 Valencia (The Pirate Supply Store), which sells everything a pirate may need - eye patches, spy glasses, flags, Ts, Scurvy in a Bottle, glass eyes, lock-picking kit, even onesies for pirate tots. Established by writer Dave Eggers, all store proceeds go toward the 826 Valencia Writing Center supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills. Argghh, matey, a must-stop shop. (826 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-642-5905)
NATURAL WONDERS: Scarlet Sage & Herb Neighborhood herbal apothecary and very SanFran oasis dishes out 400 medicinal herbs, plus essential oils and flower essences, as well as gifts, candles, salves, crystals, wreaths, tea-ware, books, incense burners, jewelry, and not a stick of kitsch to be found. This here's the real thing. (1173 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-821-0997). . . . Currents Natural bath products, soaps, aromatherapy, bath teas, massage oils, body lotions and lubes; amusing fish-shaped hot-water bottles; kid's bath toys (the cutest!), quirky stationery, toothbrush holders, lovely free gift wrapping. (911 Valencia St. , S.F., CA 94110; 415-648-201)
HOME TIES: Therapy is the place for charming contemporary furniture (not an oxymoron), plus various inventive, intriguing, and stylish home goods and gifts. Chic without being pretentious. Chairs, sofas, pillows, shelves, décor, door knockers, clocks, lots of mid-century stuff, a proprietor people actually come here for, and a payment plan that can't be beat. (541 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110 (415) 865-9758). . . . Propeller This funky furniture houseware shop focuses on independent designers in glass and ceramics, as well as large furniture pieces. The eclectic, modern styles incorporate mixed materials and odd shapes, and it's all way cool. (555 Hayes St., S.F., CA 94102; 415-701-7767). . . . Ah, Kamei Restaurant Supply! Go ahead, gorge on the surfeit of everyday Asian kitchen ware here -- beautiful Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishware, scads of rice cookers, bamboo steamers, Japanese teapots, woks, everything kitchen. At these prices you can afford it. (525-547 Clement St., S.F., CA 94118; 415-666-3699)
UNIQUE & NOTABLE: Urban Nest www.theurbannestsf.com
Get ready -- everything here grabs you, and in the nicest possible way, from the gotta-have colorful shopping totes, froggie booties, and cheerful vintage-y tablecloths to the French glassware and floral flannel jammies. Practical, pleasing, cute as the dickens. (3927 24th St., S.F., CA 94114; 415-341-0116). . . . Wink SF. People go ga-ga over the array of Tokidoki and tons of other knickknacks, and every single next new thing. Angry Little Girls cartoon books, Hello Kitty PEZ dispensers, cool messenger and laptop bags, stainless water bottles, wind-up toys, barware, terrific Ts, animal shaped radios, fish-eye cameras, whimsical kitchenware, cards, all ages and genders, super-sweet owner, stuff you never knew you wanted and can't live without. (4107 24th St., S.F., CA 94114; 415-401-8881)
Life boutique, with its boho/neo-hippie ambiance, is packed with engaging, charmingly random accessories, jewelry, scents, and an on-site henna tattoo artist. (604 Haight St., Ste. A, S.F., CA 94117; 415-252-9312). . . . The snug Girl Stuff shop tempts you with distinctive stationery, cards, clutches and totes, hair clips, adorable baby clothes (is here any other kind?), shower gifts, jewelry jean jackets. Not a huge selection, but what they have is cherce. (2255 Polk St; S.F., CA 94109; 415-409-2426). . . . Laku has exquisite silk slippers, baby booties and whimsical knit hats (resist, we dare you), adorable change purses, angora bunnies, vintage scarves, floral barrettes and broaches, all handmade, tasteful, unique. (1069 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-695-1462)
|STAFF OF LIFE: La Boulange traditional French boulangerie (baguettes, batards, boulots, brioches, epis, ficelles, croissants), with rustic breads, including organic baguettes and olive, walnut, multigrain permutations, plus open-faced sandwiches, macarons de Paris (esp. pistachio and coffee), and the best chausson aux pommes. And that's just for starters. (1909 Union St., S.F., CA 94123; 415-440-4450, plus 7 other locations in town) . . . . Tartine Bakery bakes pastries all morning, bread in the afternoon (fresh for dinner; toast for breakfast). True taste of France; it even has its own cookbook. The lemon meringue cake is especially notable. (600 Guerrero St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-487-2600)
STUFF OF DREAMS: Miette. Prettiest pastries at one of the prettiest places we have ever been in, ever. Do not even think of leaving without trying the French macarons. (449 Octavia St., S.F., CA 94102; 415-626-6221; also in the Marina and the Ferry bldg.). . . . Anthony's Cookies. Not sure what gets more kudos - the wildly popular cookies (cinnamon sugar, German chocolate, banana walnut, among them) or the sweet, genial celeb proprietor Anthony himself. (1417 Valencia St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-655-9834). . . . Mission Pie. Boutique pie co-op, corner café, bakery, neighborhood gathering place hosts annual pie contests-also great shaker lemon pie, banana cream, plum frangipane, savory quiches, pot pies. Vegan options available too (duh, it's San Francisco!). (2901 Mission St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-282-1500)
REAL FOOD: 24 Street Cheese Company. This cozy, wood-floored Noe Valley shop is redolent with its eponymous wares, plus sausages & salamis, smoked salmon, cured olives, sun-dried tomatoes, jars of spicy crunchy green beans and asparagus, vegetable and meat pates, Acme breads, buttery and tart cheeses, biscuits, specialty sauces, oils, truffles, caviar. (3893 24th St., S.F., CA 94114; 415-821-6658). . . . Lucca. It's got everything you'd expect from an Italian deli, from Sicilian sausages to pate, prosciutto, and pancetta, to truffled pecorino and asiago, to imported olive oils and vinegars to specialty pastas and ravioli, prepared entrees and salads, breads, sandwiches to go. Buon appetito! (2120 Chestnut St., S.F., CA 94123; 415-921-7873). . . . Rainbow Grocery. Vegetarian grocery store with fresh, organic, locally grown produce. Dried pastas and grains, bakery like breads, muffins, and bagels, and organic juices. Vitamins, herbs, vegan foods, herbal and dietary supplements, glassware, pet supplies, beauty aides, more. Deli and bulk, cool tunes playing too. Definitely happenin'. (745 Folsom St., S.F., CA 94103; 415-863-0620)
WEIRD & WONDERFUL: Zante Pizza & Indian. OK, so maybe it's not Michelin 3-star, but where else are you going to find Indian pizza? (And wipe that smile off your face, young man; it tastes great!) (3489 Mission St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-821-3949). . . . Pal's Take Away (Tony's Market). Unusual, frantically popular sandwiches (lamb on wheat with cabbage; shrimp curry salad; pork banh mi; AB&J --almond butter & strawberry jam -- with mangoes). Doesn't do it for you? Try the lavender creme brulee. That's what we're talkin' about. (2751 24th St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-203-4911)
ICE CREAM DISCO INFERNO: It's not our fault that the three best ice cream shops are in the same Mission neighborhood. Just makes it that much easier to compare, contrast … and compare again … and again. We'll start with Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream. You want flavors so out-there you can't believe they're that delicious? Get a gander on, say, hibiscus beet, balsamic caramel, Thai chili lime, foie gras, red-hot banana, pistachio bacon, peanut butter & curry, rhubarb - and that's just for starters. But the one we could not get enough of was secret breakfast. OMG. We'll say no more. Except, oh yes, there are other, uh, more traditional flavors on the docket as well. (2790 Harrison St., San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-550-6971). . . . Moving on to Bi-Rite Creamery and its small-batch artisanal ice creams, baked goods, and confections. Great novelties, too, like a variety of ice cream sandwiches (snickerdoodle cookie & cinnamon ice cream, sugar cookie & balsamic strawberry ice cream); popsicles (pomegranate, pineapple with mint), ice cream cakes and pies; unconventional sundaes (with extras like caramelized bananas, fudge, walnuts; or chocolate, olive oil, sea salt). Plus the usual straight-shooting stuff. Local, organic, righteous. (3692 18th St., S.F., CA 94110; 415-626-5600). . . . We wrap it up at Mitchell's Ice Cream, family owned since 1953 (before that they were dairy farmers). Seasonal flavors like cantaloupe and eggnog. Made fresh, with a 16% butterfat base (did we really have to know that?). Tropical (avocado, ginger, Thai tea, along with the usual coconut combos), sorbets (mojito, plum, lychee, etc.), and of course the usual hard stuff (including grasshopper, sweet 'n' salty peanut, chocolate caramel crackle). (688 San Jose Ave., S.F., CA 94110; 415-648-2300). . . . The best of the lot? You be the judge.
CRACK: Ghirardelli Chocolates. http://www.ghirardelli.com/ It's the S.F. institution in landmark Ghiradelli Square, known for its premium chocolates and hot fudge sundae, and at this flagship location you can also see original chocolate-making equipment in operation. (900 North Point St., S.F., CA 94109; 415-771-4903). . . . Richart Chocolates. Create your own ballotin box with a message-inscribed chocolate plaque for birthday, anniversary, thank you, or a spectacular I'm sorry; whatever the occasion, this classy French chocolatier is bound to impress. Select by flavor, occasion, collection. It all works. (393 Sutter St., S.F., CA 94108; 415-291-9600).
NOW WASH IT DOWN: Wine Club, south of Market, is an old favorite. Maybe not chic or trendy, but the selection is great and the staff is friendly and all have great wine experience. Small warehouse with earthy feel; wine tastings too. (953 Harrison St., S.F., CA 94107; 415-512-9086) . . . . A bit more upscale, K&L Wine Merchants carry wines from all over the world, with good prices on Champagne. A votre sante! (638 4th St., S.F., CA 94107; 415-896-1734)|