Shopping for slackers

Pub date December 4, 2007

When it comes to holiday shopping, some people are planners. These are the types who keep an eye out for potential gifts all year long, who spend long, leisurely hours trekking through shopping districts and browsing through stores for that perfect gift — in June. But most of us are the other type of shopper: the oh-my-god-it’s-almost-Christmas, I-only-have-two-days-to-get-everything, it’s-too-late-to-order-online kind. For these people (you know, the rest of us), we’ve compiled this neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to holiday shopping. Because as much as we’d all love to spend an entire week seeing what every little nook and cranny in the city has to offer, most of us need to get our gifts sometime before, oh, Easter.

Inner Richmond

Running the gamut from the cheap to the extravagant, Clement Street is an ideal place to do a bit of digging at stores whose owners sell what they like. On a gray afternoon stroll, you’re certain to come across at least a couple of rare finds, the sort that will meet the high-design expectations of both the classy and the kitsch-cool San Franciscan on your list.


Donald Gibson buys a lot of his antique dining ware from Eastern Europe or "wherever the dollar is strongest," he says. The store runs on the model of highly organized chaos — expect to find collectible plastic napkin rings from the 1930s, mod place mats, and postcontemporary cutlery all hiding between colorful displays of centuries-old china. Check out the walls too.

7 Clement, SF. (415) 752-1900


Fleurt occupies an impressive, breathable space. Its focus is on interior decor and unexpected gifts, most of them from Europe. But don’t overlook the tres chic flower selection. Fleurt also provides on-site installations, so stop in and ask about custom wreaths and table arrangements.

15 Clement, SF. (415) 751-2747,


At Derek Song and Jamie Alexander’s art and design shop, you’re welcome to pick over bunches of slick T-shirts, hoodies, underread zines, and original artwork, most of it created by the owners and their friends.

220 Clement, SF. (415) 386-7275,


Good, clean fun. The 6th Avenue Aquarium presents a dizzying array of fish and flowers, and everything inside is bathed in superpop blue. It’s worth a stop just for the hyperstimulation — your kid will love you for it.

425 Clement, SF. (415) 668-7190,


A dress-casual boutique for the discerning madam, the Nunnery will help you find a smart, lively ensemble for your mom that promises not to outlive its wearability after New Year’s Eve. Owners Gerry and Billy Sher keep things interesting with an eclectic, mix-and-match approach to filling the racks.

905 Clement, SF. (415) 752-8889


The hilarious sign says, "Smile, your saving a lot of money." And dismal grammar aside, this place lives up to its awesome billing. You wouldn’t know it on first glance, but this shop stocks big, cheap, decent rugs in the back, next to the aging paper goods and the empty boxes of Manischewitz.

626 Clement, SF. (415) 386-1896

Mission and Haight

Everyone knows about Therapy and 826 Valencia in the Mission, and about Shoe Biz and Fluvog in the Haight. But for more unusual gifts from the usual shopping spots, try one of these new, off-the-beaten-path, or simply off-the-radar spots.


This boutique’s owner wrote the book on San Francisco–style indie design — literally. The local couturier was chosen as the author of Reconstructing Clothes for Dummies (Wiley Publishing), and for good reason: her well-made, imaginative creations have helped define recycled fashion.

485 14th St., SF. (415) 355-1900,


No underachiever, Caroligne also has her hands (and designs) in this collaborative art and retail space in the Lower Haight. The brand-new co-op (its grand opening was, ironically and intentionally, on Buy Nothing Day) features gorgeous, one-of-a-kind items by local designers, who can be seen at work in their on-site studios.

544 Haight, SF.


Holsters for your rock ‘n’ roll sis. Leather computer bags for your fashion-forward beau. Tribal earrings for your burner BFF. This circus–Wild West–postapocalyptic–global wonderland (or weirderland?) in the Mission has something for everyone — all designed by Phoebe Minona Durland and Leighton Kelly, the dynamic duo who’ve helped make the Yard Dogs Road Show and Black and Blue Burlesque some of the city’s favorite exports.

510 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-9747,


You know that creative uncle or artsy aunt who always gets you the coolest, most interesting gifts anyone in your family has ever seen? The ones you love but your grandparents don’t quite understand? This is the place to find something for them. In fact, the wooden mustache masks or stackable ceramics are exactly what you would’ve known would make the perfect gift — if you’d known before you visited the shop that they even existed.

855 Valencia, SF. (415) 839-6404,


This charming Mission boutique is cute-little-paper-items heaven: it has creative address books, miniature note cards, adorably funky journals, and much, much more. You’ll also find one-of-a-kind wallets, sweet magnets, and McSweeney’s T-shirts. In short? Stocking stuffers galore.

849 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-7900,


You can cruise the Haight for yet another hippie tapestry or stick of Nag Champa, or you can find something truly original for the alt-culture lover in your life. Ceiba stocks a dizzying array of inspired, fanciful clothing and accessories for men and women. Yes, some of the prices can be steep (though well worth it), but the smaller, cheaper items are just as gorgeous — and just as unusual.

1364 Haight, SF. (415) 437-9598,


This neighborhood isn’t just for tourists and locals pretending to be tourists. It can be perfect for gift shopping — if you know where to look.


This is the place for cool mah-jongg and chess sets, opium pipes, and pretty little jewelry boxes. It even has clean, cute imitation designer bags — good to know if your giftees swing that way.

456 Grant, SF. (415) 397-4848


This place is just fun to walk into. Plus, if you’re in the market for brocade photo albums or scrapbooks, interesting wall scrolls, or unusual night-lights, a stop here is all you’ll need.

800 Grant, SF. (415) 398-2602


There’s a reason this store is a legend: it has every kind of kite you can possibly imagine. Keep in mind that kites are not only a good gift idea for outdoor fun but also perfect for decorating a big room.

717 Grant, SF. (415) 989-5182,


Not just one of the few places in town where you can still buy a cast-iron pan, Ginn is also a source of adorable garnish cutters, charming cake molds, and delightful cookware.

1016 Grant, SF. (415) 982-6307

West Portal

Everyone’s favorite hidden gem (well, it was until journos like us started writing about it), West Portal feels like a small town with the benefits of a big city. Sure, the shopping selection is limited. But it offers a lot of bang for the buck — in products as well as personality.


This is one of those old-fashioned small gift stores that have a little bit of everything — and all of it carefully chosen by someone (or someones) with great taste. The items in the baby section and the Christmas ornaments are particularly good, but you just might find something for everyone on your WTF-do-i-get-them? list.

44 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-7487,


This antique collective is a treasure trove of vintage goodness — and has offerings in every price bracket.

199 West Portal, SF. (415) 242-9470,


The only thing you’ll love more than this shop’s unique clothing and accessories for him, her, and baby is the phenomenal customer service.

320 West Portal, SF. (415) 681-7242,


You can’t talk about shopping in West Portal without mentioning this brilliantly unconventional toy store (which also has a location in the Financial District — but why brave the traffic?). Nearly everything here is educational or alternative in some way — finding a Barbie or a toy weapon will be harder than finding a wooden train set.

186 West Portal, SF. (415) 759-8697,

East Bay

If panicked, harried customers noisily rushing to buy holiday gifts aren’t your thing, escape the city for the quieter, quainter quarters of the East Bay. Better parking and pedestrian-friendly districts mean you can enjoy the trappings of charming boutiques without the tourist hordes — or the headaches.


This cozy space in Berkeley’s Elmwood District offers bedroom playwear in a decidedly un–Frederick’s of Hollywood environment. The dim lighting and rich interior say "sexy" (not "sleazy"), as do carefully chosen boudoir goods by Cosabella, Hanky Panky, Princesse tam.tam, Betsey Johnson, and Roberto Cavalli. Add the complimentary fittings from Ce Soir’s sweetly attentive owner, and you’ve got the East Bay’s best-kept secret since, well, Victoria’s.

2980 College, Berk. (510) 883-1082,


Well-selected clothes vie for attention with wall-hung art at boutique-cum-gallery August, located in North Oakland’s Rockridge District. Both men and women will enjoy the laid-back staff, premium denim selection, luxe cashmere sweaters, and hard to find avant-garde labels — not to mention the sustainable housewares and nature photography.

5410 College, Oakl. (510) 652-2711


Who doesn’t dig candles and lotions, preferably many and in a variety of different scents and permutations? (C’mon, men, don’t pretend you don’t. Isn’t that what the metrosexual revolution was about?) Body Time, with multiple locations in the Bay Area, provides not only the option to add custom scents to lotions and perfume bases but also nubby wooden massage tools and everything else to make it your body’s time, all the time. Check out the one en route to dinner in charming North Berkeley.

1942 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 841-5818,


If you don’t mind riffling through the pack rat–style holdings of Oakland’s charmingly disheveled Antique Centre, head over with a car — a large one. Vintage furniture and home furnishings clutter the house, and you’ll often see full, undamaged wooden dressers or bookshelves for less than $10 (and sometimes free) on the front lawn. It’s a calamity of objects on the cheap and dirty.

6519 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 654-3717


OK. So shopping in the Marina can be expensive and you may have to dodge assaults by sales associates desperate for a commission. But when you’re looking for that high-end dog collar or superstylie serving platter, there’s really nowhere better to look.


This cute little pet shop features just the right mix of well-made necessities and ridiculously high-end luxury items for your giftee’s pets. Try the basic cat toys for the down-to-earth pet lover in your life or buy the angora sweater for the friend who carries her puppy in her purse.

2220 Chestnut, SF. (415) 359-9100


This store, one of several owned by a small local chain, is famous for its knowledgeable staff. Not sure what to get your grandparents or your best friend? Find out what they read last, and let Books, Inc.’s staff help you decide.

2251 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-3633,


There’s always that time in the gift-giving season when you need to buy housewares — usually because they’re a safe bet. Why not try Modica, an eclectic shop full of cute items that look vaguely European, including a selection of gifts made by the owner’s sister?

2274 Union, SF. (415) 440-4389


This lingerie shop–boudoir simply rocks, thanks to helpful staff and a small but quality assortment of sexy items. How about getting your lover candles that, when burned, melt into massage oil? Or, for the girlie girl (or boy) who still blushes at the mention of sex, try a condom compact, complete with a mirror and a secret compartment for you know what.

3047 Fillmore, SF. (415) 563-1202,


This is the kind of place where you can feel good about spending too much money on clothes. The fashionable, comfortable clothes here are all ecofriendly, and a portion of the profits goes toward running wildlife conservatories in Africa. Plus, it has a killer 60 percent off section.

1849 Union, SF. (415) 738-8544, *