Whatever you’re looking for, San Francisco has it. Need this particularly authentic Californian trinket to take home to remember your trip? Then stroll down Haight Street for a whiff of San Francisco in the 60s and a spectacular collection of dyes and trinkets. Or jostle shoulder to shoulder through the bustling Chinatown, where precious jade and unique jewelry can make the perfect gift for friends and family at home. Although the Mission is known for its Latin cuisine and North Beach for its Italian cuisine, these two famous districts are full of outdoor vendors and charming unique shops.
You do not know what you are looking for? Well, that’s why there are shopping centers. San Francisco proper has two, Westfield and Stonestown, no bad choice for rainy day shopping where you can browse and browse as you please. If time permits, head to Union Square, which may well be the most beautiful outdoor mall in the world, with local galleries often showcasing their work. Have you been looking up and down all day and still haven’t found the perfect gift? Don’t despair, try again tomorrow. No stroll is ever lost in San Francisco; even if you don’t buy something, the feast for the senses that is organized every turn is priceless.
1. Ferry Building Market Place
Most shopping centers are usually closed, perhaps to protect themselves from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. While many of the Ferry Building’s craft shops are inside, many kiosks also pop up outside on weekends to take advantage of the magnificent location of Ferry Buildings on San Francisco Bay with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. If you want more of your shopping experience than just a bunch of stuff, head to the Ferry Building, an iconic structure in San Francisco. A popular destination for anyone who loves to cook or eat, the Marketplace offers a variety of specialty food stores and restaurants. A farmers’ market is held outside on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
2. Union Square
The Union Square district is concentrated around Union Square, a large, small urban park, which is itself surrounded by a multitude of high-end boutiques. In fact, the area is generally recognized as the main shopping paradise in the city. Nearby are Macy’s, Saks, Gumps and Gucci; they, along with other retail standards, keep buyers busy for hours. Restaurants and theaters are also found here, as is convenient parking. Transportation is easily accessible and public concerts are an occasional diversion. Even better, the lively area offers excellent people watching. It is fair to think of Union Square as the heart of the city, so be sure to spend at least one afternoon there to end your trip to San Francisco.
3. West Field San Francisco Centre
One of the best shopping malls in San Francisco, Westfield Center is conveniently located just two blocks from Union Square and has over 170 attractive boutiques. Inside you will find Bloomingdale’s and the second largest Nordstrom in the country, as well as Betsey Johnson, Herve Leger, Kenneth Cole and H&M. Delicious seated, quick-service restaurants are ready to meet refreshment needs of all kinds, and the complex also includes a nine-screen movie theater. This shopping center has undergone a recent renovation, so it’s a must visit. Since it’s in the heart of downtown, once you’ve finished shopping, cross the street to the Powell Street cable car for an unforgettable ride to Fisherman’s Wharf.
4. Land Mark Embarcadero Center
The Landmark Embarcadero Center is an underutilized downtown shopping area, often overshadowed by the Westfield Mall and Union Square. But if you’re on Embarcadero and want a smaller, more intimate shopping experience, stroll through the four interconnected buildings that make up the center. From Ambassador Toys to Boudin Bakery to Edward’s Luggage and Gifts, stores can be a little more expensive than local malls, but the quality is worth it. Like the products sold, the Embarcadero cinema only plays independent and thoughtful films and is a cinema preferred by the locals. If you find yourself on a Sunday, head to the Ferry Building for their farmers market.
5. Fillmore Street
Squeezed largely between Jackson and Geary streets, this stretch of Fillmore Street offers an assortment of fascinating boutiques that offer everything from skin care products to freshly brewed coffee and specialty teas. A theater, club, and an assortment of restaurants and decor places also draw people to the trendy neighborhood.
Fillmore himself is on a fairly steep hill, so be sure to bring your walking shoes. Or, better yet, take new and clever ones along the way. Besides the cute shops, it’s a large part of San Francisco to sit down with a café au lait and observe some of the latest styles from Northern California.
6. China Town
Whether you make the grand entrance into Chinatown under the dramatic gate of Grant Avenue and Bush Street, or simply stumble across the neighborhood on your way to San Francisco, you can’t help but be impressed by this city in a city . Along its streets, exotic ingredients are peddled, silks and jade are offered, and colorful souvenirs are sold to tourists. However, the community is more than a spectacle and the residents celebrate Chinese New Year with verve, take pride in their beautiful Miss Chinatown and respect the traditions that have stood the test of time. Give it all away while you’re there, even if it’s just to munch on dim sum delights and get carried away with the hustle and bustle.
7. Chestnut Street
Located in the Marina district, locals would likely say that Chestnut Street is about as Socal as Norcal. Almost a mirror image of Union Street (in terms of appeal), Chestnut Street has a distinctive personality, created by Art Deco architecture and trendy professional clients. Many shops and restaurants are available, and brunch, followed by a lazy stroll, is a favorite pastime on quiet weekends. If you’re looking to shop, go out to a local cafe, or just soak up local colors and people-watch, head a few blocks north of Union Street in this exciting area.
8. Haight and Ashbury Streets
In the 1960s, this intersection was famous for its bohemian life. Today, vestiges of the hippie era mix with beautifully restored Edwardian and Victorian houses. One, now a private residence, was once the Grateful Dead House (710 Ashbury Street). Other famous neighbors were Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Stroll through the many parks, thrift stores and cafes for the current atmosphere, which is always rich in hippie influence. You’ll find stores and hidden places that explore alternative medicine, natural foods, the environment and the art of performance. Haight and Ashbury is right up to “begging”, making it easy to end your day with a stroll through Golden Gate Park.
9. Mission District
The Mission District takes its name from Mission Dolores, the Catholic Church and the colony founded by the Spanish in 1776. The district, centuries later, still has a strong Hispanic flavor that is seen in abundance in its vibrant exterior murals and in its Latin cuisine. Discover the Mission scene for its eclectic atmosphere, its intriguing products and its hip appeal. You can even find old-school artisans, such as shoemakers and belt makers, who can create a truly memorable souvenir of San Francisco before your eyes. Popular places to shop in Valencia’s always busy hallway include Atelier de Mission, Boutique Voyager and the beloved but locally famous 826 Valence, where your purchases go to a good cause.
10. Vans Store – Stone Town Mall
Stonestown is the quintessential American shopping center. Along Nineteenth Avenue, Stonestown has all your shopping needs, from big box stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom to small specialty stores like The Body Shop, Brookstone, H&M and Pandora. The Food Court has just about every dining option you could think of, from Panda Express to Starbuck’s to Ms. Field’s Cookies. The adjoining cinema, the Stonestwon Twin, plays more independent films than blockbusters. If the hills of San Francisco have run out of soles and you’re just ready for a place that puts shopping, food, and entertainment in one convenient box, head to the Stonestown Mall.