San Francisco offers some of the best shopping in the world, so it is no wonder that tourists and serious shopaholics alike want to spend some time and money in San Francisco's varied shopping centers, districts and malls. Union Square, Hayes Valley, Haight-Ashbury, upper Fillmore, the Mission, Sacramento Street, Chinatown and downtown's San Francisco Shopping Center offer a unique style with one-of-a-kind shops, each mall and neighborhood with a distinctive feel suited to any shopper's mood, from urban sophisticate to funk fantastic. And while many people may think shopping in San Francisco is an expensive venture, savvy shoppers will realize that there are possibilities for every budget.
Westfield San Francisco Centre
Epicenter: Market and Powell, San Francisco CA
For San Francisco visitors and tourists, the opulent Westfield San Francisco Centre mall and its surrounding downtown San Francisco shopping environs (Union Square is just a few blocks away) epitomize the San Francisco shopping experience. A gold and marble stronghold of commercialism, the Westfield San Francisco Centre was guarded by police barricades during the peace protests before the Iraq War, and is home to some of the world's largest American chains, including a five-story Nordstrom's, a two-level Abercrombie & Fitch, numerous outlets found in malls across the country such as Victoria's Secret and Bebe, and including high-end retailers like Kenneth Cole and Club Monaco.
Union Square Shopping
Epicenter: Post and Stockton, San Francisco CA
A lone Corinthian column surrounded by newly installed palm trees marks San Francisco's Mecca for shopaholics. Ringed by Macy's, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Levi's stores along with colorful flower stands and street performers. Surrounding streets feature superstores like Virgin Megastore, Gump's and Britex Fabrics along with boutiques for Coach, Bulgari, Cartier, Thomas Pink, Louis Vuitton, MaxMara, Emporio Armani, Diesel, Prada, Celine, Escada, Gucci, Guess, Hermes, Agnes B., Betsey Johnson and Wilkes Bashford. On the lighter side, DSW is a large discount shoe wharehouse steps from the most expensive shops on Union Square, and Imposter's sells classy faux jewelry.
Chestnut Street Shopping
Epicenter: Chestnut and Scott, San Francisco CA
Chestnut is a street lined with a mix of sophisticated shops, beauty outlets and restaurants alongside brand name retailers. While unique and offbeat in nature, Chestnut Street retains a distinctive neighborhood feel. Here shoppers and locals find incredible shoe boutiques like Rabat featuring trendy but functional footwear and specialty shops like Blue Bird, a gift shop carrying kitschy gifts like porcelain dolls and oversized potato heads. Well-known retailers, like Gap Body or the small, unique Chadwick's of London for cotton and lace lingerie, lend a mass appeal. Williams-Sonoma, a neighborhood fixture, has the best in cookware, utensils and cookbooks. For beauty care, Bare Essentials or the Body Shop will keep you looking great with the best in cosmetics and skincare. A lunch break on Chestnut means a choice of Cafe Marimba, an open, airy colorful Mexican restaurant or Cozmo's which prepares wood oven meats and seafood paired with California wines. On any day, Chestnut Street is bustling with shoppers, professionals meeting for
coffee at Bechelli's or neighborhood Moms with strollers shopping at Books, Inc. The highlights of this cozy San Francisco neighborhood are a sophisticated ambience and streamlined energy conducive to shopping.
Epicenter: Bush St. and Grand Ave., San Francisco CA
Enter the Dragon Gates for access to another, redder and more-bustling world of shopping in San Francisco's Chinatown, tucked loudly away between North Beach and Union Square shopping. Ornate lampposts, pagoda roofs and a Bank of America that could just as well be in Shanghai highlight San Francisco's eclectic Chinatown. At every turn, candles burn and vivid silks grace the jam-packed window fronts, where import vendors sell nearly everything, including (but by no means limited to) carved Buddhas, paper parasols and regal mahogany furniture, perfect for exotic gifts or indulgent tourist fodder. Apothecaries abound, selling delicate green teas, rose-scented black teas and a variety of other ailment-banishing brews by the ounce. For a sweet surprise, the fragrant Fortune Cookie Factory tucked away on Ross Alley is an exciting find. Chinese food is just as abundant: for some of the best in San Francisco, the inexpensive House of Nanking is just off Chinatown's main drag a few blocks west on Kearny (at Jackson).
Embarcadero Center 1-4 Shopping
Epicenter: Sacramento to Clay, San Francisco CA
Embarcadero is an underutilized shopping expanse, usually crowded with professionals who work in the nearby towers or locals who know this San Francisco mall is light on foot traffic but heavy on great stores and accessory shops. Embarcadero is retail haven with brand names like Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, Victoria Secret and Express Jeans. Even though the Embarcadero holds big names, this San Francisco shopping mall has unusual stores: the Discovery Channel Store for science lovers and the Giants Dugout for the sports enthusiast. The mall's spacious outdoor and indoor design lends itself to a more comfortable and easy shopping experience. The Embarcadero is contoured for the busy shopper with wide walkways and well-placed stairwells. During sunny days, the upstairs patio is perfect for patrons dining at Fuzio, a high-energy Italian restaurant or for coffee drinkers at Java City. The shopping mall is also home to the Embarcadero Theater, a movie house showing the brightest alternative and independent films by top directors.
Fillmore Street Shopping
Epicenter: Fillmore and California, San Francisco CA
On Fillmore Street, it's easy to feel pampered with several well-known beauty retailers and ritzy interior design boutiques fresh out of New York. Rachel Ashwell's Shabbychic furniture and bedroom
design store is next to Betsy Johnson's runway shop on this luxe stretch of Fillmore that combines a busy wealthy Victorian neighborhood with a thriving San Francisco shopping center. Every shopping wish list is checked off here with select perfumeries, furniture designers like Zinc Details and specialty beauty outlets like Aveda. For shopping fuel, Fillmore street offers a Starbuck's as well as a locals-frequented Royal Grounds. A distinctly picturesque part of town, Fillmore Street maintains an air of charm and simplicity while still offering a luxurious and high-end lifestyle.
Haight Street Shopping
Epicenter: Haight and Ashbury, San Francisco CA
The stretch of shops, referred to by San Francisco locals as the Upper Haight, was the center of '60s psychedelia. Despite gentrification and the proliferation of stores like Ben & Jerry's and The Gap, it still retains its hippie counterculture credentials, and is dotted with Victorian houses, anarchist bookstores, piercing salons and funky clothing shops. Taking cues from New York and Los Angeles, as well as showcasing local Bay Area designers, the thoroughly modern Jaxx is a true urban outfitter, while just across the street at X-Generation, knock-offs of the originals go for much less. On Haight Street, one of the most eclectic and perennially busy San Francisco shopping stretches, San Francisco shoppers can find just about anything, from hardware to punk gear and fishnets to upscale vintage. With food and booze choices just as prolific (try Cha Cha Cha's for sangria and tapas or Kanzaman for a vanilla hookah and a beer), locals as well as out-of-towners spend time shopping (or just window gazing) on the Haight's incense-scented sidewalks. For music-philes, the bowling alley turned record store, Amoeba Records, is one the Haight's biggest draws.
Hayes Valley Shopping
Epicenter: Hayes and Gough, San Francisco CA
The Hayes Valley is a beautiful blend of art and commerce in a small San Francisco neighborhood brimming with art galleries, contemporary boutiques, interior design studios, outdoor cafes and wine bars. This stretch of San Francisco shopping, in view of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera House, is a great place to find out-of-the-ordinary items like, crafted ultra-modern club chairs, black ribboned dancing shoes and a funky tabletop in shocking blue. Hayes Valley does not tolerate chain names or major outfitters that would infringe on the artful and airy style of the neighborhood. Located at 345 Gough Street is Shoppe Unusual, where over 30 local artists' works are on display in one of Hayes Valley's largest and most colorful retail spaces. Some other unique shopping experiences include 560 Hayes Vintage Boutique, Buu, Gimme Shoes and Evelyn's Antique Chinese Furniture. Prices in Hayes Valley are manageable: San Francisco shoppers can splurge on a well-crafted French truffle bag while ordering lunch for two without tipping the financial scales.
North Beach Shopping
Epicenter: Grant and Columbus, San Francisco CA
North Beach, the unmistakable Italian district of San Francisco, boasts an Italian style and energy that permeates every boutique and restaurant. North Beach is the perfect shopping getaway because visitors will dine as the Romans do while finding unique European-inspired boutiques along Grant Avenue. Old Vogue carries a vintage wardrobe for men and women with the occasional funky piece. InSolent has year-round footwear and for an old Elvis LP then 101 Music is your destination, jammed with more than 10,000 musical items in CD, cassette and LP format. No shopping day is complete without Steps of Rome, where the waiters serve cappuccinos with a flirty wink and call the female patrons "Bellisima!"
Mission Street Shopping
Epicenter: Valencia St. and 16th St., San Francisco CA
For tourists and San Francisco shoppers with more eclectic and far flung tastes, the Mission is the perfect place to cater to unconventional whims. The Mission a colorful stretch of blocks with offbeat boutiques and funky ethnic clothing and furniture stores. Living up to its catch-all attitude, the Mission offer most anything, but with a funky twist such as mini snakeskin boots for toddlers, white go go boots, velvet hunting hats, and vintage hipster fashion mixed in with discount fabric and bridal stores. However, mixed in with the eccentric is the Mission's predominantly Latino working class which operate authentic bakeries and fresh markets. Standouts include Rayon Vert, the eclectic home and florist shop and Fishbowl, the art and clothing gallery. Eateries add a unique flavor to the Mission with taquerias and fresh produce stands on every corner. What you won't find here are fashionistas wearing the same Gap sweater; the Mission prides itself on its inimitable and colorful style.
Polk Street Shopping
Epicenter: Polk St. and Broadway, San Francisco CA
Polk Street is one of the most divergent shopping neighborhoods in San Francisco, offering a blend of high-end consignment shops, affordable retail outfits shops and low-end clothing stores. Different tastes and budgets are accommodated on Polk: the outdoor enthusiast will find Lombardi Sports a sports haven, the uber Mom can find pink tees for herself and baby at Girl Stuff, and the socialite looking for an affordable Chanel jacket can stop in at CRIS, an upscale-only consignment store. Polk is best for out-of-town shoppers who like the gritty mixed in with some high style, the upscale with the zany. Just taking a coffee break allows for options: there's a Starbuck's near the legendary Bob's Donut Shop, offering the classic cheap coffee and glazed donut combo. This San Francisco shopping district has one caveat: the best and safest shopping experience on Polk starts just north of California Street.
Sacramento Street Shopping
Epicenter: Sacramento and Presidio, San Francisco CA
Sacramento Street shopping is on the cusp between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights in a quiet residential neighborhood. The main features are the interior decor shops and high-end, but fun, clothing boutiques. Sacramento offers household items from small to large, from cashmere sofa throws and scented Florentine soaps to oversized Persian rugs and 19th century French tables. When done buying for the home, shoppers can indulge their fashion tastes with bathing suits designed by Shoshana at Brown Eyed Girl, a shop designed to look like the interior of a hip apartment, and view Jimmy Choo sandals and Prada heels at Fetish shoes. Sacramento Street is the ultimate deluxe shopping avenue with fantastic finds squeezed into a compact little block.