San Francisco

With its grand department stores and funky secondhand boutiques, San Francisco summons a full range of shopping experiences. From the anarchist bookstore to the mouthwatering specialty-food purveyors at the gleaming Ferry Building, the local shopping opportunities reflect the city's various personalities. Visitors with limited time often focus their energies on the high-density Union Square area, where several major department stores tower over big-name boutiques. But if you're keen to find unique local shops, consider moving beyond the square's radius.

Each neighborhood has its own distinctive finds, whether it's 1960s housewares, cheeky stationery, or vintage Levi's. If shopping in San Francisco has a downside, it's that real bargains can be few and far between. Sure, neighborhoods such as the Lower Haight and the Mission have thrift shops and other inexpensive stores, but you won't find many discount outlets in the city, where rents are sky-high and space is at a premium.

Seasonal sales, usually in late January and late July or August, are good opportunities for finding deep discounts on clothing. The San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner advertise sales. For smaller shops, check the free SF Weekly, which can be found on street corners every Wednesday. Sample sales are usually held by individual manufacturers, so check your favorite company's website before visiting.

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  • 1. Amoeba Music

    Haight | Music

    With well over a million new and used CDs, DVDs, and records at bargain prices, this warehouselike offshoot of the Berkeley original carries...

    With well over a million new and used CDs, DVDs, and records at bargain prices, this warehouselike offshoot of the Berkeley original carries titles you likely can't find on Amazon. No niche is ignored—from electronica and hip-hop to jazz and classical—and the stock changes frequently. Weekly in-store performances attract large crowds.

    1855 Haight St., between Stanyan and Shrader Sts., San Francisco, California, 94117, USA
    415-831–1200
  • 2. Berggruen Gallery

    SoMa | Art Galleries

    Twentieth-century European and American paintings, including Bay Area figurative works, are displayed throughout two airy floors at this well...

    Twentieth-century European and American paintings, including Bay Area figurative works, are displayed throughout two airy floors at this well-respected gallery established in 1970. Some recent exhibitions have included the works of Robert Kelly and Isca Greenfield-Sanders. Look for thematic shows here, too; past exhibits have had titles such as Summer Highlights and Four Decades.

    10 Hawthorne St., at Howard St., San Francisco, California, 94105, USA
    415-781–4629
  • 3. Britex Fabrics

    Union Sq. | Textiles/Sewing

    Walls of Italian wool in deep, rich colors, yards of faille-striped silk, and neat stacks of fresh cotton prints await your creative touch....

    Walls of Italian wool in deep, rich colors, yards of faille-striped silk, and neat stacks of fresh cotton prints await your creative touch. A San Francisco institution for more than 60 years, the two-story Britex also sells an endless variety of buttons as well as thread and trim. If sewing is your thing, this will be a visit to paradise. It's closed on weekends.

    117 Post St., between Grant Ave. and Kearny St., San Francisco, California, 94108, USA
    415-392–2910
  • 4. Chronicle Books

    SoMa | Books/Stationery

    A local beacon of publishing produces inventively designed fiction, cookbooks, art books, and other titles, as well as diaries, planners, and...

    A local beacon of publishing produces inventively designed fiction, cookbooks, art books, and other titles, as well as diaries, planners, and address books—all of which you can purchase at its home near Oracle Park in an old maritime machine shop and warehouse.

    680 2nd St., San Francisco, California, 94103, USA
    415-369–6271
  • 5. Cowgirl Creamery Artisan Cheese

    Embarcadero | Food/Candy

    Fantastic organic-milk cheeses—such as the mellow, triple-cream Mt. Tam and bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella)—are produced at a...

    Fantastic organic-milk cheeses—such as the mellow, triple-cream Mt. Tam and bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella)—are produced at a creamery an hour's drive north of the city. These and other carefully chosen artisanal cheeses and dairy products, including a luscious, freshly made crème fraîche, round out the selection at the in-town store.

    Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Bldg. #17, at foot of Market St., San Francisco, California, 94111, USA
    415-362–9354
  • 6. Diptyque

    Union Sq. | Household Items/Furniture

    The original Diptyque boutique in Paris has attracted a long line of celebrities. You can find the full array of scented candles and fragrances...

    The original Diptyque boutique in Paris has attracted a long line of celebrities. You can find the full array of scented candles and fragrances in this chic shop that would be at home on the boulevard St-Germain. Trademark black-and-white labels adorn the popular L'eau toilet water, scented with geranium and sandalwood. Candles come in traditional and esoteric scents, including lavender, basil, leather, and fig tree. Also available are Mariage Frères teas.

    73 Geary St., at Grant Ave., San Francisco, California, 94108, USA
    415-402–0600
  • 7. Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

    Embarcadero | Market

    The partylike Saturday edition of the city's most upscale and expensive farmers' market places baked goods, gourmet cheeses, smoked fish, and...

    The partylike Saturday edition of the city's most upscale and expensive farmers' market places baked goods, gourmet cheeses, smoked fish, and fancy pots of jam alongside organic basil, specialty mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, handcrafted jams, and juicy-ripe locally grown fruit. On Saturday about 100 vendors pack in along three sides of the building, and sandwiches and other prepared foods are for sale in addition to fruit, vegetable, and other samples free for the nibbling. Smaller markets take place on Tuesday and Thursday. (The Thursday one doesn't operate from about late December through March.)

    Ferry Plaza, at Market St., San Francisco, California, 94111, USA
    415-291–3276
  • 8. Fraenkel Gallery

    Union Sq. | Art Galleries

    This renowned gallery represents museum-caliber photographers or their estates, including Nicholas Nixon, Nan Goldin, Richard Misrach, and Garry...

    This renowned gallery represents museum-caliber photographers or their estates, including Nicholas Nixon, Nan Goldin, Richard Misrach, and Garry Winogrand. Recent shows have included work by Robert Adams, Idris Khan, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Most shows feature one or two artists, but the annual Several Exceptionally Good Recently Acquired Pictures showcases the range of works the gallery exhibits.

    49 Geary St., 4th fl., between Kearny St. and Grant Ave., San Francisco, California, 94108, USA
    415-981–2661

    Shop Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun. and Mon.
  • 9. Green Apple Books

    Richmond | Books/Stationery

    A local favorite with a huge used-book department also carries new books in every field. It's known for its history room and rare-books collection...

    A local favorite with a huge used-book department also carries new books in every field. It's known for its history room and rare-books collection. Two doors down, at 520 Clement Street, is a fiction annex that also sells CDs, DVDs, comic books, and graphic novels.

    506 Clement St., at 6th Ave., San Francisco, California, 94118, USA
    415-387–2272
  • 10. Gump's

    Union Sq. | Department Store

    It's a San Francisco institution, dating to the 19th century, and it's a strikingly luxurious one. The airy store exudes a museumlike vibe,...

    It's a San Francisco institution, dating to the 19th century, and it's a strikingly luxurious one. The airy store exudes a museumlike vibe, with its large decorative vases, sumptuous housewares, and Tahitian-pearl display. It's a great place to pick up gifts, such as the Golden Gate Bridge note cards or silver-plated butter spreaders in a signature Gump's box.

    135 Post St., near Kearny St., San Francisco, California, 94108, USA
    415-982–1616
  • 11. Heath Ceramics

    Mission District | Ceramics/Glassware

    Founded in Sausalito in 1948, Heath designs and produces sleek, glossy tiles for the home and newly spun bowls, plates, and cups in rich earth...

    Founded in Sausalito in 1948, Heath designs and produces sleek, glossy tiles for the home and newly spun bowls, plates, and cups in rich earth colors to decorate kitchens. You'll also find locally inspired cookbooks and high-quality furniture and silverware from trendy peers throughout Heath's immaculately arranged factory showroom. The company's designs can be found at many of San Francisco's top restaurants and cafés, including the adjacent Tartine Manufactory.

    2900 18th St., between Alabama and Florida Sts., San Francisco, California, 94110, USA
    415-361–5552
  • 12. Margaret O'Leary

    Union Sq. | Clothing

    If you can only buy one piece of clothing in San Francisco, make it a hand-loomed cashmere sweater by this Irish-born local legend. The perfect...

    If you can only buy one piece of clothing in San Francisco, make it a hand-loomed cashmere sweater by this Irish-born local legend. The perfect antidote to the city's wind and fog, the sweaters are so beloved by San Franciscans that some of them never wear anything else. Pick up an airplane wrap for your trip home, or a media cozy to keep your tech toasty. Another store is in Pacific Heights, at 2400 Fillmore Street.

    1 Claude La., at Sutter St., just west of Kearny St., San Francisco, California, 94108, USA
    415-391–1010
  • 13. Molinari Delicatessen

    North Beach | Food/Candy

    This store has been making its own salami, sausages, and cold cuts since 1896. Other homemade specialties include meat and cheese ravioli, tomato...

    This store has been making its own salami, sausages, and cold cuts since 1896. Other homemade specialties include meat and cheese ravioli, tomato sauces, and fresh pastas. Do like the locals: grab a made-to-order sandwich for lunch and eat it at one of the sidewalk tables or over at Washington Square Park.

    373 Columbus Ave., at Vallejo St., San Francisco, California, 94133, USA
    415-421–2337
  • 14. Paxton Gate

    Mission District | Souvenirs

    Elevating gardening to an art, this serene shop offers beautiful earthenware pots, amaryllis and narcissus bulbs, decorative garden items, and...

    Elevating gardening to an art, this serene shop offers beautiful earthenware pots, amaryllis and narcissus bulbs, decorative garden items, and coffee-table books, such as a composting book called Let It Rot! The collection of taxidermy and preserved bugs provides more unusual gift ideas. A couple storefronts away is too-cute Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids, jam-packed with retro toys, books, and other stellar finds.

    824 Valencia St., between 19th and 20th Sts., San Francisco, California, 94110, USA
    415-824–1872
  • 15. SFMOMA Museum Store

    SoMa | Jewelry & Watches

    The museum's shop is an excellent stop for unique souvenirs, including its large selection of watches and jewelry, as well as artists' monographs...

    The museum's shop is an excellent stop for unique souvenirs, including its large selection of watches and jewelry, as well as artists' monographs and artful housewares. Posters, calendars, children's art sets and books, and art books for adults round out the merchandise.

    151 3rd St., between Mission and Howard Sts., San Francisco, California, 94103, USA
    888-357–0037
  • 16. Sports Basement

    Potrero Hill | Sporting Goods

    This sprawling store rewards intrepid shoppers with significant discounts on name-brand sportswear, accessories, and camping and outdoor gear...

    This sprawling store rewards intrepid shoppers with significant discounts on name-brand sportswear, accessories, and camping and outdoor gear. Helpful salespeople, more knowledgeable than you would expect at a discount warehouse, will help you find just the right running shoes, biking shorts, or yoga tights. Check out their location in the Presidio on Old Mason Street as well.

    1590 Bryant St., between 15th and 16th Sts., San Francisco, California, 94120, USA
    415-575–3000
  • 17. Verve Wine

    Lower Pacific Heights | Wine/Spirits

    Wine nerds will fall in love with this trendy, upscale destination from one of the country's few master sommeliers, Dustin Wilson. Many wine...

    Wine nerds will fall in love with this trendy, upscale destination from one of the country's few master sommeliers, Dustin Wilson. Many wine drinkers will also recognize him from the popular 2012 documentary Somm (and its sequels). High-quality, smaller producers from prominent and lesser-known regions share wall space in this exceptionally organized boutique.

    2358 Fillmore St., between Washington St. and Jackson St., San Francisco, California, 94115, USA
    415-896–4935
  • 18. Vital Tea Leaf

    Chinatown | Food/Candy

    Tea enthusiasts will feel at peace in this bright, spacious, hardwood-floor haven for sipping. You'll find more than 400 different varieties...

    Tea enthusiasts will feel at peace in this bright, spacious, hardwood-floor haven for sipping. You'll find more than 400 different varieties of tea here, and the staff is extremely knowledgeable on the health benefits of each and every one.

    1044 Grant Ave., between Jackson St. and Pacific Ave., San Francisco, California, 94133, USA
    415-981–2388
  • 19. XOX Truffles

    North Beach | Food/Candy

    The decadent confection comes in countless bite-size flavors here, from the traditional (cocoa-powder-coated Amaretto) to the unusual (flavored...

    The decadent confection comes in countless bite-size flavors here, from the traditional (cocoa-powder-coated Amaretto) to the unusual (flavored with rum-coconut liqueur and coated with coconut flakes). There's something for everyone, even vegans (soy truffles). Bonus: all espresso drinks come with a complimentary truffle.

    754 Columbus Ave., between Greenwich and Filbert Sts., San Francisco, California, 94133, USA
    415-421–4814
  • 20. 826 Valencia

    Mission District | Toys

    The brainchild of local author Dave Eggers is primarily a center established to help kids with their writing skills via writing programs, tutoring...

    The brainchild of local author Dave Eggers is primarily a center established to help kids with their writing skills via writing programs, tutoring, and storytelling events. But the storefront is also "San Francisco's only independent pirate supply store," a quirky space filled with eye patches, spyglasses, and other pirate-themed paraphernalia. Eggers's quarterly journal, McSweeney's, and other publications are available here. Proceeds benefit the writing center.On the center's storefront is an intricate mural designed by graphic novelist Chris Ware as a meditation on the evolution of human communication.

    826 Valencia St., between 18th and 19th Sts., San Francisco, California, 94110, USA
    415-642–5905

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