San Francisco's Union Square Shopping District has long been known as a shopping destination, particularly in December, when the square is transformed into a winter wonderland. In recent years, the city has been trying to catch up with fashion-forward New York and Los Angeles, with more and more great independent boutiques cropping up in the Mission, Hayes Valley, North Beach, and the Marina, and two successful San Francisco Fashion Weeks.
On the interior and product design front, though, this city's got no need to play catch up. Extravagant design palaces like Limn and Gumps are great places to find that perfect something for your well-to-do friend who has everything. For those on more modest budgets, specialized local boutiques like Zinc Details, Friend, Nest Egg, and Little Otsu (they stock vegan-friendly stationery, bags and gifts) carry the work of local designers (OhBoy stationery, Jill Bliss journals, Heath ceramics, and Dwell sheets). Add the thrift and vintage furniture stores of the Mission to the mix, and there's no shortage of stores to look for a perfect gift or unique home accent.
And you can't forget the music! San Francisco is home to a number of unique and amazing music stores, not the least of which is the world-renowned Amoeba records in the Haight.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in San Francisco
Union Square and downtown are where you'll find all of the established labels, and the city's three malls. Practically every brand you've ever heard of has a store in these few blocks, from Old Navy on up to Chanel. Venture a block or two off Union Square on Sutter to find the city's largest assortments of unusual sneakers at HUF (808 Sutter St).
More and more local designers are opening up their own storefronts, and some are combining forces to sell their wares. In Hayes Valley, Residents Apparel Gallery (541 Octavia St) stocks the clothing, accessories and gift-y items of 30-odd local designers. Neighbor Minnie Wilde (519 Laguna St) carries the eponymous owner's hip blazers, culottes, and newsboy caps.
The rest of Hayes Street is dotted with small boutiques carrying mostly high-end designer threads from the likes of Marc Jacobs and Catherine Malandrino and an assortment of this month's must-have jeans, with the exception of Modern Appealing Clothing (M.A.C., 387 Grove St), which stocks predominantly avant-garde Belgian designers (Walter van Bierendonck, Anne Demeulemeester, Raf Simons, etc.) and Nomads (556 Hayes St), which stocks hipster/skater/DJ wear for men.
Hayes is also home to some of the city's best shoe stores such as Bulo (418 Hayes St), Gimme Shoes (416 Hayes St), and Paolo Shoes (524 Hayes St), and a handful of top-notch home design stores like Friend (401 Hayes St), Find (425 Hayes St,) and Propeller (555 Hayes St).
The Haight is not all head shops and tye-dye, it's also one of the best places in the city to find shoes. Every shoe store in the city has an outpost here, and some (ShoeBiz) have more than one. Haight is also a great place to shop for vintage threads, with local favorites like Wasteland (660 Haight St) and La Rosa Vintage (1711 Haight St) stocking everything from worn-out logo tees to vintage Pucci.
The Mission is a great place to find something uniquely San Francisco, whether it's a super cool recycled-paper-and-soy-ink journal at Little Otsu (849 Valencia St), local designer threads at Candy Store (3153 16th St), Sun Hee Moon (3167 16th St), Saffron Rare Threads (3579 17th St), House of Hengst (924 Valencia St), or Nisa (3610 19th St), vintage classics from Virginia Howells (2839 24th St) or Shauplatz (791 Valencia), thrift-store T-shirts from Community Thrift (625 Valencia St), or new and vintage modern furniture and housewares from X-21 Modern (890 Valencia St), Monument (572 Valencia St), and The Drug Store (3149 Mission St).
North Beach has seen an explosion in new boutiques over the last five years or so, starting with the bright and charming racks of Ooma (1422 Grant Ave), and now including In Lieu (528 Green St).
Look for a few cutting-edge finds from folks like Geren Ford and Borne, Custom Originals (1314 Grant Ave), where you can have owner Al Ribaya tailor one of his creations to you or create something entirely new, and Mixed Use Boutique (463 Union St), which stocks mint condition classics from Dior, Gucci, and Yves St. Laurent.
You don't have to stick to the thrift and vintage stores to find a bargain in San Francisco. Jeremy's (2 South Park St), in a tiny enclave South of Market (SoMa) known as South Park, draws dozens of fashion forward men and women every day for deep discounts on samples from Prada, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci, and overstock from J Crew and Anthropologie.
Loehmann's (222 Sutter St), near Union Square, is another bargain hunter favorite, with three floors of amazing deals on everything from Seven Jeans to Missoni dresses, Coach bags, Penguin button-ups and Donna Karan ties for men, and Wacoal and Natori lingerie.
Glamour Closet (114 Columbus Ave) recently opened in North Beach to bring blushing brides discounts of up to 75 percent on designer wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses and the Rolo (1301 Howard St) outlet in South of Market (SoMa) offers equally large discounts on hip and casual men's and women's threads (think G-Star jeans for him, Rebecca Beeson tees for her).
For incredible finds and deals on furniture and other house-y things, Cole Valley has an assortment of very cool and surprisingly affordable shops happy to oblige. Stumasa (515 Frederick St) offers a variety of cool gift-y items and home accessories, and they also build unfinished furniture, for which you can either buy stains, paints, and finishes or have them finish and stain whatever color you like, all at very affordable prices; they'll also custom build furniture for you. Around the corner, Egg (85 Carl St) stocks hip stationery, gifts, and some great artwork.
Venturing across the Bay to the east will bring you to a dozen or so used furniture stores full of amazing finds, such as Urban Ore (7th & Ashby, Berkeley), Form Vintage Modern (5330 College Ave, Oakland), and Uhuru (3742 Grand Ave, Oakland), just to name a few. To the north you'll find the Heath Ceramics Factory and Outlet Store (400 Gate Five Rd) in Sausalito, where you can score the world's most perfect coffee cup for a whole lot less than it will cost you at any of the fancy design stores in the city.
What better way to cap off a day of shopping than with a night out on the town? In San Francisco, your best bet is a night of live music, be it indie, jazz, or bluegrass. Read about all the hoppin' clubs and hipster bars in the next section.