Deck Your Halls with the Best San Francisco Shopping Spots of 2016

Getting your Christmas shopping done can turn into a real headache. If you're checking a long list twice to get something special for everyone back home while you're trying to enjoy a vacation, that can end up being a gift for no one involved. Instead of complicating matters and splitting up the group into "shoppers" and "sightseers," make everyone happy by organizing your shopping through an exploration of iconic San Francisco neighborhoods. 

You can window shop through quaint antique stores in the North Beach, then continue your stroll through chinatown for some truly unique gifts. Take a cable car downtown to visit Westfield Mall, or take it the other direction to the ocean and loads of tourist shops at Fisherman's Wharf.

Head to the electric Mission District for cultural art, or take a taxi over to Chestnut Street for some higher end purchases. Historic Haight-Ashbury has wonderful boutiques, and Fillmore Street is a favorite shopping spot for locals. And, if the kids in tow behave, you can head back downtown for yummy chocolate treats all around at Ghiradeli Square.

However you organize your San Francisco holiday shopping day, just remember to keep your spirits up. Tis' the season to be jolly, remember?


If you want an authentic, truly quirky and memorable California shopping experience, head to locally beloved Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco's Mission District. Since California produces more fruit and vegetables than any other state in the US, eating some healthy, organic, locally grown produce should be part of everyone's California trip. We don't expect you to fill your suitcase with produce, though - especially since transport of fruits and vegetables between certain states is illegal. Rainbow Grocery offers plenty of other authentic California mementos, too, including an extensive bath and body collection, an impressive library of cookbooks and healthy lifestyle manuals, plus candles and incense to make that romantic San Francisco night feel - and smell - just right. All of this is run by a staff that are part-owners since Rainbow Grocery has long been a worker-owned cooperative.

Haight and Ashbury Streets
Photo courtesy of used in book.

In the 1960s, this intersection was famous for its bohemian life. Today, remnants of the hippie era mix with beautifully restored Edwardian and Victorian homes. One, now a private residence, was formerly the Grateful Dead house (710 Ashbury Street). Other famous neighbors included Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Wander the many parks, thrift stores and coffeehouses for current ambience, which is still rich with hippie influence. You'll find occult shops and venues that explore alternative medicine, natural foods, the environment, and performance art. Haight and Ashbury is just up from "the panhandle", making it easy to top off your day with a stroll through Golden Gate Park.

Like the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf is quintessential San Francisco. It's often the first destination for tourists, and its particular brand of energy mixes newcomer excitement, retail kitsch, a strong maritime heritage and a vibrant West Coast welcome. Fisherman's Wharf invites passers-by to sample Dungeness crab and clam chowder, to cruise the Bay, to pick up requisite souvenir t-shirts, and â€" best of all â€" to soak in the temperate sunshine or marvel at the fog as it rolls in across the water. While it's likely not the most sublime experience you'll have, Fisherman's Wharf is definitely an unmissable opportunity to see local color, commerce and cool.

Chestnut Street

Located in the Marina District, locals would probably say that Chestnut Street is about as Socal as Norcal gets. Almost a mirror image of Union Street (as far as appeal goes), Chestnut Street has a distinctive personality, created by Art Deco architecture and hip, professional patrons. Plenty of shopping and dining venues are available, and brunch, followed by a lazy stroll, is a favorite pastime on quiet weekends. If you're looking to window-shop, hang out at a local cafe, or just soak in some local color and people-watch, head a few blocks north of Union Street to this exciting area.

San Francisco bookworms find that this bookstore's selection has a little bit of everything. The independently-owned Green Apple Books offers a great selection of new and used titles broaching subject areas such as cooking, art, travel, history and children's literature, and they are happy to buy books to add to the extensive collection. Beyond books, the store also sells new and used music, a huge selection of DVDs and gifts like notebooks, cards and magnets. Once you've looked through all of their books and music, head outside to lively Clement Street, a very popular shopping stretch for locals worth exploring.

City Lights Bookstore

The first all-paperback bookstore in the US, City Lights was born out of the "Beat Generation" in 1950s San Francisco, when young authors and poets raised voices against politics and societal norms. The bookstore still offers beatnik-influenced selections but also provides European titles, books on movements like Dada and Surrealism, and much more. Three floors and a knowledgeable, interested staff make City Lights a great meeting place for the literary-minded. Featured authors include William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman, and Jack Kerouac. The store also has its own in-house publication department and holds special literary events regularly. Once you're done perusing, all of North Beach is right outside the door.

If you want your Christmas shopping to include experiencing some uniquely San Francisco spots, then head to 826 Valencia in the vibrant Mission neighborhood. 826 Valencia was started by local author Dave Eggers to provide a spot for kids to learn how to write. However, due to zoning laws, 826 also needed to be a business. With his signature humor, Eggers made it a pirate store. Besides eye patches and scurvy remedies, there's an impressive selection of books. The Mission neighborhood is easily accessible by BART or MUNI and loaded with bars, restaurants and nightclubs for those after-shopping treats. It's hard to think of reason to not visit 826 Valencia.

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square is the place to go when you're seeking top-tier San Francisco malls. The open-air complex affords great views of Angel and Alcatraz Islands and features art galleries, clothing shops and specialty stores. Shoppers can enjoy a meal at savvy spots like McCormick and Kuleto's and Ana Mandara. Afterwards, dessert at Kara's Cupcakes or the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop provides the perfect finish. There's even a Wattle Creek Winery tasting room on-site. It should go without saying that this is a very kid-friendly environment for those shoppers with children in tow. For a truly San Francisco shopping experience, head to Ghirardelli Square.

Westfield San Francisco Centre

One of the best shopping malls in San Francisco, Westfield Centre is ideally located just two blocks from Union Square and features more than 170 alluring boutiques. Inside, you'll find Bloomingdale's and the second-largest Nordstrom in the country, as well as Betsey Johnson, Herve Leger, Kenneth Cole and H&M. Delightful sit-down and quick-serve restaurants stand poised to meet refreshment needs of all kinds, and the complex also includes a nine-screen movie theater. Even if you don't like shopping, head to the top to view the gorgeous glass dome, where you can also lounge with your laptop and enjoy the free wi-fi.

Union Square
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

The Union Square neighborhood centers around Union Square, a great little urban park, which is itself surrounded by a host of upscale shopping venues. In fact, the district is generally acknowledged as the city's main shopping haven. In the vicinity are Macy's, Saks, Gumps and Gucci; they, along with other retail standards, keep shoppers busy for hours. Restaurants and theaters are also found here, as is convenient garage parking. Transportation is easily accessible, and public concerts are an occasional diversion. Even better, the busy district affords great people-watching. If the fog has lifted and it's a beautiful San Francisco day, you can criss-cross lovely Union Square and go shop to shop but still get some fresh Pacific air.


Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

Tom has lived in the San...  More About Tom