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    Shopping in San Francisco: what to buy between outlets and extravagant shops

    Who I am
    Joel Fulleda

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    Times have changed. In a society where we are now used to finding everything we want with a click, selecting prices and suppliers, the most exciting aspect of Shopping, even in a city like San Franciscois still being able to do it in the old way, in person, in the corners of the world where we go, in search of something typical, perhaps by bargaining a little. This is in fact the city where to go hunting for a particular shop, looking for unlikely or extravagant items that cannot be found elsewhere, but not only, in San Francisco you also go in search of outlets and shopping centers where you can snatch great deals and buy designer clothes at prices. convenient.

    So what to buy in San Francisco? Which areas should you prefer for shopping? Where to go in search of the best bargains? Here is a shopping itinerary that, we hope, will make everyone happy, even those who do not particularly like to shop, who will still be able to console themselves by admiring the beauty of the neighborhoods and streets that we will cross gradually along our path. You are ready?


    • Souvenirs and curiosities
      • Fisherman’s Wharf e Pier 39
    • Fashion and clothing
      • Union Square
      • Union Street
      • Fillmore Street
    • Outlets and shopping malls near San Francisco
    • Characteristic items and picturesque neighborhoods
      • Embarcadero District
      • Mission District
      • Haight-ashbury
      • Chinatown
      • Hayes Valley

    Souvenirs and curiosities

    Whether your journey is at the beginning or at the end, the time will surely come when you start thinking about making some gifts for family and friends back home. Here is a selection of the most curious shops in which to buy souvenirs and special items.

    Fisherman’s Wharf e Pier 39

    We begin our exploration in the north-east of the city, in the area of Fisherman's Wharf. We are in what used to be a chocolate factory (even before a mill) and what it is now Ghirardelli Square Shopping Center (900 North Point St. 11 am-21pm), with restaurants and shops particularly interesting for those who love dogs, art, fragrances and for those who want to appreciate splendid works created by people with disabilities. But here there is also an unmissable destination: the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop, a corner of paradise for those who love ice cream at the highest levels, in short, a guaranteed purchase!

    We resume our tour from Fisherman's Wharf and like many other visitors we are attracted to Pier 39 (Beach St. and Embarcadero), the famous pier with the sea lions, the Sea Lion Center, the aquarium and boat tour to meet the whales, which we highly recommend. Today, however, we want to browse among the most unusual shops, far from the boutiques of "common" items.

    Da Alcatraz Gift Shop items related to the theme of the famous prison are sold, for example the black and white striped uniforms of the prisoners. The fairy world is found from Fairy Tales with magical and enchanted accessories in a mystical atmosphere. Staying on the subject of fantasy, from Houdini’s Magic Shop there is everything you need in the field of magic, sleight of hand, books and manuals specialized in the tricks of the trade. The strangest headdresses can be found from Krazy Kaps, such as a pirate hat or one in the shape of a cake.

    There are those who think of everyone and in fact Lefty’s San Francisco offers items for left-handed people, really an excellent thought, cool, as they say here. The party atmosphere is always welcome and from Christmas in San Francisco it's Christmas all year round. Sooner or later you want to buy some simple postcard or a souvenir for a friend or colleague; for all this you are spoiled for choice here at Pier 39 and then let's take a look at Magnets, San Francisco USA, Only in San Francisco, San Francisco City Wear, The Cable Car Store and Under the Golden Gate. If you want to know more about this particular location, read our in-depth analysis dedicated to Pier 39 in San Francisco.

    As we stroll through the various shops, we come across musicians and artists who perform curious tests of skill and then a carousel appreciated above all by children. Before leaving the area we stop atHard Rock Cafe, let's jump into the shop with its now more than established merchandise and given the opening hours we also take advantage of the rock'n roll-themed restaurant.

    Fashion and clothing

    Visiting such an important metropolis, you cannot miss a roundup of the countless fashion shops from which you will be almost surrounded as you stroll along the streets of San Francisco.

    Union Square

    In the downtown, the city center, is the district of Union Square, with the large square full of green corners bordered by Geary St., Powell St., Post St. and Stockton St. The area and the surroundings represent the beating heart, venue for events, theaters, hotels, beauty salons, art galleries, shops e Department stores like Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks and, a little further on, Barneys. We pass in front of the windows of the Apple, The Gap, Old Navy, Nike and then we note that all the fashion houses seem to be represented here: Gucci, Bulgari, Prada, Chanel, Dior, Tiffany, Cartier and Louis Vitton.

    We like to stop in front of local designer shops which in our opinion deserve to be visited not only for simple curiosity but also to take home some items with particular characteristics, different from our standards. During our walk in the square we noticed some works of art and we were told that every year these sculptures are auctioned and the proceeds are donated to the foundation of the San Francisco General Hospital. In addition to being a noble cause, the architectural landscape changes every year and this only increases the curiosity of visitors and citizens towards the area.

    It is nice to take a walk in the streets around the square and find corners, other noteworthy streets, such as the pretty one Maiden lane (from 11 to 18 it closes to vehicles becoming pedestrianized) with its great variety of shops. Here too the choice is decidedly wide but one stop is a must: the shop of the Levi's at 815 Market Street, one of the few places in the world where you can buy a pair of bespoke Levi's.

    On Market Street, at number 865, we point out the Westfield San Francisco Centre a classic mall that also includes a cinema, with more than 200 shops and Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom department stores. Between one window and another, an activity that in English is defined as window shopping, we enjoy a good Haagen Dazs ice cream and then a Starbucks coffee. We recognize the typical Louis Vuitton trunk bags, the red dresses of Valentino, the preciousness of Swarovski, Tiffany, Pandora and Rolex.

    Luxury and refinement continue at Burberry, Guess, Hugo Boss, and Michael Kors but we also find Microsoft, clothing by H&M, Banana Republic, Zara, Adidas, American Eagle, underwear by Victoria's Secret, luggage items by Samsonite, Lego constructions, Sunglass Hut glasses and at Aveda we test body, face and hair beauty products. This mall, a term often used to define a large indoor mall in the States, is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 20.30pm and Sunday from 11am to 17pm.

    Union Street

    Our tour continues in the district of Union Street, which starts from the Embarcadero, continues towards Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill and arrives at the Presidio. It is a very interesting road, especially because, especially in some places, there is an authentic local atmosphere; if you are curious to see how people live in San Francisco, where they love to shop or stop for a coffee in a cafe with tables on the sidewalks, look for the section corresponding to the district of Cow hollow, between the Presidio and Russian Hill.

    For lovers of boutiques between shabby chic and minimalist there are 2 interesting destinations: Anomie e Marmalade, those looking for particular shops can instead make a leap from Sugargarina, an elegant candy shop for adults where the managers always have some to give to patrons or to Union Street Papery, an entire business dedicated to the sale of greeting cards (they have one for all occasions and tastes).

    But that's not all: do you like to dance? Then come in from 1887 Dance Shop, specializing in clothing and shoes for adults and children who want to try their hand at tip-tap, salsa, ballet and modern dance, but the beauty is that here you can also find costumes for performances and for the celebration of Halloween. Who does not know the brand Nike? Here is a branch where we look for competitive prices. While walking we happen to see the beautiful Edwardian-style building of the B&B Union Street Inn and the house-museum Octagon Home; we are told that it houses ancient documents of American history and decorative arts from the colonial and federal period.

    Fillmore Street

    The district of Fillmore Street, which covers ten blocks, owes its name to the 13th American president, runs through the Lower Height, Fillmore District, Pacific Heights and Marina District neighborhoods. Along this energetic street you will find cafes like Starbucks, restaurants, lounges, theaters, jazz clubs, hotels and shops.

    Here the shopping is varied between shops ranging from clothing to jewelry and from beauty salons to home decor. We enter from Narumi Japanese Antiques, which offers Japanese objects, fascinating kimonos, dolls, lamps, hair ornaments, articles in porcelain, ceramics and sterling silver (alloy of silver with a minimum part of copper). We also find more well-known brands of perfumery and beauty products such as L'Occitane and Ralph Lauren.

    Outlets and shopping malls near San Francisco

    Our time dedicated to shopping, surrounded by a series of pleasant culinary, artistic and architectural "distractions", moves to more peripheral areas, reaching the Stonestown Gallery (3251 20th Ave.) in the San Francisco State University area. This shopping center, including a cinema, is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 21pm and Sunday from 11am to 18pm.

    We do window shopping among the windows of Swarovski and Pandora, then we pass in front of the technological shop of the Apple, to clothing by Zara, H&M and Banana Republic, to beauty products by Bare Minerals, Aveda, L'occitane, Lush, Sephora and finally to sophisticated and seductive lingerie by Victoria's Secret.

    Shopping in San Francisco does not end in the city, there are in fact nearby some of the best outlets of the region with the possibility of finding designer clothes at discounted prices: Adidas, American Eagle, Banana Republic, Bose, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Guess, Levi's, Michael Kors, Nike, Old Navy, Prada, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo, Samsonite, Sketchers, Swarovski, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace to name a good part. Visiting them can be a great idea to combine an excursion around San Francisco with shopping, all in the same day without going far. Here are the centers we suggest:

    • A Gilroy: Gilroy Premium Outlets it is very large, divided into 4 zones and 5 buildings, it goes without saying that there is an impressive amount of shops and that it takes some time to get around it. Every year in the last weekend of July it hosts the garlic festival where you can taste all kinds of dishes, all strictly flavored with garlic. It is located off I-101 at 681 Leavesley Road (1 hour 10 minutes south). Great combination with a day trip to Monterey.
    • A Livermore: San Francisco Premium Outlets heading towards Yosemite, the outlet is off I-580 at 2774 Livermore Outlets Drive (40 minutes east). It is an open-air outlet, pleasant to walk around and with many great discounted brands.
    • A Napa: Napa Premium Outlets, Exit Highway 29 at 629 Factory Stores Drive, heading for the famous wine region (1 hour north). And in case we want to take advantage of it, following the international rules on alcohol purchases, you can take home 2 liters per person if the alcohol content is below 22 degrees, otherwise only one.
    • A Petaluma: Petaluma Village Premium Outlets at 2200 Petaluma Boulevard North, an ideal combination for shopping and then visiting the wineries of Sonoma, another area renowned for wine tasting (about 50 minutes north). For further information, please refer to our guide on Napa Valley and Sonoma


    Characteristic items and picturesque neighborhoods

    Do you want to furnish your home with a small design object or one that reminds you of your trip every day? Here are some goodies that can be found while browsing the most characteristic neighborhoods.

    Embarcadero District

    If you like to think about the aesthetics of the kitchen from Sur la table it can be a shop that suits you where you will find tablecloths, towels, plates and accessories for the most varied uses. And always on the subject of home, Glassybaby offers hand-made colored glass items, such as candle holders and glasses. With some exceptions, the shops in this complex are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 19pm, Saturdays from 8am to 18pm and Sunday from 11am to 17pm.

    Nearby takes place all year round Ferry Plaza Market, the open-air market of Ferry Building where the farmers exhibit their products: on Tuesdays and Thursdays it is open from 10 to 14 while Saturday (the most important day) is already operational from 8.

    Mission District

    In the center-east area we reach Mission District, one of the oldest and most recognizable districts of the city with its characteristic murals. In this area with a Latin character, the main shopping street is Valencia Street, with its independent, extravagant and vintage-style shops (many open in the late morning, around 11am or even later). In particular, we are intrigued by the number 824, we enter from Paxton Gate, a shop inspired by nature, with plants but also home furnishings, soaps, candles and games for children with decorations linked to the theme that distinguishes it.

    But our curiosity does not end here: how not to enter 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store, a shop that sells clothes and various items from the pirate world? We also recommend that you drop by Casa Bonampak, committed to the preservation of Latin culture and craftsmanship.


    If there is another neighborhood with a strong identity in San Francisco, this is it Haight-ashbury, which still lives on the nostalgic wave of the 1967 Summer of Love. All the flower children at that time gathered here and the shops on the main street, Haight Street, they seem to be there on purpose to remember him. On this site we have already dealt with the topic in detail, I suggest you read our advice for it shopping ad Haight-Ashbury.


    In America's largest Chinese district the main shopping streets are Stockton Street e Grant Avenue, however, we are careful not to get caught up in easy enthusiasm and chasing sensational deals, for example not all necklaces presented as jade items could really be jade or when it is tempting to buy a bottle of wine without the certainty of certification of local production.

    The neighborhood has various points of interest related to local folklore, to find out more do not miss our guide on how to visit Chinatown in San Francisco.

    Hayes Valley

    Shopping in the district of Hayes Valley (Haynes St., Laguna St., Octavia St.), between Alamo Square and the Civic Center, also means strolling among various architectural styles, among which the Victorian and the Queen Anne stand out; we point out in particular 2 shops:

    • Flight 001 (525 Haynes St.) where you can buy travel items, suitcases, accessories and tourist guides;
    • Lavish & Rifle (549 Haynes St.) which instead sells gift items, home decor, party items and stationery.

    Shopping in beautiful San Francisco also means taking advantage of the typical ones cable car that we meet along the way. We enjoyed walking and shopping around a huge square, looking and commenting on shop windows in Victorian buildings, discovering and appreciating vintage corners and then driving to one of the nearby outlets, interspersing all this with splendid excursions, culinary and architectural pleasures. For the context in which we find ourselves, fare shopping a San Francisco it is something that goes beyond the mere act of buying.

    Heading to San Francisco? You discover...
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