YOUR (MALE-GENDERED) SWEETIE
I blame Sears. Men are hard to shop for, yeah, but it seems like department stores have all but given up. Steer clear of the mall stores with the prepackaged wallet–<\d>watch–<\d>grooming kit gift sets. Stay away from the cologne-aftershave-and-soap-on-a-rope gift set he'll never use, and think outside the little boxes. If you can't spring for the PlayStation 3 that he really wants, you can agree to let him loose for an afternoon in Isotope Comics (326 Fell, SF; 415-621-6543, www.isotopecomics.com). Or if you refuse to feed his geeky side, go for his cuddly one. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2500 16th St., SF; 415-554-3000, www.sfspca.org) always has little friends who need loving homes. What's better than a faceful of puppy kisses for the holidays?
It's hard to skimp on Mom's gift. Something heartfelt, personal, and dirt cheap — is that so much to ask? Lucky for us, moms these days are hardly the June Cleaver types. Give her something original, social, and rewarding. She'll thank you for foregoing another year of bath salts. Classes make great gifts, and she'll never expect it. It's never too late to learn a new language: The Alliance Français (www.afsf.com) has beginner courses starting at $365. The Goethe-Institut (www.goethe.de/sanfrancisco) will teach Mom German starting at $230. For every other language in the world, starting at $175, try the ABC Language School (www.abclang.com). For even cheaper options, hit up Craigslist for a private tutor (most start at around $20 an hour) or send her packing to City College.
If you don't think Mommy Dearest is into spending her days conjugating verbs, she might give yoga a try. At Mission Yoga (2390 Mission, SF; 415-401-9642, www.missionyoga.com), the Bikram program rules. The huge studios are open every day of the year, and they even offer Spanish language classes! Yoga Tree (www.yogatreesf.com) has locations all over town and offers tons of different styles. Perfect if Mom still thinks “asana” is a swear word.
Ah — my Republican Dad. We both love Johnny Cash and mob movies — that's pretty much where the similarities end. Instead of delving into the dangerous world of politically themed gifts (boy, was that year fun), hiding behind an ugly tie, or grabbing yet another ratchet set, shoot for the common ground. Records are great because they are traditional, and Daddy can get all nostalgic about how much better Gordon Lightfoot sounds on vinyl. Check out Grooves Inspiralled Vinyl (1797 Market, SF; 415-436-9933) for a huge country section.
Time to play Let's Make a Deal. No gifts until January. My closest friends and I are all always broke, so we have a tradition of buying each other dinner for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. More often than not, by the time our schedules align we all owe each other at least one meal. This means we can justify an outlandishly expensive restaurant, split the bill evenly, and settle all debts. If this won't swing in your inner circle, go for something experiential. Close friends are close for a reason — usually a common interest. Bond over art? Buy each other yearly memberships to the SF Museum of Modern Art (www.sfmoma.org) or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (www.yerbabuenaarts.org). Love music? Concert tickets at Slim's (333 11th St., SF; 415-255-0333, www.slims-sf.com) and the Independent (628 Divisadero, SF; 415-771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com) are as cheap as CDs and, as something you can do together, much more personal.
LITTLE BRO OR SIS
It's every older sibling's privilege — nay, responsibility — to introduce the younger family members to the more subversive side of life. If the kids happen to be teenagers, now is the time to pump them full of all the J.D.