Get to the Castro. Stat.
Cliff's Variety (479 Castro, SF; 415-431-5365, www.cliffsvariety.com) is the best store in San Francisco. OK, I've shown my hand. The toy section is top-notch. It’s got games, gizmos, and playthings galore. Great for the kids, even better for your coworkers and casual friends. The windup animals, novelty tokens, and traditional knickknacks will have them waxing nostalgic for days. The kitchenware section has the best in sleek, smaller appliances (FYI: giving a French press or percolator to everyone on your list who still subsides on drip coffee will make you a hero for years to come) and unnecessary (but totally useful) gadgetry. Check out the annex for swanky furniture, household items, baby clothes, and all things craft. Oh, and shopping at Cliff's is dirt cheap.
MAKE IT UP
Do yourself a favor and don't put all your holiday stock in a DIY project you've never tried. Even if you have every intention of knitting scarves for the 35 people on your list, even if you bought every spool of fancy yarn in the city, even if you took three weeks off from work to do the project — if you still don't know how to handle the needles, you may as well shoot yourself in the foot. Your peeps will get squat, and all you'll have is a three-by-five-inch scrap of knotty wool. There are safer ways to craft. Here are some:
Use those concert tees. Music is a huge part of my life — likely one of the reasons I'm always broke and most certainly the reason I have an enormous collection of swag I never wear. This year that T-shirt collection overflowing the closet is going to shrink. The quick how-to: Pick out the ones with obscure bands, ridiculous logos, or just great colors and restructure them into cost-free, made-with-love gifts. Cut a big square out of the center of both sides of the shirt (this should include whatever graphic is involved). Put the insides on the outside. Stitch around all four sides, leaving a three-inch gap in the center of one side. Turn right-side out and stuff (use cotton, newspaper, more old shirts — whatever isn't perishable). You just made a pillow! Simple quilts and tote bags are also pretty easy to swing with limited knowledge of sewing. If all you learned in junior high home ec has escaped, run over to the Stitch Lounge (182 Gough, SF; 415-431-3739, www.stitchlounge.com) in Hayes Valley. The rockin' ladies there will show you the ropes for a nominal fee. Bonus: they offer gift certificates, so you can give the gift of craftiness even if you gave up on threading the needle.
Feeling guilty for paring down your list? Making personal holiday cards for everyone you snubbed will cure your ills. This project will only take an afternoon (or an evening with friends and lots of liquor), and you already have the supplies! Look at all the paper crap you've collected around the house. Those calendars you got at a discount last January have some high-quality photos. Magazines stacked everywhere, coffee table books on their last legs, and all that cheesy holiday junk mail. Got scissors? Glue? You know what to do. Try Paper Source (www.paper-source.com) if your home stock won't cut it.
Since you've already made such a mess, here's another project for you. Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, sit back and let me tell you a thing or two about gift baskets. They suck. They are predictable, boring, and awkward as hell to carry on Muni. The day of basket-wrapped gifts is over. Instead, take all that stuff you're cutting up and do some decoupage. My favorite gift vessels are mason jars and shoe boxes — both are simple, portable, and look great once you start decorating them. Stick to themes and you'll be golden. Example: decoupage a box with images from Italy and fill it with gourmet noodles, a decent wine, and that killer sauce recipe you have. Add a cheap vintage apron from Held Over (1543 Haight, SF; 415-864-0818), and voilà — you have a gift!
Use your skills. Computer savvy?