(415) 386-7275, www.parklifestore.com
BEST LITTLE COOKING STORE THAT COULD
In a world replete with crates, barrels, Williams, and Sonomas, it's easy to forget there's such a thing as an independent cooking store. But Cooks Boulevard is just that: an adorable, one-stop shop for reasonably priced cooking paraphernalia, from a pastry scale or Le Creuset to a candy mold or stash of wooden spoons. And if the shop doesn't have what you need, the friendly staff will order it for you. In fact, this Noe Valley gem has everything the big stores have, including online ordering, nationwide shipping, and a well-kept blog of missives about the foodie universe. It even offers cooking classes, on-site knife sharpening, community events such as food drives and book clubs, and CSA boxes of local organic produce delivered to neighborhood clientele. With knowledgeable service and well-stocked shelves, the Boulevard makes it easy for home cooks and professional chefs to shop local.
1309 Castro, SF. (415) 647-2665, www.cooksboulevard.com
BEST BROOKLYN ALTERNATIVE
No sleep 'til Brooklyn? Fine. But no style 'til you reach the Big Apple? We just can't give you license for that kind of ill, especially since the Brooklyn Circus came to town last July. With its East Coaststyle awning, living room vibe, and indie hip-hop style, this boutique might just be the thing to keep those homesick for NYC from buying that JetBlue ticket for one ... more ... week. Want to save your cash just in case? You're welcome to chill out on the leather sofas and listen to Mos Def mixtapes. At the store you can soak in the charm of the Fillmore's colorful energy and history, while checking out the trends that blend Frank Sinatra and Kanye West almost seamlessly. Sure, you could visit the Chicago outpost before going to the original in the store's namesake city, but why bother? Next year's selection will include an expanded line of locally produced goodies all available without having to brave a sweltering Big City summer.
1525 Fillmore, SF. (415) 359-1999, www.thebkcircus.com
BEST YEAR-ROUND HOLIDAY GIFT BASKET
I know. It's July. The last thing you want to do is think about that stupid holiday shopping season that'll dominate the entire universe in about three months. But the gift baskets at La Cocina are worth talking about year-round, not only because purchasing one supports a fantastic organization (dedicated to helping low-income entrepreneurs develop, grow, and establish their businesses) but because the delightful packages really are great gifts for any occasion. Whether it's your boss's birthday, your friend's dinner party, or simply time to remind your grandmother in the nursing home that you're thinking of her, these baskets full of San Francisco goodness are a thoughtful alternative to flower bouquets and fruit collections ordered through corporations. Orders might include dark chocolate-<\d>covered graham crackers from Kika's Treats, spicy yucca sticks, toffee cookies from Sinful Sweets, roasted pumpkin seeds, or shortbread from Clairesquare, starting at $23. Everything will come with a handwritten note and a whole lot of love.
Aqua Forest Aquarium has reinvented the concept of fish in a bowl. The only store in the nation dedicated to a style of decorating aquariums like natural environments, Aqua Forest boasts an amazing display of live aquatic landscapes that seem directly transplanted from more idyllic waters.