There are clear boxes of pointe shoes nestled together like clean, shiny baby pigs; glittering displays of ballroom dance pumps; racks of colorful tulle, ruched nylon, patterned Lycra; and a rope draped with the cutest, tiniest tutus you ever did see. The store is staffed by professional dancers who're not only trained to find the perfect fit but have tested most products on a major stage. And though your salesclerk may dance with Alonzo King's Lines Ballet or have a regular gig at the S.F. Opera, they won't scoff at middle-aged novice salsa dancers or plus-size burlesqueteers looking for fishnets and character shoes. Unlike the competitive world of dance studios, this retail shop is friendly and open to anyone who likes to move.
659 Mission, SF. (415) 882-7087; 5900 College, Oakl. (510) 655-3608,
BEST GIFTS FOR YESTERYEAR'S KIDS
We weren't sure it could get any better or weirder than Paxton Gate, that Mission District palace of science, nature, and dead things. But then the owner, whose first trade was landscape architecture, opened up Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids down the street, and lo and behold, ever more awesomeness was achieved. Keeping the original store's naturalist vibe but leaving behind some of its adults-only potential creepiness, this shop focuses on educational toys, vintage games, art supplies, and an eclectic selection of books sure to delight the twisted child in all of us. From handblown marbles to wooden puzzles, agate keychains to stop-motion booklets, and Lucite insects to Charlie Chaplin paper doll kits, everything here seems to be made for shorties from another time an arguably better one, when kids rooted around in the dirt and made up rules for imaginary games and didn't wear G-string underwear.
766 Valencia, SF. (415) 252-9990, www.paxtongate.com
BEST DAILY TRUNK SHOW
San Francisco sure does love its trunk shows: all those funky people hawking their one-of-a-kind wares at one-of-a-kind prices. The only problem? Shows happen intermittently (though with increasing frequency in the pre-<\d>Burning Man frenzy). Lucky for us, Miranda Caroligne the goddess who makes magic with fabric scraps and a surger co-founded Trunk, an eclectic indie designer showcase with a permanent address. The Lower Haight shop not only features creative dresses, hoodies, jewelry, and menswear by a number of artists, but also functions as an official California Cooperative Corporation, managed and run by all its 23 members. That means when you purchase your Kayo Anime one-piece, Ghetto Goldilocks vest, or Lucid Dawn corset, you're supporting an independent business and the independent local artists who call it home.
BEST PLACE TO GET IRIE WITH YOUR OLLIE
Skate culture has come a long way since its early surfer punk days. Now what used to be its own subculture encompasses a whole spectrum of subs, including dreadheaded, jah-lovin', reggae pumpin' riders. And Culture Skate is just the store for those who lean more toward Bob Marley than Jello Biafra. The Rasta-colored Mission shop features bamboo skate boards, hemp clothing, glass pipes, a whole slew of products by companies such as Creation and Satori, and vinyl records spanning genres like ska, reggaeton, dub, and, of course, good old reggae. Stop by to catch a glimpse of local pros such as Ron Allen, Matt Pailes, and Karl Watson. But don't think you have to be a skater to shop here: plenty of people stop by simply for the environmentally-friendly duds made with irie style.
214 Valencia, SF.