BEST NEW NECESSITIES
Sure, you can buy anything you want on the Internet, but there's still a certain charm in entering a store whose items have been carefully chosen to delight the eye in three dimensions. That's the idea behind Perch, Zoel Fages's homage to all things charming and cheeky, from gifts to home décor. Do you need a set of bird feet salt-and-pepper shakers? A rhinoceros-head shot glass? A ceramic skull-shaped candleholder that grows "hair" as the wax drips? Of course not. But do you want them? The minute you enter the sunny, sweet Glen Park shop, the obvious answer will be yes. And for those gifty items you do need — scented candles and soaps, letterpress greeting cards, handprinted wrapping paper — Perch is perfect too. We'd recommend you stop by just to window-shop, but who are we kidding? You can't visit here without taking something home.
654 Chenery, SF. (415) 586-9000, www.perchsf.com
BEST PENNYSAVERS FOR EARTHSAVERS
How many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb? None: LED light bulbs last longer than environmentalists. If you think that joke's funny — or at least get why it's supposed to be — you might just be the target market for Green Zebra. Based on the idea that environmentally aware consumers like to save money as much as their Costco-loving neighbors, this book melds the concept of a coupon book with the creed of environmental responsibility. It's a virtual directory of deals at local businesses trying to work outside the world of pesticidal veggies and gas-guzzling SUVs. Anne Vollen and Sheryl Cohen's vision now comes in two volumes — one for San Francisco, and one for the Peninsula and Silicon Valley — featuring more than 275 exclusive offers from indie bookstores, art museums, coffee houses, organic restaurants, pet food stores, and just about anywhere else you probably already spend your money (and wouldn't mind spending less).
(415) 346-2361, www.thegreenzebra.org
BEST ONE-STOP SHOP
So you need a salad spinner, some kitty litter, a birthday card for your sister, and a skein of yarn, but you don't feel like going to four different stores to check everything off the list? Face it, you're lazy. But, you're also in luck. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Standard 5 and 10, a one-stop wonderland in Laurel Village that caters to just about every imaginable whim, need, and desire of serious shoppers and procrastinators alike. Don't be fooled by the large red Ace sign on the storefront — this is not merely a hardware store (although it can fulfill your hardware needs, of course). It's an everything store. Walking the aisles here is a journey through consumerism at its most diverse. Greeting cards and tabletop tchotchkes fade into rice cookers then shower curtains, iron-on patches, Webkinz, motor oil.... It's a dizzying array of stuff you need and stuff you simply want.
3545 California, SF. (415) 751-5767, www.standard5n10.com
BEST PLACE TO SINK A BATTLESHIP
Maybe we don't have flying cars yet, but with video chatting, iPhones, and automated vacuum cleaners, we're pretty close to living in the imaginary future The Jetsons made magical. Is it any wonder that, while loving our new technologies (hello, Kindle), we've also developed a culturewide nostalgia for simpler times? A perfect example is the emergence of steampunk — perhaps familiar to the mainstream as jewelry made of watch parts and cars crafted to look like locomotives. There also seems to be a less expensive, less industrial trend for the pastimes of yore: Croquet. Talk radio. And board games. The last of which is the basis of Just Awesome, the Diamond Heights shop opened by Portland escapee Erik Macsh as a temple to old-fashioned charms. Here you can pick up a myriad of boxes full of dice, cards, and plastic pieces. Head home with Clue, one of the Monopoly iterations (was Chocolate-opoly really necessary?), or a new game that came out while you were distracted by Nintendo Wii. You can even open the box and try a round or two in the shop. How's that for old-world service?
816 Diamond, SF. (415) 970-1484, www.justawesomegames.com
BEST BORROWED CLOTHES
The nice thing about having a sister, a roommate, or a tolerable neighbor who's exactly your size is that there's always someone else's closet to raid when your own is looking dismal. But what to do when you live alone, your neighbor's not answering your calls, and you desperately need an attention-getting outfit right now? Make a new best friend: Shaye McKenney of La Library. The friendly fashionista will let you borrow a pair of leather hot pants for a Beauty Bar boogie or a German knit couture gown for that gold-digging date to the opera, all for a small pay-by-the-day price. You can even bring your makeup and get ready for the evening in front of the antique mirrors in her socialist street shop. It's all the fun of sharing, without having to lend out any of your stuff.
380 Guerrero, SF. (415) 558-9481, www.la-library.com
BEST ROCKSTAR STYLES
Need clothes a rockstar would wear but a starving musician can afford? Look no further than Shotwell, whose blend of designer duds and vintage finds are worthy of the limelight and (relatively) easy on your budget. Think jeans with pockets the size of guitar picks, sculptural black dresses, handpicked grandpa sweaters, and reconstructed '80s rompers that can be paired with lizard skin belts or dollar sign boots, all for less than the cutting-edge designer labels would suggest they should cost. And it's not just for the ladies. Michael and Holly Weaver stock their adorable boutique with clothing and accessories for all chromosomal combinations. The concept's become such a success that Shotwell's moving from its old locale to a bigger, better space. All we can say is, rock on.
320 Grant, SF. (415) 399-9898, www.shotwellsf.com
The best stores are like mini-museums, displaying interesting wares in such a way that they're almost as fun to peruse as they are to take home. Park Life takes this concept one step further by being a store (wares in the front are for sale) and a gallery (featuring a rotating selection of local contemporary artists' work). No need to feel guilty for window-shopping: you're simply checking out the Rubik's Cube alarm clock, USB flash drive shaped like a fist, and set of "heroin" and "cocaine" salt-and-pepper shakers on your way to appreciating the paintings in the back, right? And if you happen to leave with an arty coffee-table book, an ironic silk-screen T-shirt, or a Gangsta Rap Coloring Book, that's just a bonus.
220 Clement, SF. (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 Coast–style 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. With good prices, knowledgeable staff, a focus on freshwater life, and a unique selection of tropical fish, the shop is not only proof that aquarium stores need not be weird and dingy, but that your home fish tank can be a thriving ecosystem rather than a plastic environment with a bubbling castle (OK, a thriving ecosystem with a bubbling castle). Part pet store, part live art gallery, Aqua Forest is worth a visit even if you're not in the market for a sailfin leopard pleco.
1718 Fillmore, SF. (415) 929-8883, www.adana-usa.com
BEST FRIDGE FILLERS ON A BUDGET
Remember when we all joked that Whole Foods should be called Whole Paycheck? Little did we realize the joke would be on us when the only paper in our purses would be a Whole Pink Slip. In the new economy, some of us can't afford the luxury of deciding between organic bananas or regular ones — we're trying to figure out which flavor of ramen keeps us full the longest. Luckily, Duc Loi Supermarket opened in the Mission just in time. This neighborhood shop is big, bright, clean, well stocked, cheap, and diverse, with a focus on Asian and Latino foods. Here you can get your pork chops and pig snouts, salmon and daikon, tofu and tortilla chips — and still have bus fare for the ride home. In fact, young coconut milk is only 99 cents a can, a whole dollar less than at Whole Foods.
2200 Mission, SF. (415) 551-1772
BEST PLACE TO DISS THE TUBE
Some people go their entire lives buying replacement 20-packs of tube socks from Costco, socks whose suspicious blend of elastic, petroleum products, and God-knows-what signals to wearers and viewers alike: Warm, shwarm! Fit, shmit! Style, shmyle! Other people, even if they keep their socks encased in boots or shoes, want to know that their foot coverings are just one more indicator of their fashion — and common — sense. Those people go to Rabat in Noe Valley, where the sock racks look like a conjuring of the chorus of "Hair": "curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka-dotted, twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered, and confettied; bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied." Furthermore, the socks are mostly made from recognizable materials like wool, cotton, or fleece. As for you sensible-shoe and wingtip types, not to worry. Rabat also stocks black and white anklets and nude-colored peds.
4001 24th St., SF (415) 282-7861. www.rabatshoes.com
BEST BOOKS FOR KIDS YOU DON'T KNOW
Don't let the small storefront at Alexander Book Company deter you — this three-story, independent bookstore is packed with stuff that you won't find at Wal-Mart or the book malls. We're particularly impressed with the children's collection — and with the friendly, knowledgeable staff. If you're looking for a birthday present for your kid's classmate, or one for an out-of-town niece or nephew — or you just generally want to know what 10-year-old boys who like science fiction are reading these days — ask for Bonnie. She's the children's books buyer, and not only does she have an uncanny knack for figuring out what makes an appropriate gift, chances are whatever the book is, she's already read it.
50 Second St., SF. (415) 495-2992, www.alexanderbook.com
BEST PLACE TO SELL THE CLOTHES OFF YOUR BACK
If you think Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads are the only places to trade your Diors for dollars, you're missing out. Urbanity, Angela Cadogan's North Berkeley boutique, is hands down the best place to consign in the Bay. The spot is classy but not uppity, your commission is 30 percent of what your item pulls in, and, best of all, you'd actually want to shop there. Cadogan has a careful eye for fashion, choosing pieces that deserve a spot in your closet for prices that won't burn a hole in your wallet. Want an even better deal on those Miu Miu pumps or that YSL dress? Return every 30 days, when items that haven't sold yet are reduced by 40 percent. But good luck playing the waiting game against Urbanity's savvy regulars — they've been eyeing those Pradas longer than you have.
1887 Solano, Berk. (510) 524-7467, www.shopurbanity.com
BEST TIME MACHINE
Ever wish you could be a character in a period piece, writing love letters on a typewriter to your distant paramour while perched upon a baroque upholstered chair? We can't get you a role in a movie, but we can send you to the Perish Trust, where you'll find everything you need to create a funky antique film set of your very own. Proprietor-curator team Rod Hipskind and Kelly Ishikawa have dedicated themselves to making their wares as fun to browse through as to buy, carefully selecting original artwork, vintage folding rulers, taxidermied fowl, out-of-print books, and myriad other antique odds-and-ends from across the nation. As if that weren't enough, this Divisadero shop also carries Hooker's Sweet Treats old world-<\d>style gourmet chocolate caramels — and that's definitely something to write home about.
728 Divisadero, SF. www.theperishtrust.com
BEST MISSION MAKEOVER
If Hayes Valley's indie-retailer RAG (Residents Apparel Gallery) bedded the Lower Haight's design co-op Trunk, their love child might look (and act) a lot like Mission Statement. With a focus on local designers and a philosophy of getting artists involved with the store, the 18th Street shop has all the eclectic style of RAG and all the collaborative spirit of Trunk — all with a distinctly Mission District vibe. Much like its namesake neighborhood, this shop has a little of everything: mineral makeup, fedoras adorned with spray-painted designs, multiwrap dresses, graphic tees, and more. Between the wares of the eight designers who work and play at the co-op, you might find everything you need for a head-to-toe makeover — including accessorizing advice, custom designing, and tailoring by co-owner Estrella Tadeo. You may never need to leave the Valencia corridor again.
3458-A 18th St., SF. (415) 255-7457, www.missionstatementsf.com
BEST WALL OF BEER
Beer-shopping at Healthy Spirits might ruin you. Never again will you be able to stroll into a regular suds shop, eye the refrigerated walk-in, and feign glee: "Oh, wow, they have Wolaver's and Fat Tire." The selection at Healthy Spirits makes the inventory at almost all other beer shops in San Francisco — nay, the fermented universe — look pedestrian. First-time customers sometimes experience sticker shock, but most quickly understand that while hops and yeast and grain are cheap, hops and yeast and grain and genius are not. Should you require assistance in navigating the intriguing and eclectic wall of beer, owner Rami Barqawi and his staff will guide you and your palate to the perfect brew. Once you've got the right tipple, you can choose from the standard corner-store sundries, including coffee, wine, ice cream, and snacks. Chief among them is the housemade hummus (strong on the lemon juice, just the way we like it). Being ruined never tasted so good.
2299 15th St., SF. (415) 255-0610, healthy-spirits.blogspot.com
BEST PLACE TO CHANNEL YOUR INNER BOB VILLA
When is a junkyard not just a junkyard? When you wander through its labyrinth of plywood, bicycle tires, and window panes only to stumble upon an intricately carved and perfectly preserved fireplace mantle which, according to a handwritten note taped to it, is "circa 1900." This is the kind of thing that happens at Building Resources, an open air, DIY-er's dream on the outskirts of Dogpatch, which just happens to be the city's only source for recycled building and landscape materials. Maybe you'll come here looking for something simple: a light fixture, a doorknob, a few pieces of tile. You'll find all that. You'll also find things you never knew you coveted, like a beautiful (and dirt cheap) claw-foot bathtub that makes you long to redo your own bathroom, even though you don't own tools and know nothing about plumbing. No worries. That's what HGTV is for.
701 Amador, SF. (415) 285-7814, www.buildingresources.org
BEST WAY TO SHOP LOCAL
It's impossible not to be impressed with the selection at Collage, the tiny jewel-box of a shop perched atop Potrero Hill. The home décor store and gallery specializes in typography and signage, refurbished clocks and cameras, clothing, unique furniture, and all kinds of objects reinvented and repurposed to fit in a hip, happy home. But what we like best is owner Delisa Sage's commitment to supporting the local community and economy. Not only does she host workshops on the art of fine-art collage, she carries a gorgeous selection of jewelry made exclusively by local woman artists. Whether you're looking for knit necklaces, Scrabble pieces, typewriter keys, or an antiqued kitchen island, you'll find 'em here. And every dollar you spend supports San Francisco, going toward a sandwich at Hazel's, or a cup of joe at Farley's, or an artist's SoMa warehouse rent. Maybe capitalism can work.
1345 18th St., SF. (415) 282-4401, www.collage-gallery.com
BEST BRAND-NEW VINTAGE STYLE
There's something grandmothers seem to understand that the Forever 21, H&M, Gap generation (not to mention the hippies in between) often miss: the value of elegant, tailored, designer classics that last a lifetime. Plus, thanks to living through the Great Depression, they know a good bargain. Luckily, White Rose got grandma's memo. This tiny, jam-packed West Portal shop is dedicated to classy, timeless, well-made style, from boiled wool-<\d>embroidered black coats to Dolce handbags. Though the shelves (stacked with sweaters) and racks (overhung with black pants) may resemble those in a consignment or thrift store, White Rose is stocked full of new fashions collected from international travels, catalog sales, or American fabricators. In fact, it's all part of the plan of the owner — who is reputed to have been a fashion model in the '50s — to bring elegant chemises, tailored blouses, and dresses for all sizes and ages to the masses. The real price? You must have the patience to sort through the remarkable inventory.
242 W. Portal, SF. (415) 681-5411
BEST BOUTIQUE FOR BUNHEADS
It seems you can get yoga pants or Lycra leotards just about anywhere these days (hello, American Apparel). But elastic waists and spaghetti straps alone do not make for good sportswear. SF Dancewear knows that having clothes and footwear designed specifically for your craft — whether ballroom dance, gymnastics, theater, contact improv, or one of the good old standards like tap, jazz, or ballet — makes all the difference. This is why they've been selling everything from Capezio tap shoes to performance bras since 1975. The shop is lovely. 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.
544 Haight, SF. (415) 861-5310, www.trunksf.com
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. (415) 437-4758, www.cultureskate.com