Shopping in San Francisco. A true pleasure, treasure hunt

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I admit it, I love shopping.  It’s like a treasure hunt for me. There isn’t a destination in the world where I’ve been that I don’t search out something to buy or write about.  It could be in deepest Africa or in the Himalayas but that doesn’t hinder me at all.  I love the hunt.

However, it was so very easy in San Francisco to find hidden resources in small mews- like streets or avenues way from the obvious and wonder-filled stores on Union Square, but where new trendy designers and even lesser known but unique designers  from around the  world, are shown in these shops.  Also, I love good food so I’m giving all my secrets away in this column on where to shop, where to stop, where to eat, where to stay and what to do, top manicurists and hair salons and what fun it all is to go for the shopping ‘kill’.   That unfortunately is one of the work hazards of a self confessed shopaholic travel writer.  One of the best tips I could pass on, is before the ‘hunt’, for only $40, purchase a pair of  Spare Soles for the most comfortable, good looking, soft leather flats which fold and pack easily into what a small zippered kit which happily expands to a tote for the ‘just in case’, over-flow of purchasing.  Also, so easy on the feet, like walking on air.

To feel my best, I always need a great coif and who better to know than the 2 long time concierges, both called Michael, at the renowned, Mandarin Oriental.  After checking his list and giving me the once over, he set up an appointment at Joseph Cozza Salon (77 Maiden Lane, 2nd floor) on a small laneway, where there just happened to be some really swell small boutiques.

But first the hair. Along the long hallway from the reception desk there was  a display of most interesting small makeup bags, getaway kits, hair accessories and totes..all very appealing. As I sat on the ecru colored leather sofa, in the beautifully decorated, contemporary styled salon, I watched the bejeweled, the be-jeaned and the obviously affluent patrons go back and forth, some off to the hair coloring station, others for the urns of coffee and tea.  Finally Xavier who seemed to have forgotten me until I mentioned to the front desk that I was still waiting, trying my hardest to be like a westerner rather than the bratty and pushy easterner, (which includes me), out came the very pompadour coifed and likeable young man. He also was most professional and I walked out ready to take on the mission of looking great while touching, feeling, suffering since I couldn’t have it all.

First stop was to London Soles, a smart shop on the same mews just a few doors away.  Anyone, who hates stiletto heels will fall in love with the overload of choices of ballerinas..and so comfortable in leather, faux croc, snake and linen.

At the end of this lovely street, this being Saturday, a tenor was singing famous operatic arias.  How absolutely enchanting and so very olde London, I thought.

Of course, near Union Square it isn’t difficult to find Saks 5th,( a must is to see a reasonably new hand bag designer, Reed Krakoff), Neiman Marcus ,Barney’s New York, Macy’s, Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret and more but not to miss out on a landmark, Gump’s which is filled with the most desirable china, pottery  and glass sculptures, table top accessories, unique glassware and lamps but also stunning and pricey jewelry that is probably exclusive to the store.

Since one of my other passions is good art, I noticed one exceptional gallery featuring, Chagall, Picasso, Bauer, Calder  among many more.  Weinstein Gallery (383 Geary Street) is more like a museum but here all art is for sale and with provenance and credentials. Luke Weinstein was more than willing to discuss every  painting that I lusted after, but surely knowing that the floor standing mobile by Calder for over $5 million, was not going to be my ‘buy’ of the day.

After that I needed a great cup of coffee so headed to Café de La Presse ( 352 Grant corner of Bush).  Paris, here I come.  It was so very Parisians that I felt I had saved enough by being in San Francisco and not the City of Light, hence my sudden irrational thinking had me reclaiming a nonexistent plane ticket therefore having the ware -with -all -to shop.

But back to the coffee, which now had a croissant beside it.  I opted to sit at the café’s window tables rather than in the more formal but still casual restaurant. Unfortunately the too smug waiters thought they were indeed in Paris and adopted their snooty attitude.  However, the hostess was adorable.  But however good the coffee and it was, the croissant that morning hadn’t been baked enough and it was virtually doughy not flaky on the inside.  But it is a great find where many locals seem to go since every inch was filled with computer workers and publication readers.  Later that week, I went for lunch and had one of the best salade Nicoise ever- and the baguette was fabulous.

Since taxis are reasonably inexpensive compared to eastern cities like Toronto and New York, I head to  the vibrant Fillmore Street where there are clothing shops galore, many are home furnishing stores with high end mid century furniture and also funky fun, colorful youthful tables, chairs and accessories.  But looking down at my hands, I noticed that my chipped nail varnish just didn’t’ go with the fancy hair style.  It just so happened that the cabbie stopped right in front of JT Nails, (1848 Fillmore Street) the sort of generic small niche where the Vietnamese and Koreans have a monopoly on nail care.  I’ll be darned if Diane didn’t give me one of the best manicures, bringing out an enclosed sterilized bag of tools, even choosing the color that would suit me and all that for $10.  And the manicure lasted for over a week without losing its shine or showing minor chips.

Exterior Cafes in Maiden Lane

So now was the serious time of heading into stores that looked most interesting from the window displays and then deciding whether to enter and browse.  I couldn’t walk by Design Within Reach (1913 Fillmore Ave) since their mid century furniture is my style and Anthony was just a delight to discuss that period, pointing out that they are the official outlet for the furniture that have been knock-off at lesser prices. On the floor were chairs, tables lighting fixtures by Mies Van der Rohe, Platner, Saarinen and Betoia. Also, wandered into Zinc Details (1905 Fillmore Street), Bo Concept (1928 Fillmore Street) and Ruby Living Design (1919 Fillmore Street).

Lilith Boutique (2029 Fillmore Street) had some wonderful but too youthful and trendy styling for me.  I liked what I saw and there was a good mix of wearable outfits not surprisingly purchased by the Parisian owner.  Not far is a much smaller than Union Square Ralph Lauren Shop with more casual, not runway styles, but obviously purchased with their savvy local clientele’s needs in mind.  Again, the polite salesman was more than happy to show the catalogue and discuss the coming season’s colors and styles. But  you can’t go wrong with RL. any time, any season.

LIMU (2237 Fillmore Street) , with very stylish clothing and accessories, also had some most interesting designers and this being California one never expects to find any sizes over size 2.  But here there are reasonable average for the non skeletal shopper.

MIO (2025 Fillmore Street) had some of the most unusual Japanese styled tops along with many other contemporary women’s wear.  Loved that place and the salespeople were not pushy and so very welcoming and helpful. And particularly enjoyed the quiet ambience in contrast to the noisy, seemingly mandatory shops that are in that area.

Other shops that I enjoyed for their creativity were Black Fleece  (2223 Fillmore Street), Elizabeth Charles, ( 2056 Fillmore Stsreet) and jewelry that caught my eye including Gallery of Jewels (2115 Fillmore Street) and couldn’t resist going into Gimme Shoes, the name just said it all. (2258 Fillmore Street).

Much, much later, just before 3pm when they stop serving, the place for the best Dim Sum this side of Hong Kong, is Yank Sing (101 Spear St).  They have two locations and I opted for the larger one at 101 Spear Street, an inside restaurant off a food hall.  As they do in Hong Kong, trolleys continuously passed by with the most delectable, difficult to choice from, delicious choices.

Not to be missed, especially for an epic dinner, is The Slanted Door which located on the bay waterfront in the Ferry Building (1 Ferry Bldg #3).  Reservations are a must weeks before but it’s a foodie’s paradise with Vietnamese and a fusion of South East Asian dishes. The always flowing crowd is a good indication of how high the bar for Oriental food has been raised by this restaurant .  Although always busy, there is a relaxed atmosphere and instead of trying to figure out what to eat, I always ask, as I did the willing waiter, what are the most popular dishes.  We weren’t disappointed by his choices. A favorite drink are the German and Belgium lagers.  Be ready for every age grouping from toddlers to grandparents. But be prepared to walk away feeling that you’ve just eaten the best fusion cooking by Vietnamese Chef Charles Phan.