San Francisco

With its grand department stores and funky secondhand boutiques, San Francisco summons a full range of shopping experiences. From the anarchist bookstore to the mouthwatering specialty-food purveyors at the gleaming Ferry Building, the local shopping opportunities reflect the city's various personalities. Visitors with limited time often focus their energies on the high-density Union Square area, where several major department stores tower over big-name boutiques. But if you're keen to find unique local shops, consider moving beyond the square's radius.

Each neighborhood has its own distinctive finds, whether it's 1960s housewares, cheeky stationery, or vintage Levi's. If shopping in San Francisco has a downside, it's that real bargains can be few and far between. Sure, neighborhoods such as the Lower Haight and the Mission have thrift shops and other inexpensive stores, but you won't find many discount outlets in the city, where rents are sky-high and space is at a premium.

Seasonal sales, usually in late January and late July or August, are good opportunities for finding deep discounts on clothing. The San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner advertise sales. For smaller shops, check the free SF Weekly, which can be found on street corners every Wednesday. Sample sales are usually held by individual manufacturers, so check your favorite company's website before visiting.

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  • 1. Chronicle Books

    SoMa | Books/Stationery

    A local beacon of publishing produces inventively designed fiction, cookbooks, art books, and other titles, as well as diaries, planners, and...Read More

  • 2. Green Apple Books

    Richmond | Books/Stationery

    A local favorite with a huge used-book department also carries new books in every field. It's known for its history room and rare-books collection...Read More

  • 3. Alexander Book Company

    SoMa | Books/Stationery

    The three floors here are stocked with literature, poetry, and children's books, with a focus on hard-to-find works by men and women of color. ...Read More

  • 4. Book Passage

    Embarcadero | Books/Stationery

    Windows at this modest-size bookstore frame close-up views of the docks and San Francisco Bay. Commuters snap up magazines by the front door...Read More

  • 5. Booksmith

    Haight | Books/Stationery

    This fine bookshop sells current releases, children's titles, and offbeat periodicals. Authors passing through town often make a stop at this...Read More

  • 6. Bound Together Bookstore

    Haight | Books/Stationery

    This old-school collective, around since 1976, stocks books on anarchist theory and practice, as well as titles about gender issues, radicalism...Read More

  • 7. Browser Books

    Lower Pacific Heights | Books/Stationery

    Opened in 1976, one of the city's most beloved independent bookstores resides quietly among the chic fashion boutiques lining Fillmore Street...Read More

  • 8. Dog Eared Books

    Mission District | Books/Stationery

    An eclectic group of shoppers—gay and straight, fashionable and practical—wanders the aisles of this pleasantly ramshackle bookstore. The diverse...Read More

  • 9. FLAX art & design

    Marina | Books/Stationery

    In addition to paints, brushes, and art supplies, this sprawling creators' playground sells beautifully made photo albums and journals, fine...Read More

  • 10. Isotope Comic Book Lounge

    Hayes Valley | Books/Stationery

    For full-frontal nerdity in a chic modern setting, pay a visit to SF's premier comic book hangout. You'll find a great selection of graphic...Read More

  • 11. Kinokuniya Bookstore

    Japantown | Books/Stationery

    The selection of English-language books about Japanese culture—everything from medieval history to origami instructions—is one of the finest...Read More

  • 12. Lola of North Beach

    North Beach | Books/Stationery

    For an alternative to Hallmark with a SF vibe, try this intimate shop offering gadgets, knickknacks, and tongue-in-cheek novelties, plus cards...Read More

  • 13. Omnivore Books on Food

    Noe Valley | Books/Stationery

    Love to eat? Love to read? Then this place is paradise. The shelves are bursting with books on growing and cooking food. The store stocks cookbooks...Read More

  • 14. Paper Source

    Pacific Heights | Books/Stationery

    Beautiful handmade papers, cards, envelopes, ribbons, and bookbinding materials line the walls of this shop, which embodies the Bay Area's do...Read More

  • 15. The Green Arcade

    Hayes Valley | Books/Stationery

    For environmental, political, and sustainable books, look no further. With deep roots in the community, energetic artwork, and an atmosphere...Read More

  • 16. William Stout Architectural Books

    Financial District | Books/Stationery

    Architect William Stout began selling books out of his apartment, then opened a Jackson Square store in the mid-1980s, where it remains the...Read More

  • 17. Modern Times Bookstore

    Mission District | Books/Stationery

    Named after Charlie Chaplin's politically subversive film, the left-leaning store stocks high-quality literary fiction and nonfiction, much...Read More

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