12 Unusual, Quirky Gifts You Can Only Find in San Francisco
For the people on your gift list who have been swept off their feet by San Francisco's foggy charms, there is a nearly unlimited array of local wonders to be had. Home to a thriving community of artists, designers, craftspeople, culinary artists and scientists, this city offers one of the world's most richly varied shopping environments. Here's a curated list of quirky and classic items guaranteed to delight any San Francisco fan.
Artist Diego Marcial Rios offers mask-making classes through a number of different outlets, including the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. The brilliantly colored papier-mâché masks that students create and paint reflect Mexico's rich cultural history. Rios also sells his sculptures and paintings and is an active presence in the San Francisco community. www.missionculturalcenter.org
Two local women, Stacy Rogers and Deirdre Nagayama, have designed a line of graceful, wearable clothing at affordable prices under the label Curator. Their designs are simple and durable, making use of natural fabrics. Check out their stunning Seacliff coat for a taste of real San Francisco style. You can visit their small shop at 1767 Church St. or check out Curator's collection online. They also sell an interesting selection of handmade soaps, jewelry and accessories.
The Scent of a City
The breeze blowing through each San Francisco neighborhood picks up unique fragrances, and a particular scent will always carry you back to a special spot. Destination Fragrances uses pure essential oils to capture the essence of a dozen city neighborhoods and blends these into its pure Scents of San Francisco candles including a special holiday fragrance. From the Mission District (lime, palo santo and cinnamon) to the Haight (patchouli, cedarwood and ylang ylang), these handmade aromatherapy candles will bring a touch of the city to any home.
Irresistible Chewiness from Kika's Treats
Kika is the nickname of Brazilian-born confectioner Cristina Arantes. A San Franciscan since 1999, she has developed an artisanal line of chocolate-covered goodies, using local Dandelion Chocolate and a range of natural sweeteners. Her caramels use coconut palm sugar, which lends its own unique dark sweetness, and they were voted "best caramels" at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. Kika's treats are available online and at more than a dozen fine food retailers throughout the city.
French-Style Fruit Preserves
Located in the burgeoning Dogpatch neighborhood, Maison de Monaco creates delicious handmade fruit preserves. The French family that started this tiny business uses a traditional recipe and their products are loaded with more flavor and less sugar than commercial fruit jams.
Coffee From the Diaspora
The Museum of the African Diaspora has partnered with Red Bay Coffee for a curated selection of four coffees that represent the exclusive flavors of the African Diaspora: Ethiopia: Origins, Kenya: Movement, Burundi: Adaptation and Brasil: Transformation. Each cup is a reminder of how the diaspora connects us all. Roasted in Oakland in their garden roastery, dubbed the "Coffee Dojo," Red Bay was founded by artist Keba Konte who sources his beans from Sweet Unity Farms, founded by David Robinson, son of the famed baseball player Jackie Robinson, and his wife Rachel. www.moadsf.org
Walk on the Wild Side
Wild SF Walking Tours offer you an unvarnished insider view of the city. Every guide is a working artist or activist who will tell you the tales that never make it to mainstream ears. These super-affordable tours include moments from San Francisco's unique social history as well as opportunities to become acquainted with your fellow travelers. Furthermore, the fun doesn't have to end when the tour does. Many times the guide and tour group will go on to have food or coffee together at one of the great local places you've just found. Book a tour as a gift here: www.wildsftours.com
Focus on Science
A visit to the California Academy of Sciences is an absorbing experience in itself, but giving the gift of a behind-the-scenes tour will appeal to the hidden scientist in anyone. The Academy has partnered with Funsherpa to offer two different types of special tours: you can either focus on the research labs that drive the museum's continuing explorations, or you can learn about how the animals in the Aquarium are cared for. All tours include reserved tickets to the Planetarium and the special Rainforests of the World exhibit. www.calacademy.org
We did mention that our list was quirky, right? For that one friend for whom only a costumed taxidermied animal will do, Paxton Gate is your source. Wandering through their store is an experience not to be missed, even if you don't invest in any (ethically sourced) skulls or stuffed wildlife. In case you're in the mood for something slightly less off the beaten path, they also offer an array of highly civilized gardening tools and personal products.
Etta & Billie Guurl Grey Tea soap
Soapmaker Alana Rivera creates her bath and body products in her San Francisco workshop, and sells them online as well as at interesting gift shops such as Perish Trust in the Western Addition/NOPA district. Rivera's Etta & Billie soaps are offered in a rich palate of unusual fragrances, with ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible.
Limited-Edition Baseball and a Behind-the-Scenes AT&T Park Tour
Delight the baseball enthusiast in your life with a high-quality ball they won't be able to find in any old sporting goods store. Huntington Base Ball Co.'s limited-edition ball was designed especially for San Francisco's FOG Design+Art fair, and it's available in two rich vintage colors. This ball and other design delights are found in the Park Life Store and Gallery in the Inner Richmond, voted "Best Gift Store" by SF Magazine. Bundle it with a behind-the-scenes tour of AT&T Park and you're all set.
For the last 80 years, Cliff's Variety in the Castro has been charming visitors with its cornucopia of randomness. Stop in this store and you'll find products ranging from home improvement to art supplies to fun and games. During the holiday season, the store is decked out in costumes, wigs, tiaras and stockings. Perfect for that one zany, good-natured friend of yours. www.cliffsvariety.com
The City by the Bay has always been an incubator of creativity, and your gift shopping can reflect this fact, drawing from the unique breadth of San Francisco's maker culture. Visit some of the city's one-of-a-kind stores and galleries, in person if possible (and online, if not), and discover its rich and flavorful selections.