Over the past ten years or perhaps a little more it has become a custom for many Irish people (mostly women) to travel to the USA in late November/early December, to do their Christmas shopping.
I never travel to shop, as such, as my interests are far more wide ranging. However, I have taken advantage of the cheap pre-Christmas flights to experience firstly New York and most recently San Francisco for short breaks.
From a shoppers point of view I can report that San Fran, with its compact City Centre surrounding Union Square, is far more user-friendly as a shopping city.
We got an amazing weekend bargain from Ireland - five nights in the luxurious four star plus Nikko hotel plus return flights from Dublin to San Francisco for just a little over €600 each. We could have chosen a Union Square based hotel but I liked the look of the Nikko so we opted for that. It must have been at most two mins walk from Union Square, and indeed I soon discovered that in addition to all of those emporiums of high-end fashion that surround the famous square (Saks, Bergdorfs, Maceys, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani and so on) there are amazing stores around the arterial streets that flow from the square.
Apart altogether from the shopping in this immediate area, the majestic Westin St. Francis overlooks the square in all its grandeur. We popped in there for a rather pricey Irish Coffee in a break from our sight seeing.
A large ice skating rink dominated one corner of the square; I observed a Chanel fashion shoot on the steps and the models were very friendly, happy to pose for my own amateur shots; the Christmas tree in the third corner must have been one of the biggest I have ever seen. There's a little cafe on the square where you can snuggle up in your warmest clothes and sit outide watching the skaters.
It's a great place to go at night, especially (I would think) at the Christmas time of year. The fairy lights on all the trees and the festive garlands decorating the big stores make it a wonderland for all.
Cako bakery was just steps away from our hotel and we passed it several times a day as we trekked our way around this wonderful City. Eventually (you've guessed it) we succumbed to the succulent and stunning little creations and purchased a couple to bring back to our hotel. Picking up a couple of full fat (why diet with cup cakes?) lattes at the corner Starbucks, we tucked into our mini sweet-fest. Mine was a white chocolate dipped strawberry on a chocolate wirl topping a strawberry cup cake, and Mum had an apple pie cupcake. We pronounced them both delicious. I'm relieved I don't live in this town or I'd never resist them!!!!!
What to buy: Cupcakes, of course.
What to pay: A couple of dollars per cake - worth it.
I'll predicate this by admitting that I have a strong dislike for Discount Stores, or anywhere that you need to jostle to shop. That saying, my Mum loves them and when our taxi driver told us we had to visit ROSS I knew I'd have no option but to make the supreme sacrifice and go there.
Initially I thought it might, perhaps, be a little like Century 21 in NY where I had picked up a couple of good bargains a few years ago, so I was rather mollified by this.
I also thought it might, perhaps, be one of those big shopping centres with designer outlets.
I should have been fore-warned by the reaction of the receptionist at our hotel when we asked for directions. She appeared rather surprised that we'd be going there, but I was relieved when she explained that it was just around the corner and down two blocks.
What to buy: ROSS does have bargains, but I think you need to be on the look out and going there every day until the right thing comes in. In the meantime you'll find yourself wrestling through crammed racks of sometimes shabby and cheap looking clothing.
Don't even thinnk of going there to pick up gifts, as my experience is that many boxes were broken or torn.
We did, however, find some good bargains inn children's clothing.
Then, we discovered that wherever you shop in the store, all merchandise is paid for at one pay centre on the ground floor. This store has at least three or four levels! The queueing was endless.
I would not be rushing back here.
Macy's offer visitors (not sure what constitutes a visitor) a Visitors Card for the duration of their visit which entitles them to an extra 10% discount on selected items, we produced our passports and this was suitable. We were there while there was a storewide 50 -70% sale on and we still got the extra 10% on top of the already discounted items.
Independent bookstores are far and between in the USA, as Borders and Barnes & Noble have almost saturated the market. Sometimes I happen to find such a store, and it has to be checked out, as usually they stock a bit different set of books than the chain stores.
Browser Books is a compact book store on Fillmore Street, next to cafés and other nice shops. The single room is filled with books from floor to ceiling -- in other words, the selection is huge for such small looking storefront. Most of the books are literature, but there are other genres available, too. Some children toys can be found, but other than that the store focuses on books.
There is no café inside, but plenty on the street near the shop. You just have to buy your copies before browsing them. I found a couple of harder to find novels and one children book for our one year old.
This is a great liquor store with perhaps an emphasis on wines but also a great selection of beer and spirits, many harder to find. The beer selection is not large, and generally it is by the bottle, but it is consistently full of beers hard or impossible to find elsewhere in the region. These vary somewhat. I generally try to stop here whenever in the city.
There is another store on Fillmore but I have not been there so cannot provide any info on it. I think that the other one also only carries wine, or at least that's how it seems from the website.
What to pay: Prices, especially for spirits, are a little high but it's worth it if this is the only place you can find it. Beer prices are slightly high, but not very and some beers are not high at all, so it really depends.
This is pretty much a strictly beer store, although I think one can find a few other things, too. It's small but overall has a good selection of beer, many hard or impossible to find elsewhere. It really depends, though, on the time as the selections vary and many things are not available all the time. They are very friendly and encourage choosing single bottles from 6-packs, somwething on which other stores frown or sometimes don't even allow. They also have a small selection of beers on tap. It's a good place to go to find and try unusual beers.
What to buy: Beer.
This shop is like an opium den for chocolate addicts. So much good chocolate to choose from! My favorite is dark Belgian chocolate, and there were a lot of choices. My daughter was delighted to find a dark chocolate she had previously found only in Spain.
Bit of trivia: although the store qualifies as a "hidden gem" in the Bay Area, it is evidently well-known in Japan, where TV shows have been made about it.
Regarding price: Be aware that any chocolate you purchase here will not be cheap. I paid (gulp) $7 for a single bar, but the taste justified the price tag. . .and hey, I can quit anytime I want.
The owner also makes and sells tins and lunchboxes with vintage photos on them, as well as tins with every street sign in San Francisco. If you provide the photo, he will custom-make a box for you.
Chocolate Covered is just down the street from the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, so you can visit both in one fell swoop. Chocolate and books -- what could be better?
Flowers, produce, soaps, cheese, breads, nuts, oils, etc. from area producers, many of whom have been certified organic. There are a lot of neat prepared things such as the variety of roasted nuts and Indian sauce mixes. There are also folks preparing foods of all kinds. There are lots of free samples as well, so much so that one might be able to make a free meal out of them! My favorite was the guy with the rotisserie in his van where he was roasting chickens and pork loin. The porchetta sandwich he prepared for me, with the crispy skin cracklings and fresh arugula, was just about the best meal I had while in San Francisco!
The market is held on Tuesdays (10am-2pm) and Saturdays (8am-2pm) with the Saturday market being much larger and busier. Be sure to also visit the stores in the Ferry Terminal building as well. It's foodie heaven!
Tip: Get a bunch of fresh flowers to brighten up your hotel room!
What to buy: Fresh produce, breads, flowers, prepared foods.
What to pay: Varies
If you need to exchange a foreign currency into dollars or another foreign currency, there are two companies in town that will help you to do so: Travelex Worldwide Money & American Express.
Travelex Worldwide Money has three locations in San Francisco:
1) San Francisco International Airport
G Side Before Security & also United Int'l Terminal - Gate A6
San Francisco, California, 94128
PHONE: (650) 821-0900 (G Side) and (650) 821-0900 (Gate A6).
HOURS: 7.30am-11.30pm (G Side) and 8am-6.30pm (for Gate A6).
2) 443 Castro Street at between 17th and 18th Streets
Located in US Bank
San Francisco, California, 94114
PHONE: (415) 552-3108.
HOURS: 9am-5pm (M to Th), 9am-6pm (Fr), 9am-1pm (St), closed on Sundays.
3) 75 Geary Street at between Grant and Kearny Streets - DOWNTOWN.
San Francisco, California, 94108.
PHONE: (415) 362 3453.
HOURS: 9am-6.30pm (M to Fr), 10-6pm (St), 10-5pm (S).
NOTE: Here is a link to Travelex locator.
American Express has 2 travel offices:
1) 318 West Portal Avenue at 14th Avenue
San Francisco , CA 94127
DBA Ethan Allen Travel, Inc.
PHONE: (415) 242-0277
HOURS: 9am-5pm (M to Fr).
2) 455 Market at 1st Street - DOWNTOWN.
San Francisco , CA 94105
PHONE: (415) 536-2600
HOURS: 9am-5.30pm (M to Fr), 10am-2pm (St).
NOTE: If you need to find American Express Foreign Exchange office somewhere else in the world, here is a locator.
In one of the biggest shopping areas of the city stands the Bound Together Collective - your one-stop shop for that hard to please anarchist, socialist, or "questioner" on your Christmas list!
What to buy: While there are scores of books on such topics as 9/11, conspiracy theories, Foucalt and his detractors, and the profound moral bankruptcy of the evil capitalist system, my favorite things are the homemade pamphlets and fliers - many of which are free. These range from the surprisingly lucid to the truly whacked.
Especially look for "Spectacular Times," a series of vintage Situationist pamphlets. Also check out their comics section. You too will be saying "Cathy is SUCH a tool!"
826 Valencia is San Francisco's only pirate supply store, selling items every pirate needs. Such as glass eyes, eye patches, message bottles, treasure coins and flags. The items are also spread around the store in all kinds of cupboards, chests and other furniture, so finding stuff is part of the adventure.
The store has a noble cause, all the money goes to 826 Valencia writing project that dedicates its efforts to help students ages 6-18 with their writing skills.
If you are refurnishing your house and would like to have a few items for showing off with your visitors or breaking the ice, visit Paxton Gate in San Francisco. The shop opened by two landscape designers have all kinds of items ranging from a bit funny to outright bizarre.
There are stuffed animals, such as the lion on top of the door (see image), butterflies and other insects, dolls made of dead rodents, all kinds of flowers and plants, and so forth. You'll get the picture. There is also some more common items, such as tea and books.
The price of them items varies heavily, from a few bucks to several thousands. The store itself is worth of visit, even if you are not planning to buy anything.
865 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 512-6776 Westfield San Francisco
Categories: Department Stores, Shopping Centers, Restaurants
Neighborhood: Union Square
Well I remember the old Emporium there for years. We would shop there on a regular basis. So, when I walked in the doors of the new mall I was really blown away. It's huge. Very modern decor though inviting. I like the idea of the couches out there so you can sit and relax which you have to at times because it's just too overwhelming. The stores are high end and pricey like any other mall really. The main focal point being the dome which is beautiful. The lower downstairs floor which is called the emporium is basically a huge food court. That was the only floor that still reminded me of the old Emporium. With it situated right next to San Francisco Center I believe that will bring in the crowds especially during the Holiday season. It's a destination, an event, so go see it at least once.
This is a fairly small but very nice liquor store selling mainly spirits, wine, and some beer. This is a great place to go to get spirits and liqueurs, especially hard-to-find ones that no-one else ever seems to have, like Batavia Arack, Canton Ginger Liqueur, and Creme de Violette, among others. It's beer selection is small, but includes some good-quality, hard-to-find beers, mostly Belgian beers. The British beer selection is, for a lover of English beer in particular, woefully puny, but it does carry Old Speckled Hen in pint cans, always nice. It also has a nice array of hard-to-find beer glasss, including many Belgian ones, Old Speckled Hen, and Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar, the real beer from Budweis). The wine selection seems good, but I haven't given it too much of a look, although it carries some a few basic Turkish wines. While carrying only the most standard stuff like Kavaklidere, and completely lacking the more interesting and unusual Turkish wine like Talay from Bozcaada (oh, why can't I find that anywhere here?), this is still a feat since one can almost never find any Turkish wine.
What to buy: Spirits, liqueurs, wine, beer, glasses.
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