Can you call it a pencil skirt if the person wearing it is shaped more like an eraser? Shopping really isn’t my strong suit.
Tourism surveys indicate that shopping is a key component of virtually every tourist’s trip. I’m the reason the “virtually” is in there. I’d far rather take in a baseball game than make a run to Saks.
Nevertheless, I decided to shop like a maniac on a recent trip to San Francisco for two reasons: One, I wanted to find out what it’s like to shop in a city that bans plastic bags and two, I needed some new clothes, and major cities’ stores devote more floor space to outfits sized for someone shaped roughly like a fire hydrant.
Thus, I arrived in the city with the clothes on my back and a mission to buy a new suitcase and fill it.
I’m not going to regale you with a list of all the hydrant-shaped clothes I acquired, but please come with me as we rummage through the various shopping areas of an eclectic city where you’re likely to find something you like regardless of your taste or shape.
First, though, a word about bags: When you find your coveted item and take it to the checkout counter, you’ll be asked, “Do you need a bag for that?” The proper reply is, “No, I have my own.”
However, if you do need a bag, you will be supplied with a thick paper bag with handles for a fee, usually 10 cents. My husband had to pony up 50 cents at San Francisco International Airport for a paper bag in which to house his to-go sandwich, so it does vary.
I immediately realized that I should hang onto the big Macy’s bag that I bought for a dime after my first purchase — a pair of short-people jeans — and use it on every shopping expedition. H&M wasn’t very happy about the Macy’s bag and gently suggested I switch to an H&M bag after I bought a sweater there, but I didn’t want to pay another dime.
OK, then. Bag in hand, we go shopping in San Francisco.
First stop: Union Square. This is the epicenter of downtown shoppingdom, presided over by the hovering presences of Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and a Macy’s that takes up a whole block — and that’s only for women; the men’s Macy’s is in another building.
The Neiman’s is worth walking into if only to gawk at the stained-glass dome of its rotunda. The rotunda is part of the building that was there previously — a department store called City of Paris — that was built in 1896 and survived the 1906 quake and fire. The rotunda was preserved when Neiman’s demolished the rest in the ’70s.
Then there’s Macy’s. Why shop at Macy’s in San Francisco when you can shop at Macy’s at home? Because this is a mega-Macy’s. We’re talking half a block of petites. I can actually find stuff in my size. Tourists get a 10 percent discount.
Of course, Union Square is known for its high-end shopping. On Maiden Lane, a gated alley just east of the square, you can find the likes of Chanel, Hermes, Marc Jacobs, Prada and Tory Burch. My wallet can’t handle Maiden Lane, but I like to hang around and hear the opera busker who sometimes favors us with an aria. Then I take my wallet just east of Union Square, where an H&M at 150 Post St. and a Zara at 250 Post St. are budget-friendly.
Several blocks south of Union Square, on Market Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, if you can dodge the panhandlers, you’ll find Westfield San Francisco Centre, packed with 127 highly varied stores, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Club Monaco and Bloomingdales. Take your out-of-town driver’s license or hotel key to the Level 1 concierge for discounts. There’s an excellent local food court in the basement and movies on the top floor.
There are only two hazards at Westfield. First, if you go inside Nordstrom and get on its escalator, it’s hard to find your way back to the main mall. (The escape route is on Level 4.) Second, the mall is filled with those kiosks that you cannot pass without being assaulted with a product sample and a plea to let someone demonstrate how much his or her powder or oil or cream will transform your skin for merely $140. Don’t make eye contact.
All done? Hop the 71 Noriega bus, available on Market Street, and head for Haight Ashbury. The Haight is a good shopping area to combine with a trip to Golden Gate Park, served by the same bus. Do the park first so you won’t have to lug around your purchases. Then check out Haight Street’s many vintage and eclectic shops.
Pick up some tie-dye at Positively Haight Street (1400 Haight St.), or try Distractions (1552 Haight St.) for clothing that’s sort of Victorian punk (not me, but might be you), along with smoking implements, tarot cards and other miscellany. And don’t forget Amoeba Music at 1855 Haight St.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a foray into Chinatown for a little dim sum and shopping. Grab decorative paper lamps, chopsticks, some chirpy little bird toys for any little kid you know (the parents will hate you) or tea. Many tea shops in Chinatown (I like Red Blossom, 831 Grant St.) are happy to let you sit down and taste several kinds.
Just north of Chinatown is Italian-flavored North Beach, where Washington Square is home to the flagship store of Goorin Bros. hats (1612 Stockton St.). Old Vogue (1412 Grant Ave.) is a favorite vintage shop, but it’s mostly guy stuff, especially jeans, leather jackets and Hawaiian shirts. Across the street, Lola of North Beach (1415 Grant St.) will sell you an adorable baby bodysuit or San Francisco skyline stationery.
Aside from the main shopping areas, you’ll find little quirky shops in the strangest places in San Francisco. At the top of Union Street, where it intersects with Montgomery at a spot you wouldn’t happen into unless you were, like me, trying to forge a new route home from Coit Tower, you’ll find a really interesting shop called Acre/SF that sells designer fashions and coffee.
I needed to buy a suitcase to take everything home in. There’s a Tumi store near Union Square, but that’s out of my budget. I could have bought a cheap suitcase in any one of dozens of stores in Chinatown or the Wharf. But I wound up choosing a blue Champ smaller roller bag (who knew Champ made luggage?) at good, old reliable Ross. Into it I tossed my trove of clothes shaped exactly like me, and I headed home.