San Francisco may be best known for its landmarks and Silicon Valley, but there are other reasons to visit: for the shopping and to enjoy its luxurious Mandarin Oriental. Our correspondent leads us into temptation in the city by the bay
One of San Francisco’s iconic trolley cars heading up California Street
A few blocks walking distance from the captivating Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco lies Union Square, a place considered to be the city’s equivalent of LA’s famed Rodeo Drive. Currently undergoing what some may view as a retail renaissance, the square features numerous luxury department stores and boutiques ranging from Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus (which gets our vote for best designer shoe department in the city) and Saks Fifth Avenue, to the newly opened multi-storey Prada and Gucci flagships, both of which have undergone extensive expansions after relocating. Just off the square is the charming and oh-so-European Maiden Lane lined with Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and the new Tory Burch boutique, complete with mirrors, lots of orange and, of course, her signature 1960s-inspired tunics.
For those seeking the ultimate collection of vintage jewellery, gowns and accessories, one need look no further than Torso Vintages, at Sutter and Grant Streets. Whether it’s an antique Chanel bauble, a vintage fur coat, or a 1950s Pucci dress, Torso’s highly edited collection is not to be missed. Head one block west and you’ll find one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures and retail landmark, Wilkes Bashford. A boutique department store featuring men’s and women’s designer fashions as well as a stunning array of home furnishings, Wilkes Bashford, named after the proprietor himself, carries ready-to-wear lines such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci and Missoni, in addition to footwear by Christian Louboutin, fine jewellery by local designers, and Pratesi linens for the bedroom. A note to the boys: this is where the city’s best-dressed men go for their threads (think Brioni, Kiton, Loro Piana).
Once you’ve covered the fashion bases, seek out yet another renowned setting unique to San Francisco, that of Gump’s. The 144-year-old, two-storey tabletop mecca is also home to a heavenly collection of bath accessories, jewellery, objets d’art and personal stationery. With crystal, sterling and china from the world’s top artisans, not to mention an exquisite collection of vintage silver behind lock and key, no bride would dare omit Gump’s from her wedding list. When it comes time for a break and perhaps lunch or an afternoon tea is desired, sit under the stained glass dome of The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus at Geary Boulevard and Stockton Street overlooking Union Square – we promise the warm popovers with strawberry butter are worth the trip.
As in any city, there are often unexpected treasure troves nestled within neighbourhoods not frequented by travellers
Inside fashionable charity shop Philanthropist
Once you’ve circled the square, hop on the tram on Market Street and head towards the water where you’ll find the city’s most proud contribution to the art of consumption, also known as the Ferry Building Marketplace. Housed in a former port terminal built in 1898 on The Embarcadero, just north of the Bay Bridge, rests a slew of shops and restaurants, the majority of which are operated by local purveyors of artisan foods. Those with green fingers will love The Gardener, where they’ll find planting tools and handmade ceramics, while shoppers who love entertaining can decorate their tables with antique tabletop collectibles from Culinaire.
From Tsar Nicoulai caviar to the signature Mt. Tam cheese at Cowgirl Creamery’s artisan shop, from cured pork at Boccalone Salumeria to cupcakes from Miette Patisserie, there’s no shortage of options for the picnic basket. Restaurants include the critically hailed Slanted Door, a Vietnamese eatery by Charles Phan, and the more intimate Boulette’s Larder, where you can watch the chefs cook while you peruse their offering of spices and hard-to-find ingredients.
After exhausting the gastronomic delicacies on the waterfront, take a stroll down Sacramento Street in Pacific Heights, one of the city’s most beautiful residential neighbourhoods. Begin near the intersection of Presidio Avenue, where you’ll find Anthem, the street’s newest enclave of home accents and furnishings. The cheery, sun-filled space is stocked with an elegant-meets-edgy assortment of luxurious tabletop items, bedding, frames, and furniture, and is the perfect place to find a gift for any occasion.
Walk around the corner to find Circle & Square on Presidio Avenue, a tiny nest of eclectic baubles and over-the-top accessories, including earrings and necklaces by local designers Alex & Lee. Though San Francisco forecasts don’t typically beckon a bathing suit, there is only one great spot to find the best swimwear and that is Waterlilies between Walnut and Laurel Streets. Whether you’re looking for a sensational one-piece or a sexy bikini, the beachy cool boutique carries the latest from designers such as Eres and Haverhill, not to mention swimsuit coverups by Milly, sandals by Bernardo, and resort-chic pendants and earrings by local designer Jennifer Tuton whose simple yet elegant materials consist of delicate chains and colourful stones.
Continue up the street for a couple of blocks whereupon you’ll arrive at Philanthropist, where fashion and charity unite, for some guilt-free shopping. Recently opened by two friends, the boutique carries pieces by designers such as Marchesa, Robin Brouillette and Richard Chai, as well as contemporary brands like Adam, and Gary Graham. You’ll also find Rebecca Minkoff handbags and jewelled accessories, like bold necklaces and cuffs by Tom Binns, that perfectly punctuate any outfit. The best part? All profits from the store are donated to a different local charity on a quarterly basis.
Shopfronts on Hayes Street in Hayes Valley
An employee from the Cowgirl Creamery inside the Ferry Building
And last, but certainly not least, are Susan and its sibling, The Grocery Store. For trendy, contemporary lines like Helmut Lang and Comme des Garçons, The Grocery Store is the place to dip your toes before graduating on to Susan, where those who await entry must be pre-approved at the locked door. Known for her keen fashion sense and exclusive partnerships with European and Japanese designers, proprietor Susan Foslien curates a phenomenal offering of Rodarte, Lanvin, Balenciaga, her eponymous cashmere sweaters, Wolford hosiery, and a small but well selected line-up of shoes and handbags, such as envelope clutches by VBH. For those who prefer an intimate atmosphere with attentive staff, look no further – Susan’s associates will comfort the intimidated and cater to every whim of the savviest fashionistas.
Between stops, pop into Spruce for a burger in the main dining room or a glass of bubbly at the bar. The 5,000sqft Presidio Heights restaurant has become one of this city’s favourites with its sophisticated décor and approachable ambiance that no out-of-towner can afford to omit from their itinerary.
For a bit of nostalgia, the newly revitalized Ghirardelli Square offers visitors a beautiful, multi-level shopping environment coupled with a gourmet market and the beloved Crown & Crumpet tea salon, complete with a bounty of teas that would impress even the most discerning Brit. After sipping some chocolate-mint tea and nibbling a scone, wander around the square while visiting shops like ElizabethW for home fragrances and bath essentials, and Helpers Bazaar owned by style icon and San Franciso socialite Joy Venturini Bianchi. A true fashionista, Bianchi scours the country for one-off vintage fashions and newer runway masterpieces to create a harmonious blend of old and new. Here you can shop without any pangs of conscience, as Bianchi donates 100 per cent of proceeds to charity. Die-hard vintage collectors should make an appointment at her newly opened, super-exclusive Helpers House of Couture – Inner Richmond’s best-kept secret – where Bianchi’s library of rarities will sate those craving a Judith Leiber minaudière or, perhaps, a James Galanos gown. As with Helpers Bazaar, your expenditure will benefit her beloved charity. Indulging oneself never felt better.
Items available at The Gardener in the Ferry Building
Interior of the Ferry Building Marketplace
As with any city, there are often unexpected treasure troves nestled within neighbourhoods not typically frequented by travellers. For San Francisco, April in Paris is such a destination. Situated on Clement Street in the heart of the Inner Richmond area rests Beatricé Amblard’s working studio-cum-showroom of remarkable handcrafted leather accessories. Formerly an artisan for the legendary house of Hermès, where she constructed Kelly bags among other designs over the course of 14 years, Amblard decided to open doors of her own when business relocated her to San Francisco. Choose from her current collection on display, or collaborate with her to create a bespoke handbag, wallet or belt using calf leather, ostrich, lizard or alligator skins offered in a rainbow of colours. She also has a line of accessories, including jewellery, that draw upon her signature icon – a sterling bee. While it is a cab ride from the hotel, April in Paris is well worth the journey.
Bohos and artistic types will adore Hayes Valley, a chic district on the other side of town, just blocks from the picturesque City Hall. With the majority of the boutiques falling along Hayes Street, there are a couple just off the main drag, including the trendy Acrimony on Gough Street replete with fashions for men and women by emerging designers such as Heimstone, Operations, and YMC. Dish Clothing – another address for edgy, contemporary lines – serves up dazzling dresses by Alexander Wang and Rebecca Taylor, crop leather jackets by Mike & Chris, and tops by Velvet. When it’s time to undress, Alla Prima Fine Lingerie makes a lasting impression with undergarments by La Perla, Aubade, Dolce & Gabbana, and Cosabella, as well as swimwear and bodysuits. Boyfriends and husbands will score points by bringing home a parcel from this locale. If there’s a need to spruce things up around the house, Alabaster has shelves, tables and walls accented with modern vases, books, framed artwork and more, all of which are looking for one thing – a new home.
When all the shopping is said and done, rest your feet at the hotel bar and sip an MO Twist cocktail
Speaking of homes, the former showroom and design gallery belonging to business partners and interior designers Will Wick and Gabriella Sarlo, previously named Sarlo Wick, has assumed the new name of Battersea, Wick’s latest solo venture. Whilst the two have parted ways and subsequently opened up shops (albeit in the same building on Kansas Street in the design district), their distinct aesthetics prove that the separation was for the best. Given Wick’s signature flare for rustic and somewhat masculine décor, Battersea encompasses such a look, with mid-century metal tables created from old ship parts, and light fixtures reclaimed from movie theatres. For a more feminine approach, Sarlo’s inventory ranges from glamorous to industrial with old-world fabrics by Carolyn Quartermaine, Italian lighting by La Murrina, and antiques and accessories by Stephen Shubel. Both shops are open to the public and appointments are encouraged.
Entering the lobby of Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco
View over the city and Alcatraz island
When heading back towards the hotel, make two addresses in the antiques district of Jackson Square your last stops. Tucked inside an exposed-brick one-room studio on Gold Street is Hedge, the brainchild of local interior designer Steven Volpe and business partner Roth Martin. Open Monday to Friday, this extraordinary gallery features one-of-a-kind mid-century antiques mixed with modern art in a minimalist setting. An acclaimed designer, Volpe is not only known for his A-list clientele but also his relationships with some of the world’s most respected art and antique dealers. Sourcing from Belgium and France, among other countries, Volpe and Martin’s contribution to the San Francisco design industry has garnered significant press and attention from fellow designers the world over.
The second address worth noting belongs to Carrots, an exquisite men and women’s fashion boutique on Montgomery Street. Named after the owners’ family business (the world’s largest producer of the orange vegetable), Carrots is not only one of the most beautifully designed stores (thank you, Sarlo Wick), but its collections, by designers like Thakoon, Peter Som and Goldsign, among numerous others, are truly the cream of the crop.
When all the shopping is said and done and you’ve returned to the hotel, rest your bags (and feet) at the bar where you can listen to live music and sip an MO Twist cocktail while you nibble dim sum and Kobe sliders. Ensure you refuel as tomorrow is a new day and you have some shopping … er, sight-seeing to do.