Everything You Need To Know About Shopping In San Francisco
Ask just about anyone (no matter the age) and they will tell you that “San Francisco has changed.” From the focal point of the American counterculture movement in the 60s to the epicenter of the global tech industry, San Francisco’s residential composition has transformed in ways that could never happen in most cities. And yet, the beautiful architecture, access to nature, and inspiring history remain a draw to both visitors and residents alike.
Whether it’s overrun with hippies or hipsters, this city has always been on the cutting edge of culture, and shopping in San Francisco is a huge part of the equation. Each one of San Francisco’s many neighborhoods has its own flair, which makes this place fascinating to visit. Despite being considerably smaller than New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, San Francisco has everything you could possibly want.
Shopping in San Francisco isn’t your average trip to the mall. Vibey resale shops and cutting-edge boutiques sit beside key retail locations for the largest and most prestigious shops in the world. All of these stores are surrounded by the sights and sounds of one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Once you're done, drop your bags off in one of our San Francisco luggage storage spots and enjoy the rest of your day while we look after your new belongings for you.
Downtown San Francisco
If luxury is your preference, Union Square is the site for San Francisco’s best shops and stores. One might call this the closest thing to Times Square in San Francisco. That makes this iconic shopping hub no-less essential. This bustling shopping district is the city’s most prominent site for haute couture mainstays, high-end luxury shops, and a stunning “town-square” park.
The Apple Store in Union Square is one of the tech giant’s most important retail spaces. Considering all of their electronics are designed an hour’s drive away, this could be considered a “farm-to-table” version of this shopping experience. Maiden Lane is right off the square and is the most famous stretch of department stores and luxury retailers.
Whether you’re in town for a layover or networking at the Moscone Center for a tech conference, Union Square is the perfect central location to get some shopping done. It’s also a wonderful jumping-off point, as you can easily head in a few different directions depending on your taste. Chinatown is nearby, where you can enjoy one of the most unique San Francisco shopping experiences at affordable prices. Grant Avenue is also a short walk. Shopping in San Francisco has always benefited greatly from the pleasant walkability of the city.
Westfield San Francisco Centre
Westfield San Francisco Centre is one of the most prominent malls in town. This shopping center has all of your go-to stores for fashion, athletic geat, and more. Their retail spaces also host the ever-trendy “pop-up” stores. Sports teams, music artists, and other cultural institutions will set up shop for a short period of time and offer exclusive merchandise and collectibles for savvy shoppers.
There is a reason the San Francisco Travel Association rates the more touristy waterfront districts and Embarcadero Center so highly. You will find the best views, easily accessible shopping, and wonderful shops for just about any taste.
The Embarcadero is a waterfront district with an iconic Ferry Building, stunning views, and a pleasant breeze off from the bay. For those who don’t mind walking this is the scenic route to take to the fun tourist areas like Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. If you’re there on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, the Embarcadero Center hosts one of the world’s best farmer’s markets.
Located right on Beach Street, Fisherman's Wharf is one of the most enduring tourist areas and shopping districts in San Francisco for a reason. Old-time charm (with the right amount of cheesiness) is an excellent juxtaposition with the cutting-edge culture of modern-day San Francisco. Its stores alone are well worth the visit.
At Embarcadero and Beach St, Pier 39 is famous for its fun and inviting shopping experiences, as well as its stunning views of the bay. From Pier 39, you’ll have unbeatable views of the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and the modern buildings of downtown San Francisco. Want something truly memorable? Houdini’s Magic Shop is an iconic San Francisco shopping experience for all of your magic and memorabilia needs.
More into nature than shops? Check out the many sea lions that make their home at Pier 39 and the surrounding waterfront. Many tourists have spent hours watching these playful aquatic mammals sunbathe and swim. After you’ve had your fill of watching the sea life, head to a chocolate shop for a snack, or the Shell Center gift shop for some Pier 39-specific swag and some seal toys. Because, unless you’ve Instagrammed the whole trip, how else will anyone know you’ve spent an afternoon on the San Francisco waterfront?
If you want to explore more San Francisco shopping districts, head inland via Union Street to Washington Square Park, Russian Hill, and Cow Hollow. All along Union Street, you’ll find high-end stores, outstanding Italian and Chinese food, as well as a variety of unique and interesting sights.
Shopping Near San Francisco State University
San Francisco State University is located on the Pacific side of the city near Lake Merced Park. One of San Francisco’s best malls is Stonestown Galleria, which has ample parking and a wide variety of familiar essentials and trendy shops. There is a farmers market on certain days as well.
The undeniable hip-ness of the Mission District might be too much for some, but savvy travelers know it’s well worth the short BART ride from Union Square or Fillmore Street. Trendy restaurants, parks, art galleries, and more all make this neighborhood one of San Francisco’s best. People-watching at Mission Dolores Park is reason alone. Because of the liberal and accepting culture of San Francisco, the park turns into an all-out chill session on weekends. Picnic or stroll through the park on your way to one of the many boutiques in this vibrant area.
In this district, there are no department stores, shopping malls, or fine dining. They do not have a Banana Republic, Saks Fifth Avenue, Calvin Klein, or Neiman Marcus. Instead, you have truly a truly unique shopping experience with proudly “weird” shops that are more memorable than opulent. If you’re interested in a bizarre and iconic shopping experience, check out Paxton Gate for taxidermy, plants, and other oddities. This will surely take you back to a time when San Francisco was weird. Gravel & Gold on 21st is one of the best shops in San Francisco for funky home goods, accessories, and hip decor. It's also a place where you'll find some of the best street food in San Francisco.
The Mission district was once the epicenter of San Francisco’s Mexican-American community. Head to Luz de Luna on 24th and Van Ness to pick out handmade goods that celebrate San Francisco’s rich Mexican heritage. In need of some travel gear for your next trip? Stop into DSPTCH on Valencia to check out their line of backpacks, duffel bags, and other travel accessories. All of their products achieve both form and function and are of course compatible with Bounce Storage locations.
One of your best bets for shopping in The Mission would be at the cross streets of 20th and Valencia Street. This building houses both Dog Eared Books and several outstanding clothing shops. Dog Eared Books provides an approachable atmosphere for browsing the shelves for your next Catcher In The Rye reading experience. This store also carries specialty publications and magazines, which is an increasingly rare but incredibly valuable offering. Next door is Reformation, which is a boutique clothing store focusing on eco-friendly bespoke fashion.
Further away from downtown, the Haight Ashbury area focuses less on fine dining and luxury retailers, and more on unique shopping experiences. Once the epicenter of both the hippie and punk movements in the Bay Area, shops here lean funky, and psychedelic. Funky boutiques, casual restaurants, and second-hand shops line the streets to create a vibrant and heady atmosphere. Haight Ashbury also features art galleries that are both affordable and easily accessible for both novices and seasoned aficionados.
The cross streets of Haight and Ashbury represent the beating heart of this cultural hub. All along Haight Street, you’ll find funky gift shops, record stores, and vintage stores. Pop into one of their restaurants, cafes, or pubs to make this a full-spectrum experience. Grab some second-hand threads at Buffalo Exchange, or treat yourself to a designer jacket at the iconic Derby boutique.
Haight Ashbury is easily accessible to Golden Gate Park and Hayes Street, which makes it the perfect central neighborhood to visit multiple shopping districts. Being further west, this is one of the neighborhoods that’s also accessible from the pacific ocean, the hiking at Twin Peaks, and the Sunset District.
Hayes Street, which runs east-west through the sunny neighborhood known as Hayes Valley, has some of the best shopping in town. Hayes Street doesn’t have a shopping center and is more known for upscale boutiques, galleries, and second-hand shops. A mall would feel out of place along the tree-lined streets and charming buildings. There is everything from record stores, to bridal shops, and niche home decor shops definitely target the cutting-edge aesthetics of tech workers. Young professionals tend to shop here as it’s a short trip from surrounding neighborhoods.
This stretch is home to the most iconic views in the world, the famous Painted Ladies houses. These offer the perfect photo opportunity on your way to document your visit to SF, especially if your parents have been asking about “those cute houses.” Hayes Valley is centrally located, being just a short trip from Sacramento Street, the Civic Center, Japan Center, Union Street, and Pacific Heights. For more information, check out our guide on how to get around San Francisco.
The Fillmore District
San Francisco residents tend to favor fashionable streets where small businesses, designers, and boutiques can all benefit from the foot traffic. This is most definitely the case in Fillmore District. These tree-lined streets are lined with stylish and bespoke boutiques, thrift stores, and outstanding restaurants and cafes.
Treat yourself to a third-wave craft latte before searching this vibrant neighborhood for your next go-to outfit or favorite piece of art. Cottage Industry on Fillmore Street features crafted items and gifts from all over the world. This stylish store has a variety of items where you can find a small memento of your trip or even the decorative centerpiece of your home. Down the street is Nest, which is another outstanding shop for interiors and accessories.
One of the best things about the Fillmore District is that, even if you look around all day and buy nothing, you will still have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon. There is an incredible history in this neighborhood. It was a jazz hotbed at one point, with the best nightclubs in the city music enthusiasts and anyone who wanted to dance. This energy is still felt in Fillmore to this day.
Fillmore Street is just a short trip from Japan Center, where you can find a wide variety of imported goods and authentic Japanese cuisine.
Why San Francisco Is So Popular for Shoppers (And Why You’ll Want to Come Back)
San Francisco is one of the most unique cities in the world and much of that has to do with its unique shopping experience. Visitors of every sort can find an area or store in San Francisco that will suit their needs. One of the best things about shopping in San Francisco is that the city is so walkable, so exploring a district or neighborhood is as much fun as buying your next favorite outfit at a boutique or a piece of art from a gallery.
To put it plainly, San Francisco has the best stores and shops in the world. But whatever you might end up buying, you will surely enjoy experiencing San Francisco’s unique restaurants, niche shops, and vibrant neighborhoods, and stunning views along the way. After all, there’s a reason so many people want to live here.