Here I am again—another West Coast town.
I’ve come to San Francisco and the Bay Area to do media, which means I’ve had to find some merchandise in stores dotted all over the Bay Area for my gig on View From the Bay, an ABC-TV show with our old friend Spencer Christian from Good Morning America!
Small world, huh?
Have been plugging Where to Buy the Best of Everything, my newest Frommer’s guide, it was my job to show off the best of the Bay Area. Obviously I didn’t want to feature the well-known icons, like Gump’s, but wanted to get into some of the unknown territory and maybe even surprise the locals.
BERKELEY SECRETS: As soon as I landed at SFO, I teamed up with Born to Shop Editorial Director Sarah Lahey who lives in Tiburon and has had a big hand in teaching me about the area. First stop was Berkeley’s Fourth Street which, alas, is well known by shopistas all over the world—there are about two blocks of good shopping and a few extra shops tucked into side streets and set-back strip centers.
There are also restaurants and nearby Emeryville, home to big box stores and furniture warehouses. We quickly hit the sale at CP Shades and Lilith, two of my favorite stores for easy to wear and somewhat “droopy chic,” and got to the Crate & Barrel outlet store (slim pickings that day). Then we were off to our secret source: Gilman Village Outlet Mall.
This isn’t really a mall, it’s a strip center with only six or seven outlets, but boy, oh boy, each is a gem and this is the place to track down, at Gillman and Tenth. My favorite store here is the Territory Ahead (territoryahead.com) outlet, which sells the current clothes in the front of the store with a 20 percent discount and the older stuff in the rear room (men’s and women’s casual clothing with a rustic touch). Their $79 shirts were marked down to $29 and they had a special promotion that if you bought three items, you got an additional 20 percent off. Twist my arm!
Other outlets there include Travelsmith, the travel catalogue for gadgets, travel clothing (doesn’t wrinkle) and even some luggage, as well as a tiny store that specializes in luxe, fluffy Turkish towels ($25 each) and Trove, a true treasure trove of table top and home style at marked down prices (1310 Tenth Street, Berkeley (510-525-7991, trovehome.com). There’s also a Smith & Hawkins outlet, but frankly, every time I’ve been inside it’s been a waste of time.
MARIN MY LOVE: From Berkeley we took the “back road” over the Richmond Bridge to get to Marin County and one of my favorite shopping developments, Vintage Oaks which is a village of strip centers and big box stores that has everything you could want or need.
I don’t normally tell visitors to stop at malls, but every rule was meant to be broken! This is also a good place to know about for those who might be taking a weekend break in Sonoma or Napa, as you have the pass the mall enroute and there is good shopping for real-people needs. There’s a COSTCO and a Target as well as Ross and Marshall’s and many local heroes to break up the I-could-be-anywhere feeling. Our stop was Target.
I don’t need to tell you how much I love Target stores, but I will admit that we were two days in advance of the launch of the new John Derian line and I wanted to beg, borrow and buy product to show on TV. Now that it’s official, it might be easier to shop online at www.target.com and you certainly don’t have to go to San Francisco or Novato to buy this line, but as I said, I was ahead of my time.
John Derian (www.johnderian.com) is my artistic guru—he’s the king of decoupage who began his artistic career selling handmade plates to Bergdorf-Goodman in New York City. Plates then cost about $400. Derian’s style was so unique that he actually began a trend, so there are today several Derian wannabes, but they are only valuable if signed by John Derian.
Meanwhile, this cut-up king was so successful that he opened his own store in Manhattan, in The Bowery of all places. And now Target has signed him up for an exclusive deal to do prints of his work on melamine, so it’s collectible, affordable ($16.98 for a three-piece serving set) and the kids can’t break it.
Is it the same as the real thing? Get real. But it’s fun.
By chance I saw a small, original Derian plate in a fancy pants store in Mill Valley for $113—the real thing (with a bird in the center) was enormously similar to a bird print I had already bought at Target. For picnics or play time, make mine melamine.
WHERE TO SLEEP: I stayed at Sarah’s house in Tiburon this trip, but when we saw the new InterContinental Hotel San Francisco, we flipped and decided that next visit, we’ll stay there. InterConti already has the iconic Mark Hopkins, but this is a new build high rise tower in SoMa (South of Market), the hot new area near the Convention Center.
Normally, I prefer my secret finds, such as the Warwick Regis, two blocks from Union Square. This is a small European-style hotel, one of my best finds in the world, where rooms are $200-$250 (490 Geary Street; 415-928-7900, www.warwickhotels.com). My girlfriend Penny Goldman just told me her secret find: The Larkspur, where she paid $239 for a two room suite with huge marble bathroom (524 Sutter Street 415-675-1443, www.larkspurhotelunionsquare.com).
PARKING AT UNION SQUARE: I’ve been shopping the stores in the Union Square area since I was 15 years old. In those days we had a zillion flower stands that were charmingly European and I. Magnin & Company (with its famous smoked mirror ladies room) as well as Blum’s for chocolate sundaes. Now I shop Neiman’s for a few seconds to drool over the jewelry and accessories but mostly consider this a great parking destination for getting to the hairdresser.
For several years I have been heading to The City for a snip snip from Dante at Frange Blue (www.frangeblue.com). Not only is Dante a genius (make that a “shears genius”) but he’s an insider’s secret—hidden away in an office building on Market Street, right across from the Four Seasons Hotel. A cut (and blow dry) costs $90 which is fewer than most U.S. big cities charge, but more than I used to pay at the strip center in San Antonio, Texas! Oh well, big city and big prices offer big-time talent (760 Market Street, Suite 1038; 415-398-2887, www.frangeblue.com).
KGO 2 GO: After my TV show, Sarah and I always head to Chinatown for our ritual bubble tea. We got hooked on “boba cha” (“boba” is the Chinese word for the tapioca bubbles that make the drink so unique; “cha” is the Chinese word for tea) in Taiwan about two years ago. We’re so hooked that we even go to a Web site (bubbleteasupply.biz) that offers the supplies you need to make this at home.
Sarah likes mango bubble tea (cold) and I like almond bubble tea (hot) so it’s easier to head to Washington Bakery & Restaurant (733 Washington Street; 415-397-3232). If we can’t get a parking space, one of us runs to get the tea to go. If we can park, we also shop on nearby Grant Avenue, the main drag of Chinatown.
There’s a store called Peking Bazaar right around the corner from Washington Street (#826) that is one of three stores owned by a group we like. The other two stores are closer to downtown shopping, so if we’re in a tea-to-go mode, we just dash in here. I buy little Chinese silk pouches to wear around my neck to carry my telephone when my clothes have no pockets. I’ve just switched to a BlackBerry so I needed a larger size pouch. At $5.99 each, I bought a color range and will hand them from a lariat since they come with a wrist handle but nothing long enough to go around your neck.
Off to Buenos Aires in a week, will write you from there!
For 25 years, Suzy Gershman has written the popular “Born to Shop” series, now published by Frommer’s. Her most recent book, Where to Buy the Best of Everything, is available now. She also hosts international tours several times a year. For more information, visit www.suzygershman.com.
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Check out Suzy’s previous Postcard to Peter: Santa Barbara Shopping.
Headed to San Francisco? Check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to San Francisco.
And if you’re interested in eating your way through the Bay Area, don’t miss Three Days, Nine Meals (or More!): San Francisco, California.