Shopping in San Francisco is not normally a family affair, but it’s possible in the West Portal neighborhood. Tucked into a valley to the west of the iconic Twin Peaks, West Portal feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.
The main shopping area of the West Portal shopping district runs down West Portal Avenue, starting at the mouth of the Muni Station at Ulloa Street and continuing roughly as far as 15th Avenue. Patrons of this neighborhood can have their hair cut or shoes repaired, they can take a kick boxing class and buy a book without walking more than three blocks. And what I heard from both business owners and customers alike is that West Portal has a real feeling of family and community, making it a safe place to shop with kids.
On the flip side, it can be a dangerous place for a parent’s wallet, because there are a lot of shops that kids will like. This includes the West Portal outpost of Ambassador Toys, which carries a wide selection of toys, art supplies and educational products from around the world that will spark a child’s imagination. There are well-known brands like Lego, Playmobil and Thomas the Tank Engine, as well as space-themed toys, stuffed animals, wind-up cars, pink princess gear, collectible dolls and more.
Right down the block is another neighborhood staple is Growing Up, a toy store stuffed to the gills with toys, gifts, books and clothes for newborns and boys and girls. Owner Jude Friedman is super helpful and can assist shoppers, especially ones who don’t know quite what they want.
For older kids with a creative streak, and adults for that matter, there’s Growing Up Arts and Crafts, a sister shop to the toy store. Crammed in a narrow nook of a space, there is almost anything a crafter might need, from scrapbook supplies to rubber stamps, pipe cleaners to felt and beads to ribbons. There are also piles of pens and paper, and knitting and art supplies.
Not so much for the kids, but for adults with fanciful imaginations, there is Two Cats Comic Book Store. A relative newcomer to the neighborhood, this store carries slick graphic novels and collectible figurines, with pretty much anything above and beyond super heroes, including titles from 100 Bullets, Walking Dead and Tomb of Dracula.
For literature with more words and less visuals, there’s the BookShop West Portal. Despite its modest size, this independent bookstore sells a wide variety of books for all ages, ranging from poetry to cooking, to the latest fiction and nonfiction. The store also offers a children’s story time, and a number of community classes, like crocheting, drawing and writing. There are also greeting cards to accompany the gift of a good book.
Speaking of greeting cards, across the street is The Desk Set, a shop devoted to fine stationery. The perfect milled, handmade, embossed and/or monogrammed papers can be found or custom-made for any event, including weddings, holidays and baby announcements. Also available at The Desk Set are thoughtful gifts for any occasion, like Acme Pens, Moleskin Journals and fine picture frames.
For vinyl hounds and others who want an alternative to online audio downloads, there’s The Music Store. It holds new and used music of all kinds, plus DVDs, laser discs and cassettes, as well as cheap movie rentals. There are used record players, along with new needles, belts and cartridges should there be the need for a replacement part.
Current and aspiring musicians will appreciate the piano, banjo and guitar lessons, in addition to a small number of used instruments at The Music Store. Collectors can bring in their own stuff for a possible sale or trade. Music aficionados can also stop by for free shows by Americana, bluegrass and country acts.
For shoppers who feel like the rest of the city’s vintage shops have either been picked over or are too expensive, there’s The City Antiques. The collective holds affordably priced antique furniture, jewelry, knick-knacks, figurines and more. Antique hunters can try on a classic cloche hat, slip on a shiny bangle, or sift through a stack of world maps.
Here’s a time-saving tip for gift shoppers—many of the stores, including Ambassador Toys, BookShop West Portal and Growing Up, offer free wrapping services, so shoppers can grab a bite or peruse other businesses while they wait.