548-552 Valencia (between 16th & 17th sts.), 621-1717
Put a little spice in someone's life. A basket filled with exotic, flavorful foods like ginger pickle relish, saffron syrup and vindaloo curry paste from this emporium of Indian products should please the culinary adventurer. You'll find bindis of all shapes and sizes, gem tattoos, stickers of Indian deities, Ayurvedic health products, henna dye, and sparkly metallic bangles to fill stockings with. Intricately embroidered silk saris, robes, and men's woven cotton shirts start at $24.99. A huge selection of teas, incense, and bulk spices stimulate the senses in this wonderfully aromatic shop. If you need a shopping break step into the adjoining café and treat yourself to a savory samosa or a scoop of kicky cardamom ice cream.
826 Valencia (between 19 & 20th sts.), 642-5905
Dave Eggers and those wacky folks at 826 Valencia opened a pirate-themed retail shop in the front of their writing lab space. Pick up a swashbuckler hat, a sextant, or a spyglass for a seafaring friend, or have a custom fragrance blended from Madagascar vanilla, Arabian sandalwood or Tunisian myrrh ($20-$25). Stuff stockings with eye patches, glass eyes, pirate flags and random messages in bottles (e.g., "the scallops gave him hives"). Poking around in the wooden drawers that line the walls yields unexpected treasures like candles, nautical antiques, metal belt buckles, and wooden dice. Also available are other Eggers projects, such as a (mostly) complete series of Might magazine and bound editions of McSweeney's journals.
493 Sanchez (at 18th St.), 621-4055
Opened since May, photographer Durwood Zedd's gallery/shop is a mélange of fine art, textiles, avant-garde home décor items, one-of-a-kind jewelry, antiques, whimsical kitchen items, and fascinating collectibles from all over the world. Step under a canoe from Java to peer at a set of handmade Russian birch boxes ($36) or a gorgeous celadon vase from Japan overlaid with yellow linen ($49.50). Wearable art includes jewelry made from wine bottle necks, silver poured into wax casts, and unusual acrylic pieces. A kitschy book of 1950s pinups comes with 3-D glasses ($25), cosy hand-knit scarves and caps range from $35 to $115, and don't overlook the cylindrical tin of Poppie's chocolate-macadamia nut cookies ($8.90). Whether you decide on the brilliantly colored Eastern European art glass or a square leather handbag from Amsterdam, a gift from Zedd says "Happy Holidays" with style.
The Drug Store
3149 Mission (at Precita), 282-0544
The funky neon sign out front promises drugs, but actually this shop is devoted to affordable vintage home décor items and furniture. A collective of 13 dealers shares the space, each with different themes and collections from '60s kitchen kitsch to Depression-era glass to Deco furnishings. A recent visit turned up a cow skull for the Georgia O'Keefe fan ($85), rubber sushi, bamboo-etched Austrian cocktail glasses, an antique travel bar set, a Garfield phone, a wrought-iron candelabra ($65), and a matador figurine dating back to the '40s ($12). Gift certificates are available, and the dealers are friendly and informed.
2319 Market (between Castro & Noe), 626-5021
Tested on boyfriends, not animals, this botanically based hair- and skin-care line is available online at nancyboy.com or at the spare, whitewashed retail space in the Castro. Handcrafted in Berkeley, the products are derived from plant extracts like lavender, rosemary, and peppermint and blended with other natural ingredients like shea-nut butter, grape seed oil, and chamomile. Travel packs make great gifts -- one includes a facial cleanser, body wash, and moisturizer; another offers shampoo, conditioner, and styling cream. Both packs sell for $18 and include the invigorating, minty-scented bar soap, a travel soap dish and face cloth embroidered with the signature blue daisy. Upgrade your gift to the stylish travel bag, at $27.
479 Castro (between Market & 18th sts.), 431-5365
Last-minute shoppers need look no further than this general/hardware store teeming with gift-giving possibilities. From the whimsical -- a fruit-powered clock that combines micro-electric technology with the natural electric potential of a banana ($13.50) -- to the practical -- flashlights, tea kettles, power tools, and rattan table lamps -- this is one-stop shopping at its most entertaining. The front section is a stocking-stuffer mother lode where wind-up chattering teeth, miniature parachutes, and rubber ducky keychains vie for space amid wiggling hula girls, glitter pens, psychedelic lightbulbs, and kazoos. Pick up classic games like Operation for the kids, Pictionary for the adults, or a Marie Antoinette wig for that special someone.
A.G. Ferrari Foods
468 Castro (between Market & 18th sts.), 255-6590
For a taste of Tuscany by the Bay, step into one of the three San Francisco locations of this shop devoted to Italian food and delicacies. Paul Ferrari seeks out Italy's artigiani -- small, artisanal producers of items ranging from porcini mushroom-infused oil to wild rose hip jam to fancy capers (elegantly packaged with a parchment-covered lid tied with string). Choose from assembled gift baskets; the dessert version -- a silver champagne bucket brimming with treats like hazelnuts dipped in chocolate, almond biscotti, panaforte (an Italian Christmas cake), and a bottle of bubbly -- goes for $49.94. Or better yet, create your own personalized gift and fill a colander or wicker basket with extra virgin olive oil, artisanal honey, white truffle oil, a tin of anchovies, some dried sconcigli pasta noodles, and a bottle of chianti. Buon Apetito!(Other locations at 688 Mission and 3490 California).