436 Cortland (at Andover), 648-1380
This aptly named variety store nestled in a quaint stretch of Bernal Heights has something of a split personality. Many of its imported toys and cheapie knickknacks (including miniature Harleys, squeaking rubber ducks, and the suction cup-covered "Suckerman") would make offbeat stocking stuffers for people of every age. But the place has its serious side, too. Owner Darcy Lee's selection of more upscale gifts, like wooden bowl sets and hand-painted lanterns, are there to satisfy gifters with more reserved tastes. Well worth the trip up the hill, Heartfelt remains a hidden gem with enough variety to get you out of a last-minute shopping pinch.
It's that time of the year again, that long slow march from the last out of the World Series to the first day of Spring Training. Fortunately, there's always next year, and in the meantime you can celebrate the home team's rich history with an orange-and-black stocking stuffer or two. In addition to the usual jerseys, caps, jackets, and sweat shirts, the Dugout stocks more unusual items like Alou Brothers stackable dolls, a Giants Monopoly game, a foot-tall Giants Pez dispenser that plays "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," videos of the 1951, '54, '62, and '89 World Series, a Polo Grounds street sign for the über-nostalgic, a Giants/Dodgers chess set, and -- ideal for the season -- snow globes, Christmas tree ornaments, and a Santa figurine in full Giants regalia. Play ball already!
The Wok Shop
718 Grant (at Sacramento), 888-780-7171
Be prepared for the ride when Tane Chan gives you the quick tour of her cozy (albeit cluttered) kitchen supply shop near the heart of Chinatown. In under a minute she pilots through the narrow passages of her place, between islands of Asian cooking tools of every imaginable shape and size. There are stacks of bamboo steamers, sake and tea sets of every variety, and a daunting arsenal of Chinese knives and cleavers. And of course there are woks -- big and small, carbon and stainless -- and Chan is on hand to help you find just the right one. We recommend the hand-hammered iron woks from China, based on a centuries-old design, all available for under $20.
Get Lost Travel Books1825 Market (between Pearl and Guerrero), 437-0529If all you're looking for is a guidebook or a map to ease your passage into a strange land, any old corporate chain bookstore will do. Get Lost is instead a haven for the passionate traveler, with enough gear and reading matter to outfit and inspire even the most devoted gadabout. Travel books for odd locations like Yemen or Surinam? Check. Money-concealing belts and packs? Check. Little things you don't realize you need until you see them, like anti-jet-lag pills and a money-exchange calculator? It's this last that separates Get Lost from the pack. Going somewhere new? Ask store clerks for advice; chances are they've been there.
Cannery Wine Cellars
2801 Leavenworth (at Beach, in the Cannery), 673-0400
When you need just the right wine, beer, aperitif, or liqueur to complement a holiday soiree or gift basket, check out this impressively stocked emporium of high spirits. Besides an acre or two of well-organized vino (the store specializes in boutique West Coast and Italian wineries), there's Croatian pelinkovac, Peruvian pisco, Turkish raki, and many another option for the adventurous imbiber. One wall displays beers from Switzerland, Brazil, and everywhere in between, but the store's centerpiece is a towering cabinet packed with some 400 single malts. (Two dozen Irish whiskeys, five dozen bourbons, 30 varieties of gin, 50 cognacs, 75 vodkas, and 21 breeds of anise liqueur are among the other high-octane possibilities.) There's also a wide variety of stocking-friendly 50 ml-sized bottles, from Goldschläger to Godiva. Sköal!
Lark in the Morning
2801 Leavenworth (at Beach, in the Cannery), 922-4277
Looking for a tongue drum, thumb piano, nose flute, or mouth organ? How about a djembe or an ashiko or a kalimba? You'll find everything for the multicultural musician on your list at this globally inclusive instrument shop. French Canadian spoons, Cajun triangles, Maui pocket saxes, Zampogna panpipes, Slovakian fujaras, Finnish pine zithers, and Koa soprano ukes are just a few of the worldly delights sharing shelf space with chromatic ocarinas, pentatonic lyres, ram's-horn shofars, and hardwood bongos. Instructional books and videos are available when you need a little help mastering that Aeolian wind harp, and the knowledgeable staff is happy to offer gift-giving suggestions. Good CD selection, too.
1458 Haight (between Masonic and Ashbury), 552-5095
This flatteringly lit, appealingly appointed women's clothing and accessories store is sorta like Urban Outfitters' dressed-up cousin. Ambiance's main purview is out-on-the-town clothing, revealing evening- and club-wear for the young and slim-hipped. But it's the store's accessories section that makes it worth a gifting stop. The selection of scarves, handbags, and sweaters is small but exquisite, each item a tiny treasure. And the jewelry and hair clips scattered on and under the cash register are of the delicate, intricate variety that provides so much style at bargain-basement prices from $5 to just over $100.