Shops and Gifts

Mickey's Monkey

214 Pierce (between Haight and Page), 864-0693

Have you ever gotten incredibly lucky and run across the garage sale of a confirmed eccentric? If so, you've experienced the thrill of sifting through wonderful junk: matchbooks from defunct nightspots, odd ashtrays, hideously delightful lamps, costume jewelry, pieces of furniture that demand entire rooms be decorated around their majestic weirdness. A visit to Mickey's Monkey is like going to this garage sale any day of the year. Run by a confirmed salvage junkie, the store's ever-changing stock of secondhand gear runs the gamut from retro tableware to unusual knickknacks to large bookshelves and tables, all of it crammed into a tiny place and overflowing out onto its Lower Haight sidewalk.

Kidrobot West

1512 Haight (at Ashbury), 487-9000

Action figures aren't just for kids and Japanese people anymore. Kidrobot West has the finest collection of urban action figures, collectible toys, bizarre handmade plush dolls, and remote-control cars in America. For the child-at-heart on your gift list, you can buy figures of Bruce Lee and Run-DMC or original creatures created by graffiti artists and talented toy designers. Meet the Bloody Gloomy Bear -- a clawed teddy bear who kills people. Or Dada, Monkey Playground's B-girl who busts a move and comes complete with her own boombox. Kidrobot also has its own line of toys and T-shirts. Both novices and expert collectors will find something fun here.

Groove Merchant

681 Haight (at Steiner), 252-5766

Amoeba might be bigger, but most vinyl aficionados can find everything they're looking for at Groove Merchant, San Francisco's finest selection of original breaks and beats. Super-knowledgeable proprietor Cool Chris can help you find that elusive Eddie Bo 45 you've been pining for, or the live Eddie Palmieri double LP you want to check out. In addition to jazz, Latin, soul, hip hop, and electronica rarities, Groove Merchant carries the latest CDs from local deejays like O-Dub, Tom Thump, and Vinnie Esparza, and indie record labels like DFA and Future Primitive Sound. Make sure to also check out the homemade T-shirts featuring logos from classic record labels like Strata East, Cold Chillin', and Prestige.

True

1415 Haight (at Masonic), 626-2882

Those interested in hip hop's dominant fashion lines as well as independent ones should make this store their primary stop. Clever T-shirts (which tend to be big and baggy for men, tight and tailored for women) are a top commodity here but are by no means the only stock in trade. Look for great, edgy dresses, stylish running suits, and sturdy yet fly jeans. True also carries cool messenger bags and backpacks, many with innovative features like foldout chairs or space for personal sound systems. These alone are worth checking out, even if one doesn't aspire to the hip hop lifestyle.

Amoeba Music

1855 Haight (at Stanyan), 831-1200

Gift certificates are a basic no-brainer at Amoeba Music (and a darned good gift besides), but that's not as much fun for the buyer as digging for something more personal. Pick up something new, or take advantage of great used prices to get more music. Vinyl lovers in particular can get hour upon hour of great sounds for pocket change (from the boxes and boxes of 45s priced at $1 apiece). And while music is the store's specialty, the video and DVD areas are steadily growing.

Cooper's

2 Sanchez (at Duboce), 934-9463

An elegant little wine, cheese, and gourmet food shop at the base of Duboce Park, Cooper's is a convenient quick-stop for dinner parties or intimate trysts for those residing in the Lower Haight and Castro. But for a more personal touch -- one worth the trip from other neighborhoods -- book a favored someone into one of Cooper's cheese-tasting classes, which vary in theme each month. January is likely to be a tutorial on sheep's cheeses, for example. Classes are capped at 12 people for maximum interaction and educational potential.

Life

604 Haight (at Steiner), 252-9312

Beautiful smells always beckon the passer-by into this little gift shop, a slice of serenity featuring lots of candles, incense, jewelry, and sweet handmade treasures like scented eye pillows and little stuffed creatures. The best present: Mix your intended a special essential-oil potion or customize a body lotion, shower gel, or bubble bath with their favorite scent. Or bring them into the store for a mehndi application, in which ornate designs are temporarily "tattooed" onto hands.

Paul Frank

262 Sutter (at Grant), 374-2758

Paul Frank's recognizable mascot, a smiling monkey named Julius, has helped the SoCal designer become the fashion world's king of cute. His designs are usually emblazoned with simple cartoon animals or whimsical slogans and slowly but surely have become treasured by alternateens, celebrity hipsters, and the young at heart. More recently, his stores have become a mecca for cool, relatively inexpensive accessories, as he's complemented his line of playful leisure threads with brightly colored watches, wallets, key chains, and all kinds of kitschy plunder. His Sutter Street outlet is one of seven in the United States and offers customers their own unique slice of pop culture.

Vintage Modern

182 Gough (at Oak), 861-8162

Most antique furniture stores in San Francisco are essentially in the business of ripping you off. Vintage Modern, though, is one of those rare finds where the hardcore collector or connoisseur can find loads of 20th-century collectibles at 19th-century prices. Here you'll rediscover old plastic, geometrical lamps, shag rugs, luggage sets, and those heavy but colorful dial phones that make great one-of-a-kind gifts. Down in the basement, you can spend hours admiring '50s-, '60s-, and '70s-era couches, end tables, and other hidden treasures just begging you to take them home.

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