There's nothing like the rattle and whistle of a model train wending its way round the tree on Christmas morning to beckon the child within, and Chan's is the place to start laying the track. The store's narrow confines are packed top to bottom with all manner of railway paraphernalia: cars of great individuality; gorgeous old streamlined engines, some in the $1,000 range; a wide selection of Lionels, American Flyers, Bachmanns, and Marklins; tracks in eight gauges; turf, tunnels, trees, bridges, and buildings for landscape verisimilitude; tools, replacement parts, and balsa wood for home repair work; and books, magazines, and catalogs to keep you up on the latest toy-train developments. And if you don't want to invest in all of that track and Astroturf, there are several lovely chrome-plated wind-up trains ideal for stuffing a stocking.
2360 Fillmore (at Washington), 359-9260
There are women (and men) who salivate at the very mention of this luxurious line of soaps, lotions, shampoos, and ointments. Kiehl's cultists swear by this 152-year-old company that began as a small pharmacy in New York City. Now you can pamper your loved ones with lovely-smelling body washes, moisturizing lip balms, and light creamy conditioners. Helpful employees will assist you in putting together a great gift package larded with free samples -- whether you're spending $15 or $150.
1436 Polk (at Pine), 563-1736
Acorn's large windows are full of tempting out-of-print rarities suggesting the richness within: art books, modern firsts, popular culture. One of the best used-and-rare bookstores on the West Coast, with 125,000 hardbacks in stock, Acorn specializes in books about San Francisco and California history, literature, art and architecture, performing arts, transportation (especially railroading), and military history. You can check out their stock online (65,000 titles), but browsing the beautifully kept shelves will turn up serendipitous finds, such as vintage children's books, luridly covered paperbacks, and other interesting ephemera. Prices range from a couple of bucks for a used paperback to $2,250 for a rare 1881 volume of Oliver Wendell Holmes owned by Charles Wheeler (for whom UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall was named) to $7,000 for a 1931 edition of The Wind in the Willows signed by both author and illustrator.
1542 Polk (between Sacramento and California), 771-4649
Bargains abound at this cramped, cheerful cookware venue. Would you believe a cast-iron Lodge skillet for $9.50? How about a DeBuyer steel crepe pan for $13.50, or a Schott Zwiesel crystal martini glass for $5.65? Tucked here and there are beechwood rolling pins for $9.50, space age DeLonghi toasters for $58, 3-quart tins of Sagra extra-virgin olive oil for $19.50, and other happy consequences of the restaurant-surplus biz. You're bound to find a kettle, platter, apron, scale, mitt, whisk, colander, or egg timer for somebody on your list just by roaming around this treasure trove of an outlet.
Russian Hill Bookstore
2234 Polk (between Green and Vallejo), 929-0997
In addition to an eclectic, floor-to-ceiling selection of paperbacks, vintage volumes, and used coffee-table books in good condition, this friendly little shop stocks an amazing abundance of offbeat, handcrafted, and down-to-earth greeting cards for every occasion (castles, lighthouses, and sports cars are among the themed displays). A visit to the store's back nook is essential at this time of the year, when it's rechristened The Holiday Room and its walls are lined with goofy, gorgeous, hip, saucy, traditional, and ecclesiastical Christmas cards for every Yuletide temperament. Dazzling gift bags, wrapping paper and ribbon, and lots of good stocking stuffers too, including miniature books, desk calendars, and tiny make-your-own-sushi kits.
2 South Park (between Second and Third streets), 882-4929
Even with markdowns of up to 70 percent, the top-end men's and women's clothing at low-profile bargain basement Jeremy's is still pretty pricey. But for those used to paying designer prices, the place is pure heaven. Jeremy's eschews the off-price approach of stores like Marshalls and Ross, which typically buy whole lots of clothing that fails to move at department stores. Instead, Jeremy's is a repository for that one gorgeous cashmere coat with a missing button, or the silk Donna Karan dress with a rip at the waist. Not all clothing is damaged, but shoppers should look carefully before snapping up bargains from designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, and Armani. Jeremy's is an ideal place to purchase high-quality ties, sweaters, gloves, and handbags.
230 Townsend (between Third and Fourth streets), 896-1122
You'll find everything for the wannabe Djangos, Guthries, and Segovias on your shopping list at this all-encompassing gitbox shop. There are new and used guitars of every size and make -- Martins, Fontanillas, Raimundos, Plazuelos -- in a wide range of prices, from $125 for a half-size model to a gorgeous 1923 Esteso of Brazilian rosewood for $8,000. Amps, picks, metronomes, strings, cases, instructional videos, CDs by Baden Powell, Peppino de Agostino, and other icons, and 56 cartons of sheet music in several genres make fine stocking-stuffer options. The performers, composers, and educators who make up the staff know their stuff, and a variety of repairs is offered on the premises.
601 Irving (between Seventh and Eighth avenues), 242-5540When heading into Wishbone it's wise to wear earplugs -- there are an awful lot of high-pitched girlish squeals in here. This is the place to pick up gifts for the so-hip-it-hurts type who has everything, particularly if said hipster is fond of Paul Frank T-shirts and handbags, whimsically screen-printed pajamas, and ultra-adorable candles, magnets, greeting cards, jewelry, kitchenware, and stationery. Browse the toy area for retro favorites like potato guns, Etch-a-Sketch keychains, and Magic 8-Balls; head to the housewares section for charming lamps bedecked with fur, feathers, and glitter, along with vintage reproduction glassware and tableware. But be careful on your way out the door: Wishbone's cash register is a dangerous place for impulse shoppers. Who could resist tiny rubber robots with eyes and ears that pop out when you squeeze them, rhinestone-studded wrist cuffs, and old-school candy like Willy Wonka chocolate bars and Sen Sen?