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Best Boutique Shopping San Francisco 2004 -

Union Street

We know that our city is a regular shoppers' mecca, filled with options. Of course there's Union Square, if your choice is to go elbow to elbow with the tourist and society set. And there are great vintage finds on Valencia Street and in the Haight. But for flat-out excellent boutique shopping, no street in the city packs them in like Union does. Along the six-block stretch from Franklin to Fillmore, there are more than 30 stores to choose from. It was hard to narrow the best of them down to four, but here are our recommendations:

Cara Mia

1814 Union (at Octavia), 922-2272, www.caramiastores.com

Do you ever get the feeling, on entering a boutique, that you're somehow invading the shopkeeper's space? This will never happen at Cara Mia, where the draw is Joseph, perhaps the most helpful sales manager in town. He'll guide you to your shopping needs with infectious enthusiasm, and Cara Mia stocks an impressive collection of those needs: Marc by Marc Jacobs, D&G, and an antique dresser stuffed full with Cosabella thongs in every imaginable color and style. Unlike other boutiques, Cara Mia also carries wool, cashmere, and leather jackets year-round (by the likes of Andrew Marc and Max Mara), which is great for our dealing with our chilly summers, and for the frequent traveler.

Rin

2111 Union (at Webster), 922-8040, www.sfmerchants.com/cowhollow/rin/1.htm

Rin carries our favorite James Perse tees and the most amazingly well-fitting trousers by Ya-Ya, plus a few pieces we haven't seen in other shops, including the beautifully tailored blouses of Louis Verdad. Open for two years now and run by Rin herself, this boutique is sleek and minimalist -- and a true fashion girl's favorite. Ask Rin to help you pull an outfit together; she knows the fit/history/quality of every vendor she stocks.

Abigail Morgan

1640 Union (near Gough), 567-1779, www.abigailmorgan.com

When Abigail Morgan opened shop a year ago, she paved the way for women's boutique shopping on Union east of Gough (My Roommate's Closet followed suit; see below). Set in a four-room Edwardian, the store is comfy and decidedly San Franciscan. The main room is beautifully color-merchandised into groups of oranges, blues, greens, and pinks -- which is easy on the eye and helps if you're coordinating outfits. An ample collection of the wardrobe-staple cotton T-shirts by Splendid ($40, assorted colors) is available; we also like the polka-dot tube top by Notice ($115), nestled in the pinks. Abigail Morgan stocks wonderful gift items such as slippers, yoga bags, baby socks, and -- for women who want a little oomph, without the surgery -- Take Outs (the "better boob job"; $45), conveniently packaged in a rice box to go.

My Roommate's Closet

1612 Union (at Gough), 776-7800

Co-proprietor Cate Corfman used to joke that she could start a business by charging her roommates each time they wanted to borrow something from her wardrobe. Well, the business has become a reality, but it's not quite what you think. After befriending a couple of boutique owners, Corfman and the other proprietor, Suzanne Peterson, discovered their niche: off-price clothing. Not to be confused with those at a consignment shop, the designer clothes sold at My Roommate's Closet have never been worn; they're simply the overbuys and the random sizes purchased at discount from high-end boutiques in the Bay Area and Southern California. The clothes at this fantastic boutique (or boutique outlet, as the proprietors like it to be called) are 50 to 60 percent off original prices, and the stock includes Alice and Olivia, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor, Tocca, Development, AG Jeans, and then some.

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