“Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life” – Plan to gather your tribe at the corner of Waller and Central where this very saying is posted on the front lawn. This will be our mantra as we journey into the land where anything goes.
To achieve the correct mind set requires a trip to Coffee to the People, Load up on finely roasted fair trade beans or iced chai, sit back and take in the 60s inspired artwork and locals camping out with their laptops, courtesy of the free wi-fi.
Patchouli Oil and Incense
Now that our minds are open, peek into the exotic indian print drapes of The Love of Ganesha and have your mind blown by floor to ceiling colorful fabrics, metal bead, bells and shell encrusted belly dancing bras, as well as everything you would need for your weekend at the ashram. Be greeted by the smiling woman of southeast asian descent who busy themselves maintaining the central shrine. On my visit the cashier was stapling dollar bills to sticks, placing them in the “money tree”, donations for the Aloka Vihara Buddhist nun’s monastery on 48th avenue. Tea and snacks are gracefully offered. If so moved, take off your shoes and spend a while in the back meditation room.
Dream Catchers, an American Indian tradition appropriated by the New Age, hang from the ceiling. Every one is unique, hand made by women in Thailand. The weavings are created while meditating in a temple over 11 days. For twelve dollars you can have this officially blessed ornament for your home.
Get the Right Look
The well dressed modern Flower Child needs to pick up a tee. Choose from your favorite tie dye, Bob Marley, Grateful Dead or Jimi Hendrix apparel at Positively Haight.
On to Shoe Heaven
I should warn those of you addicted to the au courant heel, platform & no animals harmed faux leather that you have found your wonderland. One of many emporiums to style your feet dotting Haight is Shoe Biz.
An architectural standout in the rows of Victorians, this modern structure with a glass elevator brings you up and down the trend wheel. Clarks, Timberland, Converse, Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Puma, Supra Pilot, Michael Kors, Jeffrey Campbell, Ugg, even art for sale.
Across the street is Shoe Biz II – Dinosaur Shoe Pit. A great big green plastic dinosaur sits outside. Remember i mentioned hip hop? It’s very loud and it’s coming from the live DJ. Besides the Clarks, Vans, Converse, and Puma creations there are custom drawings along the wall and an awesome giant white shoe monster sculpture by an artist known as Dia.
Top It All Off with a Unique Hat
Goorin is simply the best hat store for men and women i’ve every seen. A mini chain in California, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon & Canada, they’ve been creating the perfect chapeau since 1895. The ambience is old world hat shop meets modern hipster. Bet you can’t buy just one. Pick up a Goorin card which entitles you to one free hat after you’ve purchased ten. Ten Ballcaps, cadets, fedoras, flatcaps, knits, and styles that defy categorization, many designed by local artists. They ship so buy some gift cards.
Piedmont has nothing you need and everything you can’t live without. If you’re looking for something showy and sparkly for a formal event or your next costume for whatever reason, this is the place. If you can’t find that glow stick necklace, blue wig or sequin leggings anywhere else, Piedmont is your savior. Tip for locals and tourists: many downtown hotels, including the Hilton, have Piedmont coupons to lure you out of Union Square.
Any item of clothing in the store can be custom made for you in the fabric of your choice. As their website aptly proclaims, “We Hit the Internet with a Glam Slam.” You can order your over-the-top necessity from the comfort of home, but I recommend you enjoy your retail entertainment in person.
Clothing You can Wear to Work
Ambiance has become a fixture in the magnet retail strips in Noe Valley and the Marina, but the original is at 1458 Haight. Under the signature black and white canapy is a carefully curated selection of dresses, coats, shoes and jewelry that look indy yet sport a myriad collection of high end labels. Free People, Mac & Jac, Diane von Furstenberg, BB Dakota, and Zazoe to name a few. Local Tip: get on their mailing list asap. Ambiance has a sale going every month and if you follow their Facebook page you might pick up tickets to a free film screening and other goodies. Don’t worry if you forgot your flyer as the salespeople will happily look you up in their database. Remember, there’s always something on sale.
Haight-Ashbury Ice Cream Stop
Now that you have your complete outfit, go pose for your photo in front of Ben & Jerrys ice cream oasis. It’s no accident that Ben and his partner chose the corner of Haight and Ashbury to set up shop. Where else could you pick up nut and gluten free ice cream cakes or stand in line forever just for a scoop of Cherry Garcia. Activism is written into their home page menu. The citie’s Haight Ashbury street sign on the corner mysteriously disappeared, replaced by an identical sign attached to the store’s entrance. This guarantees product placement in your tourist pic. Remember, you stand on hallowed ground. When Jerry Garcia passed this is the corner everyone chose to set up their memorial shrine and sit for a while to take in the Grateful Dead music from someone’s ipod. On any given Saturday afternoon you might find two hippies on a stick (stilts) , posing in front of the shop with you, sporting their best Flower Power peace signs.
Japanese Inspired Gifts
Further down Haight we finally get a glimpse of the future, at Kid Robot, a future where every item looks like it was made in Japan but was most likely designed by a local artist. Call them toys, but they’re only for the hippest of toddlers. The average shopper here appears to be in their late teens to early twenties. Like the Hello Kitty craze currently in progress, you don’t have to be under three feet tall to want to collect everything in the store.
Join the DIY Movement
Do It Yourself folks can find enough project materials at Mendels Far Out Fabric.
This is your one stop Burning Man fashion supply store. Buy five or more yards of one fake fur and receive 20% off.
It might take you two hours to reach the back room fabric section as you consider what you could do with mod podge, buttons, notions, ribbons, wrap paper, jewelry findings, colorful pens, stationary, mask and mold making supplies and collectible Haight Street Fair posters. Buy enough stuff and you’ll be rewarded with your choice of Mendels recycle bags.
Fix Your Shoes
Remember when people fixed their good shoes instead of buying the trend of the week? Now you can have it both ways. Bring in your crazy red suede Jeffrey Campbell platforms and have Haight Street Shoe Repair make them more comfortable for you. Replace the leather soles with cushy rubber, stretch out the toe box, fix that broken heel or revive your favorite old cowboy boots. Carlos will take care of you and send you off with a cheery adios. Don’t forget to fix your old purses and jackets too. I’ve yet to figure out his pricing system which seems to vary depending on the quality and price of your shoes.
Once again down memory lane I am reminded of the time each neighborhood had their own independent book store. The Bookstore http://booksmith.com is one such survivor. In 2007 Christin Evans and Praveen Madan bought the bookstore from founder Gary Frank. They continue the tradition of serving the local community with author readings, local zines, cards, gifts, newspapers benefits, numerous book groups, and uh lot’s of books.
By now you must be starving. Taqueria Balazo to the rescue. Owner Marino Sandoval proudly opened his first burrito palace in SF in 1993. In the spirit of community El Balazo contributes to auctions, fundraisers, charities and provides fresh food from 6am to midnight. We’re talking 4,000 customers per day! One look at the interior and you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. The entire balcony area, stairs, handrails, floor, everything is covered in hand hammered copper sheets. Antoni Gaudi meets Frida Kahlo. I recommend the Jerry’s Burrito with tender cactus, mexican goat cheese, rice, beans and salsa with a side of fresh guacamole, home made chips and fruit drinks. Take your spinach, tomato or corn tortilla over to the free salsa bar and choose your spice level.
Wasteland buys and sells vintage lines and any trend considered in vogue. I spied a couple of Australian designers and some African inspired patterns. They will even come to your home or business if you have a large collection to sell. You might find a Chanel suit next to a leather with studs sporting model displaying the Evil Twin label. Tres chic with an edge.
Even More Shoes
Remember the name Villains. Their cache of casual fashion forward designs are hoard worthy. They now have three store fronts on the same block. Number one store has self proclaimed killer fashion for men and women. Footgear and accessories too. Villains Vault has shoes. Villains Shoes has, well, more shoes. Anything you find here will up your cool factor several degrees.
By now you probably need more money. Wells Fargo Bank has erected a glass encased safety hut with two cash machines inside. Good place to consult your map or count your money without looking over your shoulder.
At last we are almost at the panhandle, time to cross the street to Amoeba Music – The World’s Largest Independent Record Store. Now i know why every guy on the street is carrying one of their bags. This emporium of sound culture is as big as a bowling alley. In fact it used to be a bowling alley. Smack in the middle of the lobby is an information booth pointing you towards dvds, cds, vinyl, music, films, jazz, rock, house pop, dance, electronic and probably Laurence Welk in there somewhere. Buy four movies on any format and get the fifth for free. There is an entire section devoted to used and new video games. Amoeba knows your score.
Watch a Film
Another independent hold out is the Red Vic Movie House. Cinema fans will revel in the calendar lineup which changes flicks about three times a week. The Vic is worker owned and operated since 1980. Come on a tuesday night when every feature can be viewed for the bargain matinee price of seven dollars. Once inside, settle into the well worn sofas and pass the bowl of popcorn. Happy 30th anniversary Red Vic.
Perhaps it’s time for a gourmet appetizer and a fermented beverage. The Alembic Bar sports an old fashioned bar with a shrine to fine bourbon and whiskey. I lost count at 70 on the menu board. I think they were one of the first to offer Peruvian pisco sours. The food is not your typical friend dough balls with cheese that bars make to keep you from passing out while drinking. This establishment sports an impressive array of snacks. Order a little of everything and stay for dinner. One of the specialties of the house is their pork belly sliders, pastrami pork ribs and little gems salad. Make room for the caramelized brioche with white peach and creme fraiche.
Go Vintage Mode
Sooner or later you’ll be invited to a formal event and get the urge to go vintage. You know, the time when people really knew how to dress. La Rosa gets it. There’s formal wear from the 40s and 50s for men and woman. Fine wedding gowns, pointy shoes, veiled hats, pocket watches, acrylic purses and an amazing, considering the location, collection of real fur.
Regardless of which form of retail entertainment you enjoy, the Upper Haight is about the people. I’ve never seen so much immitation fur outside of Burning Man. And now i know you can pierce just about any body part multiple times. There’s no fashion victims walking around here, everyone seems to have their own personal muse. I recommend doing the complete loop of Haight Street, right back to Coffee to the People, get something to go and sit in Buena Vista Park to reminisce on your day of time traveling.
Street parking is difficult on weekends, Amoeba Music offers free parking at the Kezar lot for one hour validation with purchase. Muni routes 33, 37, 43, 71, N Judah.