christmas-shopping-in-san-francisco
Belles on Location

Visions of Barneys, Gumps and Macys Danced in their Heads

The Christmas season isn’t complete without the traditional trip for some shopping in San Francisco with my best girlfriends. It is shopping, but it’s also so much more.

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Christmas Window at Gumps

Remember when you were little, and that Christmas catalogue or the toy store’s Christmas ad came out (you know the one, with more than 20 pages of toys)?

Did you circle everything you wanted and dog-eared your favorite pages for Santa, like I did? Imagine doing that now, in person.

That’s what our Christmas outing in the city is like. Like children on a new playground, we wonder in amazement at everything around us.

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Entrance to Macy’s San Francisco

This shopping getaway was no different. We gazed in windows, swooned over sales racks, tried on all kinds of clothes, and mentally circled our favorites – even the ones that weren’t practical, like designer luggage. Dragging that designer set of luggage around the cobblestone streets of Europe is appealing in theory. Reality is a whole other story.

I can dream.

In one window, I spied five-inch red stilettos with thick suede straps that rise above the ankles. Yes, they would be a jaw-dropping addition to the little black dress I picked up for Christmas Eve – that is, if I could actually walk in them. These and more I mentally dog-eared as favorites, knowing they would never make it into Santa’s bag.

However, the black leather gloves with the furry trim were perfect, warm and on sale! I picked those up, a few gifts, several Christmas ornaments, and my friends did the same.

That’s the recipe four our Christmas shopping getaway: a dab of looking, a pinch of wishing, a drop of dreaming, and a little bit of buying.

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Christmas Decorations San Francisco

San Francisco’s Union Square is Christmas shopping central for us. The square and surrounding area, all the way down to Market Street, are decked out in red, green, gold, and glimmering lights.

A Christmas tree about ten stories high dominates Union Square. Along with the tree, the square houses an ice-skating rink and an outdoor café. Christmas carols play, and the music mingles with the laughs and shrieks of those on the ice.

Instead of skating, we watched and snacked at the outdoor café. San Francisco has all the major department stores a shopper could want and smaller boutique stores, too. After snacks, we strolled around and picked out some of our favorite windows and decorations.

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Union Square

Last year our shopping trip ended at the theater watching Wicked. This year we opted to go more casual, and went out for small bites and wine at the Press Club Wine Bar, followed up with a movie nearby.

Our evening walk back included a night stop at Union Square, all aglow. The lights twinkled against the night’s backdrop. Whoever thought up the words “merry and bright” got it right.
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Macy’s theme is “Believe.” Some of their windows tell the story, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. You can visit Santa at Holiday Lane. For every letter written to Santa and put in their mailbox, Macy’s will give $1 to the Make a Wish foundation.

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Barneys has caricatures of famous chefs in their window to celebrate a “Foodie Holiday”

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Christmas Tree under the Dome at Neiman Marcus

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Tiffany’s window theme was a fairy tale in Tiffany blue, white and diamonds. The story went as fairy tales do. In the end, the princess kissed the frog (in this story it’s a blue dove).

He turned into a prince, her one true love. They lived happily ever after. The girl gets the guy and the diamond ring from Tiffany’s.

Like the story in the window, our getaway left us with the same feelings of hope and joy; believing everything is possible.

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Getting there and other information:

San Francisco’s Union Square is an easy train ride from the San Francisco or Oakland airports. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the area’s train service.  From the Oakland airport, you will take a BART shuttle bus to the Oakland Coliseum train station.  Exit at the Powell Street station.

Where we stayed:
Sir Francis Drake Hotel, one block from Union Square.
Where we ate:

Perbacco – Northern Italian cuisine.  It is a short walk away but very much worth it for an authentic Italian fix.

Oriental Pearl – In Chinatown, also a short walk from Union Square, we had delicious Dim Sum.

Press Club Wine Bar – For wine and a small plates dinner before a movie.  It’s just south of Market Street.

Scala Bistro at the Sir Francis Drake was an easy lunch stop.  Top Chef fans will recognize the executive chef Jen Biesty as one of the contestants, and pastry chef Tim Nugent was a contestant on the recent Top Chef Just Desserts.

This article has 11 comments

  1. Corinne @ Gourmantic

    I was going to say that the US does holidays very well (Mr G lived in the US for 6 years) but when I saw the foodie sign, I was rapt! We don’t even come close in Sydney when it comes to decorations.

  2. Cailin

    Great post! Lovely photos.
    San Francisco is on my list of places I must visit.

  3. Paula Aiello

    It was fun to go on this vicarious trip with you [btw, I love the comment about the stilettos – I know that feeling 🙂 ] Not being much of a shopper myself, I don’t do the downtown trip any more, though I did in my younger days. A trip to “see the store windows” used to be a regular affair. The Tiffany’s window harkens back to that experience for sure.

    It’s long been said that SF is one of the most European cities in the US. I know I love the smallness of it and the neighborhoods (though those are another story). The photo of the tree reminds me that Neiman Marcus was “City of Paris” for decades …

  4. Food Lover Kathy

    Corinne – I was loving the Foodie Holiday theme, too. They had caricatures of many of the celebrity chefs, mainly from the US.

  5. Food Lover Kathy

    Cailin – Thank you very much for the kind comment. Yes, visit, and let me know when you come.

  6. Tuula

    How fun! I love girlfriend getaways & especially combined with shopping – can’t go wrong! And must say I’m really impressed with the Christmas decorations in San Francisco…can really feel the spirit of the season in your photos! Plus, would just love to go ice skating in Union Square, *sigh*.
    Mentally dog-earing SF as a must return-to travel destination 🙂

  7. Zablon Mukuba

    am loving your pre christmas ceremony

  8. Food Lover Kathy

    Paula – You’re right about the European feel to San Francisco. We took the train BART in and walked everywhere easily. Glad you could shop or window shop vicariously with me.

  9. Janet Bowen

    When I was a small girl it was a ritual to get dressed up, go downtown (SF) the day after Thanksgiving to see the department store windows, the tree at City of Paris (the rotunda/tree now reside at Nieman-Marcus) and go on the rides on the roof of the Emporium. Don’t forget the wonderful chestnut vendors on the corners and the music of the cable car bells mingling with the bells of the Salvation Army (the red kettle tradition originated in SF!!!) My grandmother would usually buy a gardenia corsage from one of the street florists. San Francisco is magical any time of the year – but especially at Christmas. Book a trip, you’ll be so happy you did!

  10. Kathryn Schipper

    What a lovely article! Now I’m ready to jump on a plane for San Francisco!

  11. Margo Millure

    what a great memory. So sorry I am just now reading this…. Thanks Janet!

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