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Holiday Gift Guide 

Tasteful Gifts

Bottoms Up!

When it comes to holiday gifting, booze is a sure crowd pleaser. Sure, beer, wine and champagne will make most mouths smile, but for something a little more sophisticated, give Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sherry, also called "PX" for short. It's rich and viscous like chocolate sauce and is a super-sensual ice cream topping or a decadent sipping spirit on its own. And unlike wine, PX keeps for weeks and months after opening -- a gift that keeps on giving that warm and fuzzy feeling. - CP
$14 at San Francisco Wine Trading Co., 250 Taraval St.; 731-6222, (overnight shipping is available).

CCSF Cooking Classes

If you don't think that signing up for a class at City College says "Happy Holidays" with quite the same charm as clinking glasses of eggnog or smooching under the mistletoe, you're probably not alone. Nonetheless, some of the school's affordable, well-taught Continuing Education classes make great gifts and just might instill a bit more wintertime cheer than many of our more common affectations (panhandling Santas and glowing plastic reindeer come instantly to mind). For example, at the school's cooking workshops professional chefs moonlight to share the tricks of their trade for everything from pommes dauphinoise to pho to jelly-filled donuts. The classes are cheap ($45 for one session or $120 for three), and promise to turn even the biggest culinary bumbler into Thomas Keller for a night. - MN
Call the Continuing Education Department at 561-1860 for more information.

A Foodie's Dream

When only the very best will do, Planet Organics is just a call away for fresh, healthful, organic home grocery deliveries. Luscious weekly deliveries are fully customizable, vegetarian- or carnivore-friendly, and feature locally farmed foods whenever possible, including Niman Ranch meats, Organic Wine Company wines, Clover Stornetta organic milk, and Petaluma Poultry organic chicken. Yum. Door-to-door delivery is a great gift for your employees (snacks make people happy), the health-conscious family with too little time to shop, or your budding foodie friends. - CP
Starting $28. Call (800) 956-5855 or check out

G Collection Godiva Chocolates

Even the crème de la crème needs an image overhaul from time to time. Staying rich, delicious, and easy on the eyes is hardly an easy task. Well, the gilded goddess of chocolate got a major makeover and she's now sitting ever so chic and pretty in her sleek lime green-and-cocoa packaging. Godiva's sophisticated new look, The G Collection, is the perfect one-size-fits-all holiday gift. The new look is luxe and the flavors are nothing short of epicurean eroticism -- key lime pie, Vermont maple walnut, peanut butter and jam, salted caramel, Tasmanian honey, and passion orange to name a few. If you really want to splurge, a keepsake rare East African wenge wood box featuring 30 delectable pieces retails for $350. - CP
$75 for 30-piece assortment; available at Godiva Boutiques, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus, www.godiva. com.

Glorious Cheese

Can't tell the difference between Cheez Whiz and chèvre? Enroll yourself and a friend in cheese-tasting classes at Leonard's 2001 specialty foods store, where you'll learn about the history of cheese-making, compare up to 60 different cheeses, and vow never to eat parmesan out of a green cardboard cylinder again. The classes are led by lifelong turophile Judy Creighton, former owner of the 6th Avenue Cheese Shop and Creighton's Cheeses and Fine Foods, and feature everything from classics such as Reggiano and cheddar to exotics like sheep's milk and washed-rind cheeses. The basic series takes place over three consecutive Tuesdays in January and costs $100/person; country-specific classes at $45 a pop are offered once a month from February through May. - MN
Call 921-2001 to enroll or purchase a gift certificate.

Instant Hostess Gift

Unless you've got a plan, shopping at the Ferry Building Marketplace can be overwhelming. Here's your plan: Plow through the crowds until you get to Capay Fruits & Vegetables. Out front is an old ice-cream cart. Someone will reach in and pull out a sample of what's inside, which is toffee, but not ordinary toffee. This is Trinity O's organic fruit-flavored toffee, spiked with lemon, lime, orange, mint, and black cherry flavors. And it's delicious. Buy some in a stylishly wrapped box and you've got a holiday house-warming gift that cannot be beat. - ML
$12.95-$21.95, at the Capay Fruits & Vegetables stall in the Ferry Building, 391-2223, or visit

Rushburn Toffee

Stephanie Rush has a big secret: It's her grandmother's remarkable recipe for English toffee. And she's not telling anyone. After all, Grandma Burns kept a tight lip on "The Toffee Recipe" for nearly 25 years, teaching her process only to Stephanie's aunt just one year prior to her death. A smart lady who recognized a fellow sweet tooth hound in Stephanie, that aunt passed the highly coveted recipe onto her. And although Stephanie isn't about to give up the goods on the "Recipe," you can get your hands on her goods in the form of buttery, chocolate-laced goodness in three delicious varieties -- English toffee with almonds, espresso toffee with almonds, and milk and dark chocolate toffee clusters -- that she whips up in the comfort of her Mission-District kitchen. Order online or give her a ring--I promise that after one crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth bite, you'll be hooked. - CP
$8.50-$26.00; 647-7902 or

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Life just wouldn't be complete without beer and chocolate. OK, and sex. But two out of three --in one tasty beverage ... a perfect coupling, if you will -- isn't bad. Samuel Adams teamed up with Bay Area-based Scharffen Berger Chocolate to make their limited edition Chocolate Bock. This full-bodied brew is perfectly packaged for impromptu gift-giving in a 750 ml amber bottle complete with classy cast-pewter label. Slightly chilled, it can fly solo as a velvety good dessert or can also be paired with festive holiday feasts. Stock up on several bottles--it's priced right for hostess gifts, Secret Santa presents, or for grown-up stocking stuffers. - CP
$14.99 for 750 ml bottle; available through January where Samuel Adams is sold, www.

Wine Boot Camp

There's nothing like cupping your hand around a red wine glass and sipping the sensual elixir enclosed with fine company and fat-laden hors d'oeuvres. But, once the conversation turns to the characteristics of chocolate in a merlot or the hints of honey in a chardonnay (as it inevitably does), many know-it-all mouths are sealed. Luckily for the untrained palette, Sonoma County-based Affairs of the Vine offers one-day Wine Boot Camp training programs throughout California's wine regions that "will challenge your senses and heighten your awareness and understanding of fine wines." A recent Boot Camp included a vineyard and winery tour at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, an aromatic workshop, a visit to boutique winery Tantalus, hands-on winemaking at Benziger Family Winery, a perfectly wine-paired dinner, and a rather tipsy graduation ceremony. - CP
$375 per person; (707) 874-1975 or see

Gifts He Wants

Mt. Everest Collection

How many guys know that an Indian motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen is parked in a skincare shop on Fillmore? More than you think, because Kiehl's knows how to cater to men. First, there's the bike, which makes us stick around the wall of lotions for more than three seconds. Then there are the products themselves, particularly the "Mt. Everest Collection," a line of moisturizers, toners, cleansers, and oils that Sir Edmund Hillary's descendants lugged up the mountain in '88. The store and packaging are apothecary-retro, which appeals to our down-to-business approach to grooming, and we're suckers for old-school shave cream. Let the clerks mix up a special box of goods, and load up on free samples for yourself. - ML
$27-$68 at Kiehl's, 2360 Fillmore St., 359-9260.

Russell Racing School

Tell your husband he's getting a day trip to Sonoma, and watch the forced smile. Then let it drop that he'll be driving a car shaped like a bullet around a NASCAR racetrack, and you'll see what kind of child he was. The Russell Racing School at the Infineon Raceway puts drivers behind the wheel of a formula race car for half- and full-day classes. Lessons include hauling ass around the twisting two-mile course, razor-sharp cornering, and accelerating down the stretches. Prices run from $525 to $995 and a $1,499 spa package includes a night at the Lodge in Sonoma with dinner, wine, and two spa treatments. And for those with a Porsche in the garage, quality time whipping around the course in their very own vehicle is the best gift of all. A day on the asphalt costs $795 for drivers with sports cars less than ten years old, and lunch at the Viansa Winery is on Russell. - ML
Located at the Infineon Raceway, 29355 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. Call 800-733-0345 or visit

World Cruise

A nice ocean voyage to some warmer climate or another is especially welcome 'round about Solstice time, but cruise ships are so ... frilly. For a truly rustic seafaring adventure, pack your favorite Popeye off on a nice long freighter voyage. When he isn't checking out the behind-the-scenes operations of a working containership, there are lovely, lazy days and nights of dazzling constellations, bountiful food, an unending expanse of briny seas only occasionally disturbed by the errant dolphin, and the tranquil sort of solitude you can't attain on a relentlessly merry Love Boat. Freighters leave San Francisco and Oakland for ports untold on a regular basis, and you just might find yourself on the Columbus Line's 46-day round-trip transpacific run, reveling in the salty vastness, checking out Auckland and Melbourne, and coming home the old-fashioned way: beneath the towering spires of the Golden Gate Bridge. - MS
Prices vary; call Freighter World Cruises, (800) 531-7774.

Gifts She Wants

Artisan Handbags

San Francisco native and current Lafayette resident Mary Frances earned a fast following when she debuted her artisan handbags and accessories at East Bay boutiques more than a decade ago. The whimsical wonders are frilly, fun, and absolutely opulent. Made with luxe fabrics with intricate beadwork, trims, and dazzling stones, her highly coveted bags are creative works of art. And with names like "Rambunctious," "Ecstatic," "Unruly," and "Wild Thing," they're the perfect gift for the girl who takes her accessories seriously. - CP
Collection is priced $100-$250 and available at East Bay retailers Belinda M Designs, 1372 N. Main St. No. 100, Walnut Creek, (925) 935-3875; Macy's, Walnut Creek, (925) 279-3333; (800) 616-7776 or

DesignerHair Accessories

L.A.'s Fashion Institute grad and Bay Area resident Renee Rivera makes gorgeous, haute couture hair accessories. "I could never find anything sophisticated and well-made to keep my long hair out of my face," says crafty girl Rivera. Now the problem is solved, and oh-so-stylishly. Within a year of debuting her feathered headbands, Swarovski crystal-studded pieces, luscious silk-wrapped clamps, and leather and mink ponytail holders, Rivera's products were selling out at Nordstrom. Well-heeled women have Jimmy. Fashionistas have Marc. Coif queens have Renee. - CP
Prices vary; available at Jest Jewels, 1869 Union Street, and Mill Valley Hat Box, 118 Throckmorton, Mill Valley, or call (800) 797-7786.

Gold Bag

The chic Kooba Camden Gold Bag is the perfect present for anyone who is a slave to InStyle magazine. With glitz being so very "in" this season -- from makeup to accessories -- a girl can really never have too much gold. The design is very Marc Jacobs-like but costs a fraction of Marc's pricey pieces, and Kooba's glam-girl fan base includes Gap girl Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Holmes, and Ben's new beau, Jennifer Garner. - CP
$245 at Margaret O'Leary, 2400 Fillmore St., 771-9982.

Happy Feet

Is it possible for shoes, slippers, and boots to be fun, sexy, and comfortable? You bet your booties if they come from Bonjour Fleurette, a unique Bay Area fashion footwear company. Last spring, Oprah flipped over their Spa Fleur sandals on her "favorite things" special, and Charlotte kicked up her Bonjour Fleurette flower-slippered heels on "Sex and the City." Now, just in time for the chilly fall months, Bonjour Fleurette has just released "Budeez" and "Toesteez," impossibly hip, impossibly comfortable lightweight and versatile boots with soft suede and plush faux fur lining in right-on colors, with luxurious embellishments and trademark floral flourishes. Looking for something to get your feet in a holiday mood? Try the St. Nic red or black velvet slipper with white faux fur across the toe ... like a Santa hat! Slip these under the tree and make someone (and their feet) very happy! - JLM
$30-$165. Bonjour Fleurette's products can be found at over 1,200 boutiques, retailers, and catalogs nationwide. Visit to order or find retail locations near you.

Lip Color Palette

Every "it" girl on your list needs Stila's Caught Canoodling lip palette to keep lips pucker-ready. From the Starlets Holiday 2004 collection, this sleek little kit o' color features six brand-new, limited-edition shimmery lip colors. If you've been paying close attention to the red carpet and silver screen, you'll know that shimmer is the latest thing to hit makeup since frosty blue came back into vogue. So plant your fabulously festive self under the mistletoe and swap some spit. This holiday season, you will be nothing less than a shining star. - CP
$30 at Sephora, 2083 Union St. or 33 Powell St., and Nordstrom, 865 Market St.; www.

Lip Lust

Girls in the know l-u-v Lola (short for Lust Often Love Always). The cosmetic line's lipsticks have garnered a celebrity following -- Naomi Campbell, James King, Jennifer Tilly, and Amy Smart are reportedly fans. Lola's über-girly red and black packaging makes every item perfectly festive -- just add a bow and get ready to gift. And Lola's seductively scented signature red Burn Baby Burn Candle is sure to heat up the holidays from the boudoir to the bubble bath. Housed in a sleek glass container with Lola's mantra and logo, the long-lasting bergamot-, currant-, and mandarin-scented candle casts a beautiful racy red glow. - CP
$45 at Sephora, 2083 Union St. or 33 Powell St.; Check out or

Nipple Balm

Saucy lingerie label Agent Provocateur likes to stir things up. With their voyeuristic Web site and a recent ad-friendly remake of Joy Division's classic "She's Lost Control" (a forthcoming video will feature a barely-dressed dominatrix bossing around a George Bush look-alike), the U.K.-based cult fave knows how nice naughtiness can be. Justin has reportedly snapped up scanties at the L.A. boutique for Cameron, but this über-trendy line isn't just for celebs. This holiday season, stuff the stocking of your sassiest gal pal with Titillation. It's a duo of lip balm and nipple balm -- yep, lotion for your best friends -- each in its own sleek, black case, but packaged together in the brand's traditional black and pink Agent Provocateur colors. So damn sexy. - CP

"Sexy Girls " Gift Set

It isn't chicken, but pop diva Jessica Simpson's "Sexy Girls Have Taste" gift set sure is finger-lickin' good. Products from her "Dessert" and "Taste" lines of edible body products are decadently flavored for head-to-toe kissable, lickable fun -- all calorie-free, of course. Flavored with warm Tahitian vanilla, luscious white chocolate, coconut cream, apricot, and honey, this super-girlie gift set includes 1.7 oz of Kissable Fragrance and Powdered Sugar Kissable Body Shimmer packaged in a sexy, pink box. Great for every glamour girl on your shopping list. Even David Letterman fell for the tasty Dessert line -- for a Stupid Human Trick earlier this year, the venerable comedian sampled some of La Simpson's beauty products ... and liked 'em. - CP
$64 at Sephora, 33 Powell St. (362-9360) or 2083 Union St. (614-2704), www.seph

Vibrator Travel Kit

Some people rely on a few cocktails to soar through the friendly skies. Others pop an Ambien and snooze the trip away. Then there are those intrepid travelers who choose to make some turbulence of their own. Meow. For the naughtiest girls on your holiday shopping list, pick up the sky's sexy secret weapon -- the stylish Mile High Kit. It's portable and discreet and can easily slip past security. The purse-sized Mini Kit contains a vibrating massager, lubricant, condoms, and a mirror. The full-sized kit adds a blindfold, massage oil, and feather tickler. - CP
Mile High Mini Kit, $24.95 or the Mile High Kit, $54.95. Available at naughty San Francisco site

Wrap Her Up

If you're looking for a cozy and stylish wrap for that special someone, Dilara may be your best bet. They have all sorts of wraps, scarves, and shawls that are personally selected for their quality and artistry, including cashmere/silk blend shawls, silk paisley shawls, designer jamawar wool shawls, silk shawls, and burnout velvet scarves. With the endless options of color, detail and fabric, it's easy to select the perfect one. From flirty fringe to bold brocade, it's all Dilara. - JLM
Prices vary, call for locations 602-5496.

Gifts For Any Budget

Exchange Stuff

You don't need cash to get into the holiday spirit at Buffalo Exchange! Instead, trade in those duds you haven't worn for months and emerge with brandnew gifts! And Buffalo Exchange gift certificates are always the right size. The cornucopia of brand-new Buffalo Exchange merch just waiting for you includes:

Decadent candles poured in Asian-inspired glass votives and scented with the likes of warm sake, umoboshi plum, and wasabi pear (under $20)
Pop-culture-inspired car air fresheners from Loop (under $5)
Painted bead curtains ($15-$60) and Asian-motif tapestries and curtains (under $25)
Lapel pins from Portland artist Rachel Starkweather made of vintage schoolbooks and cutesy characters (under $2)

For the aspiring bartender on your list: cocktail and party books ($10-20), retro glassware (sets under $20, singles under $5), swizzle sticks (sets $10 & under), and metallic martini shakers (about $5)
Shower mats shaped like steaks (under $15)
Plush tissue box covers ($10-$20), including a skunk with tissues coming from his ... um ... rear. - JLM
For local store locations, phone numbers, and hours, visit Please call stores to confirm pricing and availability.

Half-Priced Gifts

Some of the best bargains in town can be found at One Half, a treasure trove of a gift shop in Polk Gulch. As its name indicates, everything on the premises has been reduced in price to one-half its retail value, but the merchandise isn't decrepit or irregular or even second-rate. Luxury bath items, coffee table books, up-to-date Zagats, elegant barware, CDs, greeting cards, and classy little stocking stuffers are among the widely eclectic offerings, and the turnover is continual, so you never know what you might find. Browse the packed-yet-neatly-organized shelves and tables and you're bound to come across something for just about everyone on your list. - MS
1837 Polk (at Jackson), 775-1416

Home Bakery

Winter is that genetically encoded time of year when we lumber into the cave, rub two sticks together, and nest -- even here in San Francisco, where snow is a distant rumor and the wind chill factor is pretty much identical to the Fourth of July's. During these bone-chilling 57-degree mornings, it's nice to awaken to the warm 'n' cozy aroma of baking bread. Williams-Sonoma's premium breadmaker is simplicity itself: you throw in the ingredients, set the timer for the wakeup call of your choice, and the next morning you'll think the Pillsbury Doughboy has dropped in for a visit. The included recipe booklet offers a variety of spicy and savory bread-baking options - the ideal gift for the leisure-living gourmand. - MS
$150; 340 Post (at Stockton), 362-9450,

Panettone of Perfection

One of the banes of the holiday season is fruitcake, that dense, heavy, sickly sweet excuse for a hostess gift that's only barely redeemed by its alcoholic content. Revolutionize your Christmas by bestowing in its place an exquisite panettone, a contrastingly light and lovely example of the bread baker's art. A bare minimum of candied fruit is sprinkled into a rich, yeasty dough that rises and billows out of its traditional paper girdle as it bakes. Sliced, toasted, and spread with butter, with a wedge of sharp cheese on the side, it's an absolutely ambrosial breakfast-time treat. - MS
For local store locations, phone numbers, $6; Boudin Bakery, 156 Jefferson (at Taylor), 928-1849,

Personal Barista

The beans have been ground, the water heated, the coffee brewed, and the results are in. Coffee lovers all over are dishing the tea on what could be the greatest home-brewed coffee gift ever. Starbucks definitely strikes gold with their latest Barista Digital Italia espresso machine, and macchiato-drinking fans adore them for it. As any true coffee connoisseur would know, if you build a better brewer, the world will beat a caffeinated path to your door. - AG
$900, available at Starbucks,

Stuff for Stockings

The stocking stuffer is a conundrum unto itself: while it has to fit into your basic scarlet size-14 double-wide, in content it must surprise and delight beyond its minimalist proportions. Solution: those whimsical yet utilitarian 4" x 3" x 1" do-it-yourself box kits that contain everything you need to do just about anything. Our favorites include the Hula Dancing box (lei, finger cymbals, instructional booklet, and a flower for tucking behind your ear); the Tea for Two box (two miniature tea balls, saucer, honey dripper, and recipe book); the Black Velvet box (paints, three tiny black velvet canvases, and a step-by-step guide to drawing a bullfighter); and the Office Voodoo box (doll, pins, and booklet of workplace-appropriate curses). - SC
$6 each; available at Russian Hill Bookstore, 2234 Polk (at Green), 929-0997.

"Must Give" Gifts

Holiday Candle Set

From the Italian city that introduced to the world to Verdi, Correggio, and kick-ass pork product prosciutto, comes another gem, the Holiday Candle Set -- four long-burning scented candles bearing Acqua di Parma's highly recognizable classic fragrance. With a century of experience in the fragrance business and meticulous attention to detail, Acqua di Parma is timeless, stylish and sophisticated. Its complex scent of Sicilian citrus fruits and essences of lavender, rosemary, verbena, and Bulgarian roses has been noted by discriminating sniffers everywhere from L.A.'s swank Chateau Marmont Hotel to the Polo Lounge. This elegant, upscale gift set is the perfect gift for the pickiest people on your list. - CP
$85 at Neiman Marcus, 150 Stockton St., 362-3900,

Homey Pillows

Sometimes, it's the little things that can really turn a ho-hum space into a home. For example, some good, comfy pillows. Heeding the call for good living, Bay Area native Jennifer Jones launched Nichë early this year. Since then, her handcrafted decorative pillows have been flying off the shelves of S.F.'s trendiest boutiques and into the homes of decorating divas. Her fall collection is marked by retro color and fabric combinations including an earthy leaf design crafted from cotton twill, felt appliqué, and embroidery; and a shabby chic grosgrain, satin, bric-a-brac, and sequin design. Look for Nichë at the next Appel and Frank shopping event December 8 at the Regency Center ( - CP
$30-$55 at Lounge, 2162 Polk St. (563-2220); Picnic, 1808 Polk St. (346-6556); Ruby, 3602 20th St. (550-8052); or Sugar, 912 Sutter St. (409-6262);

Image Makeover

Indulge your inner diva at Burlingame's Persona Imagemakers, a unique professional photography studio-cum-beauty salon. You can select from a wide range of individual salon services including hair styling, hair color and highlights, makeup application, and airbrush tanning services or choose one of the "Transformation Packages" that include photography and a style makeover. The salon specializes in non-traditional, cutting-edge portraiture of women (and men), offering a pampered makeover and photo session that promises to enhance the subject's natural beauty and reveal a reflection of their true personality. The idea is that you (or your giftee) will leave with a new look and a new attitude to reveal to the world. - JLM
Services range from $60-$500. Persona Imagemakers, 236C Hatch Lane, Burlingame (650) 579-5665,

iPod Holder

While wrapping the sleek, futuristic sophistication of the iPod in the refined elegance of Louis Vuitton's LV monogram may sound a bit extreme, it actually provides a perfect -- albeit expensive -- gift for all of those music geeks/fashion victims on your list. The high-couture love child of Apple maven Steve Jobs and fashion guru Marc Jacobs, the Louis Vuitton iPod holder includes a grained calfskin leather lining, a hole for the headphones cable, and a belt loop in the back. But what you're really buying it for is the monogram. - SC
$210 at Louis Vuitton, 150 Stockton Street, 391-6200.

Pop-Up Wonderland

What do you get when you transpose the cut-and-paste pastiche of modern pop art and the Doctor Demento kiddie acid trip of Alice in Wonderland onto old-skool pop-up illustrated books? One truly scary children's book, apparently. The heart of this book is big-in-Japan illustrator J. Otto Seibold, whose past work includes Space Monkey; Olive, the Other Reindeer; and Penguin Dreams. Seibold's interactive, multi-dimensional collages bear a closer resemblance to Takashi Murakami than they do John Tenniel. With a large pop-up of the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar atop his mushroom, it's the sort of "children's book" that will probably appeal more to 20-something hipsters than to 4-year-old pre-schoolers -- unless they're preternaturally hip. Lewis Carroll purists beware: Seibold has sliced and diced the story to fit the format, although the story's psychedelic undercurrent remains firmly intact. - SC
$19.95 at area bookstores.

"Feel Good" Gifts

Fitness Boot Camp

We've finally found the perfect New Year pick-me-up present for those who've tried countless diet and exercise regimens (all protein, all carbs, all popcorn) and wasted thousands of dollars on gym memberships only to spend most of the time in the sauna. The OutFit Fitness Boot Camp program requires a mere five-week commitment (although drop-in classes are available) at (gasp) 5:50, 6:00, or 7:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. Yes, that's a class every weekday. And if you try to catch a few extra Z's one day, the rest of the class drops for endless push-ups while the class leader calls you at home to wake your lazy ass up. Talk about motivation. Various programs are available including prenatal and new mommy classes, mind/body combined meditation/fitness classes, and one-on-one personal training. Get up, get out, make some new friends, and feel good about your body. - CP
$230 for new students, $210 for returning students; locations around the Bay Area; call 441-4631 or see

Spa Radiance

Picture yourself on a bed of roses, dreaming sweet dreams of Denzel Washington -- or even George Washington -- while the soft, attentive hands of a massage therapist work out the knots of harsh realty. You then completely forget your boss is a jackass as warm milk and lavender embrace your hands and feet and you wonder if this is indeed heaven. Well, it may not be heaven, but Spa Radiance is as close to a heavenly experience as you can get in the city. Their La La Land Package is created to chase away your troubles for five glorious hours, but even if permanent residency isn't an option, we recommend you take a moment and smell the roses. - AG
La La Land Package is $510 at Spa Radiance, 3011 Fillmore St., 346-6281,

Spa Seven

No one knows bliss better than Spa Seven. The evidence comes in the form of the Journey to Bliss Facial. If you know someone who fawns over facials, this is a great gift. If you know someone who's never had one before, it's even better. Spa Seven, a cozy and unpretentious three-year-old spa in Pacific Heights, offers a ridiculously wide array of services, most of which are performed by super down-to-Earth owners Sally Adams and Gunilla Eisenberg. The favorite, the Journey to Bliss Facial is two otherworldly hours of countenance exfoliation and full body invigoration. While lying on a massage table and listening to meditation and chanting rhythms, your face is cleaned with an herbal cleanser and microderm abrasion scrub, and then thoroughly steamed. A cinnamon exfoliation peel is then applied, followed by two other protein masks with various herbal barks and roots, potato powder, and chlorophyll to stimulate toxins and rejuvenate skin cells. All the while, you are getting your hands and feet rubbed with a Rosemary Tri-Crystal scrub and receiving a combination of shiatsu, Swedish, and reflexology massage on your hands, feet, shoulders, scalp, and face. The finale is a Silver Ion mask that makes you feel completely reborn. - KM
Two hours of Journey to Bliss is $195 at Spa Seven, 2358 Pine Street, San Francisco. Call 775-6546 or visit


Some like it hot. Others like it wet. Here's a treat that'll get you both. TruSpa, which opened last year on the edge of Chinatown, has invented the supreme alternative to the run-of-the-mill claustrophobic seaweed wrap: full body exfoliation in an open Tropical Rainforest Room. Though there aren't any exotic trees looming or rare wildlife roaming the grounds here, there is an extreme downpour included in this treatment that is definitely reminiscent of the jungle. You'll start with a glass of champagne in a crisp, white waiting room with bright blue couches and ample snacks (cheese, crackers, grapes, and brownies). You'll then proceed to the sauna-like Rainforest Room, where a skilled technician scrubs your entire body with a variety of exfoliating products, which may include tropical fruit pulp, almond oil, rainforest mud, kukui nut, and/or shea butter. (Couples doing this can privately apply the scrubs to each other.) The yummy spa-made concoctions are left on for absorption during 25 minutes of steam immersion, after which the ceiling opens up and douses you in a tremendous warm cascade of water. A hot waterfall in the next room rounds out the experience. - KM
Tropical Rainforest gifts for your favorite water lover range from $95-$145 per person at TruSpa, 750 Kearny Street, San Francisco. Call 399-9700 or visit


Before you go and buy another eight-pound box of chocolate for your honey, consider giving something this year that will really stick (and not to the thighs): yoga classes. Right now, there's a great deal going on for both brand-spanking-new beginners and advanced practitioners, as acclaimed local teacher Jason Crandell offers two rare yoga series in the New Year. In the first, a 12-week series called Introduction to Hatha Yoga (Wednesdays beginning January 5 at The Mindful Body, $150), Crandell -- who teaches at Yoga Journal and is also their Beginner's columnist -- takes you on a three-month journey from down dog to headstand in an accessible and thorough manner. Newbies concerned about being subjected to pseudo-enlightened New Age spirituality should rest assured that they'll find none of this in Crandell's classroom; an ex-hockey player and philosophical realist, his teaching focuses on physiology, alignment, and integration. He's also offering an eight-week Home Practice Series (Saturdays beginning January 9 at the Yoga Loft, $108). Influenced by his own teacher Rodney Yee, this series aims to instruct more advanced students to develop a practice outside of the classroom -- a perfect gift for your favorite yogi or yogini who's forced to miss classes when life gets in the way. - KM
The Mindful Body, 2876 California Street, 931-2639,; Yoga Loft, 321 Divisadero, 626-LOFT,

Only-in-SF Gifts

Baseball Season

As you wait, anxiously, for Jerome Williams and company to start limbering up in Phoenix, plan ahead for the 2005 baseball season and treat 30 of your closest buddies to an afternoon at the ballpark -- not just any ballpark, but the best ballpark in the country, and not in some drafty behind-the-plate box seat but in one of the park's lushly accessorized luxury suites. A private elevator whisks you and your posse from a private entrance on Willie Mays Plaza to your dwelling-place above the infield. Besides the excellent views of the bay, the park, and the Giants in action, there's a balcony, a wet bar, a refrigerator, two televisions, a stereo/CD player, a dual-line phone, Internet access, room service, and a concierge to call you a cab or make your restaurant reservations for you. Play ball! - MS
$4000-$8500/game; Third & King streets, 972-2000,

Beat Books

City Lights Bookstore still maintains that healthy authority-questioning outlook that made the Beats so reviled and celebrated during the somnolent '50s, offering up three floors of mostly paperbacked volumes on an array of subjects eclectic enough for the thirstiest intellectual. Even their T-shirts are cool: no-frills proletarian-black with the store's hip logo stamped unobtrusively in the upper right, the only souvenir tee you'll be proud to wear anywhere. Or opt instead for the equally classic shoulder bag, or, even better, a gift certificate redeemable amongst the shelves and stacks of this beloved, ever-ferocious landmark, where the First Amendment is the lingua franca and the Beat Era is, briefly, reborn. - MS
T-shirt, $12; shoulder bag, $15; gift certificates, $10, $25 or $50; 261 Columbus (at Kerouac), 362-8193,

Cable Car Collectibles

Our most beloved mode of transit is, of course, the cable car, as good an example as any of San Francisco's adamant refusal to curtail the eccentric. Inside a handsome old brick powerhouse on the slopes of Nob Hill are the motors, gears, pulleys, and 10-foot winding wheels that make the system run, and housed nearby is a museum of century-old artifacts, vintage photographs, blueprints, tokens, punches, transfers, and mechanical devices. There are two items for sale, though, that really stand out: solid brass conductor's bells, the ones that add as much to the city's sonic landscape as foghorns and Chinese funerals, and authentic old enamel street signs from the 1940s. Either would make a unique keepsake for aspiring and authentic San Franciscans alike. - MS
Street signs, $25-$50; bells, $70; 1201 Mason (at Washington), 474-1887.

Custom Beans

For nearly six decades, Graffeo of North Beach has been blending fresh Arabica coffee beans from Colombia, Costa Rica, and New Guinea and roasting them daily in small quantities and in three varieties: dark, light, and a Colombian they decaffeinate through the chemical-free Swiss Water Process. If you're lucky enough to live in the neighborhood, simply follow the seductive aroma of roasting coffee beans to the firm's trim and friendly outlet at Greenwich and Columbus. The coffee's also available at local restaurants and specialty shops, or you can ship a little bit of San Francisco to a bereft out-of-towner and make yourself a friend for life. - MS
$11.50/lb. regular, $12.50/lb. decaf; 735 Columbus (at Greenwich), 986-2420,

A Good Show

There's nothing quite like the thrum and excitement of live theater, especially when the words take flight, a strange new world emerges from the proscenium, and actor and audience form a vibrant common bond. The American Conservatory Theater is one of the nation's outstanding repertory companies, and for several decades now happy theatergoers have enjoyed oftentimes brilliant, reliably innovative matinees and evenings of classic and modern tragedy, comedy, and everything in between. Make your favorite dramaphile happy by giving her ACT season tickets. She'll get the same excellent seat throughout the seven-play season, discounts on additional single tickets, free same-day ticket exchange to another date upon request, prepaid discount parking at the Hilton a block away, and discounts on classes in voice, movement, and other theatrical disciplines. - MS
Price varies; 405 Geary (at Taylor), 749-2228,

Mission Christmas

What could be more San Francisco than a Day of the Dead altar from Galería de la Raza in the Mission? Every autumn, as the days grow darker and the wind colder, Día de los Muertos celebrants remember dearly departed friends and family with processionals, music, incense, and candles. A signature aspect of this part-Aztec, part-Catholic holiday is the offerings made to our brethren on the other side. The Galería's beautifully constructed 3-inch wooden altars are the ideal setting for photos, keepsakes, votive candles ... anything to keep your favorite phantoms at hand. You might even want to offer up one of the organization's fantastically decorated, richly colorful sugar skulls (available in three sizes), or a pound of organic, fair trade, shade-grown Zapatista coffee produced by grower cooperatives in Chiapas. - MS
Altar, $20; skulls, $2.50/1-inch, $5/2-inch, $10/3-inch; coffee, $9/lb.; 2857 24th (at Florida), 826-8009.


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