Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Shops and Gifts 


Page 10 of 11


"I Can't Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown" tour

The $75-a-head price tag may seem excessive to those used to paying $5 for a lunch special with egg roll. But Shirley Fong-Torres' exhaustive, four-hour walk through Chinatown's best kitchens and markets is well worth the cost. The tour starts with a Chinese breakfast of rice porridge at legendary hole-in-the-wall Sam Wo's. Fong-Torres then leads tour groups through a sidewalk dim sum nosh, a Chinese kitchenware outlet, takeout restaurants, and a couple of produce and grocery stores, authoritatively explaining ingredients, preparation, and customs at each stop. The peregrination concludes with a sit-down lunch at an upscale Chinatown eatery, ending when, as Fong-Torres puts it, "somebody explodes." Every Saturday and some Sundays, $75 per person, 981-8989,

Coast Starlight to Seattle or L.A.

Train travel is lazy and convivial and absolutely romantic -- the polar opposite, in other words, of air travel. And one of the best ways for a local to experience its tranquil pleasures is to hop Amtrak's northbound or southbound Coast Starlight out of Emeryville. Settle into the observation car, order a cocktail, and enjoy the scenery -- and such scenery! Heading north you'll see the snow-topped peaks and verdant forests of Oregon and Washington; the southbound route features long and lovely stretches of Pacific coastline. Stops include Olympia, Portland, Klamath Falls, and Santa Barbara, and among the onboard attractions are wine tastings, nature programs, feature films, and Happy Hour in the lounge car. The ideal gift for a terminally anxious friend. (800) 872-7245;

Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey used to be associated with private eyes, stewbums, and similar noir types, a skid row alternative to the scotch and bourbon of respectable folk. Then Anchor Brewing, the Potrero Hill purveyors of delectable steam beer, branched into the art and science of grain distillery and restored rye to its rightful pedestal. Rye, after all, was the first whiskey produced in the United States, and Anchor's Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey is crafted the old-fashioned way, in a small copper-pot still from a mash of 100 percent rye malt. Aged for three years in handmade, carefully charred oak barrels and bottled undiluted, it makes a rich, smooth (and, at $114 per bottle, expensive) gift for a libation-loving friend.

Dinner at Forbes Island

If you're seeking an exotic holiday foray but your credit card is a bit, um, maxed out, the solution may be this wallet-friendly alternative to the Caribbean just off the coast of Fisherman's Wharf. Island chieftain Forbes Kiddoo himself picks you up in his launch at Pier 41, and before you know it you're on his palm-strewn artificial isle, sipping a mai tai. Take in the fabulous views of the city, the bridge, and the bay from atop the lighthouse, then enjoy an elegant candlelit supper in the bamboo-lined dining room. There's even a Nemo-esque bar a league or two below sea level where you can toast your brief yet refreshing getaway. 951-4900 for details.

Mechanics' Institute membership

The Mechanics' Institute was established in 1855 as a center for adult education and cultural advancement at a time when the city had little of either. One of its founding principles was the formation of a library, and today 165,000 volumes on every conceivable subject take up two floors of the Mechanics' Institute Building at Post and Market. The members-only setting is hushed, pristine, and ambient with brass rails, burnished wood, comfortable armchairs and the pleasant smell of a used bookstore. The institute also hosts poetry readings, lectures, reading groups, writers' workshops, and salon-like movie nights, and its chess room offers grandmaster lectures and Tuesday night tournaments. Annual membership is $75 and includes free admission to many institute events. 393-0105 for details.

OMIZU Floatation and Massage

In order to escape the mundane stresses of everyday life, the modern San Franciscan has two places to go: in or out. For those looking to venture far, far away from quotidian reality without leaving the city limits, OMIZU proprietor Molly Hammer offers a variety of packages combining isolation tank sessions with massage. Inspired by a yearlong stay in Japan, Hammer has integrated Eastern-style décor alongside the metal capsules within which the user floats atop Epsom-salt-saturated waters and momentarily shuts herself off from all sense perception. "Frequent Floater" packages run from $135 to $275 (for up to ten 90-minute sessions), while a combination 60-minute float and massage combo runs $100. First-timers should allow some extra time for a shower and a brief orientation, and everyone gets to finish up with a cup of tea. By appointment only. For location and additional info, call 596-6517 or e-mail

Hang gliding gift certificates

A short sprint, a big jump, and you're in the air, soaring on the wind, with eye-popping ocean views spreading out beneath you. That is, if you don't screw up and crash into a cliff. Maximize your chances of survival by consulting the experts at the San Francisco Hang Gliding Center, who promise they can teach you to fly in just one day. An afternoon's session includes instruction on the ins and outs of leaping off a mountain with fabric wings on your back, though first-timers will soar in tandem with an instructor. Flights land on Stinson Beach and packages include a video of the experience. They don't come cheap, though -- gift certificates run from $285 to $325, with extras like T-shirts and a champagne toast for the fearless flyer costing extra. Daily by appointment, (510) 528-2300,


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"