San Francisco’s Union Street is known for its annual eponymous summer festival, but the end of warm weather does not mean that Union Street is dead. Quite the opposite, in fact, and holiday shopping season is an excellent time to rediscover the stores along this commercial corridor.
From a powerhouse plant purveyor to an artisan store with a meaningful mission, here are five shops along Union Street where you can find standout presents for the holidays.
📍 1947 Union St.
If the commercialization of Christmas leaves a bad taste in your mouth, the mission of Helpers Artisan Boutique may just melt your Grinch-y heart and soften your wallet.
The shop, run by Bay Area nonprofit Helpers Community—which has supported adults with developmental disabilities through job training and housing programs since 1953—dedicates its brick-and-mortar space to showcasing the creative talents of artists and entrepreneurs with developmental disabilities. All the proceeds go back into funding the nonprofit and bestowing grants to like-minded endeavors.
While the store features artists from around the county, you may want to pay attention to those whose work has blossomed thanks in part to local nonprofits and charities.
At the store, you can find finely handwoven tea towels and table runners made by artisans Cedars Textile Arts Collaborative in San Anselmo, pick up a print of a San Francisco skyline made by an artist with the Mission’s Creativity Explored gallery and studio, or Christmas-scented candle by Coco by Stone, which has built employing people with disabilities into its business model.
The shop also offers Yuletide pieces of San Francisco history, including hand-sewn ornaments and stuffed animals made by Helpers Community members for the charity’s 1966 Helpers Bazaar in Ghirardelli Square. According to the boutique’s operations supervisor Christipher Morioka, each vintage animal took about 200 hours to make—and almost 60 years later, you can still take one home.
📍 2181A Union St.
The San Francisco branch of this popular plant delivery empire that bloomed out of New York on a Kickstarter campaign offers a plethora of plants that could make for a thoughtful host(ess) gift at a holiday gathering or please the person with a green thumb in your life.
While you could get a leafy Thai constellation monstera or seasonal wintergreen cherry berries plant delivered straight to your door, there’s something special about popping into the brick-and-mortar draped in greenery, which boasts a mobile gifting station, dedicated workshop space, an Instagram wall and plant specialists on hand to help you with your queries.
The Cow Hollow shop offers some plants that you can only find in-store, so depending on the stock, you could pick up a festive red anthurium flamingo flower or adorable Hoya Heart succulents to put under your tree.
📍 2181 Union St.
Owner Jessica Ann thoughtfully brings together gifts and goods made by Asian artisans from around the world at Nikoniko Gifts, a tribute to her dual Korean and Japanese heritages and her late grandmother. The name of the store means “smiley” in Japanese, and there is plenty to smile about inside this boutique—from funny greeting cards of fanciful French frogs made by an Asian designer in London to rare Japanese knives cut in the shape of whales to whimsical kids toys from Japan.
Should you choose to go big on the presentation of your gift as well, Ann can also gift wrap it using a fusion of Japanese furoshiki and Korean bojagi gift-wrapping techniques, which is offered complimentary with the purchase of a box and reusable piece of fabric from the store. The fabric can be repurposed as a scarf, a table setting or wall art, adding to the sustainability and sentimentality of the gift.
📍 2124 Union St.
Pick up an elegant dog treat for your pup at Mishka. The luxury dog boutique and bakery specializes in beautifully crafted and colorful meat cakes for mutts—think of a pineapple-shaped pastry made with lamb or a luscious block of chicken, beef or turkey topped by an ornamental koi fish.
All of Mishka’s cakes and mini-cakes or “candies,” as they’re branded, are made from fresh—not frozen—organic meat, says chef-owner Olia Rosenblatt, and get their brilliant hues from vegetable juices.
For the holidays, Mishka will offer its signature cakes in Christmas and Thanksgiving sets of three to five cakes or six candies, going for around $40. The Thanksgiving set will feature pastries shaped as turkeys, pumpkins and acorns, and the Christmas set will include cakes in the shapes of gingerbread men and snowflakes.
📍 1804 Union St.
The first San Francisco store of Japanese stationary brand Itoya, Topdrawer sells everything the modern-day digital nomad might need—from leather-bound notebooks to fancy pastel thermoses to chic Italian sunglasses for jet-setting.
Pocket-size Japanese notebooks with fish recipes tucked inside can make for a playful white elephant gift, or go for a classic fountain pen if you’re looking for a cadeau that’s more sophisticated.
If you’re looking to add a personal touch to your purchases, take advantage of Topdrawers’ embossing service. Sales associate Trevor Wiggins recommends adding your beloved’s initials to any of the store’s leather goods for an extra thoughtful accent.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com