Shopping guide to the Castro
by Katharine Holland

It's Christmas in the Castro. The bears are out in force in front of Starbucks, drinking their coffee. Dogs in Dolores Park are wearing smart little sweater hoodies. Mrs. Santa drag queens can be glimpsed through the windows of The Edge and Harvey's on any given night. Yes, we have the glam and bling, however, the Castro is full of smaller boutiques that make it easy to find a very special gift. The small stores are not as crowded so you can get personal attention and often, a free gift-wrap – just ask!

Eureka Gallery at 4448 18th Street (near Douglass) is a small treasure – about 400 square feet. While many antique shops border more on kitsch, it appears that every item in this shop is something the owner would like in his own home. I would recommend buying candlesticks or vases, which they have in crystal, milk glass, porcelain, and American 20th century pottery (prices vary).

Next door, Off The Beading Path at 4450 18th Street (near Douglass), is a haven for beading enthusiasts. They also have several Swarovski crystal necklaces and earrings already designed and ready for purchase from $79 and up.

Stop in The Artist's Gallery at 4406-A 18th Street (near Eureka) to buy tropical fish or dolphin watercolors to remind your sweetie of the fun you had snorkeling in Key West. Painted by Southern California artist Lisa Hoffman, they come framed and in two sizes – 4 inches by 7 inches or 5 inches by 7 inches – for $180 each. Joe Titi has run his accountancy practice out of this space for the past 20 years. Titi and his partner John Giusti decided to put some art on the walls of the hallway leading to the office about two years ago. Everything is less than $500.

The T Shop at 4215-A 18th Street (at Diamond) packs a lot of fashion into its 300 square feet of space. Everything is lovely, including the well-dressed and friendly owner who is usually there! A men's cable knit cashmere zip-up vest by Qi caught my eye as something that would generate some big oohs and aahs from any recipient at $270. The store also has men's knee socks with dog prints, martini glasses, and other fun patterns on them for $13.

After just celebrating its third anniversary, De La Sole Footwear 4126 18th Street (near Castro) continues to bring cute-as-a-button footwear and accessories to the neighborhood. Just in are J bi-fold wallets made out of leather in bright, solid colors priced from $50-$70. The wallets have a flat profile, so no bulge on the back of the pants. I think this will be a hit for the Castro crowd. At its anniversary party last week, De La Sole raised $500 for New Leaf: Service for Our Community, co-owner Barry Schmell said.

Simple, yet charming gifts are two books featured at A Different Light bookstore 489 Castro Street (near Market). From the Images of America Series, Gay and Lesbian San Francisco and San Francisco's Castro have a sepia tone of the Castro Street Fair and Harvey Milk, respectively, on each cover. The books sell for $19.99 each.

The closest thing the Castro has to a toy store is Cliff's Variety at 479 Castro Street (near Market), which has been carrying everything from tiaras to tape measurers for the past 65 years. The store's buyer has a keen eye for the unexpected with toys such as the Wooden Sushi Slicing Playset for ages 3 and up. Only $25 gets you the one-of-a-kind 20 wooden sushi pieces, chopsticks, a wooden tray and a cutting knife that makes a "realistic chopping sound as you cut your sushi rolls." Another item that's a favorite is the Affirmation Ball that operates the same as the Magic Eight Ball of our childhood. Turn over the yellow smiley face ball, shake it and then turn it back over again to reveal your affirmations. "You're good enough" and "You Can Do It," are "like a ray of sunshine" to the recipient for $8. The Original Trickster Kit sounds fun. It contains six practical jokes, including a whoopee cushion, for $15.

Under One Roof is a must-stop for ornaments of every shape, size, and price range including a rainbow snowman ($26) and a rainbow Santa ($32) or the Christopher Radko gingerbread girl breast cancer ornament ($49). Located at 549 Castro Street you can feel good that your purchase is going to support AIDS-related charities.

An orchid is always a welcome gift from Hortica at 566 Castro Street. Prices range from $22-$70.

If you have a few more dollars in your pocket, head to Gallery Flux at 4092 18th Street (near Castro) with its festive red rubies and green emeralds in the window. Artist and owner Tracy Rose has metalsmiths on staff to create custom jewelry and carries the work of 35 local artists, specializing in platinum jewelry (prices vary).

Rolo at 2351 Market (at Castro) is a full men's department store with pants, shirts, ties, shoes, sunglasses, belts, undergarments, and cosmetics. If it has to be perfect, head here for a selection of stunning motorcycle-inspired "Hero" jackets from England from $995-$1,375 or a Nicole Farhi black and grey velvet scarf for $235 or in charcoal cashmere for $110.

Join the hundreds of people that stop to look at Ixia 's holiday window each day. This always-decadent florist has a mistletoe theme this month at 2331 Market Street (near Castro). This is a great place to order that holiday centerpiece.

Earthtones' delightful store at 2323 Market Street (near Noe) always impresses with its treasures like a small antique mercury bowl for $23.50. Kenneth Wingard's new location at 2319 Market Street (near Noe) is bustling as people pick up the Suburban Silk cuff links in black and white or mod designs for $25 and up. The show-stopping Chimo stainless steel, fuel-run, vent-less fireplace from Germany in the front window is selling for a hot $1,599.

Cash in your Tower gift cards to buy someone a Cary Grant or Doris Day DVD set at 40 percent to 70 percent off (prices vary) at 2280 Market Street (at Noe). This is your last chance as the store closes in January.

Stop in for an Irish coffee and purchase a gift card at CafŽ Flore at 2998 Market (at 16th). Available in amounts of $20 or more, the cards can be used at the food or drink counters. End your shopping excursion with a stop at Naia Gelateria for a scoop of its gingerbread gelato at 451 Castro Street (at 18th).

Best holiday design

Paul Moffett, owner of P.O. Plus and president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, let us know that MUMC is hosting a "Best Business Holiday Design" award in a new competition. Judging is December 8 and 9, with prizes ranging from gift baskets to framed certificates being awarded on December 11. See www.castromerchants.com for entry information. All Castro area businesses are encouraged to decorate with white lights for a unified holiday look in the neighborhood, along with copper and blue colors, whether they enter the competition or not.

Holiday events

Bring your pet to visit Mrs. Claus and walk away with a photograph from professional photographer Michael Todesco at the Best in Show pet boutique at 545 Castro Street (near 19th on Saturday, December 9 from noon to 5 p.m. The $20 sitting fee includes a 4 inch by 6 inch photo. A portion of the fee will benefit the Positive Resource Center. Call (415) 864-PETS to reserve your spot.

Santa Claus is coming to town at the Zephyr Real Estate office in Noe Valley on Saturday, December 9 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 4040 24th Street. The event is sponsored by the agents at Zephyr, the largest independent real estate firm in San Francisco with a special appearance by James Romeo Holloway as St. Nick. Call (415) 695-7707.

Women's shopping event

Find a holiday gift while supporting women-owned businesses. Pomegranate, a holiday shopping event by Designers, Artists, and Innovators, is scheduled for Sunday, December 17 from noon to 6 p.m. at Medjool Restaurant at 2522 Mission Street (at 21st) featuring a trunk show and sample sale from some of the Bay Area's most talented creators and business owners in fashion, jewelry, housewares, stationery, baby products, and handbags. Attendees will receive free refreshments and gifts donated by Golden Gate Business Association member Gail Rekers , owner of Cookies By Design ; Starbucks; and Hairworks by Freda at Utopia Salon . Visit www.daievents.com for more information.

CAV Wine Bar and Kitchen is hosting a Holiday Cookie Decorating Party benefiting the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center. Don't forget to bring an unwrapped gift with you. Saturday, December 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. at 1666 Market Street. Info: (415) 437-1770.

Katharine Holland is a lesbian real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Real Estate, specializing in residential and investment properties in San Francisco. You can reach her at khsf@att.net, (415) 447-8849 or www.katharineholland.com.

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