I have an issue with souvenirs.
It’s not that I can’t find them or that I pay too much. Trust me. I’m really good at shopping and finding deals.
Nope. My problem is that I always seem to find souvenirs to remember a trip that were in fact created to represent an entirely different place.
A few sad examples- all from the same trip to San Francisco – illustrate my failures.
San Francisco Souvenir Fail #1
I bought this awesome vintage road runner pin in the Mission District and showed Tony.
Tony: Cool – to remember your roadrunner friend in Austin?
Me: …no. To remember San Francisco. …I don’t know how to do souvenirs do I?
San Francisco Souvenir Fail #2
Later, I bought a vintage Boy Scout shirt with all kinds of neat patches on it.
Tony: Oh cool! You found a California Boy Scout shirt!
Me: Um…it’s from a troop in Arizona. Jesus. I’m really bad at souvenirs.
San Francisco Souvenir Fail #3
A few days later I threw on a new sweatshirt.
Tony: [sees the Santa Monica logo on the sweatshirt] I like your new sweatshirt. Hey, now you have something you bought in San Francisco that represents California.
Me: …I bought it in Austin. I swear I’m not doing this on purpose.
I don’t always fail at souvenirs so hard, but now it’s kind of a running joke. Kat bought something on a trip? Where’s it really from?
The truth is, I actually like my weirdly inaccurate souvenirs. And locational appropriateness aside, I am pretty good at finding unique souvenirs. So while I might be terrible at picking souvenirs that obviously represent a place, they make great memories, and you can totally trust me for pointing you in the direction of where to shop for them.
With that in mind, here’s my itinerary for a day of souvenir and vintage/thrift shopping along Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Image via CurryUpNow – used with permission
Indian street food with some fusion thrown in for fun. We liked the gluten free curry burritos on a previous trip and I would love to try the Indian inspired poutine – sweet potato fries with curry on top.
Have I ever told you French fries are my favorite food? Yep, I spent years cooking fancy food in high-end restaurants, and I have the same favorite food as a 9 year old. Frjtz was perfect for pre-keto me, since a huge section of their menu is basically French fries with stuff on them.
What stuff, you ask? Oh, just delicious things like braised pulled pork, Philly cheese steak toppings, or for a lighter option olive oil, feta, and herbs.
This place is kind of on the expensive side but you’ll get really good portion sizes and the fries are delicious and filling. If you fuel your body with carbs, this is great place to load up.
In the interest of keeping you moving in one direction down the street, I’ve left a few more food and beverage options for a bit later. If you’re not feeling what you’re seeing on this block, do a bit of shopping first, then get food in a couple of blocks.
Mission District Souvenir and Vintage Shopping
This thrift store is similar to Goodwill, but since it’s stocked with stuff from people who live in the area there are sometimes San Francisco gems hidden in the racks. It’s not curated which means you’ll find much better deals, but you’ll have to put in some effort to find said deals.
Look for local sports t-shirts and tech conference tees, or scour the home-wear section for cool coffee mugs. Keep and eye out for awesome jackets and coats. When San Francisco’s mid-summer chill catches you by surprise, you won’t have to fall back on an overpriced souvenir hoodie.
You never now what kinds of good stuff you’ll find here. I randomly, found the power adapters Tony and I are using in Bali right now plus a couple others we’ll need for another leg of our trip. Total cost for 4 adapters: 56 cents.
If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt when it comes to vintage and thrift shopping, this is your place.
OK, it’s not shopping, but you’ll be walking by this iconic San Francisco alley anyway so take a few minutes to explore. Take some photos of the impressive street art. You’ll instantly get more Instagram cred, and learn a little about neighborhood in the process.
This is the closest thing to an actual San Francisco souvenir shop on this itinerary but not to worry, it’s full of fun and quirky items. Get a dainty ring, an enamel pin that looks like a bowl of pho, or a cheeky desk plaque.
You can even get actual California and San Francisco themed merch here, like aluminum water bottles with the I Love You California bear on them (it’s a public domain design, so you’ll see lots of variations on it around town), or a super cute dish towel featuring famous places around San Francisco.
Love Everlane’s online store? Good news! They have a brick and mortar store on Valencia, so you can get lots of the same classic basics they sell online minus shipping costs.
They have a spin on their 100% Human line just for the San Francisco store, featuring an exclusive “100% SF” design. A portion of each 100% SF purchase goes to Dolores Street Community Services which helps low income families right here in the Mission.
Well made tees at a reasonable price, representing SF, that actually send money toward something good? It’s such an obvious choice even I bought one. See? I’m not always bad at souvenirs.
Afternoon Tea, Coffee, Snack, or Late Lunch
If you skipped lunch or just need a snack, Samovar has some great options. Their avocado toast looks great (I didn’t try it – no GF bread option), and I can personally vouch for their “egg jar” (brown rice, sauerkraut, smoked salmon, and a poached egg) which sounds a little weird but tastes amazing. They also have a few baked goods – some of which are GF.
And of course, they have tea. I’ve been off coffee for a while in an effort to chill the F out, so I love having a really high quality tea option in the middle of a shopping day. They specialize in chai lattes and other milk tea concoctions but you can also get a straight up tea if that’s your thing.
Not to worry, if you’re more into coffee breaks or you need a more substantial lunch, there are options just down the street.
Need a bigger meal than Samovar? Check out Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen. It’s a Venezualan restaurant specializing in corn pockets stuffed with tender beef, crispy gluten free fried chicken, and other tasty options. Bonus, their entire menu is gluten free.
Need to swap out your afternoon tea break in The Mission for a coffee break? Try Four Barrel coffee. They roast their own coffee in the back – always a good sign – and it’s got the stamp of approval from a friend who’s a coffee roaster and recent SF transplant. Plus they have some pretty cool merch including pins, notebooks, keychains, and mugs. Kill two birds with one stone and get your coffee and an authentic San Francisco souvenir at the same time.
If you need a sweet treat, Cream has made to order iced cream sandwiches. Not only that, they have gluten free *and* vegan options.
The best made to order ice cream sandwich I’ve ever had was from a place called Diddy Riese in LA’s Westwood neighborhood (near UCLA). I remember the line going down the block and the wait was worth it. This was before I went gluten free and in the following years I basically gave up on the idea of a gluten free made to order ice cream sandwich.
While Cream wasn’t as good as I remember Diddy Riese being, it certainly scratched the itch.
More Mission Vintage and Souvenir Shopping
A vintage and thrift store that focuses on men’s and women’s apparel, this store is right up my alley. This is where I purchased my vintage Boy Scout shirt, and my newest locationaly inappropriate souvenir acquisition – a vintage NC State gym shirt.
What can I say? I was born in NC.
Prices are on the high side and I wouldn’t expect to find any major steals here. But it is totally worth a look around.
This store has a small but really well curated selection of vintage home goods that are the definition of Northern California mid-century cool. This kind of curation comes at a price though and it’s not always easy to purchase larger home goods while traveling. Lucky for me they also have a few equally well selected stationary items including some neat pens from Japan.
Naturally, in a San Francisco store that bleeds California, I bought the Japanese pen.
In my defense it’s a really good pen.
This is my favorite vintage shop in the Mission, and it’s where I’ve found some of my favorite souvenirs from SF. The turquoise ring I wear every day is from this shop, as well as my vintage Star Trek TNG mug featuring my favorite character, Data (he’s tied for first with Captain Picard.)
Lest you think this place is just for nerds, I also scored an amazing (Uh. May. Zing.) deal on an authentic vintage Balenciaga “First” here.
This shop is a dream for vintage shopping enthusiasts, especially if you’re less into vintage clothing and more into home goods, jewelry, accessories, and art. It features two floors packed with great finds and I can’t recommend it enough.
Sadly this was the only spot I missed. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I was on day 2 of a 4 day water fast (I skipped the lunch options, but I’ve tried all of them on prior visits to the Mission). By the time I made it to the cat cafe I was not feeling up to it. But if I ever head back to SF it will be at the top of my list.
A few reasons to visit this cat cafe in particular:
- They work with a shelter/rescue and a lot of the cats at the cafe are available for adoption. So instead of a cafe with designer cats purchased to live at the cafe, you’re actually helping support a place that rescues kitties in need of loving homes. Cool, right?
- They have gluten free and vegan snacks! I always appreciate options. Even though I just discovered my gluten intolerance might be treatable, after 9 years of strict gluten free eating I always appreciate a place that has GF options.
- Hanging out with cats is a great way to boost your mood. At the end of a long shopping day, if you’re pooped, or bummed that those shorts you tried on didn’t fit (why can I NEVER find shorts that fit?!), some time with furry friends is a great way to make sure you remember the day fondly.
Take a vintage street car back to the Ferry Building or even all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
You could hail and Uber from here, or even take the Muni bus. But if you’re staying closer to The Ferry Building or even Fisherman’s Wharf, I have a better (and thematically appropriate) idea: hop on a vintage street car.
Not to be confused with the Cable Cars of Rice-A-Roni fame, the vintage street cars have an equally San Francisco vibe that’s closer to mid-century 1920’s revival.
Hop on the F Market and Wharves line at Market and Gough and enjoy the vintage ride home.
I was staying on the other side of the city in the Outer Richmond District so I didn’t go with this option. But I love the Ferry Building (and Meriposa GF bakery…), so I’m secretly plotting excuses to visit San Francisco again and make another itinerary that includes a ride on one of these historic street cars.
For route information visit https://www.sfmta.com/routes/f-market-wharves
DaringMigration I Love You California Merch!
Just because I’m terrible at choosing California souvenirs doesn’t mean you have to be. If you’re traveling to California, or you just love it there, I designed this exclusive DaringMigration variation on the I Love You California bear for you.
Or you could be like me and get this mug to commemorate your trip to Ireland or something. Whatever floats your boat.
Save and share this post now so you can use it on your trip later!