Top 10 Shops And Attractions In San Francisco For Design Lovers

san franciscoRachel Levin, The Guardian, April 11, 2014

Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field

Just because the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is closed for two years for major renovations doesn't mean you can't still enjoy its exhibits – at the Asian Art Museum, at the Legion of Honor, even outdoors. In collaboration with the National Park Service, SFMOMA on the Go scattered eight of Mark di Suvero's bold, bright and rust-red steel sculptures, spanning five decades of his career, across Crissy Field. Each is about 15-metres high and weighs in at some 20 tonnes but seem to – almost – move with the wind. A whimsical assemblage of beams and buoys, inspired by the Golden Gate bridge – which now serves as its backdrop.
• 1199 East Beach, Admission free

Heath Ceramics San Francisco

You'll see its signature, mid-century-style pottery on every restaurant tabletop in California. Cult followers of the iconic, 66-year-old Heath Ceramics used to have to trek to a dusty, low-slung space in Sausalito for their dish sets, tiles and teapots. But Heath has since expanded to San Francisco's Ferry Building and down south to LA – and now to the burgeoning north-east section of the Mission District. Owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey took over a former linen supply and laundry and turned it into an airy, light factory showroom, complete with a Blue Bottle coffee lounge, which has become a destination and community space for design hounds. Plus: there's a tightly curated selection of cookbooks, gorgeous handmade wooden clocks by House Industries, and weekend factory tours, too.
• The Embarcadero, Open Mon-Fri, 10am-7pm, Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm

de Young Museum

There was a bit of controversy back in 2001, when the de Young Museum was being built. Renowned architects Herzog and de Meuron planned for a 44-metre tower, which many felt would be an intrusion on the natural beauty and peace of Golden Gate park. But today it stands proud, welcoming folks – free of admission charge – to ride the elevator up to a view that stretches all the way to Ocean Beach, albeit on a fog-free summer day. You're also free to enjoy lunch and wine on the lawn in the sculpture garden. Inside the museum proper, permanent collections include 180 objects of African art and more than 1,000 American paintings dating back to 1670, as well as compelling rotating exhibits, such as photographer Anthony Friedkin's Gay Essay and Native American art from the Weisel family's private collection. But the modern copper-stone-wood-glass building itself is a work of art.
• 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Open Tues-Sun 9.30am-5.15pm, Fri 28 Mar-29 Nov 9.30am-8.45pm

Aesthetic Union

An old-fashioned print shop run by a thirtysomething, apron-clad man named James Tucker, who does the letterpress profession proud, giving customers' business cards and party invites the look and paper stock they deserve. He shares studio space with Risa Culbertson of PapaLlama, a small eco-stationery line of exceptionally witty cards, each an original design that is transferred to lino-wood blocks and hand-carved. With a spare simplicity, a fun collection of classic office supplies like No 2 pencils, pink erasers and sharpeners – plus two vintage Heidelberg windmill presses on site – Aesthetic Union feels like a refreshing step back in pre-high-tech time.
• 555 Alabama Street, Open Tues-Sun 11am-6pm

Murals and street art

The streets of San Francisco have long been considered art galleries in their own right: hundreds of evocative, brightly coloured, hand-painted murals are splashed on sides of buildings from the Outer Sunset to the Tenderloin to Bayview, but some of the most impressive are the Mission – and volunteer-run site SF Mural Arts tells you a bit about each and everyone. Though murals are always changing – and new ones always popping up – every weekend, Precita Eyes Muralists runs artist-led walks (or guided bike rides) of iconic Balmy Alley or Precita Park or the digital murals at Galería de la Raza.
• Mission Trail Mural Walk, $15

Town Cutler

You don't have to be a professional cook, or a stylish killer, to appreciate this gorgeous art gallery of a knife shop in Nob Hill. A former sous chef at Quince, owner Galen Garretson has indeed become the town's cutler. At his long, narrow boutique, he curates a global collection of high-end cutlery, spends six hours a day hunched over a whetstone honing blades for the city's best chefs, and leads knife-sharpening classes for amateur home cooks. Behind a large glass wall, which you can lift by pulley, hang all sorts of hand-cut knives – such as the Takeda Gyuto, with a traditional Japanese handle fashioned from rosewood, or a pricey Random Damascus blade from the local Wilburn Forge.
• 1005 Bush Street, Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-6pm

Craftsman & Wolves

OK, yes, this is a modern patisserie, not an art gallery, and so what's it doing in a design round-up? But, Paris included, you've never quite seen baked goods as architecturally beautiful (or, for that matter, tasty) as these. If a jewellery shop and a bakery had a baby, it would look like Craftsman & Wolves, with its high ceilings, brick walls, and squeaky-clean glass pastry case, where chef William Werner displays his works of art, such as the "chocolate croissant stack" or chocolate sourdough topped with black sesame, almond, matcha and citrus. A perfect après-museum snack.
• 746 Valencia Street, Open Mon-Fri 7am-8pm, Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 8am-5pm

Flora Grubb

An industrial-grey no man's land is the last place in San Francisco you'd expect to find a lush, sprawling garden shop and true urban oasis. But Flora Grubb Gardens could be in Timbuktu and design types, hip homemakers and people who've never potted a plant in their life would still flock there. Wander around with a coffee from the on-site Ritual stand and survey the endless selection of succulents and leafy palms, ceramics and terrariums, and outdoor decor items ranging from solar paper lanterns to bright-purple patio chairs, to a first-of-its kind heated bench, hand built by Galanter & Jones. Even in the summer fog, you'll want to sit there all day.
• 1634 Jerrold Avenue, Open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-6pm

Potrero Flats Art Galleries

San Francisco's famed art galleries have always tended to cluster around downtown and Union Square but, last year, several migrated south, away from the tourist fray to warehouses in lower Potrero Hill, aka "Potrero Flats". Now, within walking distance of each other are acclaimed galleries such as Brian Gross Fine Art, Catharine Clark Gallery, George Lawson Gallery, Jack Fischer, joining neighbourhood pioneers like Hosfelt Gallery and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, plus the city campus of California College of the Arts, which has a new gymnasium-sized gallery that showcases students' best work.

Perish Trust 

What happens when a photographer and a stylist decide to open a shop? Perish Trust, a modern-day general store with an ever-changing mix of always-cool stuff that's been luring in San Francisco taste-makers since 2008. In a dimly lit, sort-of mysterious space on increasingly hip Divisadero Street, is a collection of things you never knew you wanted: such as cast-iron fisherman bookends and vintage reconditioned hatchets, Monarch typewriters and Japanese martini shakers from Umami Mart.
• 728 Divisadero Street, Open Mon, Wed-Fri midday-7pm, Sat-Sun 11am-6pm

Rachel Levin is a writer and editor based in San Francisco,

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