These days, it seems like everyone, whether a banker or a barista, has a sleeve—especially in the Mission. The breeding ground of ink legends like Lyle Tuttle and Ed Hardy, San Francisco’s tattoo shops are staffed with an exceptional array of artists specializing in every genre, from traditional Japanese to tribal tattoos. If it’s time to take your body adornment beyond buying jewelry, check out our top 10.
Best tattoo shops in San Francisco
Run by a welcoming staff with broad expertise across a range of styles, this marine-themed, woman-owned shop emphasizes its inclusivity. Since opening in 1995, the studio has consistently staffed roughly 10 well-rounded artists whose experience extends beyond tattooing to fine art or photography; their work is often displayed in the lobby.
Though Black Heart, which launched in 2004, is a relative newcomer on the scene, the shop’s six tattooists have more than 60 years of experience between them. Artists here tend to have a penchant for minute lines, vibrant color work and a hardcore edge. Looking for a quick appointment? They’re drop-in friendly.
Jason Stein and Sweet Cicely Daniher man this Mission boutique, known for vivid color shading and blending. Both are veritable skin painters who have mastered the art of making tattoos look like watercolors. The duo is in high demand, so appointments can be hard to get for those seeking larger pieces, but the results are worth the wait.
Hands are anything but idle here: The eclectic roster of tradition-inclined inkers includes the exceptional portrait artist (and founder) Holly Ellis. The shop’s eccentric interior reflects the sensibilities of the Lower Haight neighborhood—the walls are decorated with boar and stag heads and original illustrations of classic American tattoo motifs sketched by the staff.
Don’t be fooled by Mission Ink’s carefree carnival theme. The studio’s three artists are seriously skilled, especially when it comes to photorealistic and traditional American designs. Tattoo-seekers, especially first-timers with extra questions, will find an exceptionally welcoming and patient staff ready to help. A piercer is also on hand for non-ink body adornment.
Modern Electric’s 12-foot-high walls are plastered with snapshot-quality nude portraits, hinting at one area of expertise—owner Suzanne Shifflett is a virtuoso of the photorealistic style. The space is open for scheduled appointments only, making it ideal for those seeking more privacy during sessions.
Tucked away in a quiet alley, Luke Stewart’s bright, pristine studio is a peaceful place to get inked. Seventh Son is a good bet if you want to decorate your bod with a particularly intricate and vibrant splash of color. The range of artists’ specialties here includes traditional Japanese and biomechanical art (a detailed, sci-fi take on muscles and bones).
Surrounded by throwback Italian bars and pasta joints, Tattoo Boogaloo’s retro facade blends into its nostalgic North Beach surroundings. But the shop’s six tattooists excel at new-school designs with abstract coloring, fine detailing and gray-scale shading. A piercer is also available. Advance bookings are essential and appointments can be hard to snag.
The third incarnation of ink icon Ed Hardy’s original Mission District parlor, Tattoo City opened in 1999—and the place still rocks. Though Hardy has retired from the craft, his son Doug carries on the family business. Inside, illustrations of classic pin-up girls and seafaring imagery hint at the dominant house styles: traditional Americana and Asian.
This light, open studio is a Zen sanctuary in the wild world of tattooing. The gallery-like space is staffed by three artists specializing in blackwork (a graphic, tribal-influenced style) and geometric design, and the results are always elegant and refined. Founder Roxx is hardest to book—there’s a year’s waiting list—but for those pursuing a sleek piece, 2Spirit is the best option out there.