San Francisco's department stores are all conveniently clustered within a few blocks of one another in the retail-packed blocks surrounding Downtown’s Union Square. The luxurious list goes on; in addition to the institutions recommended below, SF is also home to a Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom (not to mention a Nordstrom Rack). Each store has its own distinct feel, though all are impeccably merchandised. Saks Fifth Avenue is easiest to ogle on-the-go, since you can spiral up the escalators and circle each floor in succession. Barneys New York feels least sprawling and is the most manageable to navigate. Neiman Marcus separates designer labels into individual open-door mini-shops, creating a refreshing visual cohesion when viewing each collection as a whole. There are also impressive design features to admire in each, including the awe-inspiring stained-glass dome at Neiman Marcus, the wrought-iron staircase at Barneys and the opulent townhouse vibe at Wilkes Bashford, which has more in common with upscale clothing stores than mall-anchoring behemoths.
San Francisco’s best department stores
Though the store is full of designer wares, the floor-plan at Barneys New York makes it feel more manageable and easy to navigate than the other Union Square heavy-hitters. The main entryway draws shoppers into the jewelry and bag salon, where in-the-round, glass-topped counters allow for easy browsing (and attentive customer assistance). An iron spiral staircase leads the way to the women's shoe salon, where you'll find heels, booties and flats from Alaïa, Chloé, Miu Miu, and Barneys' in-house line. The women's designer and contemporary collections are arranged on labeled rolling racks positioned on the checkerboard-tiled floors. Another winding staircase leads up to the top floor men's salon, where shirts of every shade are shelved in orderly rows. The impeccably dressed store clerks are known for efficient service.
In a city square flanked on all sides by luxury retailers, the Neiman Marcus building is arguably the most impressive. Though the revolving doors feed shoppers directly into the bustle of the cosmetics department, first-timers often stop in their tracks to gape at the opulent rotunda. The structure is topped by an elaborate stained-glass dome, which was salvaged from the famed (and since demolished) department store City of Paris. As you ascend to the two levels above, floor-to-ceiling glass windows afford views of Union Square. Escalators to each floor reveal a central shopping corridor with the season's latest offerings, and designer shops line either side. (Offerings include Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Oscar de la Renta, Stella McCartney and many more.) Head all the way to the top for the home and kids section, where you'll find fine crystal, china and a colorful array of toys and clothes for tots.
This outpost of the upscale retail chain has been open since 1952, and it remains one of the top destinations in the city for designer labels. The multi-level men's store is nearby on the other end of Union Square (220 Post St), offering a wide array of shoes, suiting, shirting and accessories. In the main store on Post Street, the shoe department is a major draw. The section takes over the entire bottom floor and is packed with luxe labels like Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Prada, Gucci and Jimmy Choo. The store is laid out in a spiral formation of ascending escalators: Each floor bears a handful of designers, with cliques of chic mannequins wearing the season's latest arrivals. The most extravagant of the floors is the gown salon, where frocks of every silhouette are grouped by hue and towering floral arrangements adorn mirrored tables.
San Francisco's iconic clothier is designed to feel like an opulent seven-story townhouse rather than a sterile department store, decked with limestone and marble detailing, reclaimed eucalyptus wood from the Presidio and a wrought-iron staircase. Founded in 1966 by man-about-town Wilkes Bashford, the store was one of the first U.S. retailers to sell European designers. Today, Wilkes Bashford carries dozens of high-end fashion labels, including Andrew Gn, Ermenegildo Zegna, Jean Paul Gaultier, Oscar de la Renta, and Loro Piana. Each floor has a different theme—suiting in the library; women's shoes on the terrace—and each is linked to the others by a curving staircase lined with vintage photos (mostly of Bashford glad-handing various celebrities), news clippings and old advertisements. But weary shoppers should skip the stairs and take the elevator straight up to the penthouse, where the made-to-measure lounge, which is set alongside the Brioni and Kiton boutiques, features a fireplace, leather club chairs, and a stocked bar.