San Francisco holds a special place in the history of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s, and Haight-Ashbury still feels like a hangover from that bygone era—not only in the lingering tie-dye and head shops. There's a critical mass of vintage clothing and shoe stores in the neighborhood, each specializing in period duds from the 1920s to the ’80s. But the city is also home to a competitive array of vintage furniture stores, feeding San Franciscans’ insatiable desire for reclaimed wood, shabby-chic furnishings, weathered knickknacks and industrial lighting. The wares are scavenged from estate sales, flea markets and garage sales from throughout the Bay Area and greater California, then lovingly restored for midcentury modern devotees. Here are our picks for the best vintage stores in the city, whether you're hunting for ’70s platform sandals or an authentic Eames lounger. Also check out our favorite thrift stores.
Vintage clothing and furniture stores
Don't let the neon sign reading “Meat Locker” dissuade you: This is one of the best vintage stores on the Haight's row. It stands apart for its generous size (no squeezing among packed racks here), and refreshing organization. The store's wares are cataloged like a library, whether you're looking for retro jumpsuits, pillbox hats, naval uniforms, fur coats or letterman jackets. While other vintage stores are apt to heap an armful of dresses onto the same rack, here they're divided into discerning subsections: long '80s prom, hippie chic, '70s disco and Victorian among them. The store is loosely arranged from casual to formal, with tie-dyed and graphic tees up front and blazers, suits and gowns in the back. Two giant stands hold retro hats, and the tall shoe racks are rife with cowboy and riding boots.
There are two Mixed Nuts—the more recent one is a nook in Hayes Valley—but the original Outer Richmond location is the larger and the better stocked. The spot is off the beaten path, to be sure; this area is better known for ethnic restaurants than retail stores. The upside, however, is that even on weekends you're likely to be the lone browser among the makeshift aisles. One of the store's three owners, Jon Rolston, owns a hauling business, and keeps Mixed Nuts stocked with treasures from the '40s to the '60s through his day job and obsessive garage-sale scouring. The trio shares a passion for iconic seating, and dozens of Henry Miller and Eames chairs line floor-to-ceiling shelves spanning one wall of the store. The facing shelves contain dated ephemera with an industrial slant: electric fans, desk lamps, aluminum signage, globes, cameras and more. Postcards and pins sell for $1 apiece, while collectible designer chairs and dining tables can run into the thousands.
Tucked away on a slow-moving strip of North Beach, Schein & Schein is worth the detour. Owners Jim and Marti Schein specialize in antique maps, particularly those of San Francisco and greater California, but you'll also find a variety of printed treasures including hotel and travel brochures; lithographs; scientific, medical, astrological and anatomical illustrations; rare atlases; and copper and steel engravings. Stepping into the quiet, sunny shop feels like entering a time warp. The walls are adorned with cartography, and maps and prints are organized in vintage produce and shipping crates and letterpress-type cabinets. Jim is a history buff and can offer up tidbits on the history of San Francisco and the art of map-making for any print you purchase. Though rare maps can run into the thousands, you can find prints for as little as $5 in the discount crates near the entryway.
Electric Blanket is the polar opposite of the dusty, disorganized vintage store stereotype. Owner Jillian West purposely keeps the offerings honed and curated: dresses and heels for women; button-downs and sweaters for men. (Check the trunk in the corner for discounts.) The clothing, as well as the row of classic books, is sorted by color, creating a cheery, rainbow-like spectrum. West built most of the store furniture herself from salvaged vintage pieces, reupholstering the stools in '50s fabric and combining antique and new elements to enviable effect. The aesthetic carries over into the gallery next door, where West's collage art features vintage sewing patterns, photographs, magazine cutouts and fabric. Don't miss the vibrant display of antique glassware, which West scooped up on scouting trips through Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris.
The beautifully styled window displays here lure tie-dye swathed tourists and neighborhood regulars alike: a fur-lined tartan coat one week, a crinoline-lined belted '50s dress the next, a World War II uniform—all surrounded by dated treasures and knickknacks. The shop is shoebox sized, but well stocked with finds from the '40s to the '70s: winter coats (wool and fur), cropped jackets, '50s skirts and dresses, and old fraternity garb. Netted, feathered and felt hats are draped across antique mannequin heads, and beaded clutches glint from the shelves. A bureau up front bears vintage postcards and vintage photos, costume jewelry and antique bottles and decanters. In the late summer months leading up to Burning Man, the assortment takes on a bit of a Steampunk air, punctuated with feathers, fur, Victorian ruffles and leather.
In existence since 1981, Cookin' is the holy grail of vintage cookware, catering to esteemed Bay Area chefs as well as budget-conscious home cooks. Owner Judy Kaminsky collects much of her store's stash in the flea markets of France and supplements the Parisian wares at thrift stores and estate sales around the Bay Area. The assortment includes cast-iron pots and pans (including colorful enameled pots and Dutch ovens by Le Creuset), kitschy cake stands and baking accessories, barware, servers and dishes. It's akin to a more storied, less sterile Sur la Table. You'd be hard-pressed to name a kitchen tool that you can't find here, though you may need to do some delicate digging to find it. Though Kaminsky, who lives upstairs and often mans the register, may come off more cranky than charming, regulars consider her a local legend.