Discover distinctive stores around SFMOMA and Hawthorne Street

The book is as small as a whispered secret, no bigger thanyour palm. Its text won't win a Pulitzer: "A is for Andrew who soldwormy apples," it begins. And as alphabet books go, Once Upon a Time is an outrageous $85―but how do youput a price on nostalgia?

This tiny tome, and all the others at Califia Books in San Francisco, is a memory of handsettype―an antidote to the bombardment of look-alike gifts thatmake this season of ho-ho-ho tend toward ho-hum. It's just one ofmany interesting, artful, and unusual finds in a handful of smallstores in San Francisco's SoMa district.

At the recently expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art'sgift shop, $25 buys you an entire art collection. Granted, theprints are 1/12-size reproductions, but they look dramatic in theliving room of the Kaleidoscope House ($190), a modernistdollhouse. The museum store also carries sleek contemporaryfurniture―try a BABA Zebrano chair ($460) that coddles youlike a soft-boiled egg―and creative housewares, like sixpairs of wooden chopsticks in cool silk cases ($22).

At the nearby California Historical Society, you'll find small,thoughtful exhibits and an intriguing gift shop. For your favoritehistory buff, consider a striking black-and-white San Franciscocityscape ($75) comprising photos from the historical society'scollection. Or spring for a batiklike poppy-print tablecloth ($30)and matching cloth napkins ($5 each).

Two blocks away on Hawthorne Street, an ivy-twined brickbuilding holds an afternoon's worth of browsing. On the secondfloor is Crown Point Press, where prints by the likes of RobertColescott and Richard Diebenkorn cost a fraction of what theseartists' paintings command.

At Califia Books, in an alcove off Crown Point's lobby,artist-made books such as A Brief History of the Ukulele(handwritten, with watercolors and a cover fashioned from ukulelescraps) may run as low as $45. On the upper end of the price rangeis Gaza Bowen's Red Shoe Reader ($1,800), a rumination onfoot-binding, with footwear lore―plus an image of MarilynMonroe modeling stilettos―sandwiched between two halves of ared high-heeled shoe.

Take the weight off your own feet by heading downstairs toHawthorne Lane Restaurant (lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily; 22Hawthorne St.; 415/777-9779), known for its Asian-influenced menuand sweeping cherrywood bar. Try the Chinese-style roast duck orgrilled yellowfin tuna, admire the art on the walls―it's fromCrown Point Press―and enjoy slowing down enough to read thefine print.

Shoppers' guide
Califia Books. 12-5 Tue and Fri-Sat, or by appointment. 20Hawthorne St.; (415) 284-0314.

California Historical Society Museum Store. 11-5 Tue-Sat.678 Mission St.; (415) 357-1860.

Crown Point Press. 10-6 Tue-Sat. 20 Hawthorne; (415)974-6273.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Museum Store. 10-6:30(until 9:30 Thu), closed Wed. 151 Third St.; (415) 357-4035.

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