You’ve spent too many Saturday mornings at the toy store/bookshop/big box store buying gifts on the way to the party—only to find out you bought the same thing as three other parents. Break out of the birthday present mold by picking up creative gifts at these unexpected places.

Cole Hardware
Next time you’re at Cole Hardware stocking up on (fill in the blank—they have everything under the sun, it seems), check some birthday presents off your list. For a construction-crazed kid, fill a real toolbox with hammer, wrench and measuring tape; a pet lover will go nuts for a basket of funny cat or dog toys and tasty treats. Want more traditional gifts? Cole has a huge selection of Green Toys, made from recycled plastic.

Cole Hardware


956 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Phone: 415-753-2653

3312 Mission St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Phone: 415-647-8700

70 4th St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Phone: 415-777-4400

2254 Polk St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

Flowercraft Garden Center
This nursery on Bayshore across from Lowe’s may be the sunniest, happiest nursery in the city, with forests of trees and meadows of flowers. Even apartment dwelling kids will love a succulent garden (design your own with mini plants or buy one pre-made). Do they like to cook? Create a kitchen garden kit with a six-pack of veggie or herb seedlings, a bag of soil, and some flower pots. As you shop, your kids will enjoy searching for the statues—and the real kitty—throughout the nursery.

flowercraft sfphoto credit: Emma S.

550 Bayshore Blvd
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Phone: 415-824-1900

Peapod Fabrics
Located on a quiet stretch of Irving Street in the Inner Sunset, Peapod Fabrics displays an impeccably-curated assortment of vintage-modern fabrics in an adorable setting. Kids five and up are the perfect age for learning to sew. Select several fat quarters (quarter-yard pieces of fabric, pre-cut), a pack of needles, and thread. Extras might include a cute felted pin cushion or an awesome dress pattern by hip brand Oliver + S. And a pint-sized DIY-er is born!

peapod fabrics sf

1400 Irving St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Tues.-Fri., 1 p.m.-5:30p.m., Sat., 12 p.m.-5 p.m., Sun., 12 p.m.-4 p.m.
Phone: 415-731-3206

Rainbow Grocery
Pick up a present while you’re doing your grocery shopping! The famous Rainbow Grocery boasts a toy section the size of miniature store, with charming and unique books, cards, and craft supplies. Or, think outside the box with a pretty Bee House teapot (available in a rainbow of pastel colors) and a box of loose tea, or a baking kit, with organic cake mix, natural sprinkles, and some crazy-cute cupcake papers.

rainbow grocery

1745 Folsom St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-p p.m.
Phone: 415-863-0620

SF Botanical Gardens
Next time you take a walk in Golden Gate Park, pop into the tiny gift shop near the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. Packed full of beautiful items ranging from calendars to exquisite carved gourds, the non-profit store (staffed by volunteers) has a sure-to-please kids’ section. Try pairing one of the finger puppets (hummingbirds, baby deer, owls, praying mantises, and more) with a board book.

botanical gardens sf

Entrance near the corner of 9th Ave. and Lincoln Way
Hours: Opens at 7:30 a.m. daily. Closes one hour after last entry.
Last entry fall and winter: Oct. through early Nov., 5 p.m., first Sun. in Nov. through Jan., 4 p.m., Feb. through second Sat. in March, 5 p.m.
Last entry spring and summer: second Sat. in Mar. through Sept: 6 p.m.
Phone: 415-661-1316

Gus’s Discount Tackle
Buy a kid some fishing gear and you’ll be bestowing the gift of family adventures, too. At Gus’s Discount Tackle, you can pick up a basic child-sized fishing rod for plucking trout of one of the Bay Area’s stocked lakes, or a crab net to toss off the pier in Crissy Field and pull up dinner. The friendly owners (whose young grandchildren are avid anglers) will answer all your questions about gear and, if you’re lucky, share a few fishing hole secrets.

gus tackle storephoto credit: Gus’s Discount Tackle

3710 Balboa St.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Phone: 415-752-6197

What other stores should we add to our list? Where unconventional places to you visit to pick up birthday gifts? 

— Emma Bland Smith

All photos by author unless otherwise specified