My West Portal Village -1

Years ago, when we were buying a house, the realtor showed us one in Forest Knolls. In pointing out its advantages, she was careful to show us West Portal Village, the little shopping street only 2 miles away. It is indeed quite delightful, and here are some of the shops I visit. (I haven’t included restaurants, even though it’s one of my favorite places to eat out. But that’s a story in itself, and I’ll tackle it another day.)

This is the first installment on West Portal… there will be more. Meanwhile, a public service announcement on behalf of the merchants there: They’re suffering a 20% drop in business because of the SF MTA work going on at St Francis Circle.  If you have the need and inclination, remember they’re open. (And parking is less of a problem.)

So for now:

Bookshop West Portal

This space, maybe because it’s so attractive, seems always to have interesting stores in it. Years ago, there was a toy-store that seemed a little magical and always had unusual things in addition to balls and dolls and bears. (There are still toy stores in West Portal, just not here. I’ll post about them in the next installment.) Then there was a cool home-furnishings place. And now, there’s a pleasant independent book store that pulls at me like a magnet… nice display, friendly staff, and a nice range of author events and readings make this a winner.

Papenhausen Hardware

Papenhausen Hardware is cool, even more than the big-box stores down the peninsula. It’s got an easily accessible range of products, and you don’t have to track down a staffer to get questions answered… anyone at the counter will happily help you. In summer, they have pretty displays of plants outside, and in winter, really clever, often funny window displays.

West Portal Daily

It’s a little bit of Europe in West Portal. Foreign newspapers and magazines. Candy from England (less special after Cadbury got acquired, but still… )  Cool stuff in general. I’m rooting for this store to find its audience and regular fans; it’s quite new.

Cine Arts

Despite the competition from the big new multiplex just over the border in Daly City, this theater is hanging on. I love having a place where I can make impulse decisions to watch a movie, just because I’m in West Portal and I have a couple of hours to spare…


I don’t go into Simi’s very often, but I window-shop the well-displayed  bling in there each time I’m in West Portal. Everything looks unusual and different, and just a little bit over the top. In a good way.

Eezy Freezy

Years ago, we used to call this store Eezy Freezy Somewhat Sleazy. It sold cheap liquor, lottery tickets, and the kind of thing you buy at gas stations. (And It’s Its, which made up for everything.) Anyway, with different management and a makeover, it’s a nice well-lit store with organic products and foreign newspapers, and a good range of groceries as well as some unusual products.

St Francis Market

This is a convenient grocery store, for when you don’t need enough stuff to justify a trip to Cosco or Safeway or Lucky. It’s so much easier to shop here or at Eezy Freezy. They’re both open pretty late, past 10 p.m.

Edited to Add:

Goodwill Boutique

And how could I forget: Goodwill. It’s not just a Goodwill, it’s a Goodwill Boutique.  It sometimes carries new clothes, sent in by retailers at the end of the season, or interesting glass-ware including cut-crystal, or brand-name porcelain (I saw Lenox candlesticks), or weathered real-leather bags… visiting it is always a treasure hunt.

If you’d like to share which your favorites are, and why, leave a comment. Or email me at

West Portal Street Fair, May 2010

Hard on the heels of its Arts Festival, and on the same day as the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors street fair comes West Portal’s annual Sell and Tell.

All its marvelous merchants will set up stalls on the sidewalk. Here’s what the newsletter from West Portal Books says:

This Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Come check out the West Portal Merchants’ Annual Sidewalk “Sell & Tell.” Stroll the avenue, chat with the merchants, and “Get Smart.” There will be brief demos, prizes and more!

West Portal Festival (Apr 10-11, 2010)

Someone called to tell me about a great little art festival at West Portal this weekend.  “There are stalls all the way down on both sides,” he said, “You should check it out.”

I did, of course, intending to browse for a bit.   It was not so little – there were something like seventy stalls. There were ceramics. Art glass (including one artist whose work reminded me of Dale Chihuly’s). Handcrafted jewelry of fused glass or silver or beautiful stones. Handmade clothing, dramatic and unique. Furniture. Inlaid wood mirrors. Artistic switchplates. Books made into boxes.  And wonderful art, from oil paintings to beautiful photographs to prints and hand-drawn pictures and water-colors.  Kaleidoscopes. Handmade dolls’ clothing to fit “American Girl” dolls. Wooden toys. Handmade dolls and animals, including a few monsters.

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I got a few photographs for this website which I’ve set up as a slide-show above. (See if it works for you, this is the first time I’ve tried one. You should be able to either click through, or let the pictures change automatically.) Not everyone wanted their stalls photographed. (Some have had their designs stolen by people who photograph and reproduce them.)

The mood was mellow and friendly, with artists all willing to talk about their work.  Some of the regular West Portal merchants had taken advantage of the activity to put out their own outside displays. It’s on tomorrow and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a nice place to pick up one-of-a-kind gifts for your friends, your home,yourself. I hadn’t planned to buy anything, but I did anyway. I’ll probably go back tomorrow.

Minor Fire in West Portal

We were in West Portal on Feb 25th afternoon, when the sirens started sounding, from all around us. They were converging on the last block of the shopping village, where, incidentally, we had parked. Several fire-trucks were arriving, and someone with a gurney, and all manner of emergency vehicles. It was an impressive response.

No fire was visible. A ladder leaned against the wall of the Sylvan Learning Center, next to the Clay Oven restaurant.

After a while, they started packing everything up. “Was it a false alarm?” I asked one of the responders.

“No,” he said. “We found a small fire on the roof. We’re investigating now.”

A block above the activity, the Muni trains – and their passengers – waited for the whole thing to clear. Traffic was blocked. Even as I left, things were sorting out and the emergency vehicles departing. Elapsed time, maybe 30 minutes.

Nearby Shops

Though Forest Knolls is exclusively residential, it is close (by car) to some pleasant shopping areas.

West Portal has a drugstore, a hardware store, antiques, a bookstore, a number of coffee-shops, a movie theater, a number of dentists, hair salons and spas, groceries, pet supplies, and restaurants with all kinds of cuisines – and a major Muni station. It still has the charm of a neighborhood shopping street.

Just over the hill in Miraloma Park is a small group of shops: Molly Stones, a grocery and butchers with an abundant deli section; two coffee shops, a pizza place, a drugstore, and several cleaners.

There are also the shops and restaurants on Taraval and further down in the Sunset, at Diamond Heights (including the Post Office that serves the neighborhood), and in Cole Valley (charming, but where parking is rather problematic).

Two Safeway stores are within easy reach: One at Diamond Heights (open until 2 a.m.) and another on Taraval (which I think closes at 10 p.m.) There’s a Lucky on Sloat Boulevard, where there’s also a Fedex Kinkos, a Blockbuster, and a Ross Dress For Less store. Also a pet store.

We’re also close to shops and restaurants of the Inner Sunset — and there are some delightful ones. Arizmendi bakery. Pacific Catch restaurant. Park Chow. That’s just the beginning. Irving and 9th is a good place to start.