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San Francisco's Hayes Valley a hot spot for cool design

  • Story Highlights
  • San Francisco's Hayes Valley used to be a seedy neighborhood
  • The area has transformed since the 1989 earthquake
  • Now trendy shops, galleries and restaurants line the streets
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By Marnie Hunter
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SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- San Francisco's hippest upscale shopping district used to be one of its seediest.

Shops and restaurants line Hayes Street, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare.

Shops and restaurants line Hayes Street, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare.

In the early 90s, the Hayes Valley neighborhood was a place to avoid, home to drug dealers and prostitutes. Now, savvy residents come here for trendy boutiques and restaurants, and the biggest risk might be maxing out your credit card.

It's easy to spend an afternoon exploring this friendly community of tree-lined streets and a smattering of Victorian buildings just west of the city's Civic Center neighborhood. Casual eateries and design-minded stores are plentiful, and there's no need to get an early start -- most of the businesses don't open until 11 a.m.

Crime plagued the neighborhood before the looming freeway overpass that bisected it was damaged in the 1989 earthquake and eventually demolished. Since then, stylish shops, restaurants and galleries have gradually moved into the colorful storefronts, helping drive out the shady characters of the area's past.

Here are a handful of spots to get you started:


At Sebo, an intimate sushi bar and restaurant, freshness and purity infuse every detail, from the bamboo green walls and melt-in-your-mouth fish to each delicately placed shijo leaf garnish. The chef offers a seasonal assortment of sashimi (9 pieces for $19) as well as a selection of rolls and nigiri. The tuna roll ($9) with daikon sprouts, avocado, lemon, sea salt and sesame oil is as delicious as it is subtle. This is no time to douse your dinner in soy sauce.

517 Hayes Street; (415) 864-2181

Stop at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar for lunch or an evening treat. Indulge in one of the bar's classic cocktails ($8-9) accompanied by an oyster or three and a side of skinny fries served with Dijon, malt vinegar and rouille, or stay for California-influenced French bistro fare complete with cheese course and sinful dessert. (Entrées $24-29)

398 Hayes Street; (415) 551-1590 or


Propeller presents an intriguing collection of modern furniture and housewares from emerging designers in its cozy showroom on Hayes Street. Funky lamps and fuzzy knit pillows in organic patterns and colors bring splashes of warmth to soften the cool, slick lines and surfaces of some of the larger pieces. The effect, and the furnishings, are whimsical and inviting.

555 Hayes Street; (415) 701-7767 or

About 60 local designers showcase their creations at RAG Co-Op. Shop here for cool dresses, baby gear, ties, bags and jackets at prices that won't take your breath away. A locally produced $30 T-shirt makes a great souvenir and saves your wallet from serious pain in some of the pricier boutiques around the corner.

541 Octavia Boulevard; (415) 621-7718

Paolo Shoes features a rainbow of sophisticated flats, boots, sandals and heels handcrafted in Italy under the direction of designer Paolo Iantorno. This level of quality and construction does not come cheap: They run about $250 a pair.

524 Hayes Street; (415) 552-4580 or

From housewares to scarves, wallets and electronics, the collection of cleanly executed, visually alluring goods at Scandinavian Details begs to be inspected and handled. A set of three stainless steel cheese knives ($44) by Peter and Eva Moritz are oddly angular, yet surprisingly pleasant to hold.

364 Hayes Street;

Peace Industry showcases designer Melina Raissnia's line of felt rugs featuring bold geometric and organic shapes in muted earthy tones. The rugs are handmade using an ancient nomadic tradition in a workshop Raissnia and her husband opened in Iran.

535 Octavia Boulevard; (415) 255-9940 or


For an afternoon jolt, line up at Bluebottle Coffee for what many locals claim is the best coffee in town. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, 19 jeans-and-T-shirt clad coffee drinkers queued up under the kiosk's raised garage door in a scruffy alley off Octavia Boulevard. Beans by the pound and a few cookies and biscotti from local bakeries round out the brief menu.

315 Linden Street;

Bluebottle doesn't do tea, so if you're thirsty for a cuppa stop at Modern Tea. You'll have your choice of about 20 thoughtfully selected teas imported from family-run tea farms around the globe at this airy restaurant and retail shop. Crisp lemony walls and waves of marine-colored art glass create a soothing spot for a pot of tea and the dessert of your choice -- like the rich citrus bundt cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Or opt for the soups and salads made from local, seasonal ingredients.

602 Hayes Street; (415) 626-5406 or



The Hayes Valley Inn leaves trendy design to neighboring businesses. This 28-room budget hotel provides a comforting, grandma's-house atmosphere. The accommodations are European-style, with sinks in the rooms and shared bathrooms in the hall. Rates range from $84-$105 per night for a double room with continental breakfast.

417 Gough Street; (800) 930-7999 or

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