Tour San Francisco With Local Fashion Icon Wilkes Bashford

A bespoke city itinerary from the founder of San Francisco's most iconic department store

San Francisco fashion icon Wilkes Bashford opened his namesake department store in San Francisco’s downtown in 1966. Throughout the next decade, the store earned a spot on the map by introducing new designers such as Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani and Brioni to the city (and sometimes the country). Today the store’s seven-story townhouse still attracts a sophisticated, international clientele.

 Wilkes Bashford (©Mitchells Family of Stores)

What's one of your favorite San Francisco stores?

For a city this size, we have a great choice of international boutiques that bring a level of sophistication and style to the city. A store that I love that’s in San Francisco exclusively is Spectacles on Maiden Lane. It’s a store for eyeglasses that keeps right up with what’s going on.

What’s your best advice for visitors?

I have a perspective of close to 60 years here in the city, and since the world is becoming more homogenized, I think it’s important that visitors take away the essence of the city. My recommendation is to go to North Beach.

When I came here North Beach was a wonderful place, and it’s still a wonderful place. It hasn’t changed all that much. You need to walk up and down Grant and Columbus avenues and see all the wonderful Italian restaurants and coffeeshops, Washington Square and certainly City Lights bookstore. See the people and just absorb what San Francisco’s always been about.

City Lights in North Beach

What other neighborhoods should visitors explore?

The history of the Castro, where I live, goes back to the ’30s, and it’s getting better all the time. We’ve gotten more independent shops that aren’t part of any kind of chain and some great places to eat since we’ve widened the sidewalks [and added rainbow crosswalks].

You shouldn’t miss Castro Coffee left of Castro Theater. There’s nothing like it. Then you need to go to Jackson Square and see those buildings from 100-150 years ago. While Jackson Square isn’t the important center of home decorating and design that it was, there are still some great shops in those buildings. Then you need to go down and look at the Ferry Building, the building itself essentially and all the food. You can find wonderful products. I love Boulettes Larder on the east side. You can leave with a wonderful sense of the city if you visit those areas.

Where do you like to eat?

I’m the type who tends to go to restaurants that I’ve been going to a long time. That includes Boulevard and Le Central, where I eat practically every day. One of my favorite newer restaurants is Mason Pacific in Nob Hill. It’s something special. Before I go to the symphony or the opera, I have dinner at Dobbs Ferry in Hayes Valley.

Do you have any favorite urban gems?

Civic Center, home to the most beautiful City Hall in the country and the new veteran’s memorial Passage of Remembrance. And you shouldn’t leave without popping into the beautiful lobbies of the Fairmont and Palace Hotel.

What item can you not travel without?

A navy blazer.

Visit Wilkes Bashford at 375 Sutter St., 415.986.4380

Bashford’s Perfect San Francisco Day

 Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

Morning

Start the day with my dachshund, Dutchie, at one of the wonderful coffeeshops on 24th Street in Noe Valley. There’s nothing more relaxing than a simple hour spent in a coffee shop alone or with a friend, being part of the scene and enjoying all the great coffee we have.

Late Morning

Walk up and down Valencia and Guerrero streets in the Mission District and look at the new shops that have opened. There’s so much happening so fast all over the city that it’s not easy to keep track of it.

Afternoon

Go across the Golden Gate Bridge to the towns of Mill Valley or Sausalito to explore.

Night

Have dinner at North Beach Restaurant then go to the movies at the Embarcadero Theater, because they always show the films that I like. 

Rachel Ward
About the author

Rachel serves as the San Francisco editor fo...