Mark Twain once famously (read: never) said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." A most cliché quote, sure, but more than fitting for a story about the freezing out-of-towners who flock to SF every summer. Locals know the secret to city style is layers—layers that protect us from Mother Nature's mercurial mood swings. Tourists, however, come here from near and far in their Southern California-ready tank tops and flip flops. Suddenly, they sense the fog rolling in and the bay winds whipping at their bare arms. As a result, the preeminent sartorial statement at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is, alas, the last-minute souvenir fleece.
The city has the rare advantage of knowing in advance that tourists will arrive unprepared, and thus plans products accordingly. From the classic front-zip, embroidered jacket to fashion forward looks involving scoop necks and reversible windbreakers, tourists snap up hundreds of layering looks a day.
Why, a grandma in an “Alcatraz Psych Ward” hoodie is a classic San Francisco look!
To find out more, we spoke with Vanessa Palma of Vanessa’s Souvenir Shop on Jones Street to get the scoop on popular purchases and shivering sightseers. Vanessa’s been selling to San Francisco tourists for 30 years, and sadly, this summer is her last. Rising rents and fierce competition have inspired Vanessa to retire. Like nearly every other shop on the Wharf, Vanessa also sells the classic San Francisco fleece for a mere $10.99, whereas her competitors on the main drag of Jefferson Street charge upwards of $13.
“It’s the most popular,” Vanessa offered. “Because it’s the cheapest.”
For a tourist in a pinch, $12 for a keepsake life-saver is entirely worth it. But is the cheapest option the most stylish? We hit Fisherman’s Wharf to capture the street-style of the San Francisco tourist uniform, in all its variations.