By Linda J Bottjer

Window shopping is a long-honored leisure sport. Since shops and stores have first displayed their wares people have gained pleasure, and saved money, by simply gazing at them. Plus, window shopping keeps both your body and budget in shape.

With its towering palm trees Union Square beckons like an oasis. It is bordered by Post, Geary, Stockton and Powell Streets.

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The skills of window dressers for six major department stores – Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, and Macys, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Sak’s Fifth Avenue – provide tempting places to glance and go. As this is the country’s third largest shopping area a bit of rest might be called for. Take a seat under the Dewey Monument before having a culinary peek through Williams Sonoma.

All that glitters can be gold, silver, diamonds and other jewels and appreciated in the windows of Bulgari, Cartier and DeBeers among other stores. A palette of colors and shapes can be viewed on a regular basis when the Artists Guild of San Francisco holds outdoor showings several times a month. It’s best to call (415) 835-0510 for last-minute updates as the exhibits are determined by the weather.

The streets radiating out from Union Square also offer primo window shopping venues. Hit the Crocker Galleria at 50 Post Street. Its multiple-leveled open architecture makes it a light and airy destination – even on the dreariest of days. Should you be strong against sweet temptations stroll past Leonidas’ luscious confectionary displays and into the shop itself.

Abigail’s Flowers on Level 1 offer temptation of a different kind, but equally pleasing to both the eyes and nose. Bella Ceramica also abounds with tints and textures by presenting Italian ceramics for dining, hanging or collecting. Maiden Lane’s modest name belies the fact that this pedestrian only street that runs off Stockton Street was once the epicenter of the city’s red light district.

On its own the Xanadu Gallery is worthy of browsing for its Asian, Oceanic and African antiquities and artwork. Add in the gallery is housed in the only San Francisco building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and head down the curvilinear ramp reminiscent of the architect’s Guggenheim Museum. Renew your fashion sense by surveying the boutiques of Chanel and Marc Jacobs along the Lane.

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From Stockton, Grant and cross streets to small alleyways makes Chinatown the best place to window shop. A diversity of items from cheap and costly to dried, powdered and shriveled along with living items that squawk and swim is found here.

Photo Credit: Jack Hollingsworth/SFCVB

The Chinatown Kite Shop delights the eyes of your inner child with not only its kites but also dragon and lion costumes used for Chinese New Year. Find bolts and nuts and a rice cooker or two at Tower Hardware on Grant Street. Step inside the Great China Herb Company to observe the ancient remedies being passed along to both Asian and non-Asian customers. The shop is located on Washington, between Old Chinatown Lane and Ross Alley.

While on Ross Alley let your sense of smell direct you to Golden Gate Fortune Cookies. Reward your nose by pressing it up against the window to see tourists and locals alike watch thin films of dough curved and filled with papers of destiny.

It is no surprise Haight Ashbury delivers a kaleidoscope of colorful products. Feather boas to wigs, tutus and fake eyelashes to costumes and costume jewelry are just a few of the gems that will catch your eye in the Piedmont Boutique on Haight Street between Masonic and Ashbury Streets. A few doors away gaze in the windows of Ambiance to discover how funk mixed with vintage and a bit of class combine to provide clothes for any event. Painted stars and naked ladies lounging in green grass pulls you into the Haight’s original smoke shop – Pipe Dreams. Relive or experience for the first time the summer of love here.

In North Beach watch dull things become sharper at Columbus Cutlery on Columbus Avenue. Hanging dry cured salamis, coppas and fresh sausages decorate Molinari Delicatessen just down the same street. Your eyes will enjoy the feast.

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Linda J. Bottjer is a full-time writer. Follow her adventures at Words 4 Sail.