How to Shop for Groceries (San Francisco)




Introduction: How to Shop for Groceries (San Francisco)

This is a beginner's guide to shopping and schlepping groceries locally in San Francisco.

If you grew up thinking the only way to shop was at Big Name stores with a lot of trunk space, then you're probably having a frustrating time shopping in SF right now. Experienced city people know that shopping for groceries at smaller, neighborhood stores is much less stressful and easier to fit into your busy urban lifestyle.

To do this Instructable you will need:

-money for your groceries
-stores in walking distance or easily accessed on a short bus or train ride
-any of the following:
-reusable paper, canvas, nylon or cotton totes
-"Granny Cart" (wheeled, personal shopping cart)
-bicycle with a bike basket

This is an item on the Neighbors Project Checklist.

Check out more stuff by me, Casey, at my website:

Step 1: Get Your Urban Shopping Gear

Sure, you can just show up and buy stuff without any special gear. But these specialty urban shopping items will make your life a lot easier.

These three gear options can work by themselves or with each other.


There are quite a few possibilities for bags beyond the world of Paper and Plastic. Pick one that works best for carrying your groceries and matching your good style. Keep one in your office/gym bag you have with you every day for those spur-of-the-moment shopping trips on your way home.


The Granny Cart is for when you and your roommates start saying things like, "Plain pasta for breakfast AGAIN?" or "You can just scrape mold off and it's ok, right?" They're best for the BIG trips. They are also great for shopping with kids since they provide easy schlepping and lots of entertainment.

Something important to keep in mind about Granny Carts is how you pack them. You don't want your tomatoes on the bottom where they will be squashed by things stacked on top and subsequently pureed for sidewalk gaspatcho by the metal squares of the cart. Put heavy, boxed or canned items on the bottom (any pre-made frozen stuff, canned soups and beans etc), followed by lighter containers (pasta, cereal, tea), and lastly, crushable produce.

One last tip: the key to looking cool with your Granny Cart is KNOWING you look cool with your Granny Cart. So stand tall and STRUT IT.


Classic, functional and an easy way to express your style. A very sensible shopping option for those who bike to work, or for trips just beyond walking distance. (But beware of hills!)

There are a million bike baskets out there, from the insubstantial wicker or plastic ones to the standard metal to the super high end wood and metal. You can put a basket on the front of your bike (attached to your handlebars), on top of your rear rack or on the sides of your rear rack. Some baskets fold and some detach.

There are also a variety of saddle bags (technically called "panniers") you can attach to the back of your bike for bigger, heavier loads.

Much like with the Granny Cart, keep a stacking strategy in mind while packing it.

Step 2: Find Your Local Shops

Take a stroll through your neighborhood and take note of all the food shops. You might be surprised by how many small grocers, fruit stands, bodegas and specialized food stores there are. Venture inside them to see just what they offer. These places can provide a lot more than bread or beer at the last minute, particularly in climate-blessed San Francisco. (See our Food & Liquor project.)

Not only can these places provide equal (if not better) goods, they often provide more personal service, which can be a huge help when you have all of one minute to find an obscure item before you need catch the bus to make your meeting. Get to know your shop owners, or at least the regular check-out folk, since they can keep you updated on sales or new goods, and can even put in a request for things they don't normally carry. All just for you!

And keep in mind that you don't have to shop for everything in one store. The first place might do produce better than the second, while the third place has the best butcher counter and the fourth has great baked goods and the cheapest beer. Of course it's easiest if you find a group of these stores that are near each other. San Francisco has lots of "market streets": from parts of Irving Street in the Sunset to stretches of Geary Avenue in the Richmond to Church Street between Duboce and Market in Duboce Triangle, and many more.

Step 3: Shop

Once you've found your local stores, START SHOPPING.

Now that you have the right gear, it'll be easy for you to stop by the stores on your way home from work or after you pick up your kids from school. Keep your big shopping trip on the weekend for staples, but try stopping by stores on your way home for produce and other spoilables during the week. This can keep your meals fresher and your weekend shopping less gargantuan. You weekend-shoppers will be surprised by how wonderfully empty a market can feel the rest of the week.

Making a list before you go can help ensure you get everything you need. That way you won't be that nutter crying out "Butter!" on the way home because you forgot to get some. Be flexible though-- you might arrive at a store to find that the pears are much more delicious looking than the apples that were on your list.

And keep your mode of transportation in mind while shopping. Don't buy that case of Hansen's soda just because on it's on sale if you're walking home up hill with your groceries in hand. Thar's a job for a Granny Cart or bike basket.

When you're checking out, just say, "I have my own bags." Some stores will give you a discount, or maybe just a smile. This is also a good time to ask about a new product you'd like to see available or who that cute kid is in the photo taped to the cash register.

Step 4: Head Home and Eat

Now that you are fully loaded with hot urban shopping gear strategically packed with delicious things from your local stores, go home and eat!

Of course, don't be afraid to make a few other stops along the way. Your good packing job should ensure that socializing won't be a problem. (As long as you stayed away from the frozen food aisle.) You just might be surprised by who your super hot shopping gear attracts.

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    8 Discussions


    9 years ago on Step 4

    Brilliant job. I love it. I hope that denizens of different (rival?) cities each create their personalized/ localized response. A note on "granny carts": I find rolling it behind me when I go over curbs, cracks, and 'tracks to be helpful. Cheers!

    rc jedi
    rc jedi

    12 years ago on Introduction for the warning, you know.............. about the "shopping challenges" of San Fran. Do they sell ammo at that store? Do I have to bring my own bags? Are the parking spaces big enough for my 4x4? I need a much bigger cart than that, pork ribs, charcoal, lighter fluid briscuit, beer, ice, yard guard,chewin' tobacco, ya' know, the essentials. The gun rack is not "just for show" Step back from the truck, my dog bites vegetarians. just kidding.

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    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    im not going there anytime soon anyway so i dont really need the "shopping challenges" lol

    Big Bwana
    Big Bwana

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Well beer technically is a vegetarian meal so you better watch your dog.... :-P


    11 years ago on Introduction

    for the "granny cart" as you called it, those are also good in vegas, plus you can take them on the bus.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Very enjoyable instructable , you've nearly turned the chore of shopping into a fun outing :-) . Thank you.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Granny carts are cool? xD

    nice iBle (-;


    12 years ago on Step 4

    Awesome tutorial! I created an acct just to say thanks for this delicious article!