Quick reviews of San Francisco Bay Area Hobby Shops


Berkeley Ace Hardware
2145 University Ave, Berkeley, CA – (510) 845-0410
http://berkeleyace.com/ (under construction…)

For the airplane modeler, this is the Bay Area’s gold standard. Everything
from the mainstream; Airfix/Heller, Hasegawa, Italeri, Revell, Tamiya and
Trumpeter, to A-model, Anigrand, High Planes, MPM, Pavla, Special Hobby,
Supermodel, Sweet and Valom are on the shelf. Detailing sets from Ares,
Squadron, etc, are in the cabinet, as well as bagged kits from Bilek,
Pegasus, etc. The latest and greatest, particularly in model airplane kits, is
here. There is a big display of new kits on both sides of the stair-case
going down from the store’s entrance. A small display case holds local
modeler’s efforts. Also, the oldest, best and in some ways wierdest collection
of built models hanging from the ceiling. Resin kits are above the detailing parts
and paint-brushes, facing the slot car counter.

Then there are the 2nd hand relics (Airfix/Buzco/Frog/Heller/Hasegawa/Revell)
going back to the 1960s (or earlier). For example, you can buy a 1/72 Frog
F4F Wildcat from before 1975, the Novo issue of same kit from 1975-1990, the
Eastern Express re-issue (with a great decal sheet) from last year, the
Minicraft/Academy kit which was clearly *inspired* by the Frog kit’s design,
Revell or Airfix’s kit from the 1960s, or Hasegawa’s recent, and superb,
version. Or Sword’s FM-2. Want a different scale? There’s a story there too.
The armor/military selection is wide but thinner than the airplane section.

The car section is somewhere between those two, and the ships/naval section is
wide but very thin. Lots of different subjects, lots of different scales.
They stock Model Master Acryl and oil-based, Humbroil, Tamiya, Floquil, Badger’s brand of acrylics, some Gunze-Sangyo, along with tools, fillers, glues, finishing supplies, If I could change one thing I’ve have them stock Polly Scale paint but with RPM’s MSRP for Polly Scale at $3.99 and Testor’s MM Acryl at $2.99, its not hard to understand why they don’t. The styrene, wood and metal stock section is the most extensive locally, as it should be for the university students, scale modelers, and model railroaders, not to mention science-fair entrants.

The train section is vast, with a great H.O. and N scale engines, cars, track,
features, etc, selection, parts, scratch building materials, decals, etc. A
pair of H.O. tracks are suspended from the ceiling and the staff will switch
on the pair of trains, one passenger, one goods, going in opposite directions.
Upstairs in the big room, an even larger suspended track allows one train to
circulate over the main floor, and you can view it at eye level from the
Electrical department’s staircase. There is also a large, multi-loop, layout
in the front window, on the South East corner.

1/32 and H.O. slot cars are also well represented, and there are test tracks
for both sizes at the Train department counter.

Prices are normal to, “Hey, this is a great deal!” Customer service varies
from very good (some of the staff are modelers) to rudimentary (some of the
staff are NOT modelers…). The complete hardware store upstairs, the
extensive Hot Wheels display, some Gashpon, some aftermarket decals and a lot
of reference books round out the offering. This is where my wife gets my
birthday and Christmas presents…

The last thing I bought here (2010) was an Academy 1/72 M997 high mobility 8 X 8 truck- my kinda truck, I admire them when they go by with concrete pumping setups or other jumbo-size loads. Nice basis for an airport fire truck too. This is the military version and probably a real fan could cite the differences between the Commercial, Of The Shelf (COTS) item and the refined and optimized war-fighter-friendly version the Pentagon buys. Whatever. Its a cool truck, and having owned a 1970 VW single cab pickup (type 260) in oyster off-white for 10 or 12 years, I can claim some experience with Cool Trucks. :^)

Previously, 200x, a Smer 1/72 Spitfire Mk VI, made from
someone’s MkV kit by adding a tree of wingtip extensions, metal covered
alerons, a scoop for presurization and a newly tooled windscreen and canopy.

Boss Robot Hobby
2953 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705 – (510) 841-1680

http://www.bossrobot.com

Primarily a place for RC, slot cars, and Japanese Robot / Monster /anime-themed stuff, they do have paint and finishing supplies, and sometimes, scale plastic kits. More often, just Gundams and Tamiya educational products. It has to be the smallest hobby shop in the Bay Area, and the owner is helpful and thoughtful.
The last thing I bought here was a 1/72 Italeri Lockheed-Martin X-35 JSF.

Capitola Hobbies
3555 Clares St, Capitola, CA – (831) 462-3555

http://www.capitolahobbies.com/

Tidy, small, with a surprisingly wide range of plastic kits, as well as RC, balsa and foam flying models, kites, paints and finishing supplies, games,
some toys, die-cast vehicles, etc. The total stock of kits is small but wide, Tamiya racing cars along with AMT and Revell cars, airplanes from the usual Hasegawa, Tamiya, Revell Monogram, Revell Germany, and Italeri, Minicraft, and Special Hobby (!). Model Master paints. The owner is clearly intent on staying in business, nothing is gathering dust. A fine place to support the local economy during a day off or a weekend at the beach.
The last thing I bought there was a Sword 1/72 Grumman F8F-1/2 Bearcat, steeply discounted, and some Model Master Acryl paints.

Chan’s Trains & Hobbies
2450 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94109.
(415) 885-2899.

http://www.chanstrains.com/

Very much a train store, with a small range of good-quality, mainstream, models, on one shelf out of 4 or 5. A good range of tools, Model Master (solvent based) paints, good balsa, bass and styrene stock. Some built kits hanging in the front window. The owner has been running this store for decades and the stock reflects what his customers are buying. Not so many plastic models, but some, and not junk. For a small stock, there are a relatively large number of big kits (Monogram’s 1/48 B-29, large ships, etc.) leaving me feeling that some of the sales are gifts bought by train fans for non-train-fan children or relatives.
In contrast to the well regulated plastic kit department, the trains and train accessories are a riot of new to ancient, with many cottage industry suppliers represented. If you can get into 1/87, or other railroad scales, you’ll find a lot of vehicles, figures and structure kits. Again reflecting the buyers, RC electric vehicles (planes, cars, helos) are stocked, with parts and accessories.
From the scale modeler’s perspective, this is a nice, neighborhood shop.

The last thing I bought here (2010) was a Polar Lights “2001 Moon Bus” kit- back in the day I saw the Aurora original exactly once- and relatively, the price isn’t too bad. Polar Lights also give you an accurate set of front windows- the Aurora kit windows are nice but not like the miniature or set in the movie.. Before that, Evergreen 0.040″ / 1mm half-round styrene strip stock and a pair of drill bits, 0.040″ and 0.0145″.

Dan Webb Books
331 17th Street (Between Webster and Harrison) Oakland CA 94612
510 444 4572

thru Sat 11-4**

http://danwebbbooks.com/

The best bookstore for modelers I have ever seen- so good they even have a few plastic kits on the shelves! (These probably came in boxes of books…) The primary focus is aviation subjects, civil and technical as well as military, and military and naval. An interesting assortment of automobile, railroad, civil sea-fairing and boating books and magazines are available, (more than I’ve seen in almost any other store). Stock is sorted into technically focused, operational histories, and of course there are a lot of memoirs and proper history. Nearly one wall is more typical used-bookstore items- literature, physical science, art, mysteries, children’s books, recent titles in hardback and paperback. The civil aviation section is a whole book case, right by the register, with more titles than you’d typically see in the entire transportation section of a conventional book store. Airframe and engine development are another whole bookcase. “RAF, Battle of Britain” and “Luftwaffe, Battle Of Britain” are separate shelves. In the core stock there is a free mix of rare, out of print and new, in-print works, on the shelves

The old store’s large tables in the middle are gone. Then there are still boxes of paperback references- Motorbooks, Osprey, Aircam, Kokobura, Schiffer, Airlife, Bunrin-do and Eastern European titles. I haven’t seen all of the lower turn-over boxes- the Squadron In Action series, model railroad magazines, model airplane magazines, military and figure magazines, model ship magazines. The Naval Institute Procedings, Air Force Review, rail enthusiast publications, etc. etc. But I bet that and much is somewhere, if you just ask. I’ve had a full time just looking at what I can see and not exceeding my limit in the two visits I’ve had to the new digs. This is still the place to go and the web site even has stock on line!

This is one place you simply have to set a budget for yourself before you go in, because you’ll find more than you can afford (or explain) 9 times out of 10. Mr Webb clearly loves both books and the subjects his store focuses on, and there is frequently a discussion between him and his friends, associates, and down-town neighbors going on at the front of the store. The shop does buy used books, which are inspected and valued at the front desk. Magazines are not typically bought.

Both Dan and his store are Bay Area treasures and this is, perhaps, the best place of all for the hard-core Advanced Modeler Syndrome sufferer, because you can get that reference that will allow you to finish something! The last things I bought here (2010) was a bound set of Air International, volume 8 (been looking for 10+ years for this), a couple of gifts I won’t name until they’re given and The Red Badge of Courage, for my son’s school. Before that, Squadron’s “B-29 In Action”, a paperback copy of “Is Paris Burning” and Norris and Wagner’s “Boeing 737 -100 and -200″.

D & J Hobby Inc.
Now at a new location I have not yet visited:
” 5205 Prospect Road, Ste 160, San Jose, CA 95129 “
[
formerly 96 N San Tomas Aquino Rd, Campbell, CA]
(408) 252 1266
379-1696

http://www.djhobby.com/

This used to be my gold standard for plastic kit hobby shops- they still have extensive paints, (Tamiya, Gunze-Sanyo, Model Master, Polly Scale, Humbroil and Humbroil Acrylic (once the only place in the bay area that had it),  tool, and adhesive lines, and carry some car, military, airplane and ship kits, and a lot of magazines, but it ain’t like the old days. Stock does not turn as frequently, plastic kits have been reduced to about 30% of their peak shelf space.

That said, They still carry themselves like royalty; examples of the newest, neatest, kits are up at the register, already open and ready for you to look at. Just ask. Lots of tools and a huge decal selection too. In airplane models, they are down to this and that from Revell Germany, Revell-Monogram, Hasegawa and Italeri, with some Tamiya and Academy, some of the smaller makers (Acurate Miniatures, MPM, Special Hobby, Testors, Smer, L&S/Arii, etc), and not so much Minicraft any more. Cars have the usual ERTL/AMT, Revell, Tamiya, Academy, as well as Heller/Airfix, Aoshima, etc. This is the most reduced section, I think.

In armor they have a lot of 1/35 from the usual suspects (Tamiya, Dragon, Italeri) some AFV Club and other specialists, and some 1/7x (Revell, ERTL,Dragon, Italeri, Hasegawa) with a wide variety of 1/72-1/76 scale figures.

Most ship kits are Revell, Academy or Tamiya, with some Trumpeter and Lindberg.

Besides paints, where they really stand out is a truely VAST selection of aircraft, military and car decals- probably the best I’ve ever seen in person. They also have a huge RC & flying model department, a large games and figures department, large trains department and very large slot car department. The huge arts and crafts setup in the other half of the building is now shrunk to half-size and the freed area has been turned into a big race track for the Tamiya 1/28 4wd racers- looks cool, if you like that kind of thing

In airplanes, at least, their former overstock of many kits of a limited range is history- there aren’t more than 2-4 of any given subject, its a very wide mix now.

There appears to have been more than one wave of turnover among the modeling staff in the last 5 years. If they have what you want, or you’re open to a variety, they can be great, still. But looking for something specific, and popular, is a roll of the dice. Things will improve when they clean out the airplane section, I hope. They’re still a good source for unusual car kits, though no longer the best.

The last thing I bought there (2010) was Humbroil Acrylic paint, a light blue and a white, before that, were 1/72 Hawker Hurricane decals.

Franciscan Hobbies,
1920-A Ocean Avenue San Francisco, CA 94127-2745 -
415 584 3919

http://www.franciscanhobbies.com/

A medium-to-big, full range hobby shop. They stock a wide variety of plastic kits, with a particularly impressive model ship section. Planes and cars and armor/military each get a display shelf, and stock is not restricted to mainstream suppliers. There isn’t a full range of any product line, but there are plenty of specialist kits, enough Revell-Monogram, Trumpeter, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Italeri, etc, Like Hobbies Unlimited and Berkeley Ace, they have a special display of new, big, expensive kits, up on the wall, just to whet your appetite.

Trains are probably the biggest section, and I’m sure they make more money on RC airplanes, cars and boats than scale models. A small selection of aftermarket detail sets is at the register downstairs. Squadron and other softback reference books are plentiful, and magazines (including back issues that must be old hordes being recycled) and a shelf of hardback references in the finishing department. Bass, balsa, carbon fiber, metal sheet and tubing, and fittings of every size, shape and description are available.

The staff is enthusiastic and helpful. There are wonderful flying stick and tissue model airplanes hanging near the entrance, but no display shelf for customer’s scale models. I have a sense that there isn’t an advocate for static scale models in the staff I’ve met, but that they see a need and know the business. Anything you can name can be ordered, of course.

The last things I got there were a (2nd hand) Falcon 1/72 F3D Skyknight, a bag of cottage industry tarps and bags for armor detailing, an Eduard 1/72 F4F-4 brass photo-etch set and the smallest plastic model airplane ‘kit’ I’ve ever seen- Plastruct’s 1/1000 civil airplane bag containing an SST and three large, single prop low-wing jobs- Pilatus PC-12s? Very cool!

GILROY HOBBYS
6901 Monterey Road, Gilroy, CA 95020
(408) 847-8799 ‎

1/24 1/25 car kits, pricy ($13-50) but wide selection of US makers – AMT, MPC, Revell, Monogram, Jo-han, Lindberg. Little bits of non-US makers: Tamiya, Fujimi, Airfix/MPC, . Many 2nd hand, all sealed, guaranteed unless stated otherwise. (Some are partial, some started, some w/o instructions, according to labels.) Pretty good selection of Hotwheels, Johnny Lightning, etc, for the collector of small, metal, cars.

RC cars/trucks wheeled vehicles looked like an active interest of the owner- lots of stuff, wide as well as deep. range. Some New Old Stock (NOS), some unused but probably bought 2nd hand.

Airplane selection thin, odd, a few newer kits at market price- (Tamiya 1/48 Mosquito, $35), older kits over-priced (Minicraft/Hasegawa EA-6B for $25? you tell me.). Fair Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) RC planes in nice boxes, not a lot of spares. Small amount of model trains. slot cars.

Bunch of arcade style video games and boxes of comic books in bags. Also antique toys- 1970 back to 1950s, maybe even earlier. Magic, Yu-gi-oh, etc, trading cards. Possibly sports cards too. Oddly assorted arts and crafts supply, some airsoft and paintball. Big Tamiya 1/28 Four Wheel Drive car track, setup for party/event use.

You’ve heard that there’s a fine line between “Hobby” and “Mental Illness”. You can see both from here. Plastic models, paint, the arts and crafts supply and flying model departments look like a mix of personal collection, other people’s collections from estate sales, flea markets, and store closings, etc.

At a guess, the owner(s) like cars, toys, models, working model, all kinds, and comic books. The only built-up items on display are automotive. Looking for a specific Mustang or Camaro or Dodge / GMC /vehicle in miniature? Worth checking. For all I know, the comic books are too. Otherwise, it may be difficult of find  something interesting to spend money on.

Last thing I bought here – Revell Germany  1/72 RAF  pilots & ground crew. $1 MORE than msrp. But I could use them, hadn’t seen one before and believe in supporting the locals

Hobbies Unlimited
937 Manor Boulevard, San Lorenzo, CA
510-351-7112

A broad-based, general purpose hobby shop, deepest in plastic scale models, trains, RC and slot cars, flying models, lots of airplane, ship, military and train references. Solvent-based Model Master and the full line of Tamiya acrylic/alcohol-based paints, some Tamiya spray paint, Floquil solvent based railroad and Polly Scale large-bottle railway paints are stocked, but no Model Master Acryl. Paint and finishes for model rockets, RC cars, planes and train layouts available as well. Lots of glues and specialized tools.

Of course they stock the Aristo-craft 130, 140, 260 and 280 size utility electric motors for science-fair projects and the like. Also Dumas boat motors and lots of power boat propellers- the plastic ones are cheap, the metal ones are NOT cheap. Big RC car tires and wheels aren’t cheap either ($10-20 for 2-4 wheels, 2-4 tires) but modern, rough and tough stuff.

In car kits, a large selection of domestic USA kits, Tamiya, some Hasegawa, Fujimi, Italeri, sometimes Airfix or Heller. Lots of sports cars and Grand Prix cars, besides the US muscle cars and dragsters.

In airplane kits, Monogram/Revell, Airfix, Heller, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Accurate Miniatures, Minicraft as well as short run kits, resin, photoetch and vacuformed detaling parts are in stock. All scales, from 1/18 display models and 1/24 kits down to 1/144, 1/350 and 1/700 are available. Emphasis is 1/48 and 1/72 kits but this is consistently the best place for 1/144 kits in the Bay Area.

Naval and military/armor builders are also well served, lots of 1/35, some 1/7x and the new 1/48. Large selection and many choices. The owner displays large kits at the end of the aisles and up on the walls, a lovely effect.

21st Ccntury Toys products are well stocked, both the pre-built 1/18 planes and the 1/32 kits. Resin, photo-etched and vacuformed accessory and detail parts for airplane and car models are also well stocked.

For the flying model builder, balsa wood in 3 foot and 4 foot lengths is available, along with all the fiddly bits, high quality contemporary stick and tissue kits, gas and electric kits, and intro/easy flyer stuff. RC gear, motors, etc.

At their old location, of all the shops I visit, this was the one where you were most likely to find other scale modelers standing around talking. Sometimes even about models. With flying models, trains, scale kits, references, paints, RC cars, planes and boats, slot cars and magazines for all the above, all under one roof, they may be strongest ‘general’ hobby shop shop left to us. J & M would come in second, and Talbots, Franciscan and Fremont Hobby Town would tie for third. I hope this tradition continues at the new location.

The last things I bought here were (2010) An AMT ’62 Ford Thunderbird and the recent Fujimi Ferrari 330/P4. Previously, a set of True Details 1/48 resin tires and wheels for the AMT 1/48 F7F-3 and the new Squadron US Attack Submarines book,

Hobby Company,
5150 Geary Blvd San Francisco, CA 94118 -
(415) 386-2802

http://www.hobbycosf.com/

Plastic kits have shrunk down to ‘local’, a few of every category, not a lot of anything. Still a fairly good range car and airplane kits, some armor/military/figures, ships, spaceships and fantasy figures. A special display of Revell/Monogram Hot Rods for a contest to be judged later in 2011. All mainstream, with the usual US and Asian brands, Revell Germany, BUM and Italeri. A largish collection of magazines and some hard and softback reference books too. The paint and finishing material stock is extensive, with Model Master solvent and Acryl lines, Tamiya and Gunze-Sanyo. The arts and crafts side has a huge range of brushes, along with extensive art paints and supplies, craft stuff, RC plane & car supplies, doll house supplies, etc. Some train stuff but much smaller than static scale models.

They don’t stock complete lines of models, but its not hard to find something of interest, and the stock turns regularly. A nice display case built into the front counter shows lots of car models from the local modelers. If I needed a mix of modeling and arts and crafts item this would be my first choice, in San Francisco.

The last things I bought there was (2011) a tube of Rub-and-Buff  “Silver” metalic finish, and some 3/16″ X 1/2″ basswood. They’ve got some of each of the whole range of Midwest’s hardwoods- maple, mahogany, cherry (!), walnut, along with bass and balsa. Previously (2008 or possibly 2009) a Tamiya 1/48 Sherman Firefly IC, a hardback on the Lockheed Constellation with extensive color profiles and a bottle of Gunze Sanyo paint.

 

Hobby town USA
Concord, CA

Once of the larger Hobby Town USA shops in the bay area, with a slowly decreasing selection of plastic models. Not nothing, good, interesting stuff, but not a wide selection for browsing. That said, if you have something in mind I’d bet you could order it for about the same as any regular mail-order plus postage. Last thing I bought here was another example of the Revell Germany Golf II Coupe. Maybe a race-car, maybe a steel-wheel economy car, its a VW and one I used to own, so I feel good about it. Sure wish Revell GMBH believe in brakes on models as much as I do…

Hobby town USA
840 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 900-8202

Hobbytown Sunnyvale is compact but offers a wide range of hobby supplies – plastic airplanes, cars, military vehicles, etc, along with finishing supplies, references, etc. RC airplanes and cars, flying rockets, and a host of other hobbyish stuff is available. Staff are very nice, Selection included some new kits and some classics, not exhaustive but they can order lots of not everything. The power of the franchise is they share purchasing and use multiple distributors.

I bought a 1/32 snap-together car and something else in the small end of my range, got a 10% discount for their July 4 sale or something like that. Good stuff! Its a long way from my home but I’d check them every once in a while, for sure.

 

Japantown Collectibles – Japan Center Kinokuniya Bldg.,
1st Floor, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Tel: 415-563-2970

Oriented toward the anime and Japanese culture fan, plastic kits are only a small part of their stock, but they take them seriously. Lots of movie and TV theme car and plane kits that you’d otherwise only seee at Hobby Link Japan, as well as non-marketing-tie-in stuff that isn’t normally sent to the US market, like Toyota Leven 86 drift racers and the Honda Beat micro-super-car.

This is the only place I have ever seen the Airfix TSR-2 on the shelf, and they stocked it because a look-alike was in an anime movie/series! With Airfix and othernon-Asian brands in stock, you’re looking at a wide, wide, assortment of kits here, and the staff is both enthusiastic and informed. Its hard to predict which Drift Grand Prix, Space Battleship Yamato, Gundam, etc, kits might be in stock, but of you’re interests go that way, this is definately a place to try. If you’re after something specific, call first. The last thing I bought there was an Aoshima Honda Beat convertable.

J & M Hobby House
1660 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA – (650) 593-5019

Up to the minute stock with the comprehensive and warm environment of the old-style Hobby and Crafts store. Hobbies are in the back, Crafts up front, and the husband and wife team that run this place have been there for 30+ years. The building is an old dear of Art Deco style, worth a trip just to see itself. Stock is varied and fresh, mostly mainstream but with some cottage industry/short run stuff.

Naturally they have the Aristo-craft 130, 140, 260 and 280 utility electric motors in stock, along with several different assortments gears, Tamiya’s very nice gear-boxes, larger motors etc, for the inventor/tinkerer/science-fair participant.

Among plastic scale models, planes, cars and ships get the most shelf military vehicles but less than, say, Hobbies Unlimited or Berkeley Ace Hardware.

Full range of Model Master and Tamiya paints, Squadron books, Huge selection of RC planes, helicopters and boats, an amazing selection of HO slot car hop-up parts,a substantial train department and operating ship models. Far from living in the past, they listen to their customers, clearly know quality when they see it, only have one or at most two of anything in the wall of kits.

They sell a lot of RC Electric stuff to hardcore fliers, hop-up parts to slot-racers. The counter people sound like they know what they’re talking about. If you visit only one store that’s new to you on this list, this should be it. Then the rest.

The last things I bought from them was an ICM 1/48 Supermarine Spitfire Mk VII and a Lindberg 1/32 1936 Ford Coupe.

Kit & Caboodle the Hobby Shop – MOVED! NOW:
3675 Main, Oakley, CA – 925 625 6000
10-7, Tuesday-Friday, shorter hours Saturday
http://www.kit-and-caboodle.com/

FORMERLY:
425 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706 – 510 524 9942

The former local hobby shop north of Berkeley, in Albany, near the BART station. Kit and Caboodle (Note, K, then C, and the web address has embedded “-” dash characters) seem to have moved to Oakley. I haven’t visited them there yet.

In the old days, they had the most depth in RC (at a guess RC airplanes) and trains, with an interesting selection of plastic airplanes, some cars and some armor/military/ships etc. Some of the stock was clearly new, some quite obscure (Pegasus WWI subjects, Aircraft In Miniature vac-kits of transport aircraft in 1/72…) I think a some of the airplane kit stock must have been second hand, there are only a few of the 1/48 Monogram/Revell/Hasegawa/Tamiya/Academey kits that set the pace for plastic modelling today. So you might have found an old dear by Airfix, Hasegawa, Heller or Monogram, Italeri or Frog, in 1:72, or you might find the latest Revell Germany or Tamya kit.

Model Master and Polly Scale paint were in stock, and extensive paint and finishing tools and supplies. (Railroad influence probably) A large range of spare and repair parts for outdoor planes, cars, rockets, etc, and sage advise for beginnners, was available. All of the staff appeared to be even older than this faithful scribe, which may explain why everything was so orderly and neat. They were very nice people and could doubtless order anything that’s available through normal channels.

The last thing I bought, at their old, Albany, location, was a set of Model Master photo-etch part clippers- similar to plastic part clippers but about twice as expensive, with hardened blades.

Nor Cal Hobbies & Raceway
30600 Union City Blvd, Union City, CA – (510) 324-5700

http://www.norcalhobbies.com/

Aimed at the RC Car fan, they have one shelf unit of scale models, a fair selection of Tamiya, Hasegawa, Dragon, Revell, Academy, Italeri, planes, and military, some cars, motorcycles and naval ships. Almost all good stuff too. Tools and supplies are mostly RC oriented, but the vibe is good and though it moves slowly, the stock is fresh, since they opened several years ago. Prices are suggested retail, not jacked up, as sometimes happens. Odds of finding exactly what you’re looking for are low, but you can get a good kit for a present or make a lucky find. It’ll be interesting to see if they re-stock or just let it run down. The last thing I bought here (2008? Earlier?) was the Tamiya 1/700 Russian Kursk waterline sub.

R C Unlimited
RC Unlimited Hobby Shop
Slot Cars and Hobbies
Slot Cars Unlimited Raceway
Speedway
Castle Hobbies
14910 Camden Ave, San Jose, CA – (408) 377-7760
14918 Camden Ave, San Jose, CA – (408) 377-3771

http://www.rcunlimited.net/

They have a variety of names, but the 5 digit address on Camden is common. A full-range RC Car shop, with some RC airplane and scale modelling stock. They had an old, commercial, 1/24-1/32 slotcar track and lots of cars, parts, historic stuff, etc but have released that part of the store. Some modern 1/32 home slot car stuff as well. An employee there told me they bought-out the last of San Antonio Hobby’s stock, at least in plastic kits and RC Cars. They have SA’s sign.

The plastic kits don’t turn very quickly, but they maintain a stock in cars and some planes. Tamiya Acrylic and Testor’s Model Master oil-based paints are both stocked, brush and spray types. Lots of brushes and other finishing supplies. Last time I was there I was looking for Metalizer but they didn’t have any in rattle cans. Last thing I bought (2009) was a set of replacement rotor blades for a small IR control helicopter. Earlier, Tamiya static model car spray paint.

 

Slot Car Magic and Hobbies
104 Parrott St, San Leandro, CA – (510) 357-8514

http://www.slotcarmagic.com/

Primarily 1/32 slot cars, parts and accessories, and a lovely 4 lane track for same. Computerized timing shows 6 or maybe 8 second laps, which is a long time for a modern, spot-magnet-equipped, 1/32 scale-looking car from Scalectric, Fly, Monogram, etc. There is a selection of car and airplane static scale models in the back, and a modest selection of paints and adhesives. Cars tend to be US muscle cars from the 1960s and ’70s, airplanes are a small range of 1/144, 1/72, 1/48 and 1/32, almost all military subjects, but recent stuff and not junk. Open late Friday and Saturday night for racing, this might be the place for a quick purchase at 8:30pm. The couple that owns this place work hard every day and its got a big heart. Naturally, they can order models and supplies.

The last thing I bought here was Testor’s dark metalic blue, rattle-can and brushing type, and some 1/16″ masking tape stripe for airline models..

Sheldon’s Hobbies
2130 Trade Zone Blvd, San Jose, CA – (408) 943-0220

http://www.sheldonshobbies.com/

The bulldozers got their old building on Old Oakland Road, but they’ve relocated. Sheldon’s carries a small selection of static kits, but also a full line of Model Master, Tamiya and Polly Scale model paints, epoxy and solvent-based putties, brushes, sanding sticks, tools, scale references (mostly aimed at flying models), balsa, carbon fiber, basswood, hardwoods, aluminum, steel, brass are all in stock. And, of course, their main business of flying models, RC, U-control and free flight, and RC cars, on-road and off-road, with finishing supplies for cars and planes. They have an indoor track for RC cars in the back of the building. Three guys were drifting their cars around faster and I could when I was there last, and more were arriving as I left.

The last thing I bought here was a tube of Tamiya rubbing compound, a carbon fiber tube and a wide roll of fiber reinforced strapping tape, for use on a tape-reinforced styrofoam gliders and powered planes.

Talbots Toyland
445 S B St, San Mateo, CA -
(650) 931-8100

http://www.talbotstoyland.com/

Between Talbots and J&M there used to be some kind of time-warp is at work on the San Francisco Penninsula. To J&M’s classic old school hobby shop, working in the 21st century, Talbots was an old school downtown toy story doing the same. Well, with time, the space devoted to plastic kits has decreased, with more trains, airplanes and die-casts. Kits are all mainstream, stocking is fair, some variety, and the magazine shelves includes both periodicals and Squadron and other references in soft cover. Kits are mostly cars, airplanes, some armor/military, some ships, the usual formula. Trupeter, Revell Germany, Italeri, Monogram Revell, Hasegawa, Tamiya, AMT/Ertl, etc, are the main kit vendors.

They have Model Master and Tamiya paint, some aftermarket decals. A small number of very nice models are displayed in one case. Other “hobby” items include trains, RC cars and planes, rockets, etc. A very large selection of diecasts at the front of the hobby section will make you want to build better looking models from plastic kits.

The last thing I bought here was the Tamiya 1/72 Supermarine Spitfire MkV/Trop, and a set of U.S. star with yellow circle decals.

Toy Safari
1410 Park St Alameda, CA 94501 (510) 522-1723

I shouldn’t tell you about this place, but I will. This is a very nice, local, toy shop, with a small, *very* eclectic model department. Everything from two new 1/72 TBD Devastator kits (Valom’s new tooling and the recent reboxing of Airfix’s 35+ year old effort) to a 1960s issue of Airfix’s venerable 2 pounder and Bren Gun Carrier. Star Wars kits, AMT and Fine Molds, are very well represented. No paint, glue, or tools displayed. The ancient and collectible kits have market (high, but fair) prices. The stock is too small and too greatly varied to count on finding anything in particular, but its not going to be boring! Some is clearly second hand, perhaps estate and garage sales are the primary source. The last thing I bought here (2009) was a Valom Douglas TBD Devistator. Earlier, the original Bandai boxing of the two person gunship from Miyazaki’s “Princess Nausicaa”.

———-========== * # * ==========———-

Places I haven’t visited yet:

Brentwood Hobbies
160 Chestnut St, Brentwood, CA – (925) 240-7111

Hobbytown USA
Sunrise Plaza, 638 Blossom Hill Rd, San Jose, CA – (408) 229-1972

Hobbytown, USA,
Petaluma

Viking Hobby
Sacramento, CA

———-========== * # * ==========———-

Not-really-static-scale-model-places that I’ve visited:

Games of Berkeley
2151 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA – (510) 540-7822

No static plastic models. A wide range of game figures and figure painting supplies

R C World of Planes
520 Lawrence Expy 307, Sunnyvale, CA -
(408) 732-9029

No static plastic models. RC Planes, a bit of balsa wood and carbon fiber for the scratchbuilder.

Victors Hobbies Inc
39269 Cedar Blvd, Newark, CA – (510) 796-8049

No static plastic models. RC Planes and cars, balsawood, basswood, and carbon fiber for the scratchbuilder.

Aeromicro
1655 S De Anza Blvd, Cupertino, CA – (408) 255-5566 -
near SCOTT in SANTA CLARA NOW

No static, plastic, models. Nice flying model ship, pretty much all RC electric.

Legends Diecast & Collectibles
790 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA -
(650) 508-8588

No static kits. A VAST stock of diecasts. But I prefer to build my own. I’ve never seen them actually open but looking through their window is a treat.

Gator Games & Hobby,
4212 Olympic Ave, San Mateo, CA -
(650) 571-7529

Not really a kit builders place. Game pieces, figures, paint and finishing supplies.

Hobby Engineering Store
180 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA -
(650) 552-9950 (650) 552-9925

The place to get parts for the robot or other complex, technical, thing that you’re building at home. Nice people, neat stuff, though not cheap. Scale modelers can get latex mold and resin-casting supplies here, as well as parts for working features, sensors to detect triggers in the environment, etc.

Arch
99 Missouri St San Francisco, CA 94107 -
(415) 433-2724

Listed as a hobby shop, they’re an art supply store, with lots of airbrush, X-acto knife, finishing tools, etc. But no kits, as such.

Cliff’s Variety
Castro, San Francisco, CA

Reported on the Internet to have models and hobby supplies, the nice fellow I spoke with on the telephone checked and came back to say that they didn’t have any such stock at the moment.

———-========== * # * ==========———-

Games, Trains, RC, other specialists, but not plastic kit sources:

R C Tech
1618 Sullivan Ave, Daly City, CA – (650) 992-7600

California Hobbies LLC
1702 Meridian Ave I, San Jose, CA – (408) 448-1449

RC Airplanes.

Games Workshop
925 Blossom Hill Rd, San Jose, CA – (408) 226-6325

Figures, paints and supplies. A source of paint, brushes, etc, if you’re close or their hours fit you.

Grandrc
2235 Grant Rd, Los Altos, CA – (650) 962-0400

Games Workshop
1466 Stoneridge Mall Rd, Pleasanton, CA – (925) 463-1481

Loco-Boose Electric Train Shop
260 Main St D, Redwood City, CA – (650) 368-1254

Nor Cal Trains
2791 Depot Rd, Hayward, CA – (510) 887-7115

R C World
4088 East Ave, Livermore, CA – (925) 960-1158

Welly USA Inc
23759 Eichler St J, Hayward, CA – (510) 782-8198

Caboose
1225 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA – (650) 508-8669

Starwood Scale Models
17 Starwood Dr, Woodside, CA – (650) 851-9027

Uppa Valley Lines
PO Box 60613, Sunnyvale, CA – (408) 733-8772

Digital Bay Control Systems
17950 Hesperian Blvd, San Lorenzo, CA – (510) 276-2710

Kwok Silas Helicopters
1909 Valdez Ave, Belmont, CA – (650) 591-0888

Gary Mathews Enterprises
14297 Wicks Blvd, San Leandro, CA – (510) 351-3503

Epic Adventure Games
222 Mount Hermon Rd, Scotts Valley, CA – (831) 438-2032

Peninsula Channel Commander
22300 Cabrillo Hwy, Half Moon Bay, CA – (650) 726-1452

Tom’s Trackside Trains
1675 Rollins Rd B1, Burlingame, CA – (650) 692-9724

Homeroom Racing Cafe
Now back on Park St, Alameda, CA – (510) 865-1575

Big, fast, track. Nice people.The attached restaurant is really, really, good!

Clawson Cassidy
3110 Porter St, Soquel, CA – (831) 479-1680

Toy Train Depot
1951 Bywood Dr, Oakland, CA – (510) 444-8724

All Speed Hobbies
230 S Spruce Ave, S San Francisco, CA – (650) 692-6180

———-========== * # * ==========———-

No longer in business: Sigh.

Gee-Bee Hobbee <== RIP Closed
234 Golf Club Rd Pleasant Hill, CA 94523 (925) 798-5133 <== RIP Long Closed

Had just changed owners and when I last dropped in, I need to go back. I’m told they’ve re-stocked with Revell-Monogram and Revell Germany, and other manufacturers. They had been very RC intense, which would keep the doors open and pay the bills, but also had a wide range of flying models, craft stuff, mainstream plastic models, some trains, and decades of ‘hobby shop stuff’- tools, adhesives, specialty stuff. Model Master, Polly Scale and Tamiya paints, along with airplane dope and RC Car body paints, and a good shelf of Squadron books.

The last thing I bought there was an A-Model 1/144 UH-16 Triphibian, priced a bit over market, a Hobbycraft B-47, priced a bit below market, and a Revell Ferrari 612 on sale for $10.

Hobbytown USA – Fremont – CLOSED 8/2011 <== R.I.P.
39152 Fremont Hub, Fremont, CA – (510) 796-2744 - CLOSED  8/2011  <== R.I.P.
http://www.hobbytown.com/CAFRM/ - CLOSED   8/2011 <== R.I.P.

C L O S E D  M I D –  A U G U S T  2 0 1 1 ! ! ! Sidewalk traffic down after Borders closed, I hear the corporate Hobbytown people wanted the owner to get a 10 year lease… So a new store under different management may appear…

My favorite Hobbytown, of the several that I’ve visited, since the old Milpitas store closed. A friend from Silicon Valley Scale Modelers says the Concord store has even nicer management, so consider both.

Well stocked with Model Master, (acryl, military and automotive), Tamiya (bottles and spray cans) and Polly Scale (aircraft AND train lines) paints, also Vallejo’s full line of acrylics in squeeze bottles. Tools and adhesives of many kinds.

A large stock of Airplane, Ship, and Military kits get about a facing shelf unit each, separated by an aisle, Cars get a wall display across the end of the aisles. A good range of mass-market kits, but little cottage industry stuff, no airliner decals, SNJ or Alclad, etc… Some Resin and photo-etch accessories, for aircraft, armor AND cars, is behind the register right next to the finishing products. Not the one that’s in the RC department.

Osprey and Squadron books are in stock, and a decreasing selection of Aeromaster decals, mostly 1/48 fighters (duh). They are a volume outlet and the stock turns over pretty well. Tamiya, Hasegawa, Revell/Monogram, Revell Germany, Academy, Minicraft, Testors, Airfix, Heller, Trupeter, ERTL/AMT and some Aoshima Japanese drifters are all in large supply. A LOT of die-cast collectors stuff in traditional modeler’s scales also get a pair of facing shelves, and Japanese Gashpon trading kits are available.They also carry RC, trains and slot cars, arts and crafts stuff for kids. Things that move too slowly get marked down with bright green ‘sale’ stickers, 25% off, typically. There used to be a ‘sale table’ but recently the bargains have been left out with the general run of products, so browsing is well rewarded.

Its a big store, and they seem serious about serving the local customers. But plastic scale models isn’t something that any of the staff I’ve met actually are interested in, so the result is somewhat out of a cookbook rather than from the heart.

The last things I bought here (2011) was a bunch of Polly Scale paint at the going out of business sale. :^(

Hobby World: San Jose <== RIP Long Closed
6148 Bollinger Rd, San Jose, CA – (408) 873-2109 <== RIP Long Closed

I have to believe this was an offshoot of Hobby World in Gilroy. They were big on 1/28 Tamiya racing, with comic books, collectables and trading cards, lots of RC cars, some RC planes, and a somewhat wierd selection of plastic kits. Closed now, and empty. The last thing I bought here was the Lee 1/144 F-14A kit- yet another bad F-14, not even a copy of any of the existing bad F-14s.

Marsten’s Crafts and Hobbies   <== RIP Long Closed
Hacienda Gardens Shopping Center, Meridian and Hillsdale Avenue…
<== RIP Long Closed

My childhood favorite, full service, plastic models, trains, balsa, slot cars. Huge stock, brass trains, unpainted, in the window, packaged their own line of craft supplies. Gone for at least 25 years now… The last thing I clearly remember buying there was a Tamiya 1/48 M-60 tank, possibly a Hawk Spitfire Mk 24.

Pepeno’s Hobby <== now closed or never existed…
3016 Macarthur Blvd, Oakland, CA – (510) 482-3300 <== now closed or never existed…

Found in recent internet searches. There isn’t a hobby shop any more at that address. A zombie name and address from the past? Its in the current phone book…

Root’s Hobby Hut <== RIP  CLOSED
Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA <== RIP  CLOSED

This closed store front stood empty for years, with the sign unlit but still
visible. 1960s vintage? The sign is now painted out and its a tattoo parlor.

Scenario Game & Hobbie Shop <== RIP CLOSED
37757 Duvall Ct, Fremont, CA – (510) 792-5468
<== RIP CLOSED

No longer in business, they couldn’t make their old business work in a new, rented, building, so they’ve closed. The last thing I bought here was a can of airbrush propellant.

Wold’s Hobbies    <== RIP CLOSED
7100 Village Pkwy, Dublin, CA – (925) 828-5350
<== RIP CLOSED

Was a great place, now closed- the owner retired. They’ll be missed. A full range shop with coin collecting and some scouting stuff as well as RC, scale kits, trains, slot cars, books, paint & finishing materials. Very nice. They’re missed.

The last thing I bought here was the Minicraft 1/144 R4D-5 “Operation High Jump”
C-47/C-53 THIS boxing has had better engine cowlings, engines and propellers
added, Bravo Minicraft! Now if they’d just fix their L.188 Electra’s horizontal
stabalizers (in the wrong place!), Then could you convince Revell Germany to fix the horizontal stabalizers on the 737-800 – swapped left and right! If you mountthem so the tab holds them at the right dihedral, the airfoil is upside down. If you mount the airfoil correctly, they have anhedral, not dihedral, like an F-4.

Yannis Hobbies   <== RIP  CLOSED
4846 El Camino Real suite 10, Los Altos, CA - <== RIP  CLOSED
(650) 965-2113   <== RIP  CLOSED

Where the action is in super-premium scale modeling in the Bay Area- think Ben and Jerry’s. The latest kits and reference material, from a wide range of sources, for airplanes, cars, military, some ships, and some die-cast. Here’s where to find books you never knew existed, where to see with your own eyes some kit that just appeared in the Squadron catalog, where to find magazines that aren’t on any other shelf within 2000 miles. Tamiya and Model Master paints, some tools and brushes, some decals. Airplane and military/armor selection is very broad but not exhaustive; anything can be ordered with a 2-4 day turn

In many ways this was a better replacement for San Antonio Hobbies than San Antonio itself was in it’s last decade(s). I’ve walked in and seen something I *must* have on almost every visit. And Yanni is one of us- a modeler, intense, someone who really digs a cool kit, or the one kit of a cool original. And there was nothing snooty here- you didn’t have to wonder if you qualified.

The several, small, display cases around the shop showed a range of local modeler’s talent, from stuff I only imagine doing to things that were clearly works of enthusiasm rather than skill. Shelves, tables and the counter were overflowing with kits, magazines and other desirables. It was like Christmas. There were a few inexpensive kits, but typical prices were MSRP, $12-25 (and up).

The last thing I bought here was a Hobby Boss 1/48 T-34/76 kit, which is a scale-down of the Trumpeter 1/16 kit from a few years ago Comes with complete interior and engine, $19.95!

Hobbytown USA – Sunnyvale  - CLOSED 201? <== R.I.P.
585 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA – (408) 738-9600  - CLOSED 201? <== R.I.P.
http://www.hobbytown.com/CASUN/  - CLOSED 201? <== R.I.P.

A smaller Hobbytown (they’re a franchise…) with one shelf of airplanes, cars, armor/military, ships, Model Master Acryl and oil based paints. Lots of tools and adhesives and figure painting paints. Obviously the big turnover for them is RC and stocking spare and repair parts for RC cars, planes, helocopters. I’m sure they could order static scale stuff through normal distributors.

The last things I bought here were two sets of 1/72 figures, (Lewis and Clark expedition, British 8th Army), four bottles of Model Master Acryl paint and a really great red sable brush.

Next time I looked for them (9/2011) they were gone.

Riverside Hobbies,
5141 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento, CA. Phone: 916-455-3747

Out of business the end of December, 2011. Good part, the couple who own it are retiring and they seem OK with it.  Better to retire than fly it into the ground.  This was a full service hobby shop, old school, all kinds of stuff, LOTS of plastic kits, paints, etc, as well as RC and other stuff I’m not that focussed on. So I dropped in the Saturday after Thanksgiving and they’ve got a 50% off sale going (!) and a lot of the store is bare. All the back walls RC stuff is cleared away, mostly plastic kits and some gaming stuff, and books, are whats left.

Of course I took advantage to buy some totally cool kits for the holiday gift exchange we put on in Silicon Valley Scale Modelers – The minimum standards for the exchange are $12-$15 retail value, no junk, no Lindberg, no over-wrapping (no figure sets in a refrigerator box…) Club officer’s decisions are final. Someone who puts a wrapped but unworthy object into the gift pile may have the item(s) returned to them and be asked to leave. All gifts are tracked by giver and an ID, until the wrapping is opened. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a problem, to tell the truth. But a 50% off sale (or a 2nd hand dealer) is the perfect place to stretch $15 to $25 for something seriously cool. LOTS of gifts given exceed the minimum, which is part of the fun. Some people are constrained and $12-$15 is is a real limit for them. Unless I ever run out of models, I figure its better to give than to receive!

Riverside’s prices were in the reasonable/market range and they offered some excellent specials… half off that meant a Hobby Boss 1/48 T-34 for $10,  $0.75 for little bottles of Testor’s acrylic (NOT Modelmaster- this is a line I’ve never seen anywhere else… works, nice, non-military, colors) $17 or something for a Hasegawa 1/48 F-104S in Tiger Meet colors. ESCI 1/72 A4s were $4 or so. Works for me!

In Yelp and other places you can read negative reviews of the counter people, but I had no such problems in my two visits. Judging from the books that show up for sale, used, somebody’s politics are seriously to the right of mine, and conservative talk radio wouldn’t surprise me. But the young guy with the shaved head was polite and helpful both visits I’ve made, and the owners were talking with their long time customers the way most owners who are retiring talk to long time customers… Since the 1960s, I’ve made it a point to NOT judge people by their hair cut, can you dig it? ‘Nuf said.

One on-line review recommended Viking Hobby, and while they were too far away to try this time… NEXT time I’ll give ‘em a go. At 50% off, there were bargains to be had at Riverside, though I expect it may empty out pretty quickly. Call first, to make sure they’re open.  Go see if they have’t that kit, paint, etc, you’re looking for. Come 2012, they’re gone.

Not there anymore Alas. Positively reviewed by someone else in 2010. Drive by in November 2013, no sign of them. :(

Gunnings’s Hobbies
538 San Anselmo Ave, San Anselmo, CA 94960-2614 – (415) 454-3087

http://www.gunnings.com/

A local hobby and craft shop out by Red Hill in the middle of Marin County. (Well away from highway 101.) Two facing shelves of plastic kits, mainstream and good quality, Evergreen styrene stock, I can’t remember what paints they had. Also doll-houses, trains, RC airplanes, cars, etc. All in a small shop, everything somewhat on top of everything else. Like Chan’s, think ‘local’ rather than ‘gigantic emporium’ and you’ve got it right.
Very nice staff, neat neighborhood if you don’t have to put up with the traffic every day.

The last thing I bought there was a bag or two of Evergreen styrene tubing and a Revell Germany 1/144 Airbus A-319. Revell Germany have Danny Coreman (DACO/Skyline) do a lot of their decals and he did the British Airway’s and the extensive detail markings that come with this kit.

23 responses to “Quick reviews of San Francisco Bay Area Hobby Shops

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    • Thanks,
      I’ll have to come check you out. Pure plays in RC aren’t my expertise domain, but I can at least look and report what I see.

      Bill

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  5. Bill,

    I was missing you had a blog before now.

    This is a lengthy entry – but approriate.

    I’ve been missing so much information before!

    TEK

  6. Come and Visit. We are looking to return to our Park Street Store, with a Road Course highlighted by a 50′ plus straightaway; Cars will be Racing by tables being serviced by our kitchen Cafe / Restaurant style. Presently we are at the mercy of the landlords expansion project, hopefully to be completed by May. In the mean time you can see our current track on the .net

  7. I think your site is great! I’m a plastic modeler visiting SF area from SoCal and always like to visit local shops and pick-up a few items here and there. You’re site is going to save me a lot of time and gas, Thanx!!!!
    I visited SF area several years ago (perhaps 6-years ago) and went to an older looking hobby shop I believe just out of the City (as I had to take the local freeways to get there and I absolutely loved the shop but I can’t remember the name. I do remember that it had a small frontage, street parking was difficult and I finally parked about a half block away in a residential area that was hilly as I had to turn my wheels to the curb. The shop had plastic armor, planes,paints etc. and advertised a local group that was into the RC Armor in 1/16 scale with all the remote goodies etc. Any idea which hobby shop I am describing (I know its a shot in the dark) but I’m here until March 15, 2008. I know its not DJs, San Antonio Hobbies, or Yannis. All the best – Tony

  8. Hi Tony,
    Welcome back- I’m glad if I can help. I hope you have a good stay!

    The shop you’re describing sounds like Franciscan- they’re big, on Ocean, so you’d have to get off the freeway and make a turn or two to find them, its residential directly behind them, and very much uphill! 1:16 RC Tanks sounds like something their customers would do. But they’re in SF proper- though a ways from downtown, or the South San Francisco biotech area, or other reasons for a business trip. From downtown you’d take the freeway to get there.

    I think of Franciscan as being about mid-way between where 280 joins 19th avenue, to the southwest, and where Ocean/Geneva cross the freeway that connects 280 and Daly City to 101. to the east. If you Google or Yahoo map them you’ll see.

    If you’d been in Japan Center you’d remember, and San Francisco Hobby Company out on Geary at 22nd or so hasn’t got much in the way of hills directly near-by. No hills near J&M Hobby House or Talbot’s, south of SF, or Hobbies Unlimited across the San Mateo Bridge. You wouldn’t have to curb the wheels at Berkeley Ace Hardware and you’d know beyond a shadow of a doubt you were in Berkeley, and that you’d crossed the Bay Bridge to get there.
    Chan’s is also backed-up against a hill- Van Ness is the big street its on, but behind it are apartments on the cross-streets, with a ‘local’ business street parallel to Van Ness but uphill one block, and more residences and uphill in every direction. The 1:16 RC Tanks sounds more of a stretch for them… but not impossible. But right on Van Ness wouldn’t feel like you’d left SF- you can see the Golden Gate and Alcatraz from that neighborhood.

    Of course, 6 years ago it could have been another shop, now closed, say the one in San Carlos I never saw. Lets hope that’s not the case.

    Let me know what helps and what doesn’t in the reviews, and what you’d have liked to know more about. If you post a trip-report I’d love to link to it.

    Cheers!
    Bill

  9. New address and phone for Hobbies Unlimited
    937 Manor Boulevard
    510-351-7112

  10. Bill, is the East Bay still considered a part of the Bay Area? If so, you missed Just Trains in Concord.

    This is a fabulous train store with a huge stock of HO, Lionel, and large-scale locos and rolling stock.

  11. From a modeler, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the time and effort you took to create this list for us modelers. I no longer have to look up the internet nor the outdated phone books for all the hobby shops within the Bay Area. There are many Hobby shops I have never heard of, let alone, knew existed within the general Bay Area.

    Once again, THANK YOU.

  12. Hi James,
    Your’re welcome! That is exactly why I put this info up! Let me know if you find another Bay Area hobby shop. I was down at Sheldon’s at lunch time buying paint today….

    I promise, I enjoyed finding J & M Hobby House, Talbot’s Capitola Hobbies, Gunnings, Franciscan, etc… The only work was going through, yep, internet listings and phone books, to find candidates to check out!

    Cheers!
    Bill

  13. IPMS Santa Rosa have a list of their own that’s worth checking – Nice work, less wordy than mine! http://www.ipmssantarosa.org/shops.htm

  14. One of the bay area’s best hobby stores for radio controlled products

  15. Carlos Custodio

    Bill,

    Thank you so much for the extensive hobby shop list. I was hitting dead ends looking for robot kits for my daughter, but your information steered me in the right direction. Your site is very much appreciated.

    • Hi Carlos,
      You’re very welcome- I’m very glad to help fellow enthusiasts., and especially their kids!
      I’d love to know what kinds of robots you found, what you were looking for, what you got for your daughter, and why, and how she liked it!?

      I’ll trade you a similar story of mine. One of my son’s friends’ birthday had the guy from RadicalRobots.com, who has 20 kids woth of a 1970s-80s motorized toy building set- control boxes with 5 or 6 double-pole-double-throw switches to make motors go in either direction, structural pieces (beams, plates) motor pieces, wheels, caterpillar tracks, arms, etc. I stayed as a parent-helper for a team of two girls. They were game but not drawn by sumo competition or battle & zero-sum stuff. so they built a robot soccer player with motorized feet and pig-tails steaming behind her. They got her done and took turns driving her around to ‘kick’ an appropriate size ball. The RadicalRobots guy liked it because he said it was hard to get girls engaged enough to complete their robot. I can’t remember the name of the set. Look it up perhaps.

  16. What do you think about first time airplane. The guy at the hobbytown me to stick with the battery powered setup, obviously much cheaper and maybe easier to start off with. I figuered that if I was going to spend money I would rather go gas. I mean I’d rather be out there all day rather than what about ten minutes on a battery?

    Bryan

    • Hi Bryan,
      Great question. You may be more skillful than I am or have more free time and really can spend a day ‘out there” flying. Boy, that sounds like fun! If you’ve never flown a physical model before, but you have used Flight Simulator and/or one of the RC airplane simulators, you may well pick it up like a duck in water. You may have access to an area where little internal combustion engines can be run all day without bothering anyone. You may be able to master RC flying by yourself. You’d be somewhat rare, but its not unknown.
      On the other hand, if you’re like me and many of the people I know, you’re going to trash more than one plane before you feel like an accomplished participant. So starting with a .20 powered “sport trainer” with ailerons and a 4 channel radio might be really cool, or it might be more complicated and difficult than you’d expected.

      The beauty of the electric first airplanes, the ones with the prop behind the wing, is that they’re tough and the pieces are available for when (not if) you crash it. It doesn’t look very macho potting around in the sky, but learning to reverse all the left-right control inputs depending on where the plane is pointing doesn’t really require looks on the part of the plane. Buy one with a dismountable battery, not built-in, and if you like it, you can get a second (and a third) and fly one while you charge the other (two).

      Almost everyone trying to learn to fly RC airplanes would be happier and more successful if they had an instructor, so if you’ve really got time to spend all day flying, you’ll have time to audition a teacher or two or three, pick one, and meet them for lessons. No doubt I’d be better if I’d done so. It goes against the lone-wolf image, but its not a video game and even the designed-for-beginners planes can be turned into scrap in a bad/good crash. Aviation, like watercraft, can be exciting and is filled with colorful characters, but it necessarily drives you to a certain conservatism. A car, bike or skateboard can just be stopped and you can consider your next move. An airplane has to land before you can think things over. As long as its flying, the pilot’s first job is to keep it flying, and its harder with RC than with real airplanes, because you can always just fly a real one straight and level. With RC, you have to keep turning it and bringing it back, unless you can tolerate setting it up in a big circle.

      So my Good Advice ™ which is worth what you paid for it, is to go back to Hobbytown, find out where the other fliers gather, go there, find a club and instructor you like, and 1) get some borrowed stick time if the instructor or club have a trainer or will hand you the controls, 2) Get the gas, electric, 4 stroke, glider, whatever the instructor recommends you start with (That’s why you have to be comfortable with them- you’re going to spend money on the strength of their advice. Hence, check out a few possibilities). 3) Have a good time!

      If you’re like me and try to teach yourself without an instructor, I pretty much guarantee you’ll crash and trash more than one airplane, so DO start with an easy electric trainer with the prop pointed aft and an extra battery. Don’t go for an indoor ultra-light weight 12 gram GWS wonderplane unless you really have an indoor place to fly. Buy something you can get spare parts for, particularly if its made of modern plastics. The gift of flight requires very low weight and a fair amount of power, for birds, free flight airplanes, RC airplanes or real airplanes. These light structures break easily. They will be destroyed, if used properly, at least until you’re an expert.

      Consider my experience and do better:
      1) first RC airplane, rudder-only, Cox 0.020 engine, lightly muffled. I got between 10 and 15 flights out of this plane, before accumulated damage and fuel + oil mix soaking into the plastic caused me to retire it. With only the rudder to worry about, all I had to do was steer it to stay approximately near me while I waited for the engine to run out of fuel!

      2) My second, electric motor, rudder and elevators, with actual landing gear. Ohhhh! Big mistake! I tried to take off from parking lots in an industrial park and all I succeeded in doing was smashing into the curbs. It only worked when I hand-launched it (lesson there) and the repeated crashes had bent the propeller shaft so it vibrated fearfully, wasn’t quite “straight” and could have been in far better shape.

      3) My third, 0.049 motor with muffler, rudder and elevators (no throttle) – a motorized glider, big wings, generous dihedral. At first I forgot how to start a Cox enginel and couldn’t get it going, so I flew it as a glider, hand-launching on a hill and making a turn or two before it slid to a stop in the long grass. Eventually I got the motor started (2 1/2 turns open needle valve does it) and the 0.049 wihout throttle proved FAR too powerful for my modest piloting abilities. As the crash damage added up, the engine was soon not ‘straight’ on the nose and I couldn’t trim the thing to fly hands off. It was all over the sky and I was “chasing” it- reacting, rather than leading. Of course it got away from me and smashed itself to smithereens.

      Did I have fun? Oh yeah! I still want to get some time and start with a modern foam glider…just like the balsa ones I CAN fly, but with controls too!

      My friend George started with a big semi-scale foam trainer that looked like a Cessna and had 4 channels and ailerons and a 0.15 or 0.20 engine… I don’t believe he ever got more than 10 seconds or 180 degrees of turn in any given flight/incarnation. He’d start it, check that everything was working, on the rolling takeoffs it got off the ground and then flipped onto its back and flew smartly into the ground. When hand launched it would ‘wind up’ in the first turn and fly into the ground. My conclusion was that it was too big, had too much mass, too many moving surfaces, too much engine torque and everything was happening too quickly. If we’d started with electic first-time flyers we might have gotten in a lot more flying.

      It took me years and many tries to make a rubber band powered airplane work too. In fact, all of this stuff is pretty hard and practice is the most important thing.

      Your mileage may vary, of course. But do have a good time and do let me know what you decided and how it worked!

      Bill

  17. Mr. Abbott,
    Thank you so much for the great information! It was our wedding anniversary last weekend and we returned to the Bay Area where we spent our honeymoon. My husband is an avid, life-long fan modeling, and using your advice, I planned a quick stopover in San Carlos on the way into San Francisco, and a partial day trip to Dan Webb books and Berkeley Ace Hardware on another day. I think that the Berkeley Ace Hardware was the favorite. Huge collection of models (and hardware also, which he loves). It was a great gift for him and he loved it! Thank you.

    • I’m delighted to have been of service! Congratulations on your anniversary too. I presume he’s doing web searches now for your treat, for next year….

  18. Excellent collection of hobby store knowledge my friend! Thanks u pretty much answered all my questions with 1 answer. Awesome!

  19. carolyn crowley

    Mr. Abbott,
    I am in search of help!! My 9 year old “tried” to build his own airplane and it had an unfortunate crash and seems to have many issues. Since I have no knowledge of how to fix an airplane, can you direct me to somewhere that does? I think we need to send it to the “airplane hospital” rather than fix it ourselves. We are in Redwood City….thoughts?
    thanks!
    Carolyn

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