by Chelsea Lin - 273 Reviews - 109 List
If tattoos were once the insignia of sailors, bikers and inmates, they're now so accepted around here that it's not hard to find a young chef or graphic designer with more ink than an entire chapter of the Hells Angels. Luckily, anyone looking to get tatted is in the right place: San Francisco is home to some of the best tattoo artists and shops in the world, and here are the best of the best.
Updated: October 22, 2009
Not known for being the friendliest tattoo shop in town (the virgin-skinned among us can expect some serious attitude), this Mission icon is one of the city's most respected tattoo shops, and for good reason. Not only is Black Heart run by top-notch tattoo artists, but the location is ideal: right next door to Zeitgeist. Don't drink before (alcohol thins your blood--messy), but the beer garden is the perfect place to show off your new piece/drink the pain away after.
Anyone wanting a spur-of-the-moment design without compromising the quality of art will want to check out this Western Addition studio. Walk-ins are welcome and (depending on the size and detail of the tattoo) can often be accommodated--if the artists are too busy, they'll at least set you up with an appointment in the near future, so you can come back for your tat before your courage level drops.
This women-owned Mission studio is home to some award-winning, cutting-edge artists; if tattooing has gotten too main-stream for you, they've still got you covered: the shop also offers branding and cutting, among other (seemingly more painful and exactly what they sound like) permanent ways to mod your bod.
This prominent Mission shop, celebrating its 20th birthday this year, is mostly geared towards piercing, but also employs skilled tattoo artists that have studied under the likes of Ed Hardy. First-timers are welcome here--in fact, they encourage parents to bring their kids here rather than the mall for first ear piercings. (Piercing is walk-in only but you should call ahead for tattoo appointments.)
Borrowing its name from famous tattooist and former owner Lyle Tuttle, this North Beach shop no longer features the legendary inker but is still obviously under his influence. Current owner Tanja Nixx may not have the stories Tuttle has (can you imagine what that man saw tattooing in SF in the '60s and '70s?) but she definitely knows her way around a tattoo gun.
Ed Hardy, the iconic pupil of Sailor Jerry and (unfortunately) inspiration for Christian Audigier's line of douchebag-friendly clothing, doesn't actually tattoo at his North Beach shop anymore, but you'll notice his old school designs--pin-ups, anchors, swallows, that requisite "mom" heart--in the work of son Doug Hardy, who works at the shop Fridays through Mondays.
Fans of Japanese yakuza-style full-body tattoos will want to call way ahead to book an appointment at this San Jose shop, where owner Horitaka (Takahiro Kitamura), a former apprentice of the acclaimed Japanese tattooist Horiyoshi III, is often booked years in advance. But for those who want intricate large-scale pieces in that traditional Japanese style--koi, cherry blossoms, dragons, etc.--it's worth the wait.
A mom-and-pop shop in every sense of the term, this Oakland hybrid is a hipster's dream one-stop--wife Hilary Decker runs a vintage shop selling clothes and accessories in front while husband Matt does the tattooing in back. Anyone viewing tattoo as more art than fashion statement will be right at home here, as Matt's an artist on mediums other than skin (his photo-like paintings and detailed ball-point drawings are proof of massive skill) as well.