Hello, and thanks for stopping by! Keep reading for tips on a real local experience of the San Francisco. Here’s a tip to get you started – no one calls it “Frisco!”
The City by the Bay doesn’t get enough credit in my opinion.
After living here for most of my life, I find myself always let down by the lackluster guides I see given to tourists who come here looking to experience “San Francisco.” When I was younger, I loved going to Pier 39, shopping in Union Square, and to see Fisherman’s Wharf, but as I got older, it lost it’s sheen. I wasn’t interested in the pier anymore, Alcatraz, or riding across the Golden Gate. Not to say these all aren’t amazing things to do when you’re visiting, but you can miss what San Francisco really is if you stick by the water, and with other packs of tourists. Believe me, I’ve been stuck on a few tour guides with visiting family members, and have been woefully unimpressed.
For those of you who like the touristy things, I’d say to check out any of the things I mentioned in the paragraph above, but if you want a little more, check out this list down here!
1. Hayes Valley
Located past the Tenderloin, and headed towards Haight-Ashbury, is Hayes Valley, a gem that gets overlooked quite a lot.
There are just too many hidden places here, and you could really go on a waist-expanding tour if you aren’t careful. Cue me running up hills in Pacific Heights.
Arti’s Coffee, if you go in the winter there is a Peppermint Mocha that I crave every day. La Boulangerie, a Parisian inspired chain cafe only found in San Francisco with the best chai latte’s you’ve ever had. Souvla (!!!) – trust me when I say that this is the highlight of coming to Hayes Valley, their Greek Yogurt with baklava and cherry sauce stops me from worrying about being lactose intolerant. Chantel Guillon, famous for their adorably decorated macaroons with flavors like Persian Rose, and Red Velvet. Absinthe and Arlequin are perfect stops for dinner and lunch with outdoor patio seating and Verve coffee. And never forget Chez Maman, French-style eatery with amazing steak and fries.
My favorite nail salon is here as well Lux SF, carrying the luxury nail polish brand Smith & Cult, and they do a sugar arm scrub that is to die for. It is the “Treat Yo Self” mantra exemplified in a nail salon.
There are plenty of bars, shops, and other great places to eat that make it well worth a gander when you’re visiting.
2. Golden Gate Park
So, if you want to walk off all the food you just ate in Hayes Valley, Golden Gate Park is the place for you.
I love the De Young Museum, which is hidden back behind quite a bit of shrubbery, because they’ve alway got something new going on, but have some amazing standbys. It’s a great place to check out beautiful art while you’re visiting. The rage seems to be around MOMA, but I think the De Young (and the Palace of Fine Arts) have beautifully classic pieces.
On top this there is the California Academy of Sciences if you love science, and frightening Albino alligators with red eyes (I’m not kidding!). Golden Gate Park is great for walks, there are lakes and ponds, as well as a beautiful conservatory of flowers hidden inside. Exploring the park is something I think people forget to do all the time, and I’d highly suggest it.
3. Lyon Street Steps / Pacific Heights
The “boujee” nothing bad about it.
Get those walking shoes on. You see that tiny white fence down there? Yeah? Well that leads to about a zillion more steps. A great place for a work out, and to gawk at the homes nearby which are owned by Silicon Valley billionaires. Careful not to get too close to their homes though, cameras everywhere.
This also gives you a nice view of the bay for photo-ops.
4. Sutro Baths / Lands End
If you’re looking for a real place for the perfect Instagram picture, it’s not the Golden Gate, it’s not Pier 39, it’s Sutro Baths.
This is not filtered at all, people. At golden hour this turns into a magical, gorgeous, breathtaking place. It’s absolutely stunning. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
6. NOPA, Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley
I’m grouping these together not because they are the same place, because they are all smaller and you could do them in a few hours.
I’m a little bias about NOPA, which is short for North of the Panhandle, it’s right across the way from the Haight-Ashbury District, and it’s actually where I live. It’s very close to Divisadero, which is a bustling growing place, but it’s quiet enough to where not much happens. There is a hidden restaurant here called Bistro Central Parc, and I’m not kidding when I say it’s amazing. I get desperate when I think about their roasted chicken. Ugh. Don’t get me started.
Haight-Ashbury does attract a lot of tourists, but that’s the main drag for the most part with the tie-dyed everything, piercing parlors, and Ben and Jerry’s. If you head for Divisadero street which is nearby, you’ll find some local favorites – Number One being The Mill, which has coffee that you’ll think about for the rest of your life, and amazing cinnamon sugar toast. Then there are plenty of other places, another Souvla, Beanbag Coffee, Powder Shaved Snow, and Little Chihuahua, a great Mexican restaurant.
Cole Valley is one of my favorites as well. It’s literally just one street of shops, but you’ll find a line wrapped around the corner almost every morning for French toast from Zazie! It’s a perfect carbo load for those of us who walk everywhere! Then another La Boulangerie. A hidden Bacon-Bacon (initially a food truck) store front. Good luck finding it. AND do not forget to check out Inovino, an amazing Italian restaurant across from a nail salon called Lavande.
7. Cow Hollow
The weirdest name for the cutest place.
I’m in love with Cow Hollow, a district close to the Marina, and one that is sorely overlooked. I came here a ton with family to go to Belga, another restaurant. There are plenty of good shopping places, and tons of cute alleyways for photos as well as great people watching and cafes. Make sure to find The Budstop, a beautiful flower store on the side of the road.
(10 Points to whatever Hogwarts House you’re in if you find this alleyway!!)
8. B Patisserie / Off The Grid / Salumeria
Banana chocolate croissant anyone? Caprese toast? Pretty flowers?
If you are a fan of delicious flavor, fun atmosphere, and beautiful table settings this place is for you! Located not to far away from the entrance to the ever-so-touristy Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a great place to check out before heading to see some sights.
Off the Grid is a Bay Area food truck conglomeration / party. Every Friday night in different spots (so check Twitter / Facebook / Instagram to see where they are) the best food trucks come together and hang out with you, your friends, and a live band. Make sure to bring a jacket though, because the one at Fort Mason will just about freeze your butt off.
Ignore the Yankee’s jacket in the background cause Go Giants! and focus on the meatball sandwich from Salumeria in the Mission District. Salumeria has pasta from the famous Flour and Water Pasta Shop, and it deserves the fame. I stuck with a grilled cheese because I was sick, and I was still floored by how good it was. Mission District is up and coming, and I can’t wait to see it grow more.
Take a walk by the Marina to get some great views, hang out at Crissy Field and catch the kites and pick up football games, and of course the Philz Truck! If you keep venturing into the Marina District, you’ll find great shopping, great food, and a great night life atmosphere. It’s located very close to Cow Hollow and you could see both in the same day. Don’t forget to check out the Palace of Fine Arts while you’re there, and try to find the abandoned Liverpool Lil’s!
Also if you’re lucky you might stumble across the house that was used in Princess Diaries One, as their high school. It’s not really a high school. Someone actually lives there, so don’t be too weird.
10. Ferry Building
I’m conceding the last one because it’s too great to pass up.
Now, like I said, I’m not one for tourist traps BUT the Ferry Building, which is local but also tourist-y, is something you just can’t miss. It’s set on the water, and it has my favorite burger place in the city inside. It’s called Gott’s – DO NOT MISS IT.
Along with Gott’s there is the Cowgirl Creamery, their specialty grilled cheese is something of dreams, and their Mt. Tam Triple Cream cheese is crazy good. Mariposa Gluten-Free Bakery has a satellite store inside. Hog Island Oyster Company deserves a mention as does the bookstore that sits next to it. The Farmer’s Market is there as well, and it’s very close to the Financial District aka, I’m there a lot!
Don’t miss checking out everything inside, and seeing the ferry boats come in at the benches outside.
Okay so, I guess those are my top suggestions for anyone who wants to see more. Comment if you have any questions, as I will hopefully have the answers! Good luck, and happy exploring!
xx the wandering punk
*disclaimer* all photos are mine! check out my photo blog at katyleia.vsco.co