Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, between the tall buildings in the financial district and in-between the tourist lined shops of Chinatown are the small neighborhoods that line the steep hills of the city by the bay. After watching restaurants, boutiques and bars come and go for the past six years, I’ve put together a guide that highlights some of my favorite places to spend time here San Francisco. Though the list of places to visit never stops growing, I hope you find this guide useful on your next vacation or staycation here in my beautiful city.
From long lines at all the must stop restaurants to neighbors lazing around in casual clothes and flip flops, 48th Avenue and Judah is the center meeting place in this close knit community. Hearing crashing waves while enjoying brunch at Java Beach Cafe is a special feeling that reminds me of my life before San Francisco in the central coast town of Santa Barbara. The brightly colored homes and buildings brings a pop of color to the often cloudy, fog filled skies. The hours spent peeking into the General Store, enjoying a snowy plover and strawberry corn muffin at Andytown Coffee Roasters and hitting the bluffs at ocean beach is a good way to enjoy a seaside afternoon.
If you are looking for a beautiful, true to San Francisco neighborhood to spend the day in, look no further than Noe Valley. Nestled in between the Castro and the Mission district, the streets located around 24th and Castro Street have unbelievable pops of color, pretty boutiques, small restaurants and one heck of a flower shop. The neighborhood is covered in classic Edwardian and Victorian architecture everywhere you look and the beautiful homes in the area are decorated with rose bushes and cherry blossom tress. The adjacent Twin Peaks block most of the fog and wind, leaving the valley drenched in sunlight and happy vibes when other districts are chilly.
Rare Device is a small shop filled with gifts, cards, stationary and handmade products from small artists.
Buttons Candy Bar is equip with a wall to wall selection of candies, nostalgic gifts, handmade soaps and other home goods. A must visit when in the neighborhood.
Flowers of The Valley floral shop stands proud with fresh blooms both inside and outside of the shop. It’s hard to miss, given their stunning sidewalk display!
Noe Valley Bakery is the place to grab something deliciously sweet from this bakery that’s been in the neighborhood for twenty years. You won’t regret it!
Any excuse to stroll around the Marina district in the middle of a beautiful day when the streets are drenched in sunshine I’ll take. Simply browse the homes, shops and eateries in the surrounding area while taking in sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding bay. Once you’ve finished up shopping on the popular Chestnut and Union Streets, head to Crissy Field and The Palace of Fine Arts.
The Bud Stop which has a long display of beautiful blooms
Palm House for giant punch bowls and a tropical themed menu.
Union Street Papery is the one stop for all your paper and party supplies, not to be missed. Follow the small path towards the string lights and the garden bungalow and you’ll stumble upon it.
Dermaplus is my favorite skin boutique for a facial, skin treatment, spray tan and a really great selection of products.
An afternoon popping into small boutiques, grabbing a scoop of handmade ice cream, and drooling over an adorable wall to wall candy store is always a good idea. Hayes Valley has all those things and more! The large green trees provide shade for the pastel colors buildings and shops that line the streets of this awesome neighborhood. Patricia’s Green in this area is a pristine urban park to enjoy lunch and the downtown sun. Must stops here are Miette Confisier, Smitten Ice Cream, Absinthe, Stacks and much more! Arrive at Hayes & Laguna to be in the center of the boutiques, eateries and a city style street beer garden.
When you visit Hayes Valley, don’t miss…
On sunny days, North Beach shines even brighter than it does normally. Pops of pinks and greens surround you as hanging flower baskets and bright cafes line Vallejo, Stockton, Green and surround streets. The history is rich here and there are many attractions that bring locals and tourists here each and every day. If you’re looking for a more casual feel to your afternoon in North Beach, there are many pizza by the slice joints as well as gelato stands that are just as delicious as a sit down meal. Make sure to allow time to shop along Grant Street (between Union Street and Green Street) and maybe even take home some delicious items from one of the many Italian pastries along Columbus Avenue!
After taking a quick trip to the top of Coit Tower, you can venture a few blocks down into the heart of North Beach. When we arrived, a double espresso from Mara’s will give you the pick me up you may need after climbing the steep hills and steps of Telegraph Hill.
Calzone’s is a great place to dine because of the bright sidewalk tabletops and delicious food. The service is fast and it’s fun to daydream of Italy there.
The Stinking Rose was our growing up it was our go-to restaurant when visiting San Francisco and I have celebrated quite a few birthdays there!
Mama’s is an iconic breakfast spot in North Beach. Be wary thought, the line is extremely long on almost any given day.
Washington Square Park is a great spot to picnic or even enjoy a bottle of wine at! After, cross the street and enjoy a cocktail and small bites at Original Joe’s. This place is iconic to North Beach and the outside seating will provide some great scenery and people watching.
Stella Pastry & Cafe for delicious treats and espresso.
Nestled between the neighboring districts, North Beach (“little Italy”) and the Financial District (where woman and men are dressed in business attire), you’ll find a variety of authentic restaurants, tourist traps shops selling small souvenirs and of course some great photo opportunities within the side alleys. The colors in Chinatown will catch your eye and if you’re not moving, step aside because everyone else here has a destination to be at!
Dragon Gate is the main entrance into Chinatown at Bush and Grant, but to see the lanterns close up and personal right when you arrive, enter from the North Beach side, right past the icon City Lights Bookstore. No matter how you find yourself entering into this crowded district, you’ll instantly noticed the authenticity of the area, meat shops and the community.
Soak in the culture of Chinatown, people watch and see what life is like living in this nonstop neighborhood. Pop into a tea shop and really learn about origins and tastes of a wide selection of tea.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory may not be what you expect, which is the most interesting part of all. The old women inside this tiny alley way shop are kind spirits, so be sure to pull out a couple of dollars if you want to photograph the interior and the ladies who delicately fold the circles of dough into perfectly shaped cookies, fortune and all. After, purchase a fresh bag to enjoy throughout your visit.
Li Po Lounge has a cave-like atmosphere and world famous Mai Tai’s. A visit here is an experience within it’s self.
If you happen to wander the streets at night, you’re in for a real treat. The lanterns light up the night sky with the perfect hue of red and yellow as the shop’s signage simultaneously beam neon colors around you.
You may or may not be familiar with this tiny neighborhood nestled between the Inner Sunset and Haight Ashbury, but it’s charming shops, small town feel and familiarity are what make it my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. While the blocks which house shops, salons and restaurants can be walked in about 10 minutes, the simplicity of this area make it ever so sweet and it seems as if everyone here has a puppy in one hand and a latte in the other. It’s distance to Haight Street is awfully close, but the difference in atmosphere makes it seem as if you are miles away from the free spirited and hazed out vibe which makes the upper Haight famous.
Padrecito is another great place to eat in the neighborhood. It’s take on vibrant, imaginative cocktails and fresh Mexican food make this the perfect brunch, happy hour, or dinner spot. See more from my article featuring Padrecito over on The Collaboreat.
Say Cheese has not only an awesome selection of cheese, but also delicious sandwiches and wine. Grab some bites from the shop and walk to the park around the corner for a low key, no fuss picnic.
Urban Mercantile’s bright white building will lure you in and most likely have you reaching for your wallet when you lay eyes on all the trendy home goods they have for sale including letterpress cards, hand crafted candles, and home trinkets.
Cole Hardware has an awesome selection of plants, succulents and all things hardware. Visit and wander all the way to the back of the store to visit the nursery. Looking to get a few treats for your furry friend? Be sure to stop in at Cole Valley Pets right next door in the heart of Cole Valley.
Zazie is one of San Francisco’s hot spots for brunch, but the wait will be long no matter what day, so don’t even bother if you are in a rush here. It’s backyard patio decorated with overgrown ivy and string lights make for the perfect setting to relax and enjoy.
If you aren’t up to wait, neighboring Grandeho’s Kamekyo is another stellar restaurant for Japanese cuisine and sushi. We have become regulars here and for good reason. The sushi is fresh and the small interior makes for a perfect date night. If you’re feeling up for it, spring for a Dynamite Roll and hot sake. Although I have yet to try it, the beautifully lit and romantic Italian restaurant, Bambino’s sits right next to Kamekyo’s if Italian food if more your thing.
Crepes on Cole is a down to earth, affordable cafe that offers a standard menu and beers on tap. It’s in the heart of Cole Valley and is right across from the N Judah stop, making this a popular stop for commuters and book lovers a like. Come here with friends or your laptop to get some work done and treat yourself to a crepe!
Visiting the Mission District always leaves me satisfied. I think it’s the warmth and almost always sunny skies paired with the quaint boutiques and restaurants that really get me. The city feel is definitely more apparent here than my neighborhood, and that is one thing I appreciate. Being surrounded by murals, cafes, and a pretty great park is what city life is all about.
When you visit The Mission, don’t miss…
Early San Francisco mornings when the fog stands still in the midst of the busy commute hour can give the city life a whole other feeling. Walk the streets from the edge of Alamo Square Park to the vibrant and hip Divisadero Street to get a true sense of the city’s diversity. Notice the architecture of the homes, the blooms of flowers and intricate succulents plants that line the tall and narrow historic homes of this neighborhood.
The Mill is a bright coffee shop brewing four barrel coffee in a small space that you could spend hours in. The neutral colors provide a distraction free workplace and their decadent toast is sure to compliment a pippin’ hot almond milk latte. The breads offered at The Mill baked fresh by Josey Baker Bread will surely make your morning a delight as you walk through the airy space and outside to the small sidewalk parklet. Do some shopping while your there for some local honeys, ceramics and more treasures.
Alamo Square Park is the perfect place for unobstructed view of San Francisco’s skyline. Home of the famous Painted Ladies, this park is currently undergoing renovation and will be open this upcoming spring!
Good ol’ Haight Ashbury, where no day is the same and it’s far from predictable. The Upper Haight has an interesting dynamic to it from cutesy vintage shops to older dive bars. Simply put, this area is iconic San Francisco Summer Of Love meshing with the ever-changing small boutiques and restaurants of the now. It’s history can still be seen today, you just gotta look a little harder to find it.
Stanza Coffee and Wine Bar is a spot will give you a good sense of the coffee culture of San Francisco. Their cozy bar overlooks a slow drip coffee system on display and the spot has no more than 10 tables. Its’ a great little space to visit with a hipster-y atmosphere and great coffee. What more could you want? If it’s a glass of wine, they have that too. Looking for a hot cup of tea or a new venture in vegan donuts? Why yes, they offer those as well.
Exploring the vintage shops of Haight Ashbury is definitely an interesting activity that you almost can’t resist when in this area. I mean, from a locals point of view, yes yes most of the shops are over-priced and geared towards the never ending tourists that visit, but that hasn’t stopped me from popping into these boutiques, even if it is just to look around at the odd treasures.
Sparrow Bar and Kitchen is a cute restaurant that has an amazing, stellar menu with an even more perfect patio towards the back of the restaurant. But if you choose to sit inside, you won’t be disappointed with it’s airy windows, bright simplistic designs a pretty great selection of beer and wine. Stop in here for lunch, or if you’re lucky a fabulous brunch awaits you on the weekend.
Mendel’s Craft Store is a great place to get your artist on! This local’s favorite has been serving the upper Haight since the 1955 and provides all the supplies from creative living. From Halloween costumes, paints, to feathers and fabric, Mendel’s has it all.
Don’t forget to stop in at Ben & Jerry’s for a scoop (or two) of their Vermont Ice Cream. With iconic flavors such as Americone Dream, Coffee, Coffee Buzz and Cherry Garcia, you won’t be upset with the selection here. The hardest part will be deciding which you desire! Plus, stopping here allows you to get some great photographs, it’s on the corner of Haight and Ashbury
Cha, Cha, Cha is a perfect place to wind down after you’ve taken in all the bright buildings and street art. Most famous for their pitchers of Sangria, tapas and Cuban dishes, this is a locals favorite.
Finish up your Haight Ashbury adventure at Second Act Marketplace and Events. Catch a show in the auditorium, visit their sustainable and fresh marketplace and check out the calendar on their website for current and upcoming events!
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