This was our second time visiting San Francisco and I have to be honest in saying I was dubious about spending time in the city after our first experience. We last visited as part of our honeymoon in 2015, naively we didn’t do enough research so our time wasn’t spent as very well and we came away like we hadn’t seen what so many others had been sure we would love. San Francisco is quite a tricky city to navigate not only can the mood drastically change from street to street and due to those infamous hills, it’s not exactly an easy place to walk around. So this time, I made it my mission to adopt a militant style approach to research and planning to ensure we got the most out of our 48 hour visit and this time I’m converted, I get what all the pro San Fran fans were talking about !
Personally, my favourite thing about San Francisco is its nightlife; buzzing, extrovert and raucous. We danced in dingy, sticky carpet dive bars, dined in extraordinary, gastronomical restaurants that hid behind unmarked, graffiti scribbled doors, saw the bright lights of the city scape from rooftop cocktail bars and watched impromptu Sunday afternoon jazz in the backstreet bars of The Haight.
By day things are a little calmer, sort of, though don’t be surprised to see someone just casually taking a naked stroll through the city, as long as they have a permit parade it’s completely legal to do so in California ! For interesting street murals that speak powerful political messages head to the Mission, home to San Francisco’s largest Hispanic community and make it your mission (excuse the pun) to eat Mexican around here ! For independent shopping small boutique stores head to Hayes Valley, there is a great selection of coffee houses and watering holes in this neighbourhood too. Read on below to discover my highlights of San Francisco.
If you’re looking for some respite away from the noise of the city, visit the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest in the whole of the United States. Talk a walk along the arched drum bridge or step across the stones in the stream, take in the scent of native Japanese plants, finishing with a visit to the harmonious Tea House and enjoy a traditional tea ceremony tasting.
Ringing true to the phrase, the best things come in small packages, they really do in ceramicist Melissa Rice’s micro pottery shop.
Super luxe basics and wardrobe staples for men and women. Oak + Fort also carry an interesting and affordable collection of jewellery and leather goods.
Bars, Coffee + Eats
In the UK we call them back street boozers, in the US they call them dive bars, equally you really shouldn’t like them but you just can’t help it ! You can’t miss the glowing neon pink signage with the camp Club Tropicana-esque cocktail, this place is loud, crowded, a bit smelly but incredibly intriguing.
The pretzel knot with beer cheese fondue. I dream about it daily. Go visit and order this plus one of the 150 world beers + ciders available.
Widely regarded as one of America’s most influential bakeries, Tartine is a heavenly French-inspired bakehouse which has been praticising the art of bread making for over 20 years ! And they’ve got it just perfect, worth the queue, worth the price tag, smells as good as it tastes.
Hiding behind a non-descript door (like all the best places are right ?) is Foreign Cinema, a large scale restaurant adorned with festoon lighting and set against a gigantic cinema backdrop showing guess what ... arty, independent, foreign films ! It boasts an extensive small plates menu from around the world and it is here I became a lover of sprouts. Brussel sprouts in California are big business, they are anything but boring and boiled and definitely not just for Christmas when you’re Stateside. Try them !
Head to their Mission location, my personal favourite out of their 4 coffee bars in San Francisco. Obviously the coffee is amazing but the setting with its huge light-filled crittal windows (definitely worth an Instagram post) , pared back ply wood interior and handmade ceramic mugs make a lovely surrounding to enjoy your choice of bean.
Museums + Sites
Self Edge Denim - menswear
Little Paper Planes - concept store
Union Made - menswear
The Voyager Shop - concept store with menswear
Everlane - super basics
Heath Ceramics - homewares
Anaise - high-end womenswear boutique
Bars, Coffee, Eats
LoLo - Mexican
Trick Dog - Cocktail Bar
Up next - Part 4: Monterey, The Big Sur, Cayucos and Santa Barbara