The Best of San Francisco

We Heart Our City: San Francisco

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The first place we take visitors from out of town is on a driving tour: starting at Ocean Beach, over through Golden Gate Park, up into the Presidio and down along the Marina for stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The night tour of Alcatraz is also not at all overrated, but if you’re staying with hosts, don’t subject them to the same tour they’ve likely taken a dozen times–unless, of course, you’re paying!

San Francisco beach
When we crave Thai food we always go to Bang San Thai, a hole-in-the-wall joint located in the heart of the city’s gritty underbelly, the Tenderloin.

To escape the throngs of beach goers in the city, we head to Gray Whale Cove State Beach, just south of Pacifica on Highway 1. (Be forewarned: clothing is optional!)

San Francisco beach
If we want to drink, we go to Bourbon & Branch, an old, unmarked speakeasy with an ornate interior that requires a reservation and password for admission (though you can give the code “books” and always be welcomed into the library bar sans advance booking).

For complete quiet, we can hide away at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park.

If you come to our city, get your picture taken pinching the bridge (best place to do so is from the Marin Headlands). It’s sort of a tourist’s rite of passage.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from La Taqueria (the most popular Mexican joint in the city), it has to be the carne asada taco with guacamole and sour cream.

Miette is our one-stop shop for sugary goodness. Bonus: There are now three locations throughout the city.

Locals know to skip Fisherman’s Wharf and check out Sausalito instead.

When we’re feeling cash-strapped, we go thrifting at the Alameda Antiques Fair, a giant flea market with incredible finds held in the East Bay on the first Sunday of every month.

For a huge splurge we go to Quince, a fancy Italian eatery in Pac Heights.

Photo ops in our city include Golden Gate Bridge (duh) and the best vantage points are from along the Marina just past Chrissy Field, high up in the Marin Headlands on the other side of the Bay or down beside Fort Baker at Cavallo Point in Sausalito. From the top of Dolores Park on 20th Street, you’ll have the perfect shot of the Mission and downtown San Francisco. If you’re looking more for skyline views from above, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins’ Top of the Mark lounge offers many, as do the top story suites at the Fairmont across the street and Coit Tower up on Telegraph Hill.

If our city were a celebrity it’d be Angelina Jolie–a little bit dirty, a little bit naughty, it doesn’t give a flip what anybody else thinks. Not to mention, San Francisco’s totally the type of place that would wear a vial of its lover’s blood around its neck. We’re just sayin’.

The most random thing about our city is that Lombard is known as “the Crookedest Street in the World” when Vermont Street in the lowly Portola District has a much steeper gradient (but one less turn). Also, in 1901, the city banned burials–the only remaining graveyards are in the Presidio and the Mission–which is why San Francisco ‘burb Colma has more dead inhabitants than living. But hey, they had to do something with the bodies!

Our city has the most fashionable and, likewise, flamboyant men.

Our city has the most edgy women. (This doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with their choice–or lack thereof–in clothing!)

In our city, an active day outdoors involves tackling some sweet waves early morning at Rockaway Beach and/or a long run up the Dipsea Trail. All athletes should try that one on for size! If you’re looking for a less strenuous activity, head to Muir Woods and hike out through the redwoods to the Tourists Club, a German beer garden in the middle of the forest, for a couple of cold brews.

Our city’s best museums are the de Young and its neighbor, California Academy of Sciences, both located in the middle of Golden Gate Park.

Our favorite jogging/walking route is the Coastal Trail, a three-mile stretch between Tennessee and Rodeo Beaches with some seriously steep inclines.

For a night of dancing, go to Mighty in SoMa. Or, for live music, check out Cafe du Nord (a more intimate venue) or Great American Music Hall (bigger and better known).

Crepes A Go Go in SoMa is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read SF Weekly (a free alternative paper), 7× or (the Chronicle’s Web component).

You can tell a lot about our city from taking a walk through the artsy Mission District.

You can tell if someone is from our city if they’re bundled up in a parka and boots in the height of summer. Tourists are glaringly obvious, as you can always spot them shivering on the bridge in July, wearing little more than flip-flops and shorts.

In the spring you should go whale-watching in Half Moon Bay.

In the summer you should bypass the endless traffic and drunk Napa Valley oenophiles and go wine tasting in Russian River or Anderson Valley instead. Also, drop by Stern Grove for its summer performing arts series (free of charge), which always promises a rousing good time.

In the fall you should rent a car, drive along the Marin coast then cut over into Calistoga and head south on Highway 29 to glimpse all the fabulous fall colors lingering among the vines.

In the winter you should enjoy the eternal sunshine and 70 degrees and laugh at your East Coast counterparts who are buried under four feet of snow! Or if you dig the powdery stuff, venture east to Tahoe for some killer ski runs.

A hidden gem in our city is Nook, the perfect cafe in which to waste the day, nosh on fresh, gourmet sandwiches and catch up on your correspondence (Internet is free, and outlets are many).

For a great breakfast joint try Tartine for baked goods, Nob Hill Grille for a full-blown brunch.

Don’t miss the San Francisco International Film Festival in April/May, the LGBT Parade in June, the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival in July, the Ghirardelli Festival in September.

Just outside our city, you can visit so many places–from Napa and Sonoma Counties to the more rugged, organic Mendocino Village. Less than two hours to the south, Monterey, Carmel-by-the Sea and Big Sur—the most beautiful part of the whole state of California, in our opinion–are scattered among one 10-mile span. Within biking distance just over the bridge, Sausalito is a quaint, can’t-miss seaside town.

The best way to see our city is by foot (and no skipping the hills either!). Then, you’ll really have a newfound appreciation for San Franciscans and our sturdy calves.

If our city were a pet, it would be a seal, because they’re loud in their protests and can withstand the tempestuous Pacific Ocean conditions. (Scott also had some additional inappropriate comments to make regarding the matter; Kristin prefers to keep this space family-friendly.)

If we didn’t live in a city, we’d live in Austin or Nashville. We dig the creative vibes that feed both cities. Or Portugal’s Algarve region–beach fanatics, we’ve always dreamed of having a summer home there.

The best book about our city is Seabiscuit, which starts in San Francisco in the early 1900’s and travels all over the state (and country), spanning the following three decades.

When we think about our city, the song that comes to mind is–isn’t it obvious?–Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Though Jimmy Buffett’s Come Monday always makes us think of the city, too, as he wrote it about and en route to San Fran (and, not to mention, is Kristin’s mom’s ex-boyfriend…who knows, it very well might have been written about her!).

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the California Academy of Sciences. A planetarium, aquarium, research lab and history museum all under one roof–it’s truly one of a kind.

More than 1,000 full-grown adults donning outrageous costumes and steering pint-sized tricycles racing down Lombard Street in the annual Bring Your Own Big Wheels event could only happen in our city.

Our city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s the prettiest place in the continental United States, and people just can’t seem to get enough of our City by the Bay!

All you San Franciscans, or those who have visited this marvelous city, do you have any favorites that we neglected to mention? Everyone has his or her own version of any given place; this is just a minuscule part of why Scott and I love living here. And since everyone loves a good meme, if you want to do this with your own city (so I know what to do when I come to your town), copy and paste the above and fill in your own blanks. Then, kindly add a link in the comments below so I can print off your advice for next time I’m in the area!

  • March 9, 2009

    What an awesome list! I am inspired to create my own list for my town.

  • March 9, 2009

    You make me desperately miss it, and also realize I couldn’t do this about the city I live in now because I’ve never loved it enough to get to know it this way.

  • March 9, 2009

    Oh you make me yearn for SF so much!

  • March 9, 2009

    SOOOO much cooler then Cleveland. 😉

    That table in Napa looks incredible. What a fun questionnaire.

  • March 9, 2009

    You’re making me miss it! Is Bang San Thai that place we went to? Wherever that was, the red curry was divine. Better than anything I’ve found (so far) here…

  • March 9, 2009

    Man, I guess I have to give it another chance. Kelly and I are wanting to hit Napa up again, so I guess SF will have to be re-experienced. Now that I have a better appreciation of the big city, it should be a lot more fun.

    See you in a couple months, and expect a text in 10 days…

  • March 9, 2009

    I love that you have lived here for just a short while and you already give a MUCH better tour of the city than me! I think the next time guests are visiting, I’m just going to send them this post and tell them to pick some options.

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos. Awesome summary of a city I love so much.

  • March 9, 2009

    this is all a ploy to get me to come and visit, isn’t it??

    it may have worked. holy cow. blogher was certainly not enough…i didn’t get to see ANY of the city. and full house reruns don’t count.

  • March 9, 2009

    wow, this was such a great post. I want to do like a bajillion things you wrote about!!

  • March 9, 2009

    Oh, Quince. I really need to get back there, pronto. Any time you’re in the mood to splurge and need some Moose assistance, let me know. Maybe we should think of something to celebrate. Hmmm….

    Also need to get back to Big Sur – haven’t been in eons. Yes, literal eons. Dinosaurs still roamed the swamps.

  • March 9, 2009

    That makes me want to visit. Gorgeous pictures, too!

  • March 9, 2009

    I wish I had found your blog before I went to San Fran over a year ago!

  • March 9, 2009

    You so purty.

  • March 9, 2009

    I’m totally going to print this out and bring it with me next time I come to SF.

  • March 10, 2009

    Um yeah, can’t write this way about dallas for sure.

  • March 10, 2009

    Great writing and post! I’ve been to SF once, and I definitely plan on taking Peter with me. I love the city. I was there for business, and fortunately my company gave me a rental car, so after 4pm I walked back to my hotel (in the Financial District), grabbed my car, and went driving. Even did the Alcatraz tour at night. My favorite district was the Castro district….so fun!

    I am thinking of submitting my town….little old Warrenton. It’s a Civil War town, do you think they’d be interested?

  • March 10, 2009 I helped open that hotel, and I am not saying a thing about anything other than the grounds and parade ground… THAT PLACE IS AWESOME! I remember playing with my dog at work and having the one place in the city that could actually wear him out. that parade ground is awesome. The restaurant is incredible, yes the hotel and food can get pricey…. but what an awesome place.

  • March 11, 2009

    My favorite run is along Ocean Beach and into Golden Gate Park. When I needed to start hitting higher mileage runs I would just do it a few times back to back and I never got bored.

  • March 11, 2009

    Wow, thank you. I found this post so informative and just fun to read.

  • March 11, 2009

    A few of my favorites:
    Early morning hikes in the quiet beauty of the almost pre-historic looking eucalyptus trees of Buena Vista park… after your hike, catch breakfast at the pork store cafe on haight, but leave before the tourists flood in around noon.

    The dog-heaven that is Fort Funston.

    The sutro baths and the GORGEOUS hike from the sutro ruins around to spectacular views of the golden gate down Lands end.

    Sunday Brunch at Harvey’s in the Castro (The best bloody mary in the city!!)

    The first Thursday of the month, The Divisidero Corridor has a rockin artwalk featuring local shops, local artists, and free wine and cheese.

    The fantastic boutiques of Hayes Valley (Stop in the chocolate shop and get the salted caramel turtles and the French Macaroon store for a lavender casis macaroon)

    LOVE YOUR LIST!!! Thanks for posting.

  • March 12, 2009

    These are really wonderful tips and I’ll try to get this one published on Intelligent Travel: we’ve had a LOT of entries and it’s hard to pick the best ones to feature. So glad you included the Big Wheels photo!

  • March 16, 2009

    This is a great list – I love love love northern CA. The Bay to Breakers race is fun, and totally San Franciscan. You inspired me I created one for my city (LA) to remember all the things I love about this crazy city. LA and I have a volatile relationship, and it’s good to focus on the positive sometimes.

  • May 5, 2009
  • July 11, 2009

    “(Be forewarned: clothing is optional!)”
    perhaps some dy the reverse will be noted that
    swimsuits are required. Nothing to warn folks about here.
    nothing is more natural that enjoying a beach in your
    birthday suit.

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