It happens every once in a while. I’ll be walking around and catch a beautiful city view or witnessing some sweet interaction between two strangers, and it hits me: I love this city. I had that feeling just the other day after I’d left a party for one of my friends. It was a somewhat warm evening, the sky was a dark, inky blue, and I was at a bus stop situated just perfectly on a hill so that I saw the lights of downtown twinkling. It was impossible to wipe the smile off of my face for the entire evening. San Francisco is just too damn cool.
After living here for over three years I’ve obviously got a mental running list of some of my go-to places. But instead of compiling a boring ol’ list of favorites (fave bar, restaurant, park, etc.), I’ve created a favorites list as unique as the city itself. If you’re heading to the city by the bay soon (or sometime in 2015), here are some amazing things to do/see/eat/drink. And if you already live in the area and you haven’t been to some of these places, you have some new sightseeing to do!
Favorite Shop to Score Some SF Style: Wasteland // 1660 Haight Street
Wasteland is kind of like a Buffalo Exchange that accepts vintage or name-brand clothing (think Betsey Johnson or Banana Republic or the like). They have oodles of stuff, and I’ve walked out of there with some fun items. This is the place to look for funky shoes, as they have a marvelous selection of vintage and strange styles.
Favorite Brunch Restaurant with Bottomless Mimosas: Radish // 3465 19th Street
What is brunch without bottomless mimosas? Child’s play. Radish not only has the most amazing food (breakfast potatoes omg) but they offer a regular mimosa and a specialty one. The last time I was there it was pineapple and it was heaven.
Favorite Coffee Shop to Work In: Sugarlump Coffee Lounge // 2862 24th Street
This might make some of you San Franciscans scream, but I don’t like coffee — so the arguments about Four Barrel or Philz or whatever other coffee there is interest me not. However, I do like working from coffee shops when working from home starts to give me a bit of cabin fever. Sugarlump is a cute little spot in the Mission with plenty of room, sweet employees, and cool folks to people-watch out the wazoo.
Favorite Tourist-y Activity to Impress the Parents: A Segway Tour // 757 Beach Street and 82 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
Why yes, I have ridden on a segway — multiple times actually! I’d so much rather do a segway tour than a hop-on-hop-off bus tour because it feels a lot more involved and hands-on as opposed to just being a spectator on a bus. It can be a little tough on your knees (keep them slightly bent!) but it’s the best way to see a lot of San Francisco in a short amount of time. I took a tour in North Beach that went along the water, through Ghiradelli Square, to Lombard Street, Coit Tower, and back down Lombard. To cover that kind of real estate by foot or by car in the time that we did would have been impossible. My parents and I went on a segway tour of Golden Gate Park, and it was a perfect way to show them a lot of the city without having to rent a car or schlep it on the bus.
Favorite Place to Sit and Think: Corona Heights // Main entrance at Roosevelt Way and Museum Way
Corona Heights offers an amazing city view and enough solitude (which a really popular place like Twin Peaks doesn’t have) that it’s sometimes nice to wander up here and just relax.
Favorite Date Night Idea: NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences // 55 Music Concourse Dr. (Golden Gate Park)
This 21+ event happens every Thursday in Golden Gate Park, and it is so awesome. Basically, from 6pm-10pm the museum is open and the evening has a special theme to it. There are specialty drinks that you can purchase at a few pop-up bars inside, there are special events, talks, and things to do, on top of the museum being your oyster. Oh, and they have DJs. It’s the most amazing dance party + museum + bar thing you’ll ever see.
Favorite Bar to Bring a Date To: The Royal Cuckoo // 3202 Mission Street
This is a spot I just recently found out about and I’m completely in love. They have a menu of craft cocktails (the Elderflower Fizz is the shit), mood lighting, and on some nights an organist plays. It’s just a little bit south of the Mission, too, so it doesn’t get quite as ridiculously crazy packed as other bars you could hit on a Saturday night.
Favorite Guilty Pleasure: The Cheesecake Factory // 251 Geary Street
Oh boy. Y’know, sometimes it’s just nice to go somewhere and get a delicious strawberry martini and feel like a tourist. And by someplace I mean the Cheesecake Factory in Union Square. I know SF is notorious for frowning upon big business and encouraging up-and-coming places, but I can’t help it. Cheesecake Factory 4evah.
No question about it, Dololo is the coolest place to be when the weather is fine. I’ve spent many Saturday afternoons laying out in the grass, drinking wine with friends and soaking up the beautiful California sun. They recently started some park renovations, which is all for the best of course, but I haven’t felt nearly as compelled to hang out there since it all started. So on a nice warm day, the biker bar Zeitgeist is also a great place to chill. They have a private back patio and some pretty yummy eats if you get hungry.
Favorite Rainy Day Activity: Seeing a Movie at CineArts @ The Empire // 85 West Portal Avenue
This theater is located in West Portal, which isn’t exactly a prime destination for tourists. This means that while it might be a little further out, it has a bit of charm that you won’t see downtown. This 3-screen theater is situated on the main street and has $7.25 matinee showings, which by SF standards is insanely cheap. There’s just something so intimate about the location and the space that I adore and that makes it perfect for a gloomy day in the city.
Favorite Club to Dance the Night Away: Public Works // 161 Erie Street
Okay, I’m not really much of a club person. I do love dancing, but I’m pretty particular about the music and about the crowd. Luckily, Public Works is less of a sleazy-person club and more of a hipster-club, and they have a lot of electronic music nights which is just my style. Bonus points for having 2 dance floors, so if you get tired of one DJ you can just wander over to the other and see what it’s like. I will say I’ve won tickets to this place before for nights that I normally wouldn’t have attended — ahem, dubstep night — and still had a blast!
Favorite Drunk Food Pit Stop: Depends on the time, but…anywhere with a clean burrito // Pretty much any place
SF has turned me into a total burrito fiend, but I’m actually kind of snobby about it. Some places have what I like to call a clean burrito — fresh ingredients, nice green guac, and no grease. Other places have a dirty burrito — questionable veggies, strange-looking guacamole, and grease city. Dirty burritos do not sit well with me, and are really only filled with regret in my personal opinion. If I had my way, El Toro would be open past 10pm (there may have been a few nights that I raced down Valencia to catch them before closing time). They are my favorite burrito spot hands down. La Corneta is a close second, but they’re also closed by 10pm. If it’s late night, Taqueria San Jose in the mission is my prime destination. Want more burrito education? Check out this super helpful article: The 12 Best Mission Burritos, As Chosen By People on Fixies.
Favorite Hotel to Splurge On: Hotel Triton // 342 Grant Avenue
I have only ever stayed in one hotel in San Francisco, so I literally have nothing to compare it to. But I stayed here for one night and oh my stars it was the coolest hotel I’ve ever seen in my life. If I were to design a hotel, it would be the Hotel Triton. The decorations are over-the-top kitschy — the room I was in had a zebra headboard, blue and purple carpet, and holographic wallpaper in the bathroom! I absolutely loved it. The hotel is right downtown so it’s not the cheapest option you’ll find, but if you’re looking to treat yo’self then it’s a great choice.
Favorite Place to Blow All My Hard-Earned Cash: Musée Mécanique // Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street
Old arcade games and one of the best photobooths in the city? Don’t mind if I do! If you’re ever in San Francisco and want to challenge me to a game of Cruisin’ USA, let me know. Also! There are multiple photobooths here, but you want the one that’s in the back and not up against the wall. The photos come out crisp and beautiful!
What sorts of unique attractions and activities do you look for in a city? What are some of your go-to spots where you live? Have you ever been to San Francisco? What types of things did you do or what would be first on your list if you hope to visit in the future?