SF City Guide
I’ve been living in San Francisco for almost two years now (oh my how the time has flown!) and it’s finally time for me to share all my favorite things to do, places to eat, drinks to imbibe on, and of course, cool spots to stay.
Let's Start with Food!
WHERE TO EAT:
BRUNCH: SF is not as brunch focused as some of the other cities I’ve lived in; when the weather is always nice and it’s legal to drink outside, why stay inside and drink and eat when you can grab a bottle and some breakfast sandwiches and enjoy them in Mission Dolores Park. BUT if you are inclined for brunch, I am a fan of Foreign Cinema in the Mission District or Greens in the Presidio, which also boasts a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not to be missed is Straw, which is a carnival themed spot with vintage tilt-a-whirl cars for seating - it doesn’t get much cuter!
DINNER: San Francisco is known for it’s Mexican food, and the fact that it’s the birthplace of the Misison style burrito (that you likely know and love from Chipotle). You’ll want to start with El Farrolito in the Mission neighborhood. Staying in the Mission, try to get a reservation at Flour and Water, one of the best pasta restaurants in the City. But if you can’t get a reservation, don’t worry! They hold seats for walk ins if you can get there between 5 and 6! Moving to the North End, I love Maybeck’s, which has an entire day devoted to their famous Beef Wellington (every Wednesday!), but their main courses are just as delicious - every time I go I get the Kale Pesto pasta. In that area I also like Belga for a quick Belgian snack. Heading west toward the Ocean and the Outer Sunset neghborhood is the farm to table spot, Outerlands, which is worth the quick Uber to. Leo’s Oyster Bar is also one of my favorite dinner spots in the downtown area; with it’s gorgeous ‘grammable decor and great seafood selection it’s a place I make sure everyone goes! Also downtown is Cala, which has great small plate Mexican cuisine, and Nopa for inventive Mexican cuisine. And, because I know you’ll be doing some touristy things, the best places to eat by Fisherman’s Wharf are Boudin Factory and Chart House, which has the best views in the whole area, IMHO.
Lunch at the Chart House on San Francisco's Pier 39 is a MUST after a day of sight seeing
Feeling somewhere swanky for a special occasion? I love Spruce in the Presidio (they are super accommodating and have great pairings for their meals!). There’s also Californios, with a price tag to match it’s service and taste.
Where to Drink:
If there’s one thing I love in life it’s a good cocktail. If you head to Leo’s Oyster Bar you can follow that up with a quick walk to Pagan Idol, chock full of island inspired tiki drinks, or if you’re feeling something classy and bougey, the View Lounge at the top of the Marriott hotel has gorgeous art deco windows with expansive views of the whole city.
Ready to venture outside of downtown SF? It’s time to head to the Mission - you can start on 16th St, hitting up ABV for cocktails and light bar snacks. Around the corner on Valencia St is Bon Voyage, an African inspired cocktail lounge with amazingly inventive sips. Lastly, for the coup de gras, you need to check out Trick Dog - this unique hotspot changes their menu every 6 months with local partnerships and creative concepts. At time of writing, Trick Dog’s menu is tattoo themed, bearing drinks like the Pantera, Dragon’s Breath, and Widows Tears. Do yourself a favor and head to their upstairs dining area for dinner - the burger is one of my favorites in the city!
One thing that has been increasingly more popular is beer spots - Southern Pacific Brewing has some great options on top, as does Beer Nerds (which also serves pizza), the divey-punk Zeitgeist, and Toronado in the Haight. If you want to take an adventure, there’s plenty of great breweries across the bay; Faction Brewing on Alameda has gorgeous views of the skyline, while Temescal is a hipster dream in Oakland.
Not looking for Alcohol? Do as the local influencers do and get Boba Guys every damn day. My favorite flavor is the lavender rose tea with oat milk and boba balls (made in-house!). With multiple locations you can grab your fix almost anywhere in the city!
Not looking for alcohol?
Do as the local influencers do and get Boba Guys every damn day. My favorite flavor is the lavender rose tea with oat milk and boba balls (made in-house!). With multiple locations you can grab your fix almost anywhere in the city!
On to the (kind of important part) - Sleep.
Where to Stay:
SF has an abundance of cool hotels, AirBnB’s (and AirBnB’s headquarters and CEO!), but they can seem intimidatingly pricey. My favorite hotel would be The Phoenix Hotel; it’s got a great hotel bar, a swimming pool, patio with firepits, and adorable rooms reminiscent of a Palm Springs escape. Want to stay closer in the heart of the hustle and bustle? I recommend the Proper Hotel. And because these things get pricey, and you’re reading this guide for a local’s perspective, I recommend staying with or like a local in an AirBnB. This cozy place is a total STEAL at just over $100 a night, while you can’t beat the views and charm of this one.
What to Do:
San Francisco has so many fun, touristy things to do that, contrary to most touristy things, should not be missed. I recommend booking your tour of Alcatraz 2-3 months in advance, and before or after your tour checking out Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier39. I always thought watching the seals at Pier39 would be sad or lame, but it is honestly one of my favorite things to do now - they’re like giant lazy puppies!
Unfortunately, unlike DC, San Francisco’s museums all come with a price tag. The ones most worth your money are The Exploratorium, the Museum of Ice Cream, and the DeYoung Museum. There’s also the SFMoMA, Walt Disney Museum, Asian Art Museum, and Yerba Buena Arts Center.
You’ll definitely want to enjoy all the great parks SF has to offer too; grab a coffee and snack at The Mill and sit in Alamo Square reminiscing the easier days of the early 90s and getting your shot with the Painted Ladies of Full House fame. For Golden Gate Bridge views I recommend Crissy Field of Baker Beach; feeling strictly beach vibes? Ocean Beach is our favorite! For great city views, hike up to Bernal Heights, or go to the weekend party at Dolores Park. Note: you can drink in public in SF! Grab your favorite rosé or beer, or just wait for the coconut guy to come around in Dolores park with some rum! Also of note, SF has pretty lax laws pertaining to almost everything; if you’re sensitive to smoke (marijuana, no one in California smokes cigarettes) or dogs (leash laws are not enforced on well behaved pets).
Golden Gate Park, SF’s version of Central Park, has so much to do - a beautiful Shakespeare Garden, Wild Buffalo, urban trails, golfing, biking, museums… you can spend a whole day here in itself! I’d suggest starting by the Buffalo/Eastern side and working your way west, that way you end your day with sunset on the beach!
All this and to mention an amazing slew of AirBnB experiences! There’s, of course, a custom Shopping Tour with yours truly, a nightlife crawl run by my friend Jonathon, surfing lessons, ghost tours, bike tours, art tours, you can even book a tour of the AirBnB HQ.
And, of course, there’s shopping!
Where to Shop:
Y’all know I am A SHOPPAHOLIC (if you’re visiting SF and want a personal shopper or curated tour, get at me) When I’m shopping in my own city I like to start close to home, in the Mission on Valencia St. I tend to stop in to Intentionally Blank for their hip shoes and curated vintage, Gravel and Gold for artsy gifts, Mira Mira for hip new and vintage clothes, Reformation for their sustainably trendy pieces, Afterlife for hip vintage wears, Azalea for affordable current trends, and Everlane for sustainable basics. I also love Alderea for gifts and baby items - such a cute shop! Venturing off Valencia but not by much, I love Fiat Luxe for gorgeous jewelry shopping; I know plenty of ladies who look for unique engagement rings here, and they do weekend piercings! Next door is Pavilion which carries trendy contemporary designers like Golden Goose and Anine Bing.
I then tend to venture to Hayes Valley, which has a lively shopping area. You’ll want to check out Marine Layer for super soft basics, Outdoor Voices for cult favorite work out gear, Oak and Fort for chic minimalist pieces, Cary Lane for discounted contemporary designers, and Rand and Statler for trendy designers like Alexander Wang, APC, and Zadig and Voltaire. I also love Amour Vert for sustainable pieces, and there’s a Clare V (handbags) just around the corner!
Moving on to the bougie Pacific Heights neighborhood; this is one of my favorite shopping destinations. I like to start at Crossroads Trading, a consignment chain. Afterwards I walk north, stopping in to Freda Salvador, Superga, Assmbly Hall for a local curation of items, ModCloth for the IRL experience of your old fave, Joie, Frame (my favorite jeans brand), and Alice and Olivia. For beauty, they have the most shops of the neighborhoods, with SpaceNK, Benefit, Aesop, Le Labo, MAC, and more! Shopping on Fillmore is better with ice cream from Salt and Straw (with plenty of vegan flavors too!) - trust me!
There you have it! My top picks to make the best of your stay in San Francisco! Be sure to check out my travel tab for more guides, and if you have any specific questions feel free to ask me! I’d love to help you plan your dream trip to SF!