Even if you haven’t watched our latest episode, at the James Beard Award-winning State Bird Provisions, (though we highly recommend that you do!) it would be no secret that we love San Francisco and the Bay Area. It’s Kate’s hometown, Nora’s spiritual home and we don’t trust anyone who doesn’t love it. (Kidding! Sort of…)
If you haven’t been out to the City by the Bay yet, don’t stress. Should our adventures with Stuart and Nicole spark your wanderlust or you find yourself at the Ferry Building sometime soon, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick insider guide to San Francisco, so you won’t get lost on the steep hills or end up at a mediocre restaurant.
Most major airlines fly into SFO, OAK or SJC, but, if they operate out of your city, we recommend flying Virgin Atlantic. Not only do they have awesome service, beautiful planes and their own kitted-out terminal at SFO, but they also serve Philz coffee, the favorite brew of discerning San Franciscans (more on that later). Plus, SFO is way more convenient than the other two, though Oakland comes in second, as it’s still on BART.
Getting around the city is a bit more of a challenge. Having a car seems most convenient, until you realize that street parking is limited at best, and you have to drive up and down some seriously steep hills that are not for the faint of heart. BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit – is best for getting around the Bay Area, or at least the North and East Bays; Caltrain is your ticket down the peninsula. Within the city, MUNI and buses are the best public transportation, but we suggest figuring out your routes before you go. Walking is fine, but the city’s bigger than it seems, especially with those hills… If you need a ride, use Uber‘s app to get a car, as cabs are limited in number and overpriced.
San Francisco has been lagging behind the boutique hotel trend a bit, so our first choice would be to rent an apartment through AirBnB. It seems all the design-conscious locals have been saving their talents for their own homes and you’ll find plenty of lovely options. If you do, look for somewhere in the north Mission/eastern Castro/Duboce Triangle/Lower Haight area – not only is it charmingly picturesque and conveniently located for all the top restaurants, but it’s also well connected on public transportation, which isn’t always the case. For Bay views, though, check out the areas around Telegraph Hill, the Marina and Nob Hill.
If you know the city a bit and want to stay in a hotel, we’d highly recommend the Inn at the Presidio (pictured above), a beautifully renovated boutique hotel whose name says it all. The location is prime for those with a car or who don’t mind not being in the city center.
EAT & DRINK
In this city touted as having the most exciting food scene in the country, you’ll find yourself spoilt for options when it comes to dining and imbibing. We won’t overwhelm you, so here are just a few of our favorites…
Tartine and Bar Tartine: Tartine bakes some of the country’s (world’s?) best bread. Go almost any time of day for pastries, croque monsieurs, snacks, lunch, breakfast, or anything else and you’ll find a line out the door. The wait is worth it, though. Bar Tartine, a few blocks away on Valencia, is their equally impressive sit-down restaurant, where they’ve also started serving sandwiches at lunchtime from an interior counter. Go. Multiple times, if possible.
Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphrey Slocombe, and Smitten Ice Cream: The three best places for ice cream in the city. Smitten makes your ice cream for you while you wait. There are always waits at all three. Again, so worth it.
Coffee: In San Francisco, coffee is taken seriously. Where you get your coffee can automatically align you with friends or create new foes. We suggest trying as many places as you can and deciding for yourself. For espresso drinks, try Four Barrel, Blue Bottle or Ritual Coffee Roasters. For made-by-the-cup pour-over like you’ve never had it (seriously, it will change your life), head to one of Philz‘s many locations around the city and start begging them to come to your city. The beans last for a while – we know from experience.
Pizzeria Delfina and Flour + Water: We’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you to eat loads of pizza in San Francisco. There are undoubtedly newer and trendier spots at the moment, but we love these two standbys where you can get innovative fresh ingredient combinations on damn good crusts.
Mexican food: The Mission burrito is the burrito and, if you’re in the Mission, you’d be missing out if you didn’t have at least one and then maybe come back for tacos. One of Kate’s longtime favorites is Taqueria La Cumbre, but if you find yourself in the Misson and there’s a taqueria next to you, their burrito will probably equally delicious. For cheap, old-school San Francisco sit-down Mexican – seriously, they’ve been there for decades – try Puerto Alegre.
Mouth watering? Our videos of State Bird Provisions and Heirloom Café are guaranteed to make you hungry.
When it comes to shopping, San Francisco certainly has an abundance of cute boutiques. Downtown, around Union Square, you’ll find all the major designer stores, department stores and mainstream shops. Hayes Valley, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and along Valencia, in the Mission (can you tell we like the Mission?), offer some less mainstream options, while both the Mission and the Haight have some pretty amazing vintage stores, if you have the time to devote.
Farmers markets: The Ferry Building Marketplace and surrounding farmers market is the market to end all markets, with the best purveyors from one of the world’s most abundant, creative, and food-conscious regions selling their products. We could spend all day here, but there are other markets in the city, too.
Golden Gate Park: In the summer, free (and not free, but still great) concerts fill the greens. Year-round, it’s a beautiful, sprawling patch of green in a comparatively verdant city, filled with walkers, runner, and people doing all kinds of sports (ultimate frisbee is popular). See if you can find your way to the DeYoung Museum, Victorian-style Arboretum, carousel, and the buffalos. Another idyllic park, in our beloved Mission district, is the ever-beautiful Dolores Park, which offers some of the city’s best views from its highest perch.
Museums: While we’re big fans of the DeYoung, it’s not the only exceptional museum in this artsy city. Other favorites include the Legion of Honor, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, and California Academy of Sciences.
Chinatown: Okay, it’s a bit touristy, but San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the country’s most iconic, and a walk through its streets takes you both back in time and across the world. Duck into local favorites like Golden Gate Bakery and imposing dim sum house Hong Kong Lounge for authentic flavors.
Baker Beach: Our favorite views of the Golden Gate Bridge are from this somewhat hard-to-find beach on the northwestern edge of the city. San Francisco’s only ruins (as far as we know), the Sutro Baths, are nearby, if you’re making an afternoon of it.