The best thing about San Francisco? You spend so many hours huffing and puffing your way up the Windy City’s nose-bleedingly steep streets you kinda feel like you can get away with eating anything. On the third day of grazing I had to kerb my street car obsession – hanging out of these open-sided, rickety trams is like an adult rollercoaster – and start using my legs for fear of resembling one of the blubbery sea lion residents of Pier 39.
Two-feet and two-wheel explorations
Another great way to burn off a few calories is to join one of the city’s numerous walking tours – and our top choice was Wild SF Walking Tours . This small team – with its Wes Anderson-feel website – has routes run by some of the city’s most knowledgeable creatives. We toured Downtown with actress and costume designer Mina in the morning – taking in Union Square and talking sugar daddies and faceless statues before stopping at the TransAmerica Pyramid – San Fran’s concrete answer to The Shard – before meeting up with film maker Fischer in the afternoon for a fantastic insight into the people and places of Chinatown.
Sure, seeing fortune cookies being hand-folded before our very eyes was really exciting, but this tour was about so much more – we walked lantern-lined streets, checked out street art and picked up some great cultural and historical stories along the way.
Keen to keep the schedule suitably action-packed, we headed over to Bay City Bike (http://baycitybike.com) the following day to pick up some wheels. There are a lot of cycle paths in the city and this outfit runs some great guided and self-guided tours, but really, the best thing to do on two wheels is make your way over the Golden Gate Bridge. Cycle along the shores of the stunning national park on the way there – stopping for a peek at the lovely Fine Arts Museum, one of my favourite buildings in the city – before whizzing over the almost two-mile-length of the bridge (on a super-safe cycling lane that has a barrier between you and the traffic) and flying down a hill into the cute Italian neighbourhood of Sausalito. Once they have enjoyed a recovery glass of wine, few people have the leg power to propel themselves back to the city and instead opt to hop on a ferry, which is also a great way of ticking off Alcatraz as you sail straight by it.
If all this talk of exercise has left you feeling peckish, here are a few of our top picks to get you started:
Coffee, breakfast and brunch
– Brenda’s French Soul Food 652 Polk Street (at Eddy), Little Saigon – open everyday from 8am
Ignore the sketchy neighbourhood, the crack-pipe smoking locals feel a hundred miles way when you walk into this nod-to-New-Orleans brunch favourite. In between the wall mural and the collection of antique mirrors, diners sip unlimited refills of chicory coffee and tuck into all things egg (the omelettes are to die for and come heaped with your choice of grits, biscuits and hash, which are all as generous in size as they are in flavour). Just remember to save room for the house speciality – the beignets. Icing sugar dusted, doughy parcels of warm fluffiness are stuff with apple and cinnamon or chocolate. Literally amaze-balls.
– The Mill 736 Divisadero Street (between Grove and Fulton Streets)
This city takes its sourdough seriously, so trust the locals’ tastebuds and chow down on the ‘best artisanal toast in town’ here. The bread is from Josey Baker Bread, the coffee is Four Barrels – look out for independent outlets across the city.
– Sightglass 270 Seventh Street (between Folsom and Howard Streets) – from 7am-7pm
Supremely attractive roastery and café in SoMA promising to offer an ‘immersive coffee experience’ – whatever, it tastes good and the space has heaps going on so check it out. Visit the (not too pretentious) affogato bar from 11am-6pm.
– Blue Bottle not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks (sadly) but you can find this caffeine institution all over town – 66 Mint Street, 1355 Market Street, 115 Sansom Street (our pick of the bunch thanks to the gorgeous building it’s in) and 1 Ferry Building
– Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero Street (between 18th and 19th Streets)
This rightly famous bakery has queues out the door from opening to close, which means you’ll have plenty of time to peruse the fresh-out-the-oven sweet and savoury menu.
Beer and cocktails
– Magnolia Brewery 1398 Haight Street in Haight-Ashbury
This area (and below) has some great beer spots to stop off in between walking around the green spaces and hippy heyday attractions. This place has a sister spot in Dogpatch (regenerated waterfront area) that serves great BBQ from Smokestack, if only we had the time. This Haight-Ashbury mother ship is simply styled with an understated old-school transport theme that’s really attractive. Try the refreshing Kalifornia Kolsch.
– Black Sands 701 Haight Street in Lower Haight
Bright and beery, this is a great spot for brunch or lunch, and we are sure it turns into something pretty sociable come sundown, too. High-ceilinged dining room and bar serves up house-made beer on draft and, if you are feeling inspired, you can head next door to pick up home brewing supplies at their garage shop. The Course Correction session IPA is an easy-drinking citrus hoppy treat.
– Toronado 547 Haight Street in Lower Haight
Oh my, this place got us really excited – and that was before we spotted the cooked-to-order hot dog shop next door (Rosamunde). Check the chalkboard for what’s on the 45-plus taps, nip next door to order your sausage with all the toppings and enjoy. It’s a little bit of an old man’s boozer, but thoroughly welcome and packed floor-to-rafter with beer memorabilia. Heaps of fun.
– Trick Dog 3010 20th Street (between Florida and Alabama Streets) – open everyday from 3pm
It’s a detour off the main drag of Mission Street, but this sophisticated watering hole sits pretty (well, architecturally designed converted warehouse) between a few places worth checking out so make the effort. Inside the low lights reveal a regularly rotating themed cocktail menu – when we were there, the theme was the 2016 Presidential Election. Let’s just say the drinks were 100% better than the result. And for all its cool, the bar menu is unashamedly dude food-based and delicious.
If we had more time: We would have jumped on a ferry to Alameda to visit St.George Spirits (everyday from noon, 2601 Monarch Street) and Faction Brewing (everyday from noon, 2501 Monarch Street) for gin, beer and incredible views of the city’s skyline.
Lunch and dinner, and anything in between
– Mission Cheese 736 Valencia Street – everyday 11am-9pm
Californian cheeses and wines – what better way to get the evening off to a great start? This cute little place keeps it simple for all the right reasons – the great local produce just shines. Grab one of the ‘themed’ cheese boards (or if you are extra hungry a monster toasted cheese sandwich) and settle in for the evening.
– Pizzeria Delfina 3611 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero Streets – open everyday from noon-10pm
Locals can’t get enough of this neighbourhood Italian (there are four, this one’s in a Victorian plot with curbiside seating in Mission) and its daily changing antipasto, veggies and salads, plus two special pizzas. Sit at a table, perch at the bar or grab a stool opposite the pizza oven and sip sangiovese while chanelling your inner Neapolitan.
– Bi-rite Creamery corner of Dolores and 18th Street
Follow up your pizza with delicious ice cream at this spot just over the road, you’ll spot the kids who are jacked up on sugar a mile off.
– Flour + Water 2401 Harrison Street, Mission – evenings from 5:30pm
To check out SF’s answer to Padella, head to this rustic, casual and top-quality Italian eatery for fresh pasta dishes and refined pizza cooked in the wood-fired oven. Bring your wallet, it ain’t cheap.
– Mission Chinese 2234 Mission Street (between 18th and 19th Streets)
One of the most crazy places we have eaten – look out for the very run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant façade (with original name), pop your name on the waiting list and be prepared to be wowed. The lip-numbing Sichuan menu is served in a party atmosphere with club classics rocking the Chinese dragon hanging form the ceiling while tables are dazzled by disco lights. The food is tasty and affordable, which means the slightly ramshackle nature of everything else – the detour through the kitchen to use the single toilet, for example – is utterly excusable.
Anything we missed? Drop a comment below!