When I dream of blue skies, I dream of San Francisco. The city of a thousand views captivates in many ways. My love of walking endlessly from neighborhood to neighborhood began here. My love of wandering from stall to stall at farmer’s markets began here. There are 260 sunny days in the city and this guide takes full advantage of that. You’ll be outside as much as possible. Make sure to pack your walking shoes and reusable tote!
stay: Mission District aka the Mission
You’ll love the Mission for its incongruity and inclusiveness. This area of San Francisco owes it’s soul to the Latino community. Late night taquerias serving up the best burritos and colorful bodegas filled with just about anything line the streets. It’s residents now vary in ethnicity and lifestyle. At any moment you may see a mariachi band or a group of laptop wielding students on the crosswalk. Fruit and vegetable stands are flanked by basket carrying abuelas and bike riding artists. There’s contrast yet blending in an area where gentrification has not yet won. Check out Airbnb for local lodging as unique as the area.
Day One: Friday
4 p.m. - Haight Ashbury
We’ll begin on the corner of Haight and Ashbury - the birthplace of American counter-culture. In 1967, people from all over America flocked to the area to denounce conservative social values and find their own. Fifty years later and it’s still a hippie haven. Walking down this street is like stepping through a smoke filled cloud back in time. Relics of bohemian life hang in windows and sit on sidewalks. Tie-dyed bell bottoms and floral headbands make their way down the street in groups. Dance parties and little love festivals on street corners welcome one and all.
Vintage clothing, books, and record stores crowd the street. Check out Ameoba for albums you forgot existed. Several modern boutiques mix in luring hipster enough varieties. Visit Love on Haight for custom tie-dyed rompers and sweatshirts . Eastern philosophy stores are stock piled with Nepalese flags and incense. Stop into Gus's Market and grab a few locally made snacks to keep at the Airbnb. Street kids and varying degrees of vagrants bustle along with dogs. Words are whispered and hands exchange goods. On a hot day the street can have a tinge of pee. At night, it can get quite gritty. Make your way to nearby Cha Cha Cha as the street darkens for Caribbean small plates and sangria.
Day Two: Saturday
11 a.m. - embark on Embarcadero
Don’t bother with breakfast before leaving. Take the BART to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. There are over 100 vendors surrounding and within the Ferry Plaza building. There’s coffee, pastries, vegetables, and even fresh lavender. Hog Island Oysters is a must visit if you haven't taken the leap to vegetarian land. There’s granola, fruits, flowers, and more mushrooms than I can name. You'll find organic signs everywhere. After stall hopping head over to Namu Street Food for their okonomiyaki, a pancake topped with kimchi, veggies, and housemade sauces.
1:30 p.m. - act like a tourist
Fisherman’s Wharf is definitely a tourist trap. But, we love the walk there from the market. It takes about 10-15 minutes along the waterfront. Beware the typical tourist scams. Like the guy dressed as a monk offering peace at a price. That was a hard lesson to learn. Or, the guy that jumps out of bushes to scare you. Yes, this is real. And, its hilarious. There are also several “fake” statues that come to life as you pass by. Also, hilarious.
On the way to the Wharf you’ll pass Alcatraz tours and bay cruises. There will be ample opportunities to have a caricature drawn. And, even more opportunities to gawk at resident seals lounging in the sun. Tucked away and easily passed by is the Musée Mécanique at pier 45. It’s an antique penny arcade with games dating as far back as the 1920’s. Everything comes to life at the drop of a coin. There’s puppets, Ferris wheels, and even mini boxing matches. It’s free to enter and look around but I guarantee you won’t leave without making one of these wonderful machines play for you.
Take a few minutes to meditate on your explorations at Maritime National Historic Park overlooking the bay. There's beach access and a grassy lawn for lounging. A short walk from here takes you to the infamous crooked Lombard Street. And, by short walk I mean you will be going up a few steep hills to get there. This is also the perfect location to hop on one of San Francisco’s cable cars. The Powell-Hyde route will take you right to Lombard Street.
4:30 P.M. Chinatown
Hop back on the Powell-Hyde cable car to Chinatown! As the oldest Chinatown outside the mainland, it's worth a visit! Filled with sights, sounds, and smells that intrigue the senses whether familiar or not. There's so much to catch your attention here. Store windows are stacked with silky robes, smiling cats, and dried bits of everything. The wave of people walking the streets are nonstop. Fortune cookies are made in windows down alley ways and tea houses are on every street. Stop into Lucky Creation Vegetarian, an easily missed hole in the wall, with delicious vegan dim sum and deep fried bean cakes.
7:30pm - Mission: dinner
Dinner is in the Mission at Gracias Madre for 100% organic, vegan Mexican eats. Their ingredients are sourced locally or from their own farm. Communal tables encourage socializing over "burrito bowls" and watermelon margaritas. The nacho cashew cheese is creamy and a little spicy just like nacho cheese should be. And, the gorditas melt in your mouth. Like most restaurants in San Francisco, you may want to call in a reservation. Or, enjoy the bar as you wait to be seated.
10 p.m. - mission: dancing
The night is still young. Until you enter Bruno’s. This landmark turned nightclub has been in the Mission for over 60 years. It mirrors the diverse street outside with four different rooms and bars to choose from. They offer a weekly line up of entertainment and DJ’s spinning the latest and greatest dance songs. Depending on the DJ there might be a cover charge. Get there around 10 - 10:30pm to skip the long line that forms later in the night.
Day Three: Sunday
10:30 a.m. - act like a local
Walk over to Tartine Bakery for organic coffee and tea. The pastries here are award-winning and vary with the season. Grab a fresh baked morning bun. They're made with croissant dough, small, yet decadent. Just enough to hold you over. Brunch will be picnic style. A few storefronts down you’ll find Bi-Rite Market and anything you could dream up for a picnic in the park. Their locally sourced produce, chocolate, and housemade meals are celebrated throughout the city. Grab wine, grapes, sushi, or whatever you like and walk 5 minutes to Mission Dolores Park. We recommend the tofu Bahn mi for a flavorful, easy to carry, option.
11:30 a.m. - picnic, park & partake
The park offers sweeping views of the San Francisco skyline. Bi-Rite Market paper bags sit on picnic blankets everywhere. Music blares from boom boxes being rolled around. A few yogis get their afternoon practice on in the sunshine. A family plays uno as their dog prances right in the middle of the game. Bearded hipsters and girls in floppy hats lay on top of one another. Beer bottles clink and puffs of smoke float nearby. Don’t worry if you forgot yours. The Truffle Man carries “special” truffles in copper pots and shows up sporadically wearing a straw fedora. The Coconut Rum Man sells fresh cracked coconut water. He’ll even add rum if you ask. You’ll know him by his dreadlocks and white cooler. This place gives me hope in humanity.
By now the munchies are setting in. Ice cream anyone? At the base of the park is Bi-Rite Creamery. Yes, same people as the market. They are killing it in the game. The ice cream is handmade in small batches using locally sourced ingredients. The roasted banana, honey lavender, and bombay chai (vegan) are ironically light for ice creams. Their seasonal flavors, like Strawberry Balsamic, keep the intrigue growing. The line normally wraps around the corner and seating inside is limited. Take your cone to go as you continue to explore.
3 p.m. (if you’re lucky)
Mission Street and its parallel sister street, Valencia, boast stores as quirky and eclectic as their residents. Paxton Gate dubbed an ethical taxidermy sells occult oddities and botanical treasures. The Pirate Supply Store may sound like one you’d just walk by. However, with hidden floorboards to discover and “mermaid bait” signs I’m sure you can find some booty to leave with. Proceeds from the store benefit community writing workshops for kids in the city. Take a stroll down Clarion Alley connecting Mission and Valencia between 17th and 18th street. Trust me. It’s not sketchy. Well, it was before the sketches got painted in. Murals charged with socially engaged themes make this alley one you’ll actually want to go down.
A late lunch at Little Chihuahua is just what you need after all that exploring. You have to try the black bean and fried plantain burrito. You’re in the Mission. Burritos all day, everyday. The fried plantains add a subtle sweetness to balance the smoky chile salsa. I'm not sure why I haven't seen this anywhere else before! Like the name suggests, it’s a little place with a small menu and limited seating. Luckily, burritos are great for on the go. And, just in time for sunset too.
5 p.m. - sunset hike
Uber/Lyft will get you to Land’s End for a sunset hike in a short few minutes. There’s several easy-moderate hikes along the beach with stunning views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. The Sutro Baths, ruins of seven saltwater swimming baths from the late 1800’s, mesmerize as the sun dips below the horizon. With so many different view points, crowds aren’t an issue. Our fave hike is a winding secluded one down the cliffs to Mile Rock Beach.
8:30 p.m. - mission: Dinner
Dinner is in the Mission at Loló’s for tapas and drinks. Walking in you know you’re in for a rare treat. The decor is a colorful cacophony of floral wallpaper, striped booths, and brightly framed mirrors. This family owned spot is known for inventive Mexican cuisine. The panko avocado taco will turn any meat-eater into a vegetarian. The bar is authentic Mexican featuring agave distilled spirits and fresh fruit mixes.
For a more laid back atmosphere and good music head on over to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem aka Teeth. No, the muppets aren't performing. It’s past their bedtime anyway. Teeth is open until 2 a.m. serving crafty cocktails and edgy eats. After dancing and a few drinks their tater tots or grilled cheese bar is all you will need in your life.
Public transportation variety and accessibility.
Walking and biking friendly.
Organic/ vegetarian/ vegan restaurant options on every street.
Shop small, shop local businesses on every street.
Farmers markets and stands found easily and daily.