Today’s San Francisco City Guide update comes to us from Rebekah Carey McNall, owner of the wedding and event design company A & B Creative. On any given day, Rebekah can be found buzzing around the city in search of props for an upcoming wedding, meeting friends for a delicious brunch or digging through racks of clothes for that perfect vintage dress. Thank you, Rebekah, for offering such a wonderful update to this West Coast metropolis! — Stephanie
Photos by Kirsten Julia Photography
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest and later moved to Los Angeles, I’ve found that San Francisco is my perfect “big city.” It has the approachability of Portland and the endless opportunities of Los Angeles without either’s constant rain or sunshine.
San Francisco (or “The City”) has everything you could need but maintains the feeling that you could stumble upon something undiscovered around many a corner. After all, Hitchcock thought of it as the Paris of America.
Be sure to check out this Google Map with all of the below listings.
While this neighborhood is slightly less picturesque than some of the others, the Mission is rife with anything you could desire in a neighborhood: art galleries, incredible food, good coffee, amazing dive-bars and shopping.
Craftsman and Wolves is a contemporary patisserie. Start your morning right by stopping here for arguably their most famous savory treat: “The Rebel Within,” a soft-boiled egg mysteriously encased in a fully cooked herb, cheese and sausage muffin.
Public Bikes: If all those carbs make you feel like shedding some calories, head over to Public Bikes for beautifully designed rides (as well as the posters behind them, prints of which are also for sale) at an affordable price. Bonus: The installation of bike bells behind the register is one of my favorite features of this cheery shop.
Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine shouldn’t be missed when you’re here. It is worth what you’ve heard — amazingly sweet and soft morning buns with just a hint of orange zest, crunchy sandwiches and even fresh dinners that are all consistently good.
Dijital Fix is technically listed as an “electronics store,” but Radio Shack this is not. Dijital Fix is a carefully curated shop with gift items, lust-worthy speakers (I’m currently obsessed with their vintage suitcase speakers by The BoomCase, made locally), an in-store photo booth while you shop and gorgeous turntables for the novice or technophile.
Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen: As someone who considers herself something of a Reuben connoisseur, I can honestly say that Wise Sons has one of the best I’ve ever had. Smoky hand-sliced pastrami on double rye with Russian dressing? You’ll be holding back from licking your fingers or your plate. You can also find them at the Farmer’s Market at Ferry Plaza every Tuesday from 10 to 2.
Gravel and Gold: I don’t know how to say this other than that shopping here gives you good vibes. I know, I know. There’s just something about a shop whose owner cares about what is being sold, knows exactly which artist made each item as well as its story and where it’s from. Gravel and Gold has beautiful ceramics, clothes, local beauty products, books and kitschy prints. A great place to stop for gifts for a friend and then a few for yourself for being such a good friend.
Lost Weekend Video has been open for over 15 years and is an amazing resource for hard-to-find movies or harder-to-find video stores. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable. There’s something about being able to walk into a video store with a hankering for a movie that Netflix streaming isn’t going to have and holding it in your hands a few minutes later. They also have fun in-house events.
The Touch (956 Valencia St. 415-550-2640): Clean lines, teak and Eames, oh my! If you’re on the hunt for a specific mid-century modern piece, look no further. The owner is incredibly knowledgeable about specific designers, and the store offers delivery, as well.
Freemans Sporting Club: Stepping into this store makes you feel manly. The ’60s lodge-inspired decor highlights the aesthetic of their clothes. Their Valencia shop is the West Coast flagship. All their clothes are union made, and they pride themselves on making quality items that are both long lasting and functional.
Dynamo Doughnuts: Hailing from the Northwest, when I hear of a maple bacon doughnut I instantly think of Voodoo Doughnuts, but Dynamo does it their own way: a cake doughnut dotted with crispy bacon and sautéed in bacon grease with apples and a maple glaze. Need I say more? If I do, I can tell you that they make the doughnuts daily, and there are a variety of 7–10 doughnuts. Don’t to worry, though; the bacon doughnuts are made daily!
Pig and Pie: I feel good about a place its website immediately tells me that they give a s*it about where my food comes from. Hey, me too. You’ll find homemade sausages and pie as well as sandwiches and small plates. It’s in the old Discolandia spot, and I love that they’ve kept their original sign up.
Bi-Rite Market: This adorable market began in 1940 and remains the perfect place to get lost in fresh ingredients, delicious products and tasty cheeses. The butcher counter will help you complete your next home-cooked meal. If you’re not as deft in the kitchen as you wish (and simply can’t bring home a bottle of wine, a baguette and a block of cheese for “dinner” again this week), you’re in luck with their in-store kitchen! Once you’ve got your meal, hop across the street for some dessert.
Bi-Rite Creamery: A certified green business, this off-shoot of Bi-Rite Market prides itself on making small batches of ice cream that are intensely flavored, contain no more than five ingredients and aren’t boring! They also have delectable baked goods that shift with the seasons. I think I found my next birthday cake in their coffee toffee ice cream cake, which consists of midnight cake and coffee toffee ice cream topped with a chocolate glaze and almond toffee.
Pot + Pantry: The perfectly fitting typography and Julia Child quote beckon you into this bright and friendly shop. Inside you’ll find both new and gently used (as well as some vintage) kitchen items and a selection of food products from local artisans. They also offer free workshops on occasion. I have to say, as someone who seldom cooks, this shop makes me want to be a better one.
Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana: The glowing Farina sign you see from the street, and the fact that this building was originally a cookie factory in the ’50s, piques your curiosity. Inside you’ll see that they’ve even repurposed the original factory sign into some of their tabletops. The ambiance is great here; the design and handmade pasta are all delectable.
Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids: I love to come here to shop for atypical kids’ gifts. When I know I want to break away from plastic, chirping or blinking toys (you’re welcome parents of those children!), this is where I go. The trees are pretty cool, too.
Tacolicious: While you may have to wait a while, it is worth it. My advice is to get your name on the list and then walk through to the attached tequila bar, Mosto, to grab a drink or a little taco if you’re too hungry to wait. The ceiling at Mosto is rather brilliant — lids have been screwed to the ceiling so that little items can be put into the glass bottles they’ve attached. The effect is something you’ll happily study while snacking and chatting with your company. Tacolicious doesn’t want to tell you the obvious, but, yes, their ingredients are all local, sustainable and organic. They’re also interesting and, of course, delicious. It’s a cocktail-driven restaurant (the chupitos are so much fun with a group of friends) but the food is stellar. Even the chips are different and amazing.
Phoenix Bar: A great Irish pub without some of the grime that you may have seen in others. This is a surprisingly good spot for breakfast, too. Arrive early to claim a good spot if it’s a game day!
Dog Eared Books: The outside of the shop will draw you in with its quirky drawings of notables who have passed, and the incredibly broad selection will keep you there. This bookstore has been part of The Mission for over 2o years, and it is as eclectic as its neighborhood. Being part of the community is obviously important to the store; in addition to its community events, Dog Eared Books offers book clubs, writing groups and live music.
San Francisco has a rich literary history and is teeming with writers. There are a number of famous ones, too, such as Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Dave Eggers and Amy Tan.
North Beach/ Telegraph Hill
Picking favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco is like picking your favorite child. It probably changes from time to time, but you act as though you love them all equally. North Beach has stunning views of the bay, Coit Tower, parrots and fun shopping, plus some of the most amazing Italian food you could hope for outside of the motherland.
A-B Fits: A collection of quality designer denim and apparel. As someone who often (I’m 5′ 1”, so let’s change that to always) needs adjustments to the length of my pants, I love that they offer hemming on their jeans. Their thread and bobbin installation above the counter is also rather brilliant.
Aria (1522 Grant Ave, between Union St. & Nobles Ave., 415-433-0219): One of my favorite stores. The weird little (stuffed) dog in the window and giant vintage teal letters spelling its moniker will make you curious about what’s inside. Curiosities and ephemera are the item de jour. Bones, old photos, vintage school-room posters and ancient treasures make this a shop that you will love to stop in and pore over.
Park and Pond: I love that this store’s saying is “goods from near.” This cute gift shop is perfect when you want to know exactly where to shop local.
101 Music (1414 Grant Avenue, between Green St. & Union St. 415-392-6369): If you’re looking for a fun afternoon activity, spend one in the basement of this shop searching though their very extensive collection of over 80,000 records. You’ll surely find something to listen to with a bottle of wine that night. The best part? Each record is only $5.
Little Vine: When you’ve found the perfect record for your mood, you can hop over to Little Vine for a tasty sandwich, of which they make vegetarian and meat versions daily. Perfect to take on a hike up to Coit. Their philosophy is that their shop is for people who love to eat, drink and cook, and they focus on local products. You won’t be able to leave without something delicious.
Therapy: There are very few places for which I would describe shopping as easy. It really is here. I walked in and found an adorable bolero blazer, coral blouse and cute bracelet in about five minutes. It’s so nice when the selection is isn’t overwhelming and is carefully curated so that you don’t find yourself searching for ages for something that’s “you.”
Old Vogue (1412 Grant Ave, between Green St. & Union St., 415-392-1522): A great stop for men’s vintage. I love their selection of jackets and western shirts. This place very clearly cares about what they take in. Everything is very wearable, and the space is open and clean, which isn’t common in the vintage-clothing-shop arena.
Academy of Commons: You know how Forever 21 is a great place to buy affordable jewelry that’s on trend? This is like that but without the shame of it being F21. Their jewelry is adorable and fashionable but not so expensive that you don’t want to splurge on a new look.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Shop (566 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, CA 94133, 415-362-0536): I first discovered this gem on a road trip with my girlfriends nearly a decade ago. Today it is still a great place to grab a glass of wine or enjoy a warm cup of cocoa on a chilly evening and people-watch the tai chi groups across the street and the fashionable couples out for a stroll.
Goorin Bros. Hats: The Goorin Brothers’ bold family-run hat shop is inspired by the city’s rich artistic community. The family believes that a good hat can tell people exactly who you are before you’ve uttered a word.
L’Osteria: This is my personal favorite Italian restaurant in North Beach. It may not be the fanciest or the most expensive, and it is one of the few restaurants that still only accept cash. But it makes up for what it lacks with amazing food and a warm, intimate atmosphere. You’ve heard it before, but you really do feel like family when you sit down to your polenta and gorgonzola or pizza and have a nice glass of wine in your hand.
The Ferry Building/Embarcadero
A short and downhill walk from North Beach will lead you down to sweeping vistas of the Bay Bridge. The Ferry Building is a great place to stop while walking on the Embarcadero, and vintage streetcars add to this idyllic backdrop. The Ferry Building is the perfect alternative to Fisherman’s Wharf if you’ve got out-of-towners visiting.
The Ferry Building Marketplace: It really does have it all — many of the city’s best offerings, and the Tuesday Farmer’s Market rounds it all out! This list is just the tip of the iceberg:
Miette: Each of Miette’s locations has a sugary sweet interior and both sweet and savory treats. A great spot for sweet gifts.
Cowgirl Creamery: It’s taking everything I’ve got not to just type salivating sounds here. Cowgirl Creamery’s cheeses are made by hand locally, and you can tell. The Mt. Tam is one of my personal favorites. Their shop features incredible cheeses from around the world as well as a selection of knives and cutting boards. The knowledgeable staff is almost as important as their fine selection of fromage.
Blue Bottle Coffee: What list would be complete without one of the Blue Bottle locations? Using certified organic beans from pesticide-free farms (when possible) and roasting in small batches, this coffee truly tastes as good as it sounds.
Musee Mechanique: One of the few reasons to venture into the tourist-thick Fisherman’s Wharf, the Musee is a private vintage arcade collection of over 300 items. It’s an impressive collection that young and old alike will enjoy. And best of all? It’s free admission!
Made infamous by the Summer of Love, Charles Manson and young people flocking to its epicenter, Haight experienced a somewhat dodgy period that it is steadily coming out of, leaving in its wake a smattering of fun shops and quirky restaurants.
Cha Cha Cha: An amazing Cuban restaurant decorated with altars to the Saint-Gods of Santeria. Any place with tons of stuff hanging on the walls will usually be a hit with me. Their sangria and plantains are delicious, and the steak sandwich is my favorite.
Mystery Mister: The windows of this shop are always styled to perfection. Once, a few years ago, they had a display that looked like it was directly lifted from a ’20s circus scene. Inside you’ll find vintage clothing, antiques and jewelry.
Piper’s Shoe Parlor: The styling in this shop works beautifully at creating a distinct moment in time. Their shoe selection is both fashionable and classic with fair prices. They aim to provide a wide selection of quality-made items, valuing craftsmanship over “fast fashion.”
Gold Cane Cocktail Lounge (1569 Haight St. San Francisco, CA 94117, 415-626-1112): If you’re dying to have that dive-bar experience, look no farther. Friendly and knowledgeable bartenders, affordable cocktails and a jukebox. Need I say more?
Revolver: This boutique curates high-quality apparel from both local and international artisans. Their goal is to help you find pieces that not only tell a story about where you bought it but also about how it was made and how it makes you feel.
While there are quite a few chains and upscale shops in this neighborhood, there are still great eats and fun shops to stumble into.
Bun Mee: A Vietnamese sandwich eatery that combines French and Vietnamese influences that have turned this typical street fare into a unique SF eatery. They promise that every single sandwich is delicious; I can’t wait to find out!
Mudpie: A gorgeous baby boutique featuring quality European clothes as well as beautifully crafted toys.
State Bird Provisions: Their nature-inspired decor goes well with the modern/rustic fare. It was named “one of 2012’s best new restaurants in America,” so it’s worth calling for a reservation in advance.
Jane: A modern breakfast-and-lunch diner, optimal for dining in or grabbing coffee and a bag of granola to go. It has a variety of baked goods (all created fresh onsite each day), organic soups, salads and sandwiches with an emphasis on vegan and gluten-free options.
Roostertail: This restaurant is built around American-style rotisserie chicken, which makes it a perfect spot for contemporary comfort food.
Alamo Square/NoPa/Lower Haight
A walk along Divisadero will yield an armful of new books, vintage treasures, good coffee, a full belly and possibly a story or two.
Bar Crudo: This innovative eatery is great any time, but it really comes alive during the happy hour from 5:00–6:30.
Mojo Bicycle Cafe: Mojo Bicycle Cafe is a fun place to eat or drink inside or outside. In fact, they had one of the first parklets in the city.
The Independent: Venerable club known for showcasing emerging artists, from the Black Eyed Peas to Vampire Weekend.
San Franpsycho: Great alternative to Fisherman’s Wharf if you want some t-shirts displaying local love. Theirs are designed by San Francisco-based artists and are all screenprinted by hand.
The Other Shop: A perfect place to go treasure hunting. You may come up with a new favorite record, a set of vintage glasses you never knew you couldn’t live without or a piece of mid-century furniture that just happens to fit perfectly in that vacant space you’ve been hoping to fill for ages.
Comix Experience: A passionate comic book shop with a huge selection and a friendly staff to help you navigate the wonderful world of graphic storytelling.
Dina Louise (260 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117, 415-553-6299): A great shop to pop into for vintage clothing and accessories. Affordable prices and a great selection.
Makeshift Society: A great resource for creatives, such as myself, who often work from home and want to get out of their PJs to work among other like-minded people . . . in regular clothes. Not only is Makeshift a great resource for those working, but it’s also a fun place for non-members to discover artists through their events and pop-up shops.
Smitten Ice Cream: Who knew that homemade ice cream could be made with liquid nitrogen . . . in sixty seconds? Not only does this amazing little shop use liquid nitrogen, but they also use local, fresh and seasonal ingredients and make every single scoop made to order.
Two Sisters Bar and Books: Friendly bartenders and great ambiance, this is the perfect place to sit back and enjoy a delicious cocktail.
Lavish: This is the best kind of gift store. There isn’t just a lot of pretty stuff packed together, though it is in fact pretty. It’s also mindfully selected. It’s so great to look at a rack of cards and be unable to choose one quickly, not because none fit and they’re all awful but because each card is beautiful and there is a style or sentiment for anyone. The gifts are all things you would want to bring home for yourself, and the staff is attentive and helpful with questions or suggestions.
Fatted Calf: All of the food here looks incredible. It will become a goal to come back as often as possible to try something new each time. They offer delicious sandwiches and ready-to-order meats and pates, and their classes sound amazing — they offer everything from butchering (even one taught by women, for women) to sausage making.
Extras Around the City
Obviously it’s extremely difficult to sum up how amazing San Francisco is in a few neighborhoods, but here are a few additional spots to check out.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: This is a fun and somewhat quirky stop in Chinatown where you can watch fortune cookies being made and eat fresh ones right after they’re done!
Discount Fabrics: This fabric warehouse allows you to pretend you’re at Mode. Novices and aspiring designers alike will find an array of fabrics at affordable prices. They’re a great resource for upholstery, fabrics for gifts, backdrops — the list is endless!
Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar: Their sushi is on fire. ‘Nuff said.
Bernal Heights Park — Ripley St. & Folsom St.
When you don’t have time to drive all the way up Twin Peaks, Bernal Heights has gorgeous views of the city, hiking paths and lots of room for your pups to play.
Presidio Social Club: Be transported to a bygone era in this military barracks turned modern bar and restaurant where they serve tasty cocktails and eats with a San Francisco spin.
Scrap: Fabulous resource for creatives. I’ve gone here to dig through fabric scraps and pick up paper products or paints (and everything in between) for many a shoot.
The Fairmont Inn: If you can swing it, staying in this gorgeous marbled beacon in the city is sure to create a lasting memory. If the rooms themselves don’t do that, you can head down to the Tongra Room and Hurricane Bar where you’ll discover a pool (!) with a boat in it where performers will play you music while you drink umbrella-ed cocktails.
Jeremy’s: Who wouldn’t love new and or/salvaged items from some of our favorite designers? This is a great place to find everything from shoes to home goods. I’ve even purchased several designer baby items for friends from here. They also have amazing, and frequent, sales.
The Phoenix Hotel and Chambers Bar: This motor-lodge-style hotel is known as the city’s “Rock and Roll” hotel and feels like some of the ’50s-style Hollywood motels, featuring an outdoor pool, life-sized frog and Chambers Eat + Drink. The bar has a fun mid-century feel with a library of records and, my favorite, a marquee wall hanging emblazoned with the message “Be Amazing.”
The Redwood Room: A great place to grab a drink from the full bar on a weekday and much more crowded on weekends. Plush interior and dim lighting with an attentive staff.
Just a short hop, skip, jump, boat or ferry ride from the city will bring you to the East Bay. I’ll let another guide sum it up, but here are a few of my favorites:
Boot and Shoe Service: Amazing pizza, and their brunch is incredible. It’s okay if you too can’t pronounce or decipher most of the items on the menu; the friendly staff is happy to answer questions. The same goes for their delicious cocktails.
À Côté: This Oakland restaurant is a great place to come for tasty cocktails or sumptuous wines and delicious French-inspired small plates. Their pommes frites with aioli can’t be missed!
Ensarro Ethiopian: One of my favorite Oakland restaurants. The doro tibs and meade are a definite must-try.
Issues: An amazing resource for just about any magazine you could be looking for. A bonus is that they also have back issues of current favorites like Anthology and Kinfolk.
Fenton’s Creamery: One stop in here and you’ll feel like a kid again! Their sky-high sundaes are best when shared with a friend. Take it with you: you can also get their hand-packed pints (or gallons) and their caramel (I highly recommend their caramel!) to go.
Cafe Van Cleef: As I noted before about Cha Cha Cha’s, a place with loads of things hanging off the walls and ceilings will be okay with me. This is such a fun Oakland bar — they have live music each weekend, and if your company isn’t very interesting, simply study the walls for a topic!
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe: While in Oakland, keep an eye out for the members of Green Day. They are known to appear at this favorite local hangout that’s famous for its challah bread French toast and milkshakes.
Alameda Antique Fair: With over 700 vendors, this is one of my very favorite places to scout items for clients or myself. There is a fine food truck selection, as well, and after the miles of loops you’ll be making while shopping, it will be well deserved! Tip: To avoid getting overwhelmed, have a list of items you’re looking for (even if it’s mostly for fun, it helps to keep you inspired) and bring cash, and if you find an item you love, buy it! Chances are, if you love it, somebody else will, too.
St. George Spirits: While in Alameda, stop by St. George Spirits for a tour (you can see one of the actual shark doubles from Jaws inside!) of the machinery and learn a bit about their process, from tree to bottle. You can also do a tasting before you decide. My favorite is the Raspberry Eau de Vie, or as they call it, “The Panty Dropper.”