San Francisco: A Guide

San Francisco: A Guide

I thought this time around for my travel posts I would write them in more of a city guide style because I love referring to other blogger's guides when I'm going somewhere new. I had such a great time on my trip back in Feb/March and I feel like I have a lot of fun recommendations to share. I am super biased because of my love for the Beat Generation, but San Francisco is one of my favourite cities, and there's so much to see and do there even if all the Beat stuff isn't that exciting for you. And you can expect posts about New Orleans and Texas coming soon!

If you fancy reading about what I did last time I was in SF, you can check out my older post. It's more "here's what I did" in style rather than "here's what you can do", but there are lots of places I haven't bothered to mention again in this post so it's worth a look if you're planning a trip to the city. As an aside, I found that on this trip I used my phone for taking photos a lot of the time because DSLRs are so bulky and heavy and can be such a pain in the ass to get out and shoot with, especially when it comes to food, low light or capturing something that's too big to fit in the frame, depending on what lens I was using. Plus it's nice to share some more candid shots so I hope you guys don't mind.

Getting Around

It's just recently expanded into several more cities (including Toronto, yay!) but while in SF we almost exclusively used Uber Pool to get around. It's the same concept as a normal Uber except you can only book for 1-2 people, and you're actually sharing the ride with other passengers. Just about everywhere we went was $5-6 USD per trip, which is the same or cheaper than 2 BART tickets (the subway system), so it was a no brainer. Most of the time there would already be someone in the Uber when we got in, or the driver would pick someone up on the way, but they were generally going to the same area as us and we met some really awesome people getting around like this. I couldn't recommend it enough and we would have done it everywhere if every city had it.

See & Do

City Lights Books,
261 Columbus

So the most obvious thing for me is City Lights, aka my spiritual home. If you didn't know, this is basically the heart of the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. Founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the book store and publishing house are well known for publishing Allen Ginsberg's Howl (which was the subject of a widely publicised obscenity trial in 1957) among hundreds of other titles.

They're also the sister bookstore to the beautiful Shakespeare & Company in Paris and one of the most recent books published by City Lights is about the story of Shakespeare & Co. I could easily write an entire blog post about the cultural significance of this bookstore, as well as its importance for me personally, but if you're in SF and you're into post-modern literature you can't miss this place.

The Beat Museum, 540 Broadway

Just up the street, within sight of City Lights is the Beat Museum. When I was in SF in 2014 I went here so often that I made friends with one of the guys who works there. He even remembered me when I came back again this year, so that should give you some indication of how much I love it. If the Beat Generation doesn't mean anything to you then this may not be of much interest, but I love this place with all my heart.

The street level is a bookstore that mostly sells books by Beat writers, including some really cool rare ones, and you can pay $8 for entry into the museum which is out the back and upstairs and it contains a huge array of Beat memorabilia. They also do a walking tour to a bunch of historic Beat sites around North Beach which I have done in the past.

Jack Kerouac Alley

Lol, okay last one that's just me fangirling about something that may not be very interesting to many of you, but a while back several streets in San Francisco were renamed after famous writers. My favourite, of course, is Kerouac Alley which is right next to City Lights. There's also one for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, William Saroyan, Mark Twain and several other writers, so they're fun to spot as you're wandering around the city.

Coit Tower, 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd

Getting to Coit Tower is a pretty major uphill walk, but this time we just caught an Uber up there after dinner and had a look around. You get a great view of the city and the Bay Bridge, and it's nice during the day too.

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Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury was the centre of the hippie movement in the 1960s, and although I'm sure it's vastly more expensive to live in today, it's still a really cool area to wander around. If you're into rock history, the Grateful Dead house is just off Haight at 710 Ashbury St.

Along Haight St you'll find a whole bunch of vintage shops as well as lots of places to eat and drink. At the end of the street is the Golden Gate Park which, incidentally, is nowhere near the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you were to walk back along Haight away from the Park there's a gap in all the shops and eateries, but if you keep going you'll hit Lower Haight where you'll find a bunch more bars and places to eat.

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Amoeba Records,
1855 Haight St

Just before you hit the park you'll find Amoeba, which is always a must if you're a fellow record collector, though even if you're not it's still worth a look around.

Golden Gate Park

It's difficult to get your head around just how big this park is, but it's 20% larger than Central Park in New York. Naturally the hippies of the 60s spent a lot of time here, and there's even a place called Hippie Hill which was one of the meeting areas during the Summer of Love. We didn't know it at the time though, we just wandered into the park and chose a nice place to sit in the sun and read one afternoon, and there just so happened to be people playing music on the hill while we were there.

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Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr

Located inside the Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences has a really cool after hours visiting option. Of course you can go during the day as you would to any normal museum, but on Thursday nights you can also visit as part of their Nightlife program. Basically the museum is the same as normal except they have bars set up all over the place and Drake playing for most of the night. You can also opt for the VIP tour where they show you some cool behind the scenes stuff including real bones and specimens in their archives. And yes, that is a photo of an albino alligator!

The Mission District

When you say you're going to SF everyone says you have to check out the Mission. My favourite area is still North Beach because of all the Beat history, but the Mission is definitely the place to go for vintage and second hand shopping as well as lots of cool independent stores, restaurants and street art.

The two main streets in the area are Mission & Valencia, which run parallel to each other. I personally preferred Valencia and found a lot more little shops I liked the look of there than on Mission St, so if you're tired or pressed for time then just stick to Valencia. The interesting stuff starts around 16th and when you hit 24th there's plenty more to see if you walk along there. It's quite a big area but can easily be covered in a few hours, depending on how much time you spend in the shops, of course!

826 Valencia

Named after it's address, this place is called a "pirate supply store" which isn't of any particular interest to me, but it doubles as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping children and young adults develop their writing skills. It was founded by Dave Eggers and I'm a big fan of his books so I wanted to check it out. They also have a location in the Tenderloin but by all reports that area is sketchy af so we didn't go to that one.

Paxton Gate, 824 Valencia

This place is right next to 826 Valencia and it's just a beautiful shop to look around in. The front of the shop is all taxidermy and curiosities and the back is like a greenhouse. Definitely wroth popping in if you're in the Mission.

Oakland

We caught the BART over to Oakland one day and spent our time wandering along Broadway and the surrounding streets. There are a bunch of second hand shops as well as a fancy denim store we came across called Two Jacks, named after my boo Kerouac and Jack London.

We caught the ferry back from Jack London Square which was a bit of a novelty because you go under the Bay Bridge and end up at the ferry building which has a marketplace inside with lots of food. I didn't get any this time, but Humphry Slocombe in there has excellent ice cream!

AT&T Park

If you're a big baseball fan (like my boyfriend) you can go to AT&T Park. They offer stadium tours but we thought they were a little pricey, and my boyfriend is a Yankees fan anyway so he'd rather do a tour of their stadium when we make it to New York. But you can still walk around the outside or catch a game here if you're in the city during baseball season. 

Eat & Drink

Samovar Tea Lounge, Yerba Buena Gardens,  730 Howard St

I've been obsessed with this place since I went last time I was in town. They have this location as well as another in the Mission and if you're into tea you absolutely have to try it. Though we didn't this time, I would go to the one in the Mission because they appear to have different menus online and it looks like the Mission one is a lot cheaper.

Either way, it's arguably pretty pretentious because it takes them about a full five minutes to brew you a takeaway tea, but it'll be one of the best teas you'll drink in your life! I'm boring and just live for a plain old English Breakfast with a bit of milk, but they've got lots to choose from. I endured a fair bit of eye-rolling from Mark but I fkn love this place.

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Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo St

I came here several times in 2014 just by chance because it was right near where I was staying, and then I learned more about its history. Not only is it credited as bringing real Italian coffee to the West Coast, but the Beats all used to come here, and rumour has it that Ferlinghetti still stops by. Francis Ford Coppola also wrote the screenplay for the Godfather sitting here, so there are a quite a few reasons to visit this unassuming little cafe. 

Gracias Madre,
2211 Mission St

Eating out in general in the US isn't cheap because you have to add tax, tip & currency conversion on top of everything, so we found this place pretty pricey compared to the millions of other Mexican restaurants in SF. In saying that, it's vegan so if you love having the luxury of an entire menu to choose from then this is the place for you.

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Hella Vegan Eats,
411 26th St, Oakland

Holy shit you guys, if you're vego/vegan this place is an absolute must. We went to Oakland right at the end of our time in SF and we deeply regretted it because it meant we couldn't eat here more than once.

Mark had some sort of burger with fried chicken and onion rings on it, while I had mac & cheese with pesto & chicken, and it was easily the best mac & cheese I've ever had, vegan or otherwise. I'm not really a fan of regular mac & cheese as I find it's usually a bit gluggy and it all tastes the same, but all the toppings made this one excellent!

They change their menu weekly and they also have incredible looking cakes so it's worth lurking their insta (@hellaveganeats) before you go. They hadn't made any desserts yet when we went though, so I missed out. :(

Capo's, 641 Vallejo St

Mark and I were told to go here by a workmate of his who lives in SF and we chose their deep dish pizza because Mark had never tried one before. It was as good as it looks!

Taqueria Zorro, 308 Columbus Ave

Mark was obsessed with this place because you can get a vegetarian burrito where instead of meat they put in hot chips. Not exactly authentic Mexican but delicious nonetheless!

Panta Rei, 431 Columbus Ave

We went with a friend who had just moved to SF and had been told to go here. The bruschetta was probably the best any of us has ever had, and my cheesecake at the end of the meal was unbelievable!

Love N Haight
Deli & Cafe,
553 Haight St

We were so into this place that we went twice. It's an all vegan deli that's open til 2am and they make a whole range of sandwiches using vegan meats & cheeses and it's absolutely delicious. Basically the SF version of Melbourne's Smith & Deli but without a half hour line.

Toronado, 547 Haight St

It was pouring when when we got to Lower Haight for our first visit to Love N Haight so we ducked into Toronado for a drink and we were so glad we did! Mark was very happy with the beer selection and I had a super delicious ginger beer. The bouncer was a huge tattooed bearded dude who brought his lil chihuahua Nubia to work with him so I spent most of our time there with her curled up on my lap.

Vesuvio, 255 Columbus Ave

This is the bar next to City Lights with Kerouac Alley running between them, so naturally all the Beats used to drink here, and they even have a cocktail named after my boy Jack. It's also just a cool little bar even the Beat stuff doesn't appeal to you.

Naked Lunch, 504 Broadway

Just up Broadway past the Beat Museum is a bar/restaurant called Naked Lunch. I've not eaten there but I've heard the food is good, and if you're a Beat nerd you kind of have to stop by just for the name.