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25 Ways to Experience San Francisco

Daring art projects, cool new restaurants, and more boutiques than your wallet will know what to do with—it’s never been a better time to visit the Bay Area.


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Golden Gate Park

Food and Drink

There’s no shortage of excellent coffee and pastries in SF. Start with Cafe Réveille (pronounced “REY-vey,” meaning “wake up” en Français), which recently opened a third location in the less-trafficked Mission Bay area that’s just a hop and a skip from the Museum of Modern Art. All the usual espresso drinks are here, but it’s their breakfast sandwich with a house-made merguez that can’t be missed. Sit outside on the pink-top tables to catch the locals-only vibe.

Tartine Manufactory

At the new Tartine Manufactory, an offshoot of Tartine Bakery in the Mission District, you’ll find proprietary coffee blends—the filter coffee is tops—as well as teacakes and hot cereal with persimmons for breakfast; salads and sandwiches for lunch; and their signature tartines, refined veggie side dishes, and heftier meat plates for dinner. Save room for unique soft serve, like cardamom coconut.

Babu Ji

After success in New York, Babu Ji has brought its flair for modern North Indian cuisine to San Francisco, where you can dine on Colonel Tso’s cauliflower dressed in tomato chili sauce and tandoori lamb chops. The decor is funky and colorful, with Bollywood movies screened on the wall.

Cozy neighborhood bar, thy name is Union Larder. The petite cheese, wine, and charcuterie bar in Russian Hill, which won Imbibe magazine’s Wine Bar of the Year, pours mostly California wines. Pair a glass with oysters, the cheddar bratwurst, or plates of salami and jamón Ibérico. And set aside time to shop their gourmet grocery items.

Famous for its tropical-print wallpaper, Leo’s Oyster Bar is just as much a destination for its seafood menu and upscale bar bites, like rock shrimp toast, lobster rolls, and pricey hot oysters, which are $5–6 per shell.

 

Shopping

E-tailer Cuyana has set up a bright showroom in Union Square, where shoppers can get better acquainted with the quality of their collections. Cuyana’s mantra is “fewer, better things,” so attention to materials and detail—like Saffiano leather and pure silk for slip dresses—is evident. Plus, monogramming is available on most items.

Similarly, e-commerce site Everlane has opened a store in the Mission that feels like a minimalist—albeit glamorous—personal closet. Shoppers can try on chambray shirts, $100 cashmere sweaters, leather shoes, and more—all with the satisfaction that the products are made from extensively vetted factories with no middleman costs.

Earthy, sustainably made apparel and hipster kids’ clothing are the focus at The Podolls in Noe Valley. Most items are designed by the married-couple owners, with a sprinkle of California brands like Sunday Somewhere filling out the accessory shelves.

Acacia in the Mission is the spot for home decor, giftables, and even dog toys with clean, modern designs. The owners also sell organic soaps, serums, and more from their line of natural skin care, Heliotrope.

Heath Ceramics

Heath Ceramics is synonymous with top-notch home goods, and a visit to their space next to Tartine Manufactory is proof. Browse mugs and dishware—all made at their nearby Sausalito headquarters—and stop by their fully outfitted kitchen to peruse cookbooks and locally crafted condiments.

 

Art and Culture

Mission District mural

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first West Coast museum dedicated to contemporary art, and last spring the 82-year-old institution reopened following a three-year makeover. New additions include a sculptural staircase and expanded galleries. One of the most powerful exhibits is Emily Jacir’s Where We Come From, in which the artist took snapshots of the wishes she fulfilled on behalf of displaced Palestinians.

Holding court in beautiful Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum will run The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll from April 8 through August 20. Make sure to visit the top level for floor-to-ceiling views.

Some of the city’s most provocative art is on display for free. The Mission District murals may seem splashy, but they call attention to serious issues, from human rights to gentrification. Clarion Alley (running between Mission and Valencia streets, just south of 17th Street) is a great starting point before checking out Balmy Alley (on the north end of Garfield Square) and the MaestraPeace Mural at The Women’s Building on 18th Street.

To see a more minimalist take, the Minnesota Street Project occupies three warehouses in the Dogpatch district, two of which are open to the public with dozens of galleries. The project also hosts events, like the SF Art Book Fair in July.

 

Hotels

Airbnbs are best for the hip neighborhoods of the Mission and Hayes Valley, but the world-class hotels in more tony neighborhoods like Nob Hill merit a stay, too. The pet-friendly boutique Hotel Carlton in lower Nob Hill has a global aesthetic, with rooms dressed in Jonathan Adler–like swatches and photos from around the world. Its newly opened in-house restaurant, Phlox Commons, has a slick subway-tile-lined bar, metallic wallpaper, and a small, well-edited menu of burgers, trout ceviche, and flatbreads.

Hotel Carlton

Beyond fancy rooms, the grand Fairmont Hotel has unique features like an American Girl Package (pampering for kids and their dolls) and the lovably kitschy Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, where mai tais are a must. Don’t miss the lush roof garden, where you can spot the Golden Gate Bridge on clear days.

Centrally located and close to public transit, The Inn at Union Square has remained a hidden gem among the bigger-name hotels in the bustling area. Expect clean design and a boutique feel, plus complimentary breakfast and a nightly wine and cheese hour.

Road Trip!

Give yourself a full day on the Pacific coast north of the city for world-renowned eats and some of California’s most impressive views

Hop in a rental car and head north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Reyes Station, a cute commercial district with coffee shops, a bookstore, and the beloved Cowgirl Creamery. Started by two friends (one a Chez Panisse alum and the other the owner of Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley), this fromage temple is known for their standouts like the triple-cream Mt. Tam cheese. You can also order grab-and-go sandwiches and baked treats.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Next, head east to Point Reyes National Seashore, the preserve that’s home to more than 70,000 acres of green grass, piercing blue ocean views, and winding roads that will take you past grazing cows and incredible cliffside vantage points. Once you’ve driven back inland, don’t miss a stop at Hog Island Oyster Co., the sustainable oyster farm in Marshall that has an all-outdoor seating area overlooking Tomales Bay. You can sit on the patio for traditional wait service or plan a Shuck-Your-Own Picnic that includes a grill and shucking tools. Reservations are a must.

Then head north along Route 1 to Bodega Bay, the sleepy coastal town made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Up for some spooking? You can visit Potter Schoolhouse from the movie.

It’s now time to head east to Petaluma, the historic and family-friendly town that served as the location for films like Pleasantville, American Graffiti, and more. Cruise down D Street to see Victorian mansions before hitting Petaluma Boulevard, the town’s main drag. You’ll find quaint shops and The New Yorker Pizza & Restaurant, a great place to refuel before heading back to the city. You’ve earned it.

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