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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.