I always think it’s such a waste when people don’t see what actually make San Francisco worthwhile: the local spots. San Francisco isn’t just the City by the Bay; it is also a city known for its openness and revolutionary thinking. You can’t put San Francisco in a box. Or you can try.
Day 3: The Neighborhoods
Obviously, San Francisco is home to different kinds of people, and the city has so many neighborhoods with their own sub-cultures. Here are the places I would recommend if you only had a day left in San Francisco.
Let’s start with Haight St, particularly Haight-Ashbury, which still beats its hippie heart. It’s fun going inside the stores, and if you’re up to it, you can ride those
embarrassing tourist buses because they pass through the Haight all the time.
The Haight is so close to my old neighborhood that I used to come here all the time to do my groceries and to look at books. The bars here are more neighborhood-y and aren’t dance-y bars, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Alamo Square + Painted Ladies
I’ve never watched Full House, so I didn’t really seek out the Painted Ladies until possibly a year after I moved to the city. Painted Ladies is a row of old Victorian style houses in front of Alamo Square park, in case you were curious. So I suggest you walk around the rest of the park as well: it’s a dog-friendly park, so it’s always fun to see dogs running and playing around, and there is a nice view of downtown that you can look at from one of the benches or from the grass. (See other favorites nearby in NoPa at the Center and near-ish coffee shops in San Francisco: Coffee & Tea in the West Side.)
Alamo Square is super close to Divisadero St, which has good restaurants and bars. (If you’re looking for a chill night, try going out here. The bars are cozy, and you can play arcade games at the Emporium.)
You can come to the Castro day or night, and you will enjoy. Castro has a strong LGBT+ community, and it’s very inspiring. I like the rainbow-colored pedestrian lanes and flags that show the neighborhood’s pride. The Dog Eared Books on Castro has a great collection of women’s and LGBT+ literature. (It’s one of my 6 Bookstores to Visit in San Francisco.)
If you’re here on a sunny day, expect to see everyone at the park. What? It’s a weekday? It doesn’t matter. Somehow, people still make it out to the park as long as the sun is shining. Come here for a nice break and to people (and dog) watch. If you go all the way to the top of the hill (Church St corner 20th St), you will see another wonderful view of the city. (It seems that SF parks are strategically placed on hills for the beautiful views.)
Valencia St between 16th St and 24th St has all of the San Francisco hipsters. Everything on this street is trendy or unique in its own right. I love entering different establishments along Valencia, ending up at a coffee shop or bookstore whenever I need to rest. I also love visiting Clarion Alley (between 17th St and 18th St) to look at the art, most of which have political messages. (The murals change every now and then—I’ve watched artists at work a few times already.)
24th St (east of Valencia) is the Latino Cultural District. It’s very different from Valencia St even if both streets belong to the same neighborhood, the Mission. (Once you hit Valencia St, 24th St changes and you know you’re in a different kind of neighborhood.) The difference is quite telling: 24th St has cultural heritage shops that I only wish I had more pictures of. There are also cool spots there: as a book lover, I enjoyed my visits to Adobe Books and Alley Cat Books; as a street art enthusiast, I liked walking through Balmy Alley (between Harrison and Treat).