One of the things I love most about San Francisco is how diverse the neighborhoods are. Not only does each have a distinct character, the food found across the city is wildly different too.
When my parents and aunt visited recently, I wanted to give them a taste of the different neighborhoods. The concept of this tour is that we got to see the neighborhoods briefly and stop to pick up food to create a San Francisco picnic (to enjoy on the move).
Sometimes referred to as ‘little Italy’, North Beach was home to Joe DiMaggio and the Beat poet movement. All of North Beach’s famous inhabitants feasted on the best pizza, pasta and Italian food available in the city, if not the entire West Coast.
Known more for its cafes and hilltop mansions, we didn’t pick up any food here but instead stopped at Mrs.Doubtfire’s house for a photograph (on the corner of Steiner and Broadway) and then continued down into Hayes Valley and over to the famous ‘painted ladies’ at Alamo Square.
Ask any San Francisco resident where to get the best Mexican food and they will tell you to go to the Mission. They might argue about which taqueria is the best, but whether you choose Taqueria Vallarta, La Taqueria or another; you’re guaranteed an authentic taste.
The Mission is fast becoming a destination for fine dining and the restaurant scene, queues for Tartine Bakery go around the block and restaurant opens almost every week.
For the purpose of our picnic, we grabbed some sweet treats from La Victoria bakery; the chocolate custard filled donuts were my favorite.
No visit to San Francisco is complete without a visit to the Castro. A relatively small area, a few hundred feet of streets have been and continue to be the setting for some of the most prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism and events in the world.
For tourists, the rainbow crossings are a must see and cookies from Hot Cookie make an excellent addition to any picnic (penis-shaped cookies optional).
From the Castro, we climbed steeply up to Twin Peaks for a vista view over the city. It was very busy up there, but it was easy to see why once we did manage to park; the views are incredible.
Haight & Ashbury
Another area rich in history, Haight & Ashbury was the home of the hippie movement and setting for 1967’s Summer of Love. Nowadays you’ll find shops and restaurants lining the famous streets, with a huge Ben & Jerry’s on the intersection of Haight & Ashbury Streets themselves. You can take a peek at both Janis Joplin’s apartment (no.635) and the Grateful Dead’s house (no.710) on Ashbury Street.
Golden Gate Park & Ocean Beach
From Haight & Ashbury it’s a short hop into Golden Gate Park. Our visitors couldn’t believe how long it took us to drive from one end to the other (it’s 3 miles long!) and loved that we have access to somewhere so leafy and green in the city. Finishing up at Ocean Beach, we only had time to snap a couple of photographs there before hopping back in the car.
From Ocean Beach, we drove through the Presidio (winding the windows down to smell the eucalyptus) and down into Chrissy Field; our final stop. Parking close to the beach (taking a left before the Palace of Fine Arts), we took a short stroll and captured Golden Gate Bridge from one of the best vantage points in the city.
We planned to end this tour with a ride down Lombard street, but the queue to go down scuppered our plans. We made it back in the nick of time to return the Zipcar to North Beach.
I’ve been exploring these neighborhoods for over six months now and am still discovering new things every time I go. This whistle-stop tour is nowhere near long enough to discover the neighborhoods in any detail, but does give visitors on a tight schedule a flavor of the city and helps them to understand why we love living in San Francisco so much!
We did this tour on a Saturday afternoon, so there was moderate traffic. We didn’t experience any issues with parking, but if we were in doubt someone stayed with the car. We hired a Zipcar for 2.5 hours, which was just a little bit too short. I’d recommend 3 hours to enjoy just a few minutes longer in each neighborhood!