Zai's Bay Area Favorites
These are all places I actually go to on a regular basis and love deeply. Not included on this list: Neighborhoods of San Francisco that are legitimately interesting but that I never go to because they're either far away or touristy (e.g., North Beach). So it's not a comprehensive list. Just the parts of town that I prioritize!
The Mission (San Francisco)
The Mission is probably the hottest neighborhood in SF. This is where all the cool shops, bars, bougie food places, restaurants, etc. are. The main drag is Valencia St. between 15th and 24th. Less popular but maybe more interesting would be 24th St. between Potrero St. and Guerrero St (less gentrified; more working-class Latino). You can definitely just wander, but here are my favorite spots:
- Al's Place: Michelin-starred restaurant with an emphasis on creative, bold, veg-heavy dishes. Need a reservation well in advance. Do the $65/person family style option -- it's hands-down the best food I've had in years, and worth the price.
- Tartine: trendy bakery
- Pizzeria Delfina: hipster pizza
- Ritual or Four Barrel: fancy coffee
- Paxton Gate: weird skeletons, dead things, carnivorous plants
- 826 Valencia: pirate supply store in the front, Dave Eggers' youth writing workshop in the back
- Latin American Club: dive bar with quirky decorations and extremely strong and cheap margaritas
- Lolinda: one of my favorite restaurants in SF! Argentinian food. The meats are all amazing; the pulpo (octopus) is one of my favorite dishes ever
- Foreign Cinema: probably my #1 favorite restaurant in SF. Classy, hip scene with phenomenal brunch and dinner.
- Craftsman and Wolves: they have a cheddar, bacon, scallion scone with a soft-boiled egg inside of it. Everything else is mediocre.
- Mission Cheese: get a grilled cheese, pickled vegetables, and some wine
- La Taqueria: classic SF burritos. No rice in the burritos. No atmosphere either, haha.
SoMisPo (San Francisco)
Not sure if anyone actually calls it "SoMisPo" in real life (SOMA + Mission + Potrero), but there's this one tiny neighborhood (it's barely even a neighborhood!) with really cool stuff in it that only SF insiders know about!
- Heath Ceramics: their factory features work from other makers and artists - beautiful, inspiring, locally-made stuff.
- Tartine Manufactory: Phenomenal breakfast food especially
- Coffee Bar: My favorite place to work, eat, and caffeinate all in one place
- Trick Dog: It's a crowded bar, but the thing people don't know is that if you go upstairs, they have amazing food until 2am. Get the kale salad and The Trick Dog. You won't regret it. The drinks are quirky and weird. But go for the food, not the bar scene!
- Salumeria: Amazing sliced meat sandwiches; super trendy. Great lunch spot.
- Blowfish Sushi: fancy, avant-garde sushi with a kitchy, dancey atmosphere (they usually have a DJ spinning during dinner)
Dogpatch (San Francisco)
Dogpatch is an industrial warehouse area right on the water that's really up-and-coming right now. There's a lot of development, a new hospital, and a bunch of cool new spots nestled into the giant warehouses.
- Harmonic Brewing: Up and coming craft brewery. Shares a space with my metal shop. Good guys who run it. You can bring outside food in (or order a pizza!), as well as kids and dogs.
- Minnesota Street Project: A collection of art galleries all under one roof. It's free, and dog-friendly, so go poke around!
- Alta: Daniel Patterson's new restaurant inside of the Minnesota Street Project. For lunch, the deviled eggs and cheeseburger are bomb.
- Piccino: Favorite restaurant in Dogpatch. Minimalist, elegant, quiet, Scandinavian aesthetic, but fresh Californian style food.
- Glena's: My favorite Mexican food in SF right now. It's small, a little trendy, and they have amazing food. The salsa trio is phenomenal (this is the only restaurant where the chips and salsa are almost better than anything else on the menu), and the tacos al pastor are killer.
- Velocipede Cyclery: My favorite local bike shop! Really nice guys who work here.
- Neighbor Bakehouse: Killer pastries that are totally unusual. The Everything is unexpectedly good -- sauerkraut and cream cheese!
- Third Rail: Pretty much the only bar I like. It's super low-key and chill, and they have great cocktails and an extensive house-made jerky menu. The jerky alone is worth it! The Evil Twin is no longer on the menu, but you can still order it -- it's a spicy mezcal cocktail.
- Museum of Craft and Design: Small, cool museum that only costs $8. Excellent store. Can see everything in 20 minutes.
- Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous: Bougie ice cream.
- Long Bridge Pizza: Excellent pizza and salads. Casual.
- Triple Aught Design: Military chic clothes and gear. Phil's favorite store.
- Esprit Park: Nice big flat park.
- Mission Rock Resort: Seafood restaurant with a gorgeous patio hanging over the bay. Amazing views, almost always warm, fancy bloody Marys.
- Bay Front Park: There's a nice walking/running trail that runs along the water in the Dogpatch. You can follow it north all the way around the perimeter of SF, through Dogpatch, by the Giants stadium, under the Bay Bridge, to the Ferry Building, and then up to Fisherman's Wharf. This is my standard run (usually from the house to the ball park and back).
- Dogpatch Boulders: Indoor bouldering gym. People seem to love it, but I broke my ankle there, so it's dead to me.
Potrero Hill (San Francisco)
This is my immediate neighborhood. This section should be lower priority than the other neighborhoods -- it's on this list for friends who are staying with me and want to see places within walking distance of my house. Not necessarily a top destination otherwise. It's hilly and beautiful and almost always warm. It's residential with a small, cute neighborhood center. There are stunning views of the SF skyline, Bay Bridge, and the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland).
- Farley's Coffee: My #1 cute neighborhood cafe. Has a parklet outside for outdoor chilling. Get the empanadas.
- Provender: Avocado toast and trout toast are insane!! Get the sous-vide egg on the side. Quick food; never a wait.
- Hazel's Kitchen: Hot sandwiches and breakfast burritos. Right next to Farley's and the parket.
- Chez Maman: French bistro. Get the Thai Moules Frites.
- Plow: One of SF's hottest brunch spot with outdoor seating. Famous for lemon ricotta pancakes (get "The Plow" -- both savory and sweet combo plate). The wait on weekends is 2hrs, so go at off hours -- like right when they open or right before they're going to close, or on weekdays.
- Sunflower: Vietnamese
- Papito: Nice-ish Mexican food
- Potrero Hill Neighborhood House: My favorite Potrero vista point -- half a block from my house. If you're looking at the building, walk all the way around to the right and up the stairs and onto the deck. Just look at the view. Don't go into the building.
- Good Life Grocery: My favorite grocery store.
- Starr King Open Space: A big open space on the top of Potrero Hill with killer views of the city. If you go all the way to the top, there's a fantastic rope swing with a great view!
- McKinley Square: Playground and a small dog lawn. Our regular place to walk Simi.
Other Things in San Francisco
- Batteries to Bluffs trail in the Presidio: Beautiful hike in a large nature preserve and historic buildings. The Batteries to Bluffs Trail is a stunning easy short hike with killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of my favorite nature things within SF.
- De Young Museum: art museum in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Don't miss the Hamon Tower!! You can enter for free without buying museum entrance. It's a very tall tower with STUNNING 360 views of SF.
- California Academy of Sciences: science museum in Golden Gate Park; they do a big party with drinks, DJs, and interactive stuff every Thursday night! It's called NightLife.
- Golden Gate Park in general: lots of places to explore. Great place to run. Bison, waterfalls, botanical garden, etc.
- Ferry Building: food vendors and a fabulous farmer's market on the weekend. Primavera Farms out back does excellent Chilaquiles on Saturday mornings!
- Coit Tower: kind of touristy, and I don't know any locals that have actually gone, but I took a tour and was really surprised by how beautiful it was! The views are great and the architecture is neat.
Berkeley and Oakland (East Bay)
- Have breakfast at Bartavelle - get the Persian breakfast, avocado toast, and the soft-boiled egg. Can sit outside and bring dogs.
- Go for a hike at Inspiration Point - easy, beautiful hike way up in the hills in Tilden Park. Great views of the Bay Area.
- Have lunch at the Cheese Board Pizza - classic Berkeley establishment. They only have one vegetarian pizza per day, and it changes daily. There's nothing like it in the world! Make sure to squeeze the spicy green sauce on the pizza.
- Poke around Temescal Alley in Oakland - adorable little dead-end street filled with both hippie and hipster shops (crystals, jewelry, ice cream).
- For an unusual Sunday brunch experience, go to the Thai Temple (aka Wat Mongkolratanaram)!!!! It's such a Berkeley scene. You donate money in exchange for tokens, and then trade tokens for delicious Thai food. It's a weekly fundraiser for the temple. All kinds of people gather there for casual outdoor seating. If there aren't seats available, you can sit on the lawn outside the public library next door.
- For trendy, casual Mexican food, eat at Comal - hip Mexican food, a beautiful outdoor patio, and interesting cocktails. Usually a little bit of a wait, but you can get drinks and chill on the patio until your table is ready.
- For a Berkeley classic, eat at Chez Panisse - it's the home of the local, organic food movement started by their founder/chef Alice Waters. Eat upstairs for casual a-la-carte; downstairs for more formal fixed price.
- For a classy, quiet dinner, go to Oliveto (upstairs, not downstairs) - literally the best house-made pasta I've ever had. It's not trendy or young, but the food blows me away every single time. It's a quiet, understated restaurant with consistently top-notch food.
- For Spanish tapas, try Cesar - casual, easy to get a table, one of my parents' go-to spots. The food is consistently amazing and the vibe is welcoming and unfussy. One of the only places in Berkeley where you can get food fairly late at night.
Marin County (North Bay)
- Rent a car and drive north on Highway 1 to Tomales Bay.
- Eat raw or grilled oysters with white wine at Hog Island Oyster Company
- Get chowder and grilled oysters at Tony's Seafood Restaurant
- Eat grilled cheese sandwiches at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. This whole town is tiny and cute to poke around in. Get a coffee at Toby's Feed Barn while you're there.
- Poke around Limantour Beach or Stinson Beach.