“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Mark Twain may or may not have said this, but the statement often rings true from the City by the Bay. Although it’s mostly bright here, temperamental weather fluctuations may leave you shivering and sweat over the hour. However, as long as you are prepared, San Francisco will treat you nicely.
Whenever it’s a little city — just 7 miles by 7 miles — San Francisco is dense. Its population of over 815,000 means roughly 17,000 people per square mile normally. The bright side is that almost every block overflows with technology, architecture, great food and background.
You’ll want at least three days to get a true San Francisco experience. And pack your walking shoes — the town may be modest, but the steep hills could be brutal. Do not let this prevent you from climbing, however. Whether you’re walking down the curves of Lombard Street or up the slope into Fort Mason, or walking to the top of Twin Peaks, all of your hard work will be rewarded with all epic views of the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here is how to experience San Francisco design like a local, from a local.
Location: 1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Building (Embarcadero)
San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building was initially the primary transportation center for Anybody coming to town from the East Bay or Marin. Nowadays it hosts a bustling marketplace that is open seven days a week. Avoid the packed Saturday farmer’s market and select a weekday instead. Cowgirl Creamery, Blue Bottle Coffee, Hog Island Oysters, Boulette’s Larder and Boccalone Salumeria are a Couple of favorite food booths. Pottery at Heath Ceramics’ vibrant collection is a must-see, too.
More information: Ferry Building
Location: Marina Boulevard (Marina)
Fort Mason was once a U.S. Army place and the principal port for the Pacific campaign of World War II. Now the complex of military buildings has been remodeled (the first red tiled roofs and white stucco exteriors were preserved) to sponsor concerts, exhibits, festivals along with a wonderful farmer’s market on Sundays.
Explore the park over Fort Mason to get a stellar view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or rent a bicycle in the primary parking lot and ride along the trail through Crissy Field all the way to the bridge.
More information: Fort Mason Center
Conservatory of Flowers
Location: 100 John F. Kennedy Dr. (Golden Gate Park)
Cost: Adults, $7; ages 12 to 17, seniors and students, $5; ages 5 to 11, $2
Found off one of the primary paths in Golden Gate Park, the Conservatory of Flowers is an unexpected architectural surprise amid the eucalyptus and palm trees. It’s a cherished example of Victorian design, and all its permanent galleries highlights a different tropical plant market. If it’s bright, snag a Popsicle from an external vendor and unwind near the flower beds.
More information: Conservatory of Flowers
Bay Bridge Light Show
Location: Bay Bridge (Embarcadero)
Acclaimed New York LED lighting artist Leo Vilareal lately designed this twinkling light display on the Bay Bridge, which joins San Francisco and Oakland. Vilareal also established the famous light display on the Eiffel Tower at Paris.
The light series commemorates the bridge 75th anniversary and runs each night from dusk until 2 a.m.. The best viewing spot is on the Embarcadero.
More information: The Bay Lights
San Francisco Parklets
as a portion of San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program, a few road space has been transformed into unique seating areas outside restaurants and cafés. These are affectionately called parklets. A few favorites:
Four Barrel Coffee Parklet
Location: 375 Valencia St. (Mission)
On hot days this parklet bustles with iced-coffee-drinking hipsters whose vibrant “fixie” (fixed-gear) bikes overflood the built-in bicycle rack.
More information: Four Barrel Coffee
Location: 2198 Filbert St. (Marina/Cow Hollow)
Grab an espresso at Rapha or a burger from Roam on neighboring Union Street and kick back to do some serious Marina people viewing. Cleverly built out of a deconstructed Rapha Citroën H-Van, this parklet is open to anyone who happens to walk by.
More information: Rapha
Location: 2406 California St. (Lower Pacific Heights)
Located outside the amazing Delfina Pizzeria at Pacific Heights, this parklet takes a more contemporary approach. A hardy concrete type and low-maintenance plants encircle built-in chairs and individual chairs, all over a few feet of incredibly tasty pizza.
More information: Pizzeria Delfina Pacific Heights
De Young Fine Art Museum
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. (Golden Gate Park)
Cost: Adults, $10; seniors, $7; youth and students, $50; kids 12 and under, free
Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and San Francisco architects Fong & Chan designed the de Young’s new building, which opened in 2005. The architects designed the striking perforated copper facade, which has already obtained a gorgeous patina, to mimic light filtering through a shrub canopy.
If you’re fortunate enough to attend a day without fog, be sure to explore the museum’s public sculpture gardens and scale to the observation tower.
More information: de Young Fine Arts Museum
California Academy of Sciences
Location: 55 Music Concourse Dr. (Golden Gate Park)
Cost: Adults, $29.95; seniors and students, $24.95; kids, $19.95; ages 3 and under, free
Round the Music Concourse in the de Young, the California Academy of Sciences offers interactive exhibits for all ages. The massive LEED construction houses a planetarium, an aquarium (having an albino alligator), a natural history museum, a 3-D theater along with a four-story rainforest. A 2 1/2-acre living roof tops off it.
More information: California Academy of Sciences
Contemporary Jewish Museum
Location: 736 Mission St. (Downtown/SoMa)
Cost: Adults: $12; seniors: $10; students: $10; 18 and under: free
Avoid the overhyped Union Square and venture further downtown instead, to the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the museum houses artifacts and art focusing on Jewish history and culture in a new structure.
It was once a historic power substation, and Libeskind joined the first building with new, bold contemporary spaces, such as a blue steel cube-like addition.
More information: Contemporary Jewish Museum
Location: 140 Maiden Lane (Union Square)
A Trip to the Xanadu Gallery is Essential for anyone who loves architecture. It’s the town’s only Frank Lloyd Wright building, and in addition, it houses a gallery of antiquities and art from Asia, Oceania and Latin America. Located in a quiet place on Maiden Lane — a fun alley of restaurants and stores off Union Square — it is a great way to acquire an up-close and personal look at Wright’s work.
More information: Xanadu Gallery
Location: 600 Guerrero St. (Mission)
There’s a fantastic reason this little bakery has gained this kind of esteem — it has offerings are completely delicious. Elizabeth Prueitt along with her husband, Chad Roberston, have turned making bread into an art. Get there early — you’ll avoid a significant line and may liquefy a morning bun along with a place at one of the communal tables.
More information: Tartine Bakery
Proxy (Two-Block Project at Shipping Containers)
Location: 432 Octavia St. (Hayes Valley)
Using old shipping containers, San Francisco architecture firm Envelope A + D designed this temporary setup in the Hayes Valley area. As of this writing, the containers hold six stores, such as four excellent locally based food and drink stops: Ritual Coffee Roasters, Smitten Ice Cream, Avedano’s Meats and Biergarten (shown here).
More information: Proxy
Location: 3611 18th St. (Mission)
Although the Pacific Heights place has the parklet, I favor the Mission place of Pizzeria Delfina for its trendy layout. Old-school hexagon tile floors and chalkboard menus comparison with yellowish Eames chairs along with also a funky wall mural — a nod to the restaurant’s old-meets-new approach to food. Hit up neighboring Bi-Rite Creamery following to get a spoonful of honey-lavender ice cream.
More information: Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery
Locations: 3639 18th St. and 550 Divisadero St. (Mission)
If you’re in the mood for picnicking at Dolores Park, there is no better place for meals compared to Bi-Rite Market. The fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared foods and made-to-order sandwiches are a few of the best in town.
More information: Bi-Rite Market
Location: 736 Divisadero (NoPa)
A joint venture between Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee, the Mill is a warm and modern coffee store that is great for refueling after a visit to neighboring Alamo Square.
A Four Barrel latte with almond milk is my own personal favorite; it pairs perfectly with a massive hunk of cinnamon-sugar toast from Josey Baker Bread.
More information: The Mill
SoMa StrEAT Food Park
Location: 428 11th St. (SoMa)
For cheap eats it is hard to beat San Francisco’s food truck spectacle. However, it’s also sort of a pain trying to find out where the top ones are parked. SoMa StrEAT Food Park has helped solve the problem by hosting some of the city’s most popular sellers on a regular basis. Check the schedule to find out who’ll be there, then park yourself on a few of the numerous outdoor tables to get some yummy, affordable grub. Curry Up Today and Roli Roti are favorites. Try your hands at the Joey the Cat Skeeball trailer, too.
More information: SoMa StrEAT Food Park
Location: 620 Jones St. (Downtown/Tenderloin)
The contemporary rooftop deck at Jones, a downtown pub and cafe, is a surprising contrast to the more conventional neighbors. Massive movable planters, lots of patio heaters and a stunning design by Nottoscale combine at a swanky setup that is easily accessible from most downtown hotels.
More information: Jones
Location: 2300 Fillmore St. (Lower Pacific Heights)
The section of Fillmore between Bush and Jackson streets is a great place for researching, snacking and shopping. Grab a coffee at Jane or a sandwich at Bun Mee and visit Nest, a unique, adorable place that instantly feels like home. It’s ideal for finding gifts for friends, and there is an awesome collection of accessories and bedding. Check out the dish, silverware and glass collections, too; lots of things are hand painted and absolutely gorgeous.
More information: Nest
Location: 541 Valencia St. (Mission)
Next door to its clothing store, Therapy’s furniture shop is full of fantastic finds. While the small knickknacks are fun to poke, I love the furniture collection. The majority of the pieces are very reasonably priced and can be customized in various fabrics and colours.
More information: Therapy
Location: 599 Valencia St. (Mission)
Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, started this San Francisco bike company to create simple, everyday bikes. Beautiful and simple to ride, these European-inspired bikes come in a lot of colors and size combinations. Even when you’re not in the market for a bicycle, it is well worth checking out the shop.
More information: Public Bikes
Location: 1400 Green St. (Russian Hill)
Tucked into a corner place off Polk Street in Russian Hill, FL!PP (Stylish Living in Petite Places) is a hidden jewel on the north side of town. Even though the furniture selection is impeccable, check out the Fuchsia Garden in the back. Bonsai, succulents and garden decor come to life in this magical area.
More information: FL!PP
Location: 728 Divisadero St. (NoPa)
Exploring the Perish Trust is an experience everyone should experience. Hosting a curated selection of antiques, art and tchotchkes, the shop feels like an conservative library that has been untouched for decades.
More information: The Perish Trust
Location: 1634 Jerrold Ave. (Bayview)
Landscape designer Flora Grubb (yep, that is her real name) has created an oasis dedicated to selling plants and garden materials to urban dwellers. Meandering through the shop’s gardens and unique installations is a wonderful way to spend a hot afternoon.
More information: Flora Grubb
Location: 601 Eddy St. (Tenderloin)
Cost: $139 to $169 per night
For over 20 decades, the Phoenix has been called San Francisco’s stone Rolex roll resort — and for good reason. Visiting musicians and bands often crash at this swanky place.
A funky mix of retro and contemporary design defines the resort. It’s situated in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin place, so in the event that you have kids, it may not be for you. But if you’re searching for experience, the resort’s fantastic design should not be missed. Even in the event that you don’t end up staying here, it is well worth making a pit stop to have a drink at the hotel bar, Chambers Eat + Drink.
More information: Phoenix Hotel
Westin St. Francis
Location: 335 Powell St. (Union Square)
Cost: See website for rates
The first St. Francis resort opened in 1904, just two years before the town’s Great Earthquake and Fire destroyed much of the city and most of the resort. The interior was fully remodeled, along with the Westin opened again in late 1907. Now most of the resort keeps its original glamour. Taking a ride in the glass elevator and making a stop at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room on the 21st floor will give you a taste of classic, old-school San Francisco.
More information: Westin St. Francis
Location: 495 Geary (Downtown)
Cost: $249 to $669 per night
As soon as you pull up to the front entrance, it is clear the Clift is not an average resort. It was designed by Philippe Starck, and the lobby is outfitted with an incredible collection of iconic and authentic furniture, as well as a 35-foot bronze chimney and fireplace sculpture by Gerard Garouste. The downstairs pub, the Redwood Room, is comfy and lavish, with a distinctive interior of redwood paneling believed to have come from a single tree.
More information: Clift Hotel
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