A Local's Guide to the Perfect Day in San Francisco

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Photo: Scott Loftlesness, via Flickr
Photo: Scott Loftlesness, via Flickr

Imagine it's your last day in San Francisco for the rest of your life. (Yes, that's a terrifying thought.) How would you spend it? That's what we asked some of our favorite KQED coworkers, and this is what they had to say about which neighborhood walks, museums, restaurants, bars, and shops would be on their farewell tours.



If it's a weekday (the weekend lines are too much), brunch outside at Zazie's and sample each of their different pancakes served that day.

Visitors should definitely take an ice cream tour through the city. Start with Salted Chocolate at Humphry Slocombe in the Ferry Building. Take a bus, or enjoy a long walk to Smitten in Hayes Valley. Their made-to-order ice cream is a wild experience that can't be missed. Next up: Three Twins on Fillmore Street. Lemon Cookie is the jam, but people also rave about Dad's Cardamom. Then head south to Bi-Rite Creamery at Dolores and 18th Street. Grab a cone of Salted Caramel or Ricanellas and sit in Dolores Park. Finally, finish up at Mitchell's at the southern tip of the Mission. There are so many unique flavors, like Purple Yam, Avocado and Mango. Sample as many as they'll allow.

A bowl of extra spicy karaage shoyu ramen at Suzu Noodle House in Japantown. It’s the best ramen in the city and cheap to boot! If you're feeling super-flush, head over to One Market and order their steak plus chickpea fries.


If you're not a vegetarian already, Greens Restaurant in Fort Mason will make you strongly consider it. The only thing dreamier than their Yellow Finn Potato Griddle Cakes is the view from the dining room windows of boats bobbing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Puerto Alegre is one of the only affordable dinner spots left on Valencia street. You can get a plate of hearty Mexican food for under $10 plus a substantial pitcher of margaritas for a little bit more. The food and drinks here combine perfectly; don't go unless you're planning to eat and drink.


Photo: Zagat Buzz, via Flickr
Photo: Zagat Buzz, via Flickr

Plan ahead of time and make a reservation at Bourbon and Branch. (You'll need a password to get in, so don't even think about showing up without one.) The speakeasy has been around since prohibition was for real, and their sophisticated drink menu has something for everyone. Depending on where you are seated, the menu and atmosphere are completely different. Very fun spot!

Try a Rosebud (basically a fancy margarita) at Local Edition, although I’d reserve a table online the day before for the full “Club Silencio” red table experience. If finances are an issue, have one of Elbo Room’s astonishingly good value pint-glass rum punches.

Treat yourself to a perfectly (albeit slow  -- hey, great things come to those that wait) hand-crafted cocktail at the Orbit Room. The seasonal shrubs are particularly good.

The menu at Alembic on Haight Street reads like a poem and the way each drink is concocted is just as artistic. Tell the bartender that you'll "take your chances," and she'll whip up a surprise cocktail that'll probably end up being your new go-to.

For a dark and quiet experience with delicious $10 cocktails, check out the back bar of Dalva in the Mission. Another top spot is the Royal Cuckoo in Outer Mission/Bernal Heights for its great vibe and kitchy décor.

Absinthe is a fancy French-feeling restaurant with a long bar, arty cocktails, fancy tables with tablecloths indoors, and more casual cafe tables outside. On a rare warm night in SF, cocktails, burgers and frites at a table on the sidewalk is just dreamy. And if it's not very warm, they have heat lamps strategically hung above your head. Absinthe's more casual lunch spot, Arlequin, is just a few doors down, with outdoor garden seating in the back.

Stop by the Beach Chalet to drink tasty beer brewed right on the premises. If the weather’s nice, you can dine in their outdoor patio, or eat in their upstairs dining room, which affords lovely views of Ocean Beach.



Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

It may sound cliché, but Haight Street has a lot of fun vintage shops, a few thrift stores and a couple boutiques, so there’s usually something for everyone and it isn’t as expensive as Valencia or Hayes Valley.

There are amazing things to be found at the Kinokuniya Mall in Japantown, including a great resource for anime books and a mind-blowing dollar store (really!).

Indulge your inner hippie and head over to Scarlet Sage Herb Co. for crystals, essential oils, candles, tarot cards, and anything else Stevie Nicks would approve of.

Head over to Secession to buy some wares made and created by local artists and designers, so you can take a little bit of SF with you.

Every town needs a good FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) and for SF, Gamescape is it. Find that rare bluffing/area control/worker placement game by that obscure German designer you've been looking for. Or, join them for Tuesday night Fantasy Flight night or Wednesday night Heroclix tourneys.

Sure, the Ferry Building is a tourist hot spot, but it's a great spot for sampling a wide variety of SF's food and finding gifts for your friends back home. It can be crowded on the weekends though, so pack your patience.

Downtown shopping includes all your favorite chain stores in mega-size. Urban Outfitters, the Gap, Sephora, Uniqlo, Desigual, and H&M are all within two blocks across the street from the Westfield Mall, which also has Nordstroms, Bloomies, J.Crew, Zara, Madewell and countless other smaller boutiques. If you want something more indie, Valencia St. has an endless supply of boutiques and boutique-style restaurants. You can get everything from mid-century modern furniture, to multi-colored leggings, to high-end wooden radios in the span of a few blocks (between 16th and 21st streets). Also mixed in are quirky bars, bookstores, street art and gift shops.


Photo: wetribe, via Flickr
Photo: wetribe, via Flickr

Walk along the Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building and turn around just shy of Fisherman’s Wharf. (Nothing good is in Fisherman’s Wharf.) Even better, rent a cheap bike from the Bike Man (whose hut is just under the Bay Bridge) and cycle along the Embarcadero, and go all the way up to Crissy Field to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Another heavenly bike ride is through Golden Gate Park, where you'll see bison, windmills, botanical gardens, and waterfalls. If you still have leg power after all that bike riding, make some time for pedal boating around Stow Lake.

Take a stroll up the Farnsworth Steps on Willard Street and hike around Mount Sutro, which can be kind of creepy (from the fog and the camped out deviants) but in a cool way.

Ocean Beach is one of the most famous beaches for surfing and is the perfect place to have a beachy stroll without leaving SF. At night you will see bonfires, and during the day you'll see surfers, kite-flyers and beach-walkers. If you're lucky, you will find a free beach souvenir -- a sand dollar! If you want to swim, BRING A WETSUIT. The water is as cold as ice.

Show up for a San Francisco Walking Tour with City Guides. They have dozens of free tours going on every day, led by volunteer guides. The hour and a half long walks will give you a crash course on different neighborhoods the city, and a glimpse into the history.

On par with Seattle's Scarecrow Video, Le Video just managed to get a second wind via a successful IndieGoGo campaign and a new partnership with the equally rad Green Apple Books. Strolling down their exhaustive aisles of ultra-rare films (they boast 100k+ titles) is a walking tour in itself!

The historic Sutro Baths, a former public bathhouse, and the surrounding parklands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a beautiful place to hike near Ocean Beach.



Photo: David Yu, via Flickr
Photo: David Yu, via Flickr

Take in some culture at the de Young. They usually have an awesome special exhibit, right now it’s Georgia O’Keefe, and their standing collection is equally as good (make sure to track down their Polynesian mask collection). Other reasons to check out the museum: the epic views of the city from the tower, and Friday nights, when the museum brings the community into the space to create and party.

Other museums worth a look: the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where you can see visual art, film screenings, and performances, Contemporary Jewish Museum and The Children's Creativity Museum. Unfortunately, our beloved SFMOMA is closed for renovations until 2016, but they've got an innovative On-The-Go initiative that's worth exploring.

When in San Francisco, do as the San Franciscans do. Get moving beside locals at ODC, where you can take any type of dancing class, from Bollywood to Vogue-ing!

Venture to the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood and check out White Walls Gallery, which is often hosting 3 ambitious exhibits at once. The focus is on pop culture, contemporary art and street art.

For music, try to catch a concert at the Lost Church, a super tiny converted house venue in the Mission.

The new bay-front location of The Exploratorium offers a fun and interactive educational experience for science-lovers.

After nightfall, head over to the Embarcadero (heavily clad in down, of course) to check out the Bay Bridge LED light show. (Update: The Bay Lights went dark in March 2015 and will be on hiatus until early 2016.)



Thanks to Kristin Farr, Carly Severn, Olivia Hubert-Allen, Marie K. Lee, Katrina Schwartz, Aldo Mora-Blanco and Jenny Oh for sharing their favorite things about San Francisco!