A Local’s Guide to San Francisco
Surrounded by hills which protect from the ocean breeze (and also help keep out the fog that rolls in from the Pacific), The Mission can often be five degrees warmer than other parts of San Francisco — at least until the late afternoon. It’s for that reason, especially when coupled with sunshine, that Mission Dolores Park is known as ‘the beach’. People here tend not to seek out actual stretches of sand — on a sunny day they’ll lie on the grass, for hours, in bikinis or board shorts.
The Mission District is one of the best places in San Francisco when it comes to finding amazing and reasonably priced food. One favourite is Loló, serving Jaliscan cuisine — a type of Mexican most Australians won’t have come across — with lots of seafood and a fantastic drinks menu centred around mezcal. It can be crazy-busy, but it’s worth the wait and it’s a great place to just hang out and spend some time.
Another spot I love in The Mission is Tuba, an understated, family-run Turkish restaurant that serves simple, delicious dishes; and then there’s the fun of Hawker Fare, with great Thai food (even by stern Australian standards) with an island vibe, complete with fun Tiki-style cocktails.
Coffee in The Mission is actually (thankfully) really good, too. My favourite spots are Grand Coffee and Linea Caffe, which both serve ‘regular American’ as well as espressos and more. I often find myself sitting on a stool for hours at either place, just taking in the sights and sounds around me.
There is, of course, more to San Fran than The Mission, with several other great neighbourhoods to base yourself in and explore. One that most tourists may not be too familiar with is Dogpatch, a former industrial area east of The Mission and next to the Bay. It’s fast being gentrified and becoming a cool live-and-work destination — especially with tech types.
Here you’ll find cool bars and restaurants along 3rd Street. I’m a fan of Smokestack, which sits neatly inside a bar run by Magnolia Brewing Company. Nearby is a really good Hawaiian restaurant called Aina — it’s so vibrant and fresh — and the area also has some unique art and craft stores.
THE CASTRO DISTRICT
As many would know, the Castro District (commonly known as The Castro) and Bernal Heights used to be residential hubs for the LGBTQI community. While both areas have become more expensive (forcing the community to disperse), The Castro remains the spiritual home of queer culture — the corner of 18th Street and Castro Street has rainbow-coloured pedestrian crossings and the rainbow flag proudly flies everywhere.
It’s also home to my all-time favourite restaurants in San Francisco — Anchor Oyster Bar. This is a hole-in-the-wall seafood joint that only fits 12 people, doesn’t take reservations and has the best vibe. Be sure to order a dish called cioppino — a tomato-based seafood stew invented in San Francisco by the Italian community. You’ll find it elsewhere around these parts, but the Anchor does it best, made with really fresh seafood and with a sublime taste that can’t be surpassed.
TAKE IN THE SCENERY
To decompress from work, I like to hike the Steep Ravine Trail, which is a half-day walk along the beautiful beaches and through the forests of the Marin Headlands — across the Golden Gate Bridge and west of all the action.
The walk begins beside the ocean, then moves up into the mountains, where you get incredible views back over the city. A friend and I have also started taking long bike rides across the Golden Gate Bridge to Hawk Hill, which also offers some unbeatable panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline. We’ll then continue on to Tiburon, past Sausalito, and hang out by the sparkling water at Sam’s Anchor Cafe. By that point, we’re hungry and eager to unwind — and will inhale three main courses and wash them down with a few beers. It may mean catching the ferry back to town — and that’s fine.
Outside of the city, Sonoma and Napa are well-known wine areas to escape to — good day trips if you have a car, or even better, someone to drive you — though I prefer in and around the town of Healdsburg, a bit farther north-west. It feels like the south of France — the wineries are smaller and family run, and it’s off the tourist path, which means you’re less likely to be overwhelmed by shuttle buses of visitors.
Looking to experience San Francisco as a city for yourself? Book flights to San Francisco through our website or by calling 13 67 89 (in Australia) to travel with Virgin Australia and our codeshare partner, Delta Airlines.