The city by the bay is the tech-savvy culture haven of the California coast
As the world's center of gravity for all things tech, San Francisco is younger, smarter and edgier than ever. Forward-thinking chefs and artisans are piling into the city by the bay—and there's no need to be a tech geek, foodie, hippie or oenophile to enjoy everything San Francisco has to offer. In the same vein as local startups, a new breed of chocolatiers, bread-makers and artisanal coffee-brewers are working to disrupt their categories and redefine expectations. With new life in the Outer Sunset and a total overhaul of hip in Hayes Valley, with counter culture classics in the Haight and new foodie havens on the Embarcadero, there's never been a better time to visit San Francisco.
It’s no secret that the Ferry Building Marketplace stands as the food mecca of San Francisco. You’ll find an unparalleled sampling of the Bay’s finest foods all under the roof of a beautifully restored building located on the city’s scenic waterfront. On farmer’s market days every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, hordes of Bay Area chefs and foodies pack in and buy up from their favorite Northern California farmers and artisans. Amidst a truly enormous crowd of marketplace enthusiasts, the wait for a Roli Roti porchetta sandwich is undoubtedly worth it, while we recommend looking for another Blue Bottle booth if the wait for a New Orleans-style iced coffee is too long at the main station—check the line at their outdoor window. On Saturdays, expect to see some of the city’s most popular chefs on hand and the principle farmers and artisans manning their stations. Find the chefs investing in a week's worth of mushrooms from Far West Fungi, the absolute best tomatoes and organic kale from Dirty Girl Produce, and pig parts galore from the beloved Boccalone. Head to La Cocina’s stand for a new treat each week—their team will be promoting the latest and greatest local chef looking to make it big. And a tip for the rest of the self-proclaimed San Francisco chefs out there: there’s a stand that will sharpen your cooking knives, so be sure to bring them along. To skip the crazy Saturday crowds, head to the market on Tuesday or Thursday for a similarly impressive experience plus a wide variety of San Francisco street food.
Coqueta, which means “flirt” in Spanish, is the perfect word to describe the ambiance and imaginative food stylings of this up-and-coming SF favorite. The restaurant sits on San Francisco’s Embarcadero with a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge. Focusing on regional dishes from Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country and beyond, the menu at Coqueta features Chef Chiarello’s interpretations of traditional Spanish cuisine and highlights the bounty of fresh, local ingredients from the Bay Area—land and sea. For pork lovers, the pluma is not to be missed. Grab a plate of the padron-roasted peppers and wood-grilled octopus to compliment. And beware—the drinks are just as fun, and potent, as the dishes. The Barca Gintonic is a refreshing pairing for the loads of tapas you’ll be guzzling. For the ultimate experience, we recommend a seat at the bar with a view of the water, and ordering whatever the chef recommends—just be sure to save room for the manchego cheesecake dessert. After you’ve taken on a full food coma, walk-off the meal with a stroll down Embarcadero for a few memorable views of the bay. If you're really up for the adventure, rent a kayak at Pier 40 City Kayak to paddle under the Bay Bridge and gaze back at the city skyline.
Just a few years ago, Aether—the clothing brand for the outdoorsmen and women in the city—put together their first permanent space, and unlike most retail stores, they actually built it from the ground up. Aether teamed up with Paris-based designer Thierry Gaugain to help envision the brand's first ever stand-alone retail space. They chose a vacant spot in San Francisco's hippest retail neighborhood, Hayes Valley—and with their incredibly progressive structure, Aether fits right in. The store was built from three shipping containers, stacked askew on top of one another and refurbished to add doors, stairs and glass. Their one-of-a-kind clothing conveyer belt cycles through all three levels of the store to make for a fun, engaging display. Each one of the cozy, comfortable shirts, sweaters and jackets on the rack is perfectly suited for San Francisco's year 'round, unpredictable weather—and they'll last a lifetime. After a successful shopping trip, we encourage you to browse some more—stop by Rand & Statler for a hand-selected collection of superior menswear, womenswear and accessories. And if you're getting worn out, don't fret—there's a Blue Bottle down the block. For some extra sugar, stop by Smitten for a hand-made scoop of ice cream.
If you’re looking for a heavy, grease-laden burrito, head elsewhere. This is the grown-up version of every other grittier burrito joint in the Lower Height neighborhood. And The Little Chihuahua is just as authentic. They use locally sourced products and sustainable methods to create a fantastic, totally original menu. Their fried plantain burrito is a revelation—the perfect mix of sweet plantains and savory guac and sour cream—it's truly one-of-a-kind. And that whole notion in regards to feeling guilty ordering a burrito at an authentic mexican joint; that doesn't apply here because all of them are amazing. If a salmon quesadilla sounds good, order the Dandy Chihuahua off the secret menu. Take either route and you’ll surely need something to wash it down. Their fresh horchata will more than serve the purpose. If there’s any room left for dessert, try a root beer float with tequila ice cream. Since you’re just east of San Francisco’s beloved Haight-Ashbury, it’s worth the short walk to continue west down Haight Street where you’ll find loads of vintage boutiques, tattoo parlors, taxidermy shops and record stores, each adding to the Haight’s unique subculture. It’s one of the city’s best spots for wandering around and enjoying every find.
San Francisco's Highlight Gallery is located in the heart of downtown San Francisco, so it's no hassle to drop by to check out their latest innovative exhibition. The Highlight has hosted one of our favorite photomontage shoes, "(dis)location" by Filip Dujardin, and dozens of other hot up-and-comers from around the world. The museum curator lets the artists, photographers and sculptors take the reigns and totally arrange the gallery space to their liking, be it painting walls or going right through them. The space and collections inside are the perfect size for a pitstop and dose of afternoon inspiration. Thankfully, downtown San Francisco offers plenty of parking either on the street or in garages for a relatively low rates. While you have the spot, this is your chance to check out the busiest part of San Francisco. Stop by Union Square to take a break and visit the latest painted heart—a series of sculptural hearts each painted by an individual artist, auctioned for charity and replaced by a new painted heart.
With perfect powder in the winter and warm weather through the summer months, Tahoe’s become the escape for Bay Area locals all year round. Though the drive through the valley isn’t known to be breathtaking, just four hours stand between you and the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. In the winter, throw a box of chains in the trunk and pack up for the icy roads and powder dusted slopes. Strap skies and boards to the roof and pickup some lift passes for Squaw Valley on Tahoe’s north shore, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, or Heavenly on the south shore, where you can ski from California to Nevada with unbeatable views of Lake Tahoe. In the summer, head to the south shore and rent a boat or a few kayaks for a trip to Emerald Bay—imagine Tahoe postcard-worthy views. For those looking for an adventure on land, Tahoe offers more biking and hiking trails than one could possibly accomplish. And, for the true adventurers looking to rough it, the local state parks offer campgrounds with exceptional views of the lake and rising mountaintops. At night, find a quiet spot—preferably out on a public dock on the lake—lie a blanket down and look up at the most magnificent stars you’ll ever see. It’s no wonder nobody ever wants to leave.
The Mission is one of San Francisco's most beloved restaurant areas, serving up organic experimental cuisine and specializing in the hardy and eclectic. Given the popularity of some of it's more famous foodie havens, many SF residents look past some of the Mission's gems—so even locals miss out on the up-and-coming-est spots in the city. But it's not all bad that some remain under wraps: Dandelion Chocolate is one of the neighborhood's finest hidden gems. Because their small-batch chocolate factory is actually a part of the shop, it's a great place to sit and watch the chocolatiers perform their craft—and you know it's amazing when everyone who visits recommends something different. They've mastered all the classics using cocoa beans from around the world—hot chocolate, sweet pastries, chocolate chip cookies and dark chocolate bars. All of the finished chocolate they use is made of only two ingredients: Cocoa and cane sugar. If you're stopping by in search of a chocolatey beverage, we recommend the Euro Hot Chocolate as well as the Ice Chocolate. They have a great vegan hot chocolate, too, for those who are looking for a vegan option or are lactose intolerant. Don't miss the pile of homemade marshmallows to add on top—they're stashed by the water and napkins. As far as treats go, the chocolate hot spot has a newly full-time chef who fills the pastry case with favorites like Nutella stuffed brown butter chocolate chip cookies and Papua New Guinea s'mores. With such a fantastic lineup of goodies, both classic and experimental, we're certain Dandelion will have something special for you whenever you visit.
Originally dedicated to high-quality American labels, Unionmade has expanded and now carries a wide offering of well-designed, timeless clothing and accessories from brands around the world. These include Taylor Supply, American Optical, Levi's Vintage—just to name a few. The store's mission is to deliver clothes that are not only durable, but are made of the finest materials for comfort and style—think long-lasting denim and shoes that weather perfectly with time. Some of the finest makers in the business, like Alden and Filson, collaborate with Unionmade on collections of exclusive products each season, and these are the real treasures. The intimate store, open for just four years now, has made quite a reputation for itself for it's hand-picked selection and personable, and very knowledgeable, customer service. Once you've scored some "dry quality goods," head down the block to Tartine for one of their delicious pressed sandwiches, and considering stopping by the Bi-Rite Creamery for a delicious home-made ice cream cone. Because all of this boarders the Castro, rome the neighborhood if you have time and catch a break at Dolores Park, maybe on a monthly movie night if you're lucky.
Because these two SF locales are neighbors and appeal to the all the same cozy hankerings, it’s best to knock them both off your list at once—they’re well worth a detour to Outer Sunset district. First, we recommend a visit to Outerlands on a Sunday morning, the only day they offer brunch. But get there early to get your name on the list because plenty of others are sure to follow. The closer to 9AM, the better. We recommend their beloved Eggs in Jail or the Dutch Pancakes with ricotta, as well as a pot of coffee to share. Finish with a chocolate chip cookie if you’re still up for something sweet. If making time for brunch is too much trouble, no problem: The menu for lunch and dinner is small, but each item is on their for good reason. Their expert grilled cheese and warm apple cider will make locals and visitors alike feel at home amidst the rolling San Francisco fog. For extra coziness, sit outside—below the heat-lamps—wrapped in the blankets they keep by the door. On the way out, we also suggest buying a loaf of bread to take home and enjoy later. The General Store next door has just about everything you can imagine and more. They sell all kinds of finely crafted odds and ends for men, women and children, so it's perfect for gifts. Their merchandise is about half vintage, estate-sale style and half handmade and new. The General Store has a fantastic collection of rare magazines and books, as well as cards and stationary designed by local artists. They're stocked up on everything from dishware and linens to cozy blankets and longboards. A tunnel-like passageway and intentionally off-kilter shelves are a fittingly offbeat backdrop for the hand-selected goods. And the garden in back will keep you lingering for a while. Every customer who stops by wants to move in. While out west in the Sunset District, take a trip to San Francisco’s finest beach spot of the Ocean Beach. Relax with the blankets from the General Store and fresh bread from Outerlands. It isn’t called the Sunset District for nothing.
Off the Grid takes food trucking in the Bay Area to the next level. What started in 2010 as an idea to group food truck vendors has turned into a one-of-a-kind dining experience with a cult following. Off the Grid takes place all over San Francisco depending on the time and day. They currently manage 23 different food markets weekly with over 125 different trucks, so it’s worth doing a bit of homework before setting off. Two of the best spots to catch Off the Grid include the Fort Mason Center and the Presido. Thanks to those locations, Off the Grid goes picnic style. They’re also a few of the only OTGs that serve alcohol. Don’t miss the Chairman Bao truck for some mean pork belly buns, and Curry Up Now for a Tikka Burrito and Sexy Fries. The expert chefs in each truck are known for throwing in their own twists on classic dishes from around the world. There is undoubtedly something for everyone, so the set-up is perfect for a group activity. Start with a few unique snacks to share, then grab a full meal from your favorite vendor. But be sure to save room for dessert—there are always a few trucks on hand that specialize in mouth-watering treats. No matter which market you make it out to, expect plenty of seating and inviting, outdoorsy decor and, occasionally, live music. Check out the schedule to do a bit of planning ahead. Remember to bring cash and get there early because the the favorites are known to disappear quickly. Lastly, because it is San Francisco—and because it is outside—bring layers.