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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Residents enjoy the sun in Dolores Park.
Residents enjoy the sun in Dolores Park. (Justin Kaneps/FTWP)
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to San Francisco

Residents enjoy the sun in Dolores Park.
Residents enjoy the sun in Dolores Park. (Justin Kaneps/FTWP)
  • By Sarah Feldberg
  • Photos by Justin Kaneps
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If a city can soul-search, San Francisco is deep in it. It’s grappling with obscenely expensive housing, tech bros enthroned in their fiefdoms and a steady stream of artists and bohemians fleeing across the bay.

But the rumors of its spiritual demise have been greatly exaggerated. The town that birthed the Summer of Love is still fiercely original — a place where you’ll find plaques dedicated to stray dogs, where Día de los Muertos drapes graveyards in marigolds and leather-clad men parade down Folsom Street, where restaurants earn the highest accolades and specialize in cinnamon toast. Even the fog has a name.

Hop a cable car, climb a secret staircase, eat a dim-sum feast or wander with no itinerary and let San Francisco charm you. Just remember to wear layers.

Meet Sarah Feldberg

Sarah has lived in San Francisco since 2015. She’s a Boston native who crossed the river for college and spent seven years in Las Vegas before finally heading west. She loves the sourdough and misses the bagels.

Want to get in touch?

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IN THE ACTION
Hayes Valley
Ask longtime residents and they’ll remember the days when this central borough was more popular with drug buyers and sex workers than well-heeled San Franciscans. Today, Hayes’s corridors are lined with chic boutiques, galleries and restaurants centered on Patricia’s Green park. While you won’t find any brand-name hotels in the area, Airbnbs are plentiful. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
The Presidio
Where the Pacific Ocean meets the San Francisco Bay, you’ll find this former military fort, once occupied by Spanish, Mexican and, from 1848 until 1994, American forces. Now it’s an enclave of calm within city limits, a national park home to 24-mile hiking trails, a handful of beaches, one very popular bridge and a pair of historic boutique hotels. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Devil’s Teeth Baking Co.
Just before you crash into Ocean Beach, in far Outer Sunset, a bakery will emerge from the fog. Named for the jagged Farallon Islands 27 miles off the coast, Devil’s Teeth serves lacquered cinnamon rolls, savory scones and homemade sourdough loaves. But the star is the special breakfast sandwich: scrambled eggs, pepper jack cheese, bacon, avocado and lemon garlic aioli on a fresh-baked buttermilk biscuit.
BTW: Take your haul a few blocks west and eat it while watching surfers ride the notoriously rough waves.
Devil’s Teeth Baking Co., 3876 Noriega St. San Francisco, Calif. 94122
BREAKFAST
Tartine Manufactory
If you worship at the altar of carbohydrates, this is your temple: a bright, airy East Mission spot where Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt have grown their beloved bakery into a three-meal restaurant. At breakfast and weekend brunch, that means eggs coddled with trout roe and sandwiched with porchetta, layered seasonal tartines and a case full of pastries. Get the frangipane croissant, the morning bun and the poppyseed coffee cake, then take away an entire country loaf, a celebrity sourdough with a recipe that spans 38 pages.
BTW: The restaurant shares a building with Heath Ceramics, where you can snag a bowl or mug from the Bay Area’s favorite potters.
Tartine Manufactory, 595 Alabama St. San Francisco, Calif. 94110
LUNCH
El Gallo Giro
In the land of the nap-inducing burrito, opt for tacos. Perpetually parked during lunch at the corner of Treat Avenue and 23rd Street, in the traditionally Mexican Mission District, this local truck serves classic street tacos for $2.50 a pop. There’s no bad order among the proteins, but we’re partial to the carnitas: fall-apart pork with crunchy ends topped with onion, cilantro and a dousing of house-made salsa. Grab a folding chair and a pile of napkins; you’re going to need them.
BTW: For a post-lunch pick-me-up, head around the corner to Bay Area original Philz Coffee and order a mint mojito.
El Gallo Giro, 23rd Street and Treat Avenue San Francisco, Calif. 94110
LUNCH
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store
Plenty has changed in the 47 years since this North Beach institution opened — it hasn’t sold a cigar in decades, for one — but the important things endure. It’s still a family-run restaurant, now in the hands of Mario’s son, Paul. It still boasts a roster of regulars and it still serves oven-baked sandwiches on Liguria Bakery focaccia, loaded with meatballs or eggplant with Swiss and marinara. Just beware the pepperoncini; they bite.
BTW: Walk off your meal with a climb up the stairs to Coit Tower.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store, 566 Columbus Ave. San Francisco, Calif. 94133
DINNER
RT Rotisserie
At Rich Table, in Hayes Valley, husband-and-wife chefs Evan and Sarah Rich turn out refined international comfort food that’s earned a Michelin star. One block away, at this fast-casual spot (the original of two locations), they do simple dishes at a fraction of the price. The common theme here is roasting: moist buttermilk-brined chicken and vegetable sides that are more decadent than virtuous. Don’t miss the Brussels sprouts Caesar. It’ll change how you think about salads — and sprouts.
BTW: For post-dinner festivities, head to Martuni’s, on Valencia Street, an open-mic piano bar that goes heavy on show tunes and martinis.
RT Rotisserie, 101 Oak St. San Francisco, Calif. 94102
DINNER
Mister Jiu’s
Hometown chef Brandon Jew’s first solo restaurant is an ode to Chinese American cooking and his San Francisco childhood, set in the thick of the country’s first Chinatown. Nods to California peek out across the menu in the sourdough scallion pancakes, Dutch crunch pork buns and Monterey squid wontons. But don’t order so many small dishes that you’re too full for the main event: roast duck with shatteringly crisp skin, served with a peanut butter hoisin sauce that’ll be your new favorite condiment.
BTW: Wander the area before dinner to absorb the sights, smells and story of this historic neighborhood.
Mister Jiu’s, 28 Waverly Pl. San Francisco, Calif. 94108
LATE-NIGHT
Ice Cream Bar
Dessert shops don’t come more charming than this Cole Valley ice cream fountain. There’s the vintage wooden bar, the bowtied soda jerks and the couples sharing caramelized banana splits. If it weren’t for the Instagrammers capturing photogenic treats, you would swear it was 1935. Everything is made in-house, from the sandwich brioche to the creme fraiche ice cream to the original sodas.
BTW: Try the Dublin Honey: Guinness stout, Valrhona chocolate syrup, caramelized honey ice cream and a float of Graham’s 10-year tawny port.
Ice Cream Bar, 815 Cole St. San Francisco, Calif. 94117
LATE-NIGHT
Linden Room
Look for the unmarked red door at the corner and Linden and Gough streets, and you’ll find it: a tiny chef-owned den of drinking that feels like being in on a secret. The square footage keeps things intimate — eight seats and a bit of standing room, usually filled by locals sipping cocktails from a menu split between “spirituous” (read: boozy) and “seasonal” (read: fruity). If that sounds pretentious, don’t worry; the vibe is less like an exclusive club, more like a friend’s very cool living room.
BTW: If you like Linden Room, check out chef/owner Kim Alter’s tasting-menu restaurant Nightbird next door.
Linden Room, 292 Linden St. San Francisco, Calif. 94102
Temporarily closed
(San Francisco illustrator Chie Tamada for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Microclimates are real. Just because it’s warm and sunny in the Mission doesn’t mean it will be anywhere else, hence the local dress code of puffy jackets and the obsession with layers.
  2. Get into the history. The city’s past is full of wild characters and wilder tales. Walk the Barbary Coast trail, check out the Tenderloin Museum, hit Haight-Ashbury and snap a selfie with the golden fire hydrant that saved San Francisco after the 1906 quake.
  3. The fog’s name is Karl. You can follow him on Twitter.
(San Francisco illustrator Chie Tamada for The Washington Post)

Do

Balmy Alley
Street art is woven into the aesthetic of San Francisco, and nowhere is that culture more on display than this stretch of a single block between 24th and 25th streets in the Mission. Nearly every property along the alley has an original mural, many of which weave the history of the neighborhood or social justice messages into their colorful depictions. Ogle at your own pace or, for a more in-depth experience, book a tour with the nonprofit Precita Eyes and hear the stories behind each artist and their work.
BTW: The Mission’s other mural alley, Clarion, is about a mile north and also worth a stroll.
50 Balmy St. San Francisco, 94110
Kabuki Springs & Spa
When the chatter gets above a whisper at this Japantown bathhouse, attendants hit a gong to remind visitors to pipe down. Silence is part of the appeal at the minimalist Kabuki, where San Franciscans have been shedding their clothes for 50 years to pass an hour or two soaking, steaming and saunaing with dips in the 55-degree cold-plunge pool in between. Consider booking a treatment to pair with the baths.
BTW: Be sure to check the schedule for separate men’s and women’s days.
Kabuki Springs & Spa, 1750 Geary Blvd. San Francisco, Calif. 94115
Minnesota Street Project
Spanning three warehouses in the formerly industrial Dogpatch district, this complex hosts 13 permanent art galleries as well as a handful of pop-ups. Artists and exhibits are constantly cycling through the minimalist interior, and on any given day you might find an installation of imaginary creatures by local school children, experiential art in augmented reality or a performance artist floating inside a glass sarcophagus in a white gown.
BTW: Ponder what you’ve seen over a tasting flight around the corner at Harmonic Brewing.
Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota St. San Francisco, Calif. 94107
Dolores Park
San Francisco has sand, of course, but on warm, sunny days this Mission park plays the role of beach — a place to spread a blanket, enjoy a picnic and crack an adult beverage. Vendors ply the lawn with ice cream pops, rum-filled coconuts and cannabis truffles, while kids scramble around the playground and dogs romp on the grass. It’s worth the walk to the top of the hill for a view of the downtown skyline and to capture a San Francisco panorama that never gets old.
BTW: Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street is the go-to spot for provisions.
Dolores Park, Dolores and 19th streets, San Francisco, Calif. 94114
Castro Theatre
Continuously operating since 1922, this movie palace is a registered landmark complete with vintage neon out front, ornate plaster work along the walls and a Wurlitzer organ that rises from beneath the stage to entertain audiences before screenings. But there’s more to love than the architecture. The Castro’s programming is eclectic, including first- and second-run movies, double features, classic films and karaoke-style singalongs when everyone joins the cast of “Grease” or “Moana” to belt out the hits.
BTW: Check the theater’s online schedule; it plays host to annual festivals such as Noir City and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. San Francisco, Calif. 94114
Temporarily closed
Spark Social SF
Here you’ll find Mission Bay’s year-round block party, where a rotating roster of food trucks sling everything from empanadas to acai bowls, day drinkers order pitchers of IPA and folks pull Adirondack chairs up to the fire pit for urban s’more-making. Check the calendar before you head over, so you can be sure to hit (or skip) events like the Rosé Soirée, Corgi Meetup or all-you-can-eat crab feast.
BTW: What goes great with Filipino burritos? The California-themed mini-golf course next door.
Spark Social SF, 601 Mission Bay Blvd. N. San Francisco, Calif. 94158
Sarah Feldberg
Sarah has lived in San Francisco since 2015. She’s a Boston native who crossed the river for college and spent seven years in Las Vegas before finally heading west. She loves the sourdough and misses the bagels.
Instagram
thefelds
Justin Kaneps
Justin is a contributing photographer for The Washington Post. An East Coast native, Justin has been based in San Francisco for the past seven years. When he’s not on a shoot, you can find him drinking negronis and eating pasta in North Beach at Tosca Cafe.
Instagram
justinkaneps

CITY GUIDES