Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Insider's Guide to San Francisco

While traveling, I’m always pleasantly surprised at the positive response and feedback I get from people when I mention that I live in San Francisco, as most often, they are more excited than I am to tell me how much they love it.  Every time I walk outside my apartment, it’s easy to be reminded of just how beautiful the city is, as a simple drive can turn into a postcard moment.

However, my favorite thing about San Francisco is the diversity, in culture, people, cuisine and lifestyle, and without a doubt, it is one of the most diverse cities I’ve lived in. I also love the unpredictability of the place, as anything goes, and the “typical” everyday scenery on the street is anything BUT.

The great thing about living in San Francisco is that it offers all of the conveniences of a big city, like public transit, progressive art scene, world class restaurants, and of course the multi-ethnic community, with very little of its inconveniences.
So, without further ado, here are my favorites places and things to do in San Francisco.

*** RESTAURANTS (by area) ***
San Francisco is a city where the price of the food doesn’t necessary reflect its quality, and great meals don’t have to cost a lot of money. Of course, 5 star restaurants are abundant in San Francisco; however, some of the best meals I’ve had were in hole-in-the-wall, mom & pop type of restaurants, which in my opinion are also more authentic to the local culture.

  • Chaat Café (320 3rd St) – once you get over the generic ambiance of the place, Chaat Café offers some of the freshest and the best tasting Indian food in town; also has a great selection of Indian street food 
  • New Asia (Chinatown 772 Pacific near Stockton) – a gigantic dim sum palace, a true Chinatown experience
  • R&G Lounge (Chinatown 631 Kearny St.) – a family style restaurant that serves up a great selection Cantonese dishes
  • Tropisueno (75 Yerba Buena Ln) – definitely one of my favorites that offers great food & wonderful atmosphere at a reasonable price
Tenderloin, affectionately known as “the loin”:
  • Dim Sum Bar (620 O'Farrell St btw Harlem Alley & Leavenworth St) – looks like an ordinary fast food Chinese restaurant that serves up tasty (definitely not fast) food 
  • Dottie’s True Blue Café (522 Jones St btw Geary St & O'farrell St) – hands down one of the best brunch places in San Francisco, always packed and has at least 30min wait minimum but definitely worth it
  • Thai Stix (925 O'Farrell St btw Polk St & Van Ness) – the must have item here is the Thai Suki, a communal dish where you can cook your meat, seafood, noodles and vegetables in a hot pot; the rest of the menu is rather mediocre
There isn’t a shortage of great Mexican and South American restaurant in the Mission District, and it will take years to try all of them … a task I’ll gladly take on; however, here are some of my favorites so far. No doubt this list will grow in the coming year.
  • San Jalisco (901 S Van Ness Ave btw 20th/21st St) – I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant. It really is a quintessential San Franciscan Mexican restaurant, own by the same family since it has opened, and when you’re there, you feel as if you’ve been invited to a friend’s house for a delicious home cooked meal.
  • El Delfin (3066 24th St btw Lucky St & Treat Ave) – tasty, fresh, great flavors, and incredibly friendly and helpful service … what more can I ask for.
  • Frjtz (590 Valencia St btw 16/17th St) – the best mussels and fries in town
  • Limon Rotissery (1001 S Van Ness Ave btw 21st/22nd St) – It really is all about the chicken at Limon; however, the best grilled chicken, dare I say, I've ever had
  • Burgermeister (138 Church St.) – the best burger in town … nuff said! 
  • El Castillito (136 Church St. btw. Duboce Ave/Reservoir St) – a real hole-in-the-wall gem ... love everything on their menu, esp. the beef fajita dinner plate, which is made freshly on demand. The price is great, and the staff is very friendly.
  • Firewood Café – an always dependable option for lunch or dinner. It has a great selection of thin crusted piazzas cooked in wood-fired oven. 
Cole Valley:
  • la Boulange (1000 Cole St btw Parnassus Ave/Grattan St) – dependable chain that serves up tasty light French fare and a good selection of pastries
  • Zazie (941 Cole St btw Carl St/Parnassus Ave) – without a doubt one of the best restaurants in San Francisco specializing in French dishes with bit of a twist
Western Addition/NOPA:
  • Bistro Central Parc (560 Central Ave btw Hayes St & Grove St) – delightful and charming restaurant that serves up authentically delicious French cuisine, definitely not to be missed 
  • Aziza (5800 Geary Blvd @ 22nd Ave.) – not the most authentic Moroccan food but it has a great ambiance 
  • Burma Superstar (309 Clement St btw 4/5th Ave) – delicious, delovely, delightful!
  • Giorgio’s Pizzeria (151 Clement St.) – pizzeria that's worth raving about ... good selection, tasty pizzas and great service 
There are so many reasons why I love living in San Francisco, but mostly, I luv my hood, Sunset. It is filled a wonderful mélange cuisine and restaurants, making it an ideal destination for foodies or anyone looking for a great meal.
  • Arizmendi Bakery (1331 9th Ave btw Irving & Judah) – This place is AWESOME ... a little slice of heaven that has a great selection of muffins and scones!
  • Devil's Teeth Baking Company (3876 Noriega St btw 45/46th Ave) – the location is a bit remote but definitely worth a trip for the tastiest baked goods in San Francisco 
  • Goeman (1524 Irving St btw 16/17th Ave) – my favorite Japanese restaurant in the city with hands down the best rolls 
  • Marsala Dosa (1375 9th Ave btw Irving & Judah) – serves some of the freshest and tastiest Indian food I’ve had in SF, and as the name goes, their dosas are a must.
  • Park Chow (1240 9th Ave btw Irving St & Lincoln Way) – a great place for brunch
  • Park Gyros (1201 9th Ave. @ Lincoln Way) – Although the ambiance is quite generic, the food is great, especially the kebab plates. My favorite is the lamb shish kebab, which is cooked to perfection every time ... well done on the outside and slightly rare inside … and the swordfish kebab. 
  • Pasquale's Pizza (700 Irving St btw 8/9th Ave) – My quest to find a decent pizzeria in San Francisco ended when I found Pasquale’s … a great selection of freshly made pizzas, which means no slices; however, you can have individualized pizza made fresh for around $5 with any toppings you want.
  • San Tung (Irving btw. 11/12th Ave.) – Despite the general misconception that there are many great Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, there are only a hand full, and San Tung is one of the best. 
  • Yummy Yummy (1015 Irving St btw 11/12th Ave) – offers a huge menu, everything from a variety of Phos, rice plates, grilled meats and other Vietnamese specialties to my personal favorite, catfish in clay pot

Murals & Mosaics (throughout the city)
A walk down San Francisco city streets and alleys offers more than just linear pathways to local destinations. Along the walls of buildings and residential houses, more than 600 local murals filled with colorful beauty and social political narratives, and although there are many collective works throughout the city, notably Balmy Alley (btw 24th & 25th St) and Clarion Alley (one block over from 17th street between Valencia and Mission St), almost every corner is filled with illustration of the city’s rich heritage, culture and history.
For more photos of the murals in San Francisco

16th Avenue Tiled Steps (Moraga St. btw 15th & 16th Ave)
Tucked away in the quiet neighborhood between Inner and Outer Sunset, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are among the hidden treasures of San Francisco. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, it will take your breath away to see all of the small, beautifully placed handmade tiles forming a wave of amazing sea life and various celestial shapes extending all the way up 163 stairs, and once you hike to the top … on a clear day … you are rewarded with the most spectacular view of the city from Ocean Beach to downtown.

Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is the city's largest, and in my opinion, the most beautiful outdoor spot in San Francisco, where one can find everything from Dutch windmills, a buffalo herd, remote-controlled boats to museums and gardens … a true oasis in the middle of a bustling city. What more can I say that hasn’t been said about this wonderful park; so, the only thing left to do is to recommend my favorite must see spots: the Conservatory, Stow Lake, the Japanese Tea Garden, and de Young Museum (esp. the observatory offers a great view of the city).

Botanical Garden
Technically, this is part of the Golden Gate Park ... more like a park within a park; however, given that this is my favorite place in San Francisco, I thought it warranted its own mention.

Botanical Garden is an oasis in the heart of San Francisco, and even on the sunniest days, it never seems to be crowded … esp. since they implemented the $7 fee for non-residents, and the deeper into it you go, the more it feels like you’re the only person in this luscious garden.

There are so many little nooks, where you can sit quietly with people lazing together in the sunshine, reading books or exploring the various garden floras, and it is one of the best places for a picnic lunch … just be aware of the aggressive squirrels who will eat right out of your hand.

9th Avenue between Lincoln Way & Judah
Across from the main entrance of the Botanical Garden is 9th Avenue, which has some of the best selection of hole-in-the-wall, mom & pop stores and restaurants in town. My favorites are mentioned above under restaurants in Sunset.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
A great space for contemporary art and exhibitions that are small but extraordinary. It’s also nice to go to a museum where you don’t have to fight the crowd and feel their breath over your shoulders.

Legion of Honor
It houses a small collection of art, but from the outside, you have the most spectacular view of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Palace of Fine Arts
One of the most picturesque areas in San Francisco, esp. around the pond, and the nearby marina is a fantastic area for a stroll. Especially the walk from Palace of Fine Arts to Fort Mason (about 1.3 mi) has a beautiful view of the bay, and on Sunday mornings (9:30am - 1:30pm), there's a wonderful little farmer's market at Fort Mason. It's small but well organized, filled with excellent vendors: fresh organic produce and a great variety of seafood, olives, and breads/pastries. There's also the Roli Roti truck that sells crispy juicy pork knuckle ... cuz sometimes, a girl just gotta have some guuud pork knuckles, and an awesome bratwurst stand that makes me homesick for Germany!

F-line Muni
A great way to get around San Francisco to see most of the major sites is riding the F-line Muni, a collection of beautifully restored streetcars from all over the world. It’s not the fastest way to get around … more of a joy ride than a mode of transportation, but it definitely a fun way to see the city!
... and watching the sunset at Ocean Beach
1st week of every month is great time to be in SF, as majority of the museums are free on following days, 1st Tuesday – SF MOMA, de Young, Legion of Honor, 1st Wednesday – SF Zoo, Exploratorium, 1st Sunday – Asian Art Museum.

Contrary popular image of bikini-clad California girls running around town in Daisy Dukes and Ugg boots, you would hardly see anyone dressed in such skimpy apparel in San Francisco. The weather is cool (around 60 degrees) year round, and even on a warm day, you will need a jacket or a sweater once the sun sets. Therefore, the key to getting around the city comfortably is to dress in layers, at least 2-3 layers you can easily take off or put on. And ALWAYS carry a pair of sunglasses, even on a rainy day, as the weather in San Francisco is unpredictable, and you never know what you’re going to get.



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