So far we’ve been flying solo on this trip. Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Salton Sea and the Californian coast has proceeded this moment and we’ve met some interesting people along the way. A lot can be said for propping up the end of the bar in a small saloon on a quiet Wednesday night—but for the next stop, we’re starting to liven up the trip again.
San Francisco has somewhat of notoriety for its idyllic family home buildings, that bridge and the fog that sometimes surrounds it but the city has far more to offer than the rolling clichés and selfie sticks. While in LA we spent a fair bit of time stressed out on the freeway, San Francisco offered the opportunity to see a Californian city on foot, taking a breather and walking between bars—only this time we had a secret cheat up our sleeves.
Knowing we have limited time and understanding the importance of the city we have found ourselves in, we decided to hook up with Martine Pinnel, a photographer who has a fair few years experience of living in the Fog City. Martine has taken some really great pictures of America and she’s kindly agreed to show us around some of the best spots she’s found during her time here.
Best things to do San Francisco
We parked the Mustang near The Panhandle, a green space that links to the Golden Gate Park and we got a really sweet spot. Make sure you don’t leave any valuables in the car, San Francisco has picked up a bit of a reputation if you know what I mean? It was nice to get out of the car for a day or two and do some sightseeing on foot.
“A lot of good spots are pretty much around every other corner which you’ll no doubt have found in your search so far,” Martine reliably informed us, knowing too well that we’ve been Googling every ‘quirky bar’ in the city.
Also, as we’re trying to document this process as visually as possible, we should take the opportunity to show you Martine—here she is sat with me as we’re about to tuck into some greasy food:
As we’re only here for a short period of time, we wanted to see some of the more obvious sightseeing spots but wanted to combine that with some more obscure and local areas. We arrived on the weekend and headed for a look around Dolores Park in an area called the Mission. “It’s great for a Sunday afternoon hangout with friends and sunbathing with some wine on the DL,” Martine said.
“The area was recently renovated and its way less sketchy and more and more young professionals are found here all week long if that’s your bag.” She was totally right, the area was close to loads of bars and it seems to be a great place to start a weekend, as well as end it.
Apparently a bit of a tourist gem is sitting right in the bay of Alcatraz, we checked it out and can absolutely confirm that it will always be worth a visit and a chance to creep yourself out a bit. Annoyingly, the night tours are always sold out weeks in advance (which we didn’t know about), so get that booked online early enough and it will give you a great sunset view over the city and possibly leave you with a chilly feeling when standing inside some of the prison cells.
From prison to buffaloes in what can only be described as the most seamless link imaginable. Who would have thought buffalo can be found in SF? But they can, right inside Golden Gate Park. While you’re down in that area there’s another spot called Stow Lake you should check out, rent row a boat and chill all day.
We tried to get some gallery time in LA but the only day we set aside was quite literally the only day that every gallery in the city closes and, thankfully, San Francisco has culture in abundance. Heading back down near Golden Gate Park, you’ll find DeYoung Museum and the California Academy of Sciences: “Both offer great exhibitions year-long and for nightlife and on Friday nights they deliver a mix of cocktails and live music in an otherwise classic museum setting,” Martine said.
While we’re desperately trying to sophisticate this travel article up a bit, I have an admission to make and it’s called Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Seriously, do not miss the Sea Lions. You can—and you undoubtedly will—stare at them for hours. And while you are out there, it’s time to visit one of San Francisco’s lesser-known attractions, the Musée Mécanique, which is situated right next to fisherman’s Wharf—it’s basically a warehouse filled with antique arcade games and you can spend so much time here exploring alone or with friends. Don’t forget the quarters. For the hiking friends out there, Land’s End is an ultimate spot for relaxation, views over the pacific ocean, Golden Gate outlooks and walking along the labyrinth of artist Eduardo Aguilera. You need to get that picture of yourself with the Golden Gate Bridge, you know you do… your Instagram requires this shot. A lot of people stop early on the road to take pictures, we suggest you keep driving further up the hill for the best selfie location, kids.
Staying that way on, the Marin Headlands are a perfect place for hiking and are located right across the Golden Gate bridge. Bunker road in the Marine Headlands is riddled by—as the name suggests—bunkers. You can visit those or spent some time on the nearby, sparsely populated beach.
Recently renovated, SFMOMA is always worth a visit and best accompanied by a stroll through Yerba Buena Gardens across the street. It’s a pretty crazy area actually, a lot of the old dorms from the war have been converted into letting rooms. It’s quite a surreal feeling to be able to drive out of the city and across the bridge in 30 minutes and find yourself on what is essentially a deserted and idyllic little beach resort.
Heading back into the city, we took ourselves down to Haight Street, which, as Martine explained was “the birthplace of the summer of love and is a great shopping/bar/sightseeing destination in itself”. On top of that, the best part about the Haight is probably the amount thrift stores—vintage shops to you and me. It’s a good idea to wander into some of the bars down the Haight, we found this randomly:
It’s at this point you should fully geek out and spent a few hours at record store Amoeba, right by Golden Gate Park. You can and will find pretty much anything you are looking for in there. There’s also a pretty great cocktail bar that plays sweet live music too.
For some reason you always find yourself trying to find the highest point when you go somewhere new don’t you? Thankfully, SF has loads of them, Twin Peaks being our favourite. Standing on top of the mountain, you get one of the most breathtaking views overlooking the entire Bay, including Angel Island, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and obviously all SF neighbourhoods.
Not forgetting we are also a music website, we should give a shout out to some of the best festivals. If you are lucky enough to be visiting during one of such events, make sure to attend and participate; to name just a few, Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass inside Golden Gate Park, the Folsom Street Fair for leather and fetish lovers, How Weird Fest for anything well, weird. Importantly though, while we’ve picked specific things to look out for, you can find interesting stuff around every corner in SF. One of the best ways to explore the city is to walk it. Head up and downhill and wander into the differing neighbourhoods, you’ll find all sorts.
To give some more information, we’ve highlighted some of the typical touristy spots alongside a few local gems. Here’s a map you can look at with the info:
Best bars in San Francisco:
San Francisco, it’s safe to say, has something to offer for every taste and mood of the week and we aimed to sample it. Martine just so happens to be an expert in this field, not saying she drinks too much or anything but her tequila and martini knowledge was unbounded.
“For tequila fans, Tommy’s is the absolute best place to visit. They have great Mexican food, fantastic Margarita’s and an incredible Tequila selection, it has everything the heart desires.”—You’ll find Tommy’s located in Outer Richmond—definitely a good place to go to on a chill weekday.
“Moving on, if you are mood for a tropical treat (obviously), two SF bars should not be missed. The Tonga Room inside the Fairmont hotel on top of Nob Hill (stop it) has some of the best cocktails found in SF. Live bands, indoor swimming pool and rain storms included. The second bar to head to for a tropical treat is the Smuggler’s Cove on Gough St, here you can find everything your rum loving heart desires.”
There’s no point listing every bar we visited because it just sounds like we’re trying to brag about how much we can drink. The Bourbon & Branch is the place to check out. This speakeasy-themed bar is located in the Tenderloin and Mimics, an old library in the city—don’t forget the password when entering.
We’ve added some low-key dive bars, cocktail bars and martini bars to this map. Pretty much every place on here is great so you should see what floats your boat.
Shout out to Kozy Kar on Sacramento, a place where you can have a cheap drink, on a waterbed and enjoy some hardcore porn along the way. Don’t forget to bring your hand sanitiser, if you’re that way inclined.
Best places to eat in San Francisco:
San Francisco, I can tell you, is a foodie paradise.
If you are feeling a bit German for the night, Suppenküche is the best place to head to. This Bavarian-style restaurant in Hayes Valley has some of the heartiest food found in San Francisco, as well as some of the best German beers.
Eddie’s Cafe is an all-time favourite when it comes to a simple and yummy American breakfast. Pancakes: check, bacon: check, eggs: check, refill coffee: check check check, served in their individual coffee mugs from an endless collection. The best item on the menu is without a doubt their freshly baked biscuits. There are, of course, a ridiculous amount of pizza joints to check out. “A North Beach’s renowned Golden Boy Pizza, especially on those long weekend nights, their focaccia style pizzas will bring you right back to life. If not, another great pizza spot can be found on Divisadero and McAllister, Little Star, with the best Deep Dish Pizza you will have ever tasted.” Be prepared to wait in line to get a seat here.
Again, loads of stuff to mention. However, instead of trying to brag about how much we drank, I’m ashamed to explain how much I ate.
We’ve put together a map of all the great places to eat. Includes Mexican food, ice cream, donuts, cafes etc etc.
Seriously, these places are great:
We hope you find this information useful. The article is part of a Far Out Magazine’s Road Trip series having toured around California for a few weeks.
San Francisco is a magical place, have a blast and send us some pictures on social media. Cheers to a great vacation!