I’ve been living in San Francisco for over a year now, and in that year, I’ve made it a point to try to explore what San Francisco has to offer. I finally feel, after months and months of effort, that I know San Francisco, and that I know where to go, what to do. Obvious exception – I know nothing about high-class San Francisco life. But there are some places in this city that I absolutely love – and here, I’m going to share with you my top five “favorite places” in San Francisco.
What makes something a “favorite place.” Basically, it has to bring me joy. A place where I can show up and not only feel welcome, but also feel as ease, relaxed, in some ways, at home. So without further ado, here are, in no particular order, my five favorite places in San Francisco.
#1 – Abandoned Planet Bookstore, Valencia Street @ 16th, The Mission
Valencia Street is full of bookstores – you can barely walk a block without running into numerous sidewalk carts hawking $1 and $2 books. I often wonder how they all stay in business. I wonder that about this store too, Abandoned Planet, a favorite mostly because my good friend Yusuke works there. It’s a gem,still, full of fascinating, classic books, strange antique merchandise, beautiful soft tunes, and it’s rarely crowded. If I’m having a bad day, my mood can brighten almost immediately upon entering Abandoned Planet. Serene, peaceful, and welcoming, it will always remain in my heart when I think of San Francisco.
# 2- Crossroads Cafe, Delancey Street and The Embarcadero
I discovered Crossroads Cafe at the same time I discovered another of my San Francisco favorites, Shut up and Write. Crossroads happens to be a run by the Delancey Street Foundation, an organization with helps rehabilitate and train downtrodden folks in the skills to succeed in modern society. Rennie, the organizer of Shut Up and Write, choose the hidden, spacious and inconspicuous cafe to hold his first weekly writing meetups, and I’ve been coming back ever since.
Part bookstore, part cafe, with numerous tables, couches, an extensive menu with everything from Tapas, Sandwiches, Beer, Coffee, Tea and Wine at bargain prices, the only thing Crossroads lacks is wi-fi. And perhaps thats a good thing, as it keeps the telecommuting internet-addicts out, and lets the real patrons enjoy a San Francisco gem in relative solitude.
# 3 – Twin Peaks
The most cliche of my favorites in San Francisco, but bear with me. I’m not talking about the viewpoint with the parking lot, where all the tour buses go and tourists snap identical photos of the fantastic view below. To get to my Twin Peaks, you must cross the parking lot, go across the eye-glass shaped looping road, and find the straicase along the base of either of the two peaks. It’s a steep walk, and at night (strangely, when I’m most often here) you definitely need a flashlight, to get to the top. Here, where few venture, is the real Twin Peaks, a peaceful, blustery,chilly 360 panorama of San Francisco and the bay. You can even see the spires of the Golden Gate peaking above the fog, or glistening against the city lights.
The best part? Because of the bay’s unique weather patterns, the view is different every time you go.
# 4 – Noc Noc, Haight @ Fillmore, Lower Haight
It’s two doors down from the popular, always-crowded Toronado. Though so close, the two are world’s apart in almost every other way.
In Toronado, it’s nearly impossible to find a seat, to order a beer, or to get comfortable. At Noc Noc, which has of the most fascinating interiors of any bar in the city – where no two seats are the same – ordering from the always friendly and never-rushed bartenders is a breeze. Perhaps it’s because they only serve beer (wait…Toronado is beer-only too). Maybe it’s the dark, mellow interior or hidden doorway entrance. The music changes nightly but is always fresh. Mirrors, unique wall art, and endless nooks and crannies make this an ideal date bar. I come here anytime and it’s rarely too crowded, but there’s always a great scene.
The best part about Noc Noc? It’s the only place in San Francisco where I’ve run into the famous Tamale Lady.
# 5 – Golden Boy Pizza, Green @ Columbus, North Beach
So what if it’s popular? This greasy, hole in the wall pizza place is a rare, affordable, North Beach gem. Though the large, faded yellow finger does say “pizza,” when you walk in, it feels like a narrow, dingy, dive bar. Sports are always on the single TV, though never the game I want on. But I don’t come here to watch sports, nor to drink. I come here to get San Francisco’s best cheap pizza.
Served by the slice, fresh from the oven, on a wicket basket with a real fork and knife for under $3 a slice, Golden Boy’s foccacia bread crust pizza is a mainstay of my San Francisco diet. Nothing beats a fresh slice of pizza after a rough’s day work. And no place to enjoy it like Golden Boy, with the single bar, stool-seats only, to eat it alone, watch some of the game, pay, and leave. If you want drinks, head elsewhere, like the fantastically authentic San Francisco Brewing Company down the street.