LOCAL LOWDOWNS

San Francisco Neighbourhoods

San Francisco feels like a city in transition. Once a hotbed of leftist political activity and the home of the hippie movement, it has become the urban tech hub dubbed Silicon Valley, where rent rates and the number of farm-to-table restaurants have soared accordingly.


This is a place of contrasts: Vagrants and startup millionaires, two dollar tacos and two hundred dollar tasting menus, sketchy side streets and Manhattan-high rents. But there’s still much to like about this Californian city steeped in history. Below, a brief guide to the bits I liked best
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MISSION DISTRICT

San Francisco’s hipster heartland is still pleasingly rough around the edges. Skip the independent coffee shops and go straight to the neighbourhood’s original life fuel: tacos, which can be found for sofa change at El Farolito and La Taqueria. Buy a few and eat them in nearby Dolores Park, which stretches up a hill with gorgeous views of the city.

If you’re looking for a more refined eating experience, Foreign Cinema is where gentrification tastes best. Reserve in advance one of the best brunch experiences in the city, or catch an independent film on the covered outdoor patio by night.

TENDERLOIN

A bit dirty, pretty dangerous, but undoubtedly my favourite part of San Francisco: there’s a rawness to it that the rest of the city lacks. Scope out the splendid City Hall, before heading into Little Saigon to feast on Vietnamese food - a breakfast banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, pho for lunch at Turtle Tower - before you pick up immaculate Americana at vintage store, Handsome Oxford. If you’re brave enough to stick around after dark, the Great American Music Hall is an intimate place to see a live show, and superb cocktails can be found at Wilson & Wilson or Rye after.

CASTRO

The epicentre of San Francisco’s gay community is where you’ll find cute shops, great food, and lots of rainbow-coloured hues. See a film at the historic Castro Theatre and join the line at Anchor Oyster Bar for dinner. The wait is long but the vat of cioppino for two - a San Franciscan speciality, with decadent shellfish simmered in a rich tomato sauce - is worth it.

HAYES VALLEY

Stylish and peaceful, but right in the centre of town. Start your day with a cappuccino at Blue Bottle Coffee and a chocolate and hazelnut croissant from La Boulange, where you can sit on the corner of the tree-lined block and watch the locals come and go. Soak up the neighbourhood with a wander around the colourful local community garden and a browse at The Green Arcade bookstore. Try to get a dinner reservation at Rich Table - the sardine chips are amazing - and if you have to wait, do it over a cocktail at nearby brasserie, Absinthe.

CHINATOWN

This hectic district is the oldest Chinatown in North America and home to the largest Chinese community outside Asia. The streets are lined with faded market buildings and packed with vendors selling dragonfruit, fresh seafood, sandalwood incense, and huge piles of bok choy. Skip the long lines at the local dim sum restaurants and pick up some fresh shumai at Delicious Dim Sum and egg tarts at Golden Gate Bakery, which you can eat in one of the little green squares dotted around the district. Don’t miss a visit to the iconic City Lights bookstore, founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlenghetti and still going strong half a century later.

BERKELEY AND OAKLAND

Not technically part of San Francisco proper, the nearby neighbourhoods of Berkeley and Oakland are definitely worth a trip East on the BART. Get off at Rockridge station to explore the countless cute cafes and shops along College Avenue, at Downtown Berkeley to get fat in the so-called Gourmet Ghetto (that includes legendary Californian restaurant, Chez Panisse), or at Grand & Lakeshore Ave in Oakland to walk around Lake Merritt and have perfect thin-crust pizza at Boot and Shoe Service.