CITY GUIDE: San Francisco

Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Heather Zweig of San Francisco, California.

Each year, more than 16 million visitors make San Francisco their destination of choice. From the breathtaking scenery and the Golden Gate Bridge to the rolling hills of iconic Victorian architecture, it’s no wonder so many people flock to this incredibly unique city.  With that said, I hardly ever see a wide-eyed visitor because they rarely venture into the backbone of SF culture, the neighborhoods outside of the tourist traps.

The easiest of these neighborhoods to boast about is Hayes Valley. Sandwiched between Laguna and Franklin Street, Hayes is beautiful, colorful (literally), lively and one of my favorite places to walk around.

1. When my family and I moved to the bay area six months ago, we learned a very quick and valuable lesson, a car is completely useless. Find decent parking, leave it at home, pay a garage for the day, do whatever it takes to ditch your automobile.  Between the BART, the Muni and the fact that the entire city is only 7-miles wide, you will have a fuller and more enjoyable experience on foot.  Hayes Valley is no exception, parking is rarely found and with all the amazing detail and color dotting the streets, simply driving past would be a crime. Plus, most in-phone maps and navigation systems come equipped with walking and bus directions, a handy tool for exploring.

2. Start your walk with a cup of coffee, tea, or whatever warm drink suits your fancy.  You can select from the Blue Bottle stand, a personal favorite and the mini version of its famous big brother a few miles awayRitual Coffee, another quaint outdoor coffee stand; Seesaw, family friendly with a play area for children; Mercury Cafe; Momi Toby’s Revolution Cafe & Art Bar; etc.

3. Once you have your beverage in hand, each and every passing retail store is worth checking out. A few of note: Bibliohead, new, used and rare books in a charming space; Room Service, the mecca of eclectic furniture; and Ver Unica, friendly staff with even better vintage clothing.

4. The most important aspect of Hayes Valley is the food. Several charming cafes and restaurants line the streets and although I have only personally tried a few, I have yet to be disappointed.  La Boulange offers delicious soup, salads, sandwiches and the oh-so-important brunch; Hayes & Kebab has a wonderful assortment of organic Mediterranean dishes; Stacks specializes in breakfast; Zuni Cafe; Suppenkuche; and for pizza, Patxi’s Chicago Pizza.

5. A few other places of note: Absinthe, french food and wine bar; Two Sisters Bar & Books, delicious brunch, food and cocktails; Taste, a modern Chinese tea house and a must if you’re in the area; and Smitten Ice Cream, made to order treats in 60-seconds using liquid nitrogen.

If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of San Francisco, I hope you give Hayes Valley a look. I have only scratched the surface of what there is to do, see and eat in this quaint nook of town, go and discover for yourself!

Heather is a wife, mom and freelance photographer (all photos in this post taken by Heather). She can be found blogging at We Three Zweigs, on Twitter as @heatherzweig or on her personal favorite, Instagram as @HeatherZweig. She will also be judging my next photo challenge!

Featured image by Alain Picard.

January 19, 2012