San Francisco, the famously eclectic and historically unique US west coast city, has been undergoing something of a identity shift in recent years. Still home to bohemians and creatives, and regularly appearing on ‘most liveable cities’ lists, San Francisco has increasingly turned to tech, with the growth of Silicon Valley 45 minutes to the south helping to change the character of the city.
Now-established Bay Area companies like Instagram and Salesforce are increasing their presence in the city of San Francisco itself, attracting an influx of new talent. Once rundown areas are now awash with coffee shops and innovative independent restaurants, though the relatively low level of high-rise living means property is expensive: a survey last year by workplace app Blind found that more than 58% of tech workers agreed that the rising cost of living in the Bay Area has forced them to delay having a family.
Neil Robinson is co-founder of Chapter, a San Francisco creative studio focused on ‘designing soulful brands that thrive in today’s world of unreasonable expectations’. A designer and native of Northern Ireland, Neil and his family moved from London to San Francisco in 2004 and now live 25 miles north of the city in Lucas Valley. Robinson gives us his insight on where to stay, where to eat and what to do in this ever-changing and most aspirational of cities.
In a city known to have overbooked and below-par hotel options, booking an Airbnb undoubtedly gives you the best opportunity to experience San Francisco’s many unique neighbourhoods. That said, a number of new openings have brought much-needed hotel options to the city: Virgin Hotels’ San Francisco outpost and Proper Hotel are both in downtown locations that give you a keen sense of the city’s contrasts.
Forget members clubs or ‘networking events’. If Pop-Up Magazine is performing its ‘live magazine’ show when you’re in town, don’t miss the chance to meet and be inspired by the city’s most interesting creative and cultural minds.
Brunch in San Francisco is a competitive sport, so it’s worth getting to Mission Beach Cafe early on a weekend to beat the lines for one of the best brunches in the city. Sometimes the best tactic is to go solo with a good book. Favourite dishes include the Mission Beach huevos (add braised pork) and the duck confit hash. Other brunch lines worth the wait are Universal Cafe and Tartine Manufactory.
San Francisco’s standout eating experiences either require reservations a month in advance or a ‘get in line early’ strategy. The Morris, a Potrero Flats bistro, is the brainchild of chef Gavin Schmidt and Paul Einbund, the city’s finest sommelier. An underappreciated lunch spot, The Morris also shines in the evenings, when their signature smoked duck is complemented by an amazing wine cellar. Meanwhile, in the Castro, the Anchor Oyster Bar makes the city’s best cioppino. The place is tiny and doesn’t take reservations, so go during off hours or on rainy days. If you have to wait, throw your name in before crossing the street to Swirl for a glass of Californian wine while you wait.
Take some Papalote salsa home with you. It makes a great souvenir of your visit to their Mission District taqueria, so much so that it’s worth checking your luggage for the flight. (Pro tip: put the salsa on avocado toast topped with a poached egg.) In a city that cherishes its artisanal food, Olivier’s in the Dogpatch neighbourhood is keeping the craft of traditional French butchery alive. And Michael Molesky and Maggie Spicer, owners of Douglas in Noe Valley, have created a fantastic deli that showcases the best of local food and wine.
An early adopter of the ‘third wave’ coffee revolution, San Francisco’s innovative coffee scene has been boosted by serious venture capital investment in recent years. Blue Bottle and Sightglass locations across the city are great meeting and co-working spaces. For liquid stimulation at the other end of the day, Josh Harris and the team at Bon Vivants conjure up some of the city’s best cocktails at Trick Dog and their new spot in the Mission District, Bon Voyage.
Take the chance to enjoy the Dogpatch. Perhaps the most industrial area of the city, Dogpatch is a refreshing change from the clamour of downtown and a great spot for brunch (Piccino) or beers and dinner (Magnolia Brewing).
SoundBox breaks down the barriers between musicians and audiences in an intimate space. Housed in a former rehearsal space for the Davies Symphony Hall, each series is curated by a different artist, featuring guest musical talent and musicians from the San Francisco Symphony. A full sensory experience featuring projection, several small stages and bars scattered throughout, it’s a music event like no other.
The Ferry Building on the Embarcadero is like the city’s cultural town hall, playing host to a vibrant Saturday farmers market and some of the Bay Area’s most delicious food stores, restaurants and outposts of cult stores like Heath Ceramics.
Escape the city and walk among giants at El Corte De Madera Creek Preserve, where you can enjoy the massive redwoods and evergreens without having to dodge tourists and photobombers. Take a pit stop at The Mountain House, located about 40 minutes south of the city on Skyline Boulevard, to refuel on calamari and rabbit ragu before heading back to the city. Alternatively, if you head north from the city, the paradise that is Marin County is only an hour away. Across the Golden Gate Bridge awaits rolling countryside, hiking, fresh oysters and spectacularly wild Pacific beaches.
Other museums, attractions and attractions that shouldn’t be missed include Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum, Crissy Fields, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Del Popolo pizza, Cockscomb restaurant, ice cream at Humphry Slocombe, the Walt Disney Family Museum, the ferry to Tiburon, a late-night tour of Alcatraz and whale watching at the Farallon Islands.