Inspiration  A Week of Fun in San Francisco!

Hello!  I just returned from another great trip to to beautiful San Francisco, where I was tagging along with my husband on his business trip.  We combed the city–walking everywhere and ducking down streets and through neighborhoods until our feet ached. After three trips in one year, I have a lot of great things to share!


map photo from Maker & Moss 


I recommend several great websites and blogs for tips on where to go around the city: Victoria Smith, SFGirlbyBay 24 Hours in San Francisco, and Grace Bonney’s Design Sponge SF Design Guide.  I also refered to the awesome SF Gate, and Eater San Francisco constantly to find out about neighborhoods and restaurants.  (The above map can be found at Maker & Moss in Hayes Valley.)

The Mission and Castro neighborhoods are irresistible to me, with amazing culture, people watching and the best restaurants and cafes.   One random favorite is the Bi-Rite Market, which is a tiny gourmet market that makes you wish you were not staying at a hotel and could stock up. The Bi-Rite is the perfect place to grab a sandwich for a picnic at Delores Park.


Just a block away is the famous Bi-Rite Creamery, which I avoided because I have to manage my waste line, but the lines outside and the reviews indicate it is the best ice cream in town—a neighborhood favorite.



We had a fantastic dinner at Bar Tartine, and an unforgettable breakfast and lunch at the sister spot nearby Tartine Bakery & Cafe, both in the Mission.  You may have seen the Tartine cookbooks at boutiques and major bookstores all over the country.


cover photo from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food


For outstanding lunches we indulged at Pizzeria Delfina (and even was our dinner at Delfina Restaurant) and the awesome Craftsman & Wolves, for spectacular salads, sandwiches and treats.  I filled a bag for my flight home and felt a little guilty pulling out a Craftsman & Wolves sandwich in front of others eating airplane food. 


photos from Tartine and Holly Johnson 


Another treasure for dinner in the Mission is Foreign Cinema, for a beautiful, romantic setting with outdoor seating, fireplaces, heat lamps and great black and white films flickering silently on the wall.  The food is outstanding and I don’t think I could return to San Francisco without another dinner here. 

  foreign-cinema-the-mission photo taken by Foreign Cinema 


This visit, we were so lucky to score a table at State Bird Provisions in Pacific Heights—the super fun dim-sum style restaurant serving awesome California cuisine.  I called two months ahead for a weeknight reservation but they were full 3 months out!  So we took a chance and stopped in, and got a table for 7:00!  So lucky!  Next door is the sister restaurant, The Progress, which would have been a perfect fall-back, and appeared to be just as fun and interesting.


photos by Holly Johnson 


Of course, the SF farmer’s markets are glorious.  I love the Ferry Building market on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursdays, and I have a feeling there are many more. Everything you find in restaurants is very fresh and very local here, and it makes all the difference!


photos by Holly Johnson 



There are endless inspiring shops in SF– some seeming more like galleries with art installations than retail spaces.   I found Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids in the Mission to be truly funky and refreshingly off beat.  They have awesome, unusual gifts for kids, mixed in with odd taxidermy animals and winding tree trunks.  (Don’t miss the adult version of Paxton Gate a few blocks away—very curious, indeed!) 


One more shop for kids that is worth checking out is Tantrum, in the super cute residential neighborhood of Cole Valley.  While you are there, you can get an amazing brunch at Cafe Reverie next door, and eat outside in their secret garden.  We meandered up the hill to the spectacular lookout from the Twin Peaks!  The gardens and homes along the winding roads to the top were just as interesting and beautiful.


photos by Holly Johnson 


If you are in Hayes Valley, don’t miss Cotton Sheep for super unique, heirloom quality clothing for kids and adults, designed and made in Japan.  This is the kind of place you want to buy one item per year, and then refrain from ever entering Target again.  The wool fabrics and designs are so gorgeous and earthy, and the cottons are equally rich and natural.  I never really appreciated Japanese fashion before I discovered this amazing place. (this is my cute sister in the photo!)



photo by Holly Johnson 


On my last visit, I was on a mission to visit Heath Ceramics, the home of classic San Francisco dinnerware, and where I purchased my ceramic tile for my kitchen stove backsplash.  The showroom in the Mission is in a great area of burgeoning creativity and warehouses.  The showroom is beautiful and you can get a mean cup of coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee while you are there.  We also took a morning ferry to Sausalito to visit the original 1959 Heath Ceramics factory and showroom where you can buy seconds at a reduced price.  I love the timeless quality of their designs and the colors are lovely.

heath-ceramics-san-francisco  photos by Holly Johnson


If you want a truly special souvenir from your visit, treat yourself to a SF map cutout by Famille Summerbelle (who are actually based out of Europe).  Below is a close-up of their San Francisco map that has been hand cut with amazing precision and whimsy.   You can now purchase the actual paper cut-outs (rather than prints), which they have learned to reproduce in all of its precision and artistry.


photo from Famille Summerbelle



Now, I have to tell you that my husband is a self-taught craft beer brewer.  I admit to starting this obsession with a DIY brewing kit I gave him a few years back.  The result has been a very nice hobby that he pursues on the weekends.  Our vacations are now focused on “beer research” at the local breweries in every town we pass, and San Francisco was no exception, in fact top of the list!


photos by Holly Johnson 


Mikkeller Bar is a special west coast brewery run by a crazy Danish guy, and his twin brother has a dueling brewery on the east coast called Evil Twin Brewing.  On our most recent trip we visited Cellarmaker Brewing in SoMA and sampled the super Taco Hands IPA.


In the mission we had a great dinner at the Monk’s Kettle, which is a cozy gastropub in the heart of town, serving amazing food–definitely not your typical bar food, with lots of great options for the vegetarian.  My husband loved Zeitgeist Bar, which sits just under the highway and is pretty funky and all about the long craft beer selection.  


photos from The Monk’s Kettle 


The other great find was the bar Dalva and the Hideaway speakeasy tucked in the back. My sister and I sat in the tiny Hideaway and a guest bartender mixed us up some pretty special cocktails that I am sure we will never encounter again!  Very fun! 


Of all the places we went for drinks and dinner, Tosca Cafe was my favorite.  Maybe it is the mystique of the place being known for star sitings and written up by bon appetite, but I had the best cocktail I have ever tasted there, and pretty much wanted to move in after that.  The food is classic Italian, but totally home made and upscale, in an Al Capone kind of setting.


 photos by Holly Johnson



I think San Francisco may be the ultimate place for coffee and amazing baked goods.  We could not begin to scratch the surface without getting the jitters, but we tried.  I say skip over La Boulange and go for some of these special spots for a memorable cup of joe and a treat!  In the Noe Valley, we had incredible Josey Bread toast with homed Nutella and coffee at The Mill, which was recommended by blogger Victoria Smith of SF Girl By Bay, who really knows her SF stuff.  We also got coffee at Martha and Bros., which is her every day staple, and we could see why.


One of the few really special cafes near our hotel in Union Square was Farm : Table, which is a tiny, all natural bakery with tremendous treats and coffee.  I spotted this great dane melted over a leather chair in a hair salon en route—pretty amazing.


photos by Holly Johnson 


And finally, a place I keep going back to in Pacific Heights is The Grove, for every kind of great breakfast and lunch in a cozy rustic setting and cute outdoor seating.  Worth a stop while shopping up and down Fillmore Street!

san-francisco-vegetation-gardens  photos by Holly Johnson


Beyond all of the great eating an drinking and walking that we did on our visits, the best memories are of the incredible views, the abundant vegetation and flowers, and the charming homes tucked into the hillsides.  We loved walking through Golden Gate Park and the botanical gardens, Japanese gardens and the museums.  


I hope you have a chance to visit San Francisco soon, and I would love to have your tips of other treasures we should visit on our next trip west!  

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