By Erika Mailman
Perhaps no other large city in the United States better embodies the spirit of discovery and innovation than San Francisco. From its storied gold rush population boom to the Summer of Love and the current infusion of technology companies, it’s always been a city of free-thinking, adventurous people. Varied neighborhoods offer delights for visitors: the architecture and culinary pleasures of Chinatown, the intricately detailed Victorian homes called “painted ladies” scattered around the city, the patchouli-scented counterculture of the Haight-Ashbury, and the rainbow-painted crosswalks of the gay Castro neighborhood. Extraordinary vistas from steep hills looking out over the bay and famous Golden Gate Bridge create a fierce love for this city where, yes, many people have left their heart.
The African American Art & Culture Complex provides a one-stop shop for theater, music, and visual arts aimed at nurturing empowerment of the African American community with innovative programming. History can be found, too, with the African American Historical & Cultural Society; check the events tab on its website to see what’s going on when you visit. The 25-year-old African-American Shakespeare Company “envisions the classics with color” so that canonical plays and other works can be “accessible to historically excluded audiences.”
Embedded in the Yerba Buena Arts District, the MoAD contemporary art museum is one of only a few museums in the world to focus on the art and culture of the African diaspora. After spending time there, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is just a short walk away.
When the lights go down in the city
A three-story beehive of activity, the SFJAZZ Center in Hayes Valley showcases murals, art, and a vibrant, constantly changing roster of performances. From soul to chamber ensembles to straight-up jazz, there’s constantly something shaking.
San Francisco also has a diverse, well-respected theater scene. American Conservatory Theater and the Berkeley Rep (across the bay) are world class. The city’s version of off-Broadway, in this case off-Market, features more experimental fare. Check out Exit Theatre, Theatre Rhinoceros, or The Marsh.
And the sun shines on the bay
Feel the breezes of the Pacific Ocean as you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito to peruse its boutiques and art galleries, or take the ferry from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island to tour the historic prison. You can also explore San Francisco’s whaling history on the 1886 triple-masted Balclutha, permanently docked at Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you’re up for adventure, kayak in the bay while skirting container ships and yachts. City Kayak will take you out for a full moon paddle if you’re experienced.
Clang, clang, clang goes the dinner bell
You must feast! Restaurants abound at Fisherman’s Wharf, with crab, sole, and rockfish pulled straight from the bay. Scoma’s earns a recommendation as the best in this sprawling touristy area. Go farther afield to find quieter seafood fare at Leo’s Oyster Bar in the Financial District or Farallon near Union Square (come for the jellyfish chandelier; stay for the Dungeness crab fries). Dine in a 1911 theater-turned-restaurant at State Bird Provisions; a signature dessert is the Josey Baker, made of red-wheat doughnuts, toasted coconut ice cream, blood oranges, and burnt cinnamon sugar. Treat yourself to contemporary Thai food at Nari—the word for “woman,” honoring generations of Thai women who helped create their country’s cuisine—which made many best new restaurants lists in 2019. Finally, a wonderful old standard is Zuni Café, a James Beard–winning restaurant that serves up traditional French and Italian cuisine on Market Street, with nightlife steps away. DW