30 August | BY Andjelka Jankovic | City Guides , Travel
So lean in close or lend an ear, there's something brilliant bound to happen here
San Francisco was my port of entry into my great American adventure. I imagined it to be like a West Coast New York City – but to be clear, it has little comparison to The Big Apple. Firstly San Francisco is smaller – about 850,000 people call the Bay Area home. The city buzzes with an energy of opportunity however due to the rapid progress of tech startups, real estate price rises and gentrification (the buzz word of America) – newcomers are not well received. There is a feeling that the new wave of inhabitants are driving out ‘real San Franciscans’.
Who is a native San Franciscan? My impression is that ‘locals’ come from all over America to the Bay Area, but because the city is smaller than New York you feel it more. It is harder to meet a true San Francisco native these days as in the past people used to work to live, not live to work. Nowadays people are not moving to San Francisco as much for the Northern Californian lifestyle and weather, but rather for the tech boom and money.
San Francisco is charming and alive with possibility – there are classic Victorian houses from your favourite childhood movies, more artisanal beverages than inhabitants, world-class Californian produce, neighbourhood book exchange shelves, and blue skies with a touch of fog. You will find yourself stripping off to a singlet and piling on a cardigan, jacket and a scarf in the same block. San Francisco is a walkable and bikable urban planning feat – I found myself coasting down city streets listening to Edith Piaf on the way down and Girl Talk on the way up.
Making friends in San Francisco is easy – just walk around with a bunch of fresh lavender from the farmers market. You will be more popular than a chocolate Labrador puppy walking with a toddler wearing overalls, socks, and sandals. Due to the high cost of living (a red hot topic), your Bay Area friends are making a choice to live with less in return for an outdoors lifestyle, liveable weather and West Coast proximity. They are eco-conscious, aspire to lead a sustainably minded life and will teach you everything you need to know about recycling, composting, reusing and up-cycling (true to form – even the San Francisco Chronicle is printed on recycled paper).
Since there is no place large enough to contain so much happiness, you shrug, your raise your hands, and it flows out of you into everything you touch. – Noami Shihab Nye
I woke up every morning with a feeling of great possibility and happiness, but also a personal responsibility to maximise every moment. My word for the energy of San Francisco is abundance. California is a choice – from material to deeply spiritual to artistic to sexual freedom. Choices overwhelmed me. I had to leave Whole Foods Market after an existential crisis about which kombucha drink to buy. I learned to breathe and say ‘no’, I found quiet moments with myself, and tried to not be swept up in the need for constant ‘doing’. I rekindled my love for poetry in San Francisco and had a lightbulb moment when I accidentally
totally on purpose ordered fries and a sweet potato dish for ‘dinner’. In my carbohydrate coma, I dreamed up a Potatoes and Poetry event where people feast on potato-related food and read aloud poetry and lyrics.
My first meal in America set the bar high with organic plant-based Mexican food. The inventive vegan menu will make any sleep and nutrient deprived traveller feel human again. I ate three corn tortillas with grilled zucchini, oven-baked beetroot and charred broccoli, plus my weight in fresh guacamole. California, I had arrived.
A light-filled and breezy cafe proud of its Northern California roots that is echoed in a thoughtful plant-based menu. Lunch made my heart sing with quinoa falafel and seasonal vegetables in a crunchy collard wrap with an almond chocolate chip cookie (that was hard to pass by). All the food is organic, ethically and locally sourced, and free of gluten, dairy, refined sugars, trans fats and GMOs. After arriving in America from my place of last happiness (Ubud, Indonesia) this place felt close to my spiritual home.
Wandering down Fillmore Street during the annual famous jazz festival, food beckons you from every corner. But one place stood out as a must try – Roam Artisan Burgers. I tried their house-made organic veggie burger (beetroot, quinoa, herbs) with a ‘I can’t believe it’s not gluten’ GF bun and the holy grail of any burger experience – sweet potato fries. My mouth did’t know where to go, what to do. Not a word was spoken the entire meal apart from: we should order The Fry-Fecta (russet, sweet potato and zucchini onion fries!).
A shoebox-sized counter in Hayes Valley serving organic cold-pressed juices, cleanses and elixir in cute old fashioned glass bottles (return to get $2 back or re-use into a vase). I proclaimed ‘hallelujah’ after trying their tasty version of Almond Milk – sprouted almonds, coconut water, vanilla bean, and Himalayan salt. I also rate their Citrus Gold juice and Turmeric and Pineapple immunity shot. Bathe in the sun on their outdoor seating and press refresh on your body.
Despite having an unofficial travel rule to not eat the same meal twice, I made an exception for The Flying Felafel, which I am also the unofficial patron saint of. Vegan, organic, made from scratch and gluten-free on request – for under $10 you can get The Felafel Plate which is a rainbow of vegetables, pickles and sauces with golden freshly cooked falafel nestled on top and garlicky hummus to make all the boys come to the yard. A perfect post-workout meal after Yoga On The Labyrinth up the hill at Grace Cathedral on Tuesday evenings.
You put the Acai with the coconut (water) and blend it all up… Fresh into San Francisco, I needed a healthy pick-me-up and fortunately stumbled upon the friendliest food truck parked in Mint Plaza using locally sourced and seasonal produce to make dangerously delicious Acai bowls. The Green Goliath hit the spot with acai, spinach, hemp seeds, strawberry, banana, coconut water topped with blueberries and honey. In the same square is the famous Blue Bottle Coffee cart (the most popular coffee house in San Francisco), and by famous I mean I was waiting in line behind Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
For an aspiring tea sommelier, Samovar Tea Lounge is a haven for food-and-tea pairing enthusiasts. Set in the heart of downtown San Francisco, find yourself a perch overlooking the city park and indulge in a tea caffeinated romance. I ordered the ‘Japanese Service’ of steamed organic brown rice, seaweed salad, seasonal vegetables, handmade tempeh and avocado paired with Ryokucha Green Tea.
One of the many perks of traveling alone is getting to sit in a window seat with a copy of The New Yorker and a big bowl of vegan pho soup as the city goes by. Nestled in the historically Hispanic neighbourhood of Mission District, Mau is a fast-paced Vietnamese local eatery that fulfilled my craving for tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, and coriander in a rich broth.
Being a dairy-fre gal has its ups and down, the saddest down is leaving an ice cream shop empty handed. Thank the lord for Holy Gelato! – a delightful establishment that has twelve, yes TWELVE different flavours of vegan gelato of which I happily ate Toasted Coconut and Sea Salt Chocolate. The place is funky with a great music soundtrack and a welcoming cozy vibe welcoming all dietary requirements with open arms and empty wallets.
I am the biggest fan of the bowl. It’s my go-to meal – gather all the ingredients you love and create an abundance bowl of fresh flavours and seasonal produce. I ventured to Outerlands on a bike that became the play toy of a strong wind tunnel. Arriving weary and cold, I was greeted by a savoury breakfast porridge served in a stoneware bowl – quinoa cooked in mushroom broth with greens, shiitake, avocado and runny yolk eggs gave me the energy to ride back home.
When three different people tell you to eat at Papalote, you listen. Their famous secret salsa draws a busy crowd everyday of the week and it didn’t discourage me from falling in food love with the grilled vegetable tacos, vegan refried beans and complimentary fresh corn chips (the bread stick of Mexico, don’t fill up on them!). Papalote is in the Mission District near the Valenica Street intersection with quirky boutiques, thrifts stores and delightful shops like Little Paper Planes and Curator.
What is a gluten-free gal doing in a bakery you ask? The Mill is a mecca for San Francisco bread and coffee lovers with their organic, stone ground Josey Baker Bread loafs and Four Barrel Coffee cups of liquid gold. I was overjoyed to discover they also bake a gluten-free loaf called Adventure Bread – which uses My New Roots Life-Changing Loaf of Bread recipe (of which inspired my own favourite gluten-free loaf). Without a kitchen to bake my usual weekly bread, I bought this several times and was spreading it around San Francisco like confetti (I even tore some Adventure Bread off for a fellow gluten-free bike courier I met at a traffic light). Also be sure to check out the well-curated stationary and gift shop Rare Device a block away.
A popular and hip Greek joint that specialises in spit-fired meats is where I ate one the best salads on my travels so far – Roasted White Sweet Potato with kale, toasted walnuts, pickled red onion, pea shoots and chopped kalamata olives. Souvla is also the place I accidentally over-dosed on two types of potato sides and a damn good book of poetry. I may just change this blog name to ‘Potato Curator’ – taking votes in the comments people.
Around the corner from Souvla is a charming frozen yogurt shop that could – as in it can do any creation you can dream up. Choose from a menu of over 30 ingredients and they will whip it together right in front of your hungry eyes. I opted to create a vegan Banana Bread medley with frozen bananas, almond butter, honey, and cinnamon and strolled next door to the beautiful wares shop Gather. It’s also perfect fuel for walking uphill to the nearby famous Painted Ladies attraction, or better yet – walk to Alamo Square and enjoy your Loving Cup while overlooking the most photographed row of houses in America.
You quickly discover the beating heart of a city at the local farmers market. Crowds descend to the iconic Ferry Plaza building three times a week for seasonal produce and delicious street food, with the biggest market gathering being on Saturday mornings (8am to 2pm). A word of advice: truly, don’t even think about eating breakfast beforehand. The samples and tasters alone will fill you up before you begin to fill up your market basket. For my July visit, I was particularly excited by the organic berries and peaches (the strawberries were the best I had ever tasted, like a 90s Lip Smacker chapstick) and the Old Dog Ranch stall for organic and certified transitional walnuts from a 5th generation family farm – make sure you try the cinnamon walnut butter.
EXTRA FOOD LOVE: Greens Restaurant (pioneers of farm to table dining), Cafe Gratitude (Berkley’s plant-based food haven), Trouble Coffee Company (kick started the fancy ‘toast’ movement), Rainbow Grocery (an organic co-op market), Salsalito Taco Shop (best Baja-style Mexican fare over the bridge) & Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market (Sundays from 9am to 1pm).
An unprecedented yoga event anywhere in the United States – the instantly likable Reverand Jude Harmon welcomes everyone while thoughtful yoga teacher Darren Main speaks of Buddhist lessons and instructs Sanskrit poses at San Francisco’s iconic Grace Cathedral every Tuesday night. With the aim to make yoga accessible for all, I fell in love with this by-donation community class that embraces all practice and income levels. Everyone is welcome: your presence can be payment, some loose change, a generous donation and they even have iPads for tech savvy yogis. Starting at 6.15pm (arrive by 5.30pm and bring your own mat), there are musical guests every week and during my four classes, I felt live harp, harmonium, grand piano and cello vibrating through my body as we were guided through a gentle Hatha yoga flow.
Grace Cathedral was the first church to bury AIDS patients in San Francisco and is a place of spiritual devotion to self and others. It is truly a place of grace – a place of acceptance, connection, understanding, and compassion. Make your 24 hours in a day count, and come Tuesday night – don’t let the opportunity to experience the most heart-opening yoga class in the world pass you by. You’ll truly feel your soul blossom on the mat.
On my first day in a new city, I try to attend a yoga class to pause and stretch. After five staircases, my jaw dropped when I entered Yoga To The People’s penthouse yoga space with a skyline view. Classes are donation based ($10 is suggested) and the teachers wildly vary from class to class. Power Vinyasa Flow is the key style and it’s up to you where you take your practice. For me, it was breathing in the gratitude for having arrived exactly where I needed to be.
A short walk from Golden Gate Park is where San Francisco’s premier yoga studio first opened. Yoga Tree Stanyan is a cozy and welcoming space with mystical artwork on the walls and high-quality teachers. I enjoyed an insightful and sweaty flow class and had a cup of tea afterward. Check out all their locations and make one your ‘local’.
I was curious about the marriage of my two favourite activities (yoga and hiking) so I signed up for Yelp San Francisco‘s class and was instantly hooked. Wesleigh our friendly teacher and enthusiastic city guide strategically made sure the breaks for yoga were taken with beautiful views of the city. Hiking Yoga is a beautiful marriage and a super fun workout with a healthy dose of Vitamin D, city discovery and a social outing all rolled into one morning.
A 5-day yoga, music and adventure festival set in North Lake Tahoe. Every moment is memorable with big name yoga teachers, world-class musicians, and happy positive people. Highlights include Janet Stone’s ‘Crazy In Love’ Beyonce class, Shiva Rea’s Prana Vinyasa with the Spirit of Bob Marley class, Shakti Sunfire’s Lunar Cycles of Creativity workshop, learning to primal dance with META Method, sunrise trail hiking, and a SUP Yoga class on Lake Tahoe with a live acoustic guitar soundtrack and Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background. The good folk at Wanderlust make a lot of effort to create a feeling of community and home. I especially loved the True North Cafe by TOMS for conscious coffee (decaf almond milk latte with honey and cinnamon please), curated cafe events like ‘Acoustic Karayogi’ and campfire jams with a cameo from Michael Franti. And I also fell in love with a food truck (Lydia’s Organics), hair braiding (Beauty Bar by Aveda) and a limited edition Wanderlust yoga bra (D’OM by Lululemon).
Handcrafted, one a kind designs incorporating healing powers of crystals and stones – Bahgsu Jewels has quickly become my favourite jeweler. Based half of the year in Bali and the other in California – owner and craftswoman Madgi is radiant, kind and very knowledgeable about matching the perfect piece to your energy. I consider my bohemian inspired flower of life cuff with moonstone (for intuition and femininity) my dearest possession. I also love the philosophy behind cleaning the jewelry – it involves leaving the piece outside on a full moon and blowing smoke or splashing water to set an intention activate the jewels.
Making friends in a herbal apothecary is easy when you spend hours browsing miscellaneous jars, bottles of flower essences, new organic beauty discoveries and talking endlessly about medicinal herbs and natural food remedies. Located on the happening Valencia Street, Scarlet Sage Herb Co. is a haven for all my favourite topics and is an oasis for wellness lovers.
Being in California made me fall in love with the outdoors, hard. San Francisco is particularly buzzing with adventure and a respect for nature like no other place. I caught the bug immediately and biked around the city, hiked park trails and urban forests, and got giddy at the sight of well-designed camping gear. Alite Designs is based in San Francisco and hits the mark with locally-made stylish outdoor goods like the Bike To The Beach Bag, Meadow Mat, and Hot Tamale Sleeping Bag that can zip you together at night with your beloved. Check out their cafe at the Alite Outpost in Mission District (where I picked up a portable light-as-a-feather lunch box) and ask about their Fresh Air Club and camping gear borrowing service.
EXTRA WELLNESS LOVE: Twisted Thistle Apothecary (Located in iconic Haight-Ashbury with a mysterious exterior and a friendly interior, I picked up a Burdock Root tincture there).
A 20 hour round day trip from San Francisco that is worth every minute. A grand natural phenomenon of towering granite cliffs, lush green valleys, giant sequoias and meadows of wildflowers. You can drive yourself but I opted to take a bus trip with Viator and hiked to Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and Tenaya Creek. Enthusiastic hikers flock to Yosemite National Park for the Glacier Point trail and seasoned hikers make a pilgrimage to tackle the Half Dome.
The notoriously harsh island of Alcatraz and ‘The Rock’ prison has long fascinated me. I spent a morning exploring the rich history of ‘Hellcatraz’ (which is a scenic 20-minute ferry ride from San Francisco), and walking the same corridors as famous inmates Al Capone, Alvin Carpis and Robert ‘Birdman’ Stroud. Despite being world-known for attempted escapes with no reported survivors, I was fascinated to learn about the island’s historic occupation by Indians of All Tribes in the early 1980s. One of the most popular attractions in San Francisco for good reason, be sure to plan ahead as tickets book up three months in advance and when the guide says watch your downhill step they mean it (I tripped and Alcatraz will always have a part of me – my knees).
Travel synchronicity is the best – imagine my luck when two of my favourite writers were hosting an event together. Lidia Yuknavitch (The Chronology of Water) and Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) presented ‘A Night of Mayhem’ that involved live readings, glow stick beach balls, candy showers and a punchy Q&A that brought the authors to life: “The brutal and the beautiful is in every nanosecond of life.” The historical Castro Theatre is located in a humming neighbourhood and prominent Gay enclave of the 70s and 80s. Today the famous Castro is a movie palace, be sure to check out the popular film sing-a-longs and progressive programming.
Robin Williams was the narrator of my childhood, we wore out the VHS with how many times we watched Mrs Doubtfire and drove my mum crazy recreating the table dancing ‘Jump Around’ scene. Walking up to this iconic house was bittersweet, you can feel the spirit of Robin Williams in San Francisco and it was comforting to be standing in awe and silence with other film lovers (from afar, keep in mind that somebody lives there). The place is a must-see for a brief trip down memory lane, and I enjoyed the beauty of the handwritten messages of condolences to Robin left on pebbles under the two trees.
Bordering Berkeley in East Bay is a magnificent 740-acre nature reserve. Easy to navigate using a self-guided travel booklet and trailside directional posts, be sure to check out Lake Anza, Nimitz Way, Inspiration Trail (starting at Inspiration Point) and Bay Area Ridge Trail. Carry plenty of water and sunscreen, bring a small picnic and take a perch on a tree stump near the Quarry off Wildcat Canyon Road. It is accessible from downtown Berkley by taking the 67 bus to Canon Road and walking down to Brazil Building to start your day of adventure.
For a truly jaw-dropping experience – beg, steal or borrow a bike and ride over the iconic red mistress of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll have to fight other cyclists, tourists with selfie sticks and ever-changing tail winds, but once you cycle over keep going towards Sausalito for a beautiful downhill reprieve. In a matter of moments, you will feel like you have arrived at a charming Italian seaside town. With prices of the Riviera, Sausalito is heavily geared towards tourists with seafood restaurants, ice creams shops and souvenir stalls – but stay on your bike for a few more minutes and make your way to the Salsalito Taco Shop shack for Baja-style Mexican food with a Californian twist (and possibly the best guacamole of your life).
Arguably the most photographed houses in America, The Painted Ladies are a row of brightly coloured old Victorian styles homes made famous by the 90s show Full House. Take a picnic to Alamo Square across the street and join the crowds of other nostalgia enthusiastic and park lovers. Realistically, they are just a row of houses – however, they make a lot of people happy and is well worth seeing for yourself for an idyllic afternoon.
Daytime travel activity can make you very tired, but save some energy for this iconic music venue under the stars. Located on the University of California, Berkeley campus is the Greek Theater – a historic concert venue for the biggest names in music. I was fortunate to see Death Cab For Cutie on a perfectly balmy summer night for their new album ‘Kintsugi’ tour with some classics thrown in (my prayers were heard when the epic soul-stirrer Transatlanticism was played).
To see a view of whole San Francisco, take an enjoyable hike to the highest vantage point in the Bay Area. There is limited parking for cars and you can drive but I think that is cheating, as the view is well worth the steady heart-pumping incline. When you get to the top take some time to sit and gaze and ponder and take a jacket as it gets really windy (rule of thumb for all of San Francisco). Also, Twin Peaks is worth checking out at night for a sprawling view of the city lights.
EXTRA ADVENTURE LOVE: Muir Woods (catch a bus from Sausalito), 826 Valenica (Dave Egger’s pirate-themed children’s writing centre), Mission Dolores Park (sprawling green lawns with lots of sunbathers, the kind of park you get high just by walking past it).
A cozy and charming pink-painted Victorian estate house in the lively Hispanic Mission district. I had a small cute room where I took long baths at night and enjoyed jazz radio during leisurely breakfasts. I also appreciated the local hand drawn restaurant map that was given to me on arrival. I stayed at The Inn for my first two nights in America and then was fortunate to stay with friends in Inner Sunset afterward.
Read my guide to Couchsurfing with strangers and take your travel adventures to the next level.