How to Discover San Francisco’s Most Overlooked Neighborhood

Do as the locals do in the Richmond District.

How to Discover San Francisco’s Most Overlooked Neighborhood

Photo by James Cohen/Flickr

The Richmond District, San Francisco’s fog-hugged northwest corner, hasn’t quite made it onto the tourist, hipster, or techie radar yet. But the area offers travelers some of the simplest San Francisco pleasures with its walkable blocks, unpretentious eats, and quirky activities—just make sure to bring your sweatshirt.

Eat around the world on Clement

Clement Street is ground zero for the Richmond’s cultural diversity. Jostle with Chinese grannies at the New May Wah Supermarket, where you’ll find exotic fruits such as rambutan and seafood so fresh it’s still moving. Get chive dumplings and siu mai to go from Good Luck Dim Sum, or, for a sit-down lunch, have the tea leaf salad or khao soi at Burma Superstar. Let your inner child loose at Toy Boat Dessert Café, where the novelty toys are just as appealing as the ice cream. There are a few newcomers in the neighborhood, too: Wine bar High Treason has a long, interesting list of wines by the glass and a selection of small plates, and Fiorella—albeit a bit farther west than the rest—offers excellent pizzas and pastas. Then pass a few hours at Green Apple, the neighborhood’s beloved independent bookstore.

Go old school on Balboa

The Balboa Theatre, designed by the architects behind the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, is one of the city’s last community theaters. That means perks like double features and free movies on your birthday whether you’re a local or just visiting. Afterward, get some comfort food, such as veal parmigiana or a Philly cheesesteak, at Americana Grill and Fountain just a half a block away. For the ’hood’s best breads, wood-oven pizzas, and bagel plates, head to Marla’s Bakery across the street from the theater.

Have a city beach day

On Ocean Beach’s 3.5-mile stretch, watch brave surfers take on the cold water in thick wetsuits, and wonder how close great white sharks come to shore. Explore the remains of the Sutro Baths, which opened in 1894 and were once the world’s largest indoor swimming establishment. On Sundays, brunch at the Cliff House means free-flowing champagne and all-you-can-eat food with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Before you leave, take a peek at the Camera Obscura, which was built based on a 15th-century design by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Sutro Baths and the Cliff House

The Sutro Baths and the Cliff House

Photo by Ingrid Taylar/Flickr

Visit Russia and Ireland within a few city blocks

Witness a Russian Orthodox service in the Holy Virgin Cathedral, and stock up on crosses, candles, prayer lamps, and incense in the gift shop. Then walk over to the Moscow and Tbilisi Bakery for beef-and-cheese piroshkis, cabbage rolls, and poppy-seed cake. Duck into the Blarney Stone for a Guinness; you’ll be tempted to start eating again next door at John Campbell’s bakery, which has authentic Belfast-style shepherd’s pies and curry pasties.

Discover the quirkier sides of Golden Gate Park

Explore the park’s less touristed side by heading to the Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Garden, featuring thousands of tulips and Icelandic poppies in season. Don’t feed the animals at the Bison Paddock, home to a herd of the huge shaggy creatures. Like unusual sports? Check out the Archery Fields, Anglers Lodge, disc frisbee golf course, or the Horseshoe Pits. Or, do as the locals do and rent a rowboat at Stow Lake, then get a hot dog and It’s-It ice cream at the boathouse for a tasty end to a satisfying day in San Francisco’s most down-to-earth neighborhood.

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