San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, each one offering a different vibe and, if you know where to look, incredible grassroots food. On our recent trip, we situated ourselves in the Mission District because of its reasonable housing for a group of six, and its proximity to authentic affordable eats. John and I have been to San Francisco several times, but this was the first time we brought our children (ages 13, 11 and 8) and my mother-in-law. Here are a few highlights that might be helpful if you’re headed that way.
Soaking up San Francisco
We rented a sleek and funky green-powered residence on Alabama and 25th Streets.
For us, an apartment in a real neighborhood is so much more fun than hotel rooms in a tourist district. I like being able to pick up groceries or take-out and eat together around one table. It makes it easier to relax after hitting it hard during the day. Our digs were pretty and comfortable, and we were located in close proximity to more restaurants and food shops than we had time to try.
First stop, Lucca Ravioli, an old school Italian deli and pasta shop in the Mission whose crowded cold cases made me salivate. We picked up fresh fettucine, meatballs, tortellini, marinara, salami, Italian cookies and wine. My son, Chris, eyed spicy Italian sausage and red pepper sardines, while I found biroldo, Italian blood sausage. I have a soft spot for blood sausage having documented the history and demise of blood boudin in Hungry for Louisiana.
The next day, we headed for stunning and wild Point Reyes National Seashore (so different from our languid Gulf of Mexico), but not before grabbing baked goods and coffee from Panaderia La Victoria on 24th Street. From a side door, we could see fresh pastries cooling on racks at this 60-plus year-old bakery.
Nearing the national park, we stopped at a grocery store in the charming town of Point Reyes Station and picked up roast beef and turkey-and-pesto sandwiches to eat after hiking. We hit the Earthquake Trail near the main visitors’ center, then drove to the tip of Drakes Bay to observe elephant seals in one spot and to walk along the windy beach in another. It was a lot of driving, sometimes on curvy, nausea-inducing roads (at least to us flatlanders), but it was well worth a glimpse of the rugged coast.
Later that day back in the Mission, we picked up tacos, enchiladas and burritos from El Farolito, a popular, cash-only taqueria two blocks away with a line out the door and a resident pigeon.
Day three we spent on Alcatraz Island and at the Exploratoreum, a hands-on science museum. Alcatraz is an incredibly cool attraction and a must-do because of the quality of the self-guided audio tour, the allure of the site and the kick of ferrying into the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in full view. There’s a lot to learn about Alcatraz that goes beyond Al Capone and Clint Eastwood, including its life as a Civil War garrison, military prison and as the nexus of Native American protests during the 60’s. The restaurants nearby at Fisherman’s Wharf are touristy and overpriced, but if you get off the boat like we did and are starving, just find one with a raw bar. These fresh Pacific oysters were shucked onsite. They were sweet with subtle melon notes and were the perfect size.
Our final day we Ubered to the California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park and Chinatown, starting with breakfast down the street from our apartment at St. Francis Fountain, an old-fashioned soda fountain with short-order eats. Located in the Mission on 24th Street, it’s San Francisco’s oldest ice cream parlor and has been open since 1918. I loved this place – and so did our kids – and we all wished we’d had more time to belly up to the bar for a chocolate egg cream or milk shake. Next visit.
Meantime, I loved my huevos rancheros.
Many of our dining suggestions came from the guy behind the counter at this 24th Street bookshop. (Murals typify the Mission.) Asking around always yields good intel.