For the last five years, I have been lucky enough to call one of the most beautiful, exciting, creative, iconic, and singular places in the world my home. San Francisco.
Of course, I never actually lived in San Francisco. That would have been far too expensive.
Instead I had the best of both worlds. I’ve lived south of the city in the Peninsula and South Bay areas, where the weather is warmer, the rent is ever-so-slightly cheaper, and every stop on the Caltrain (light rail) has a charming downtown district (usually with a farmers market). Meanwhile, all that SF and Oakland have to offer were just a stone’s throw away.
New York is the American city most commonly associated with endless possibility – you know, the whole “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” thing. But having lived here, it’s hard to believe that anywhere in the world is more abundantly stocked with possibility than the Bay Area. Here, side projects are known to become companies valued at over a billion dollars. Here, it is common for people to take sabbaticals from their jobs for weeks on end to travel the world, climb mountains, and embark on volunteering missions. Here, it is entirely feasible to have breakfast by the bay, a lunchtime glass of wine in a vineyard, and dinner overlooking the snow in the mountains, all in the same day.
When I moved to the Bay Area five years ago – nearly to the day – I was a different person in many ways. I'd actually been plotting a move to LA at the time, but when the company I worked for offered me a position in the SF area, I was drawn to it for a number of reasons. Besides being a terrific career opportunity with wonderful people – many of whom are still dear friends – it provided me the chance to start largely fresh in a completely new place. To challenge myself to grow in ways I never knew were possible.
It was only after living here that I ran my first half marathon. That I found the joy in traveling solo – first within California, then to Hawaii, then to and through Italy. It was here that I launched this blog, along with one my my very best friends, and my confidence in my voice began to crystallize. And I owe a great deal of this to the energy of this magical place. This place full of dreamers and doers and phenomenal talent and incredible intelligence and wanderers and wonderers and people who are entirely unafraid to develop their very own drum beat, type a bit of code into a computer to play it in a loop, and then boldly march to it.
Of course, this area isn’t without its challenges. The San Francisco Bay Area is abundant with wealth, but also with poverty and homelessness. And no matter where you fall in that spectrum, the cost of living is astronomical. It is incredibly difficult living in an area where, in my early thirties and with a good education and a strong career, I know that I will probably never be able to afford a house. Where even in the less fashionable suburb of Sunnyvale, I’ve found myself contemplating taking on a roommate to help mitigate the costs of my small apartment. For perspective, if I re-signed the lease on my 900-square-foot, one bedroom apartment, that doesn't even have an in-unit washer or dryer, I would have been paying $2400 each month. Not including utilities. Imagine what it’s like trying to survive here on a “blue collar” salary. Or on minimum wage. There’s also the surprising degree of segregation in many neighborhoods (I’m always surprised when I see another black person at my local grocery store). And the level of drive here can sometimes feel manic, and obsessive.
But it has been a good home to me. And I have truly loved it – especially all of the wonderful friends I’ve made who have truly made the Bay my home. So while I am incredibly excited to start my next chapter in Los Angeles, and all of the new experiences, memories and growth that will come with it, there is a lot about this area that I will miss. In case you find yourself in this gorgeous neck of the woods, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite places, spaces, and things to get into. It would be impossible for me to cram all that the Bay Area has to offer into a single post, but consider these my highlights, and the things that I’m already looking forward to enjoying again on my next visit.
Brunch in SF:
Plow – Get the namesake breakfast. The lemon ricotta pancakes are downright heavenly. Arrive super early or super late, though, because they don’t take reservations and the wait gets insane. Or, put your name on the list and grab a coffee down the street at Farley’s.
Presidio Social Club – Delicious locally-sourced food (and tasty cocktails), located in a charming former military barracks in gorgeous Presidio National Park.
Brenda’s French Soul Food – Two words: beignet flight. Okay a few more words: options include Granny Smith apple, crawfish, and chocolate-filled pastries.
Zazie – Cozy French spot where the lengthy lines are worth it. This restaurant also has an adorable garden patio out back for when the weather is nice.
Foreign Cinema – Perfect for a truly memorable brunch, dinner, or any meal. The food is incredible, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more romantic restaurant in the city. As the name suggests, the restaurant also projects classic movies on a large screen in its outdoor space.
Off the Grid Presidio Picnic – Every Sunday during the warmer months, the Off the Grid folks (awesome roving food truck party) converges on the Presidio, where folks can plop their picnic blankets on the green, sample delicious food, sip a mimosa, and listen to live music while taking in sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Peninsula/South Bay Places:
Calafia Cafe – (Palo Alto) California fare in a warm, friendly atmosphere, just a hop, skip and a jump from Stanford’s stately campus.
Lure + Till – (Palo Alto) Rumor has it that this restaurant is slated to become a new Nobu location, but stop by while you can for the squid ink and lobster campanelle, and other regional flavors in this handsome restaurant.
Joya – (Palo Alto) Tasty modern latin tapas and a creative cocktail menu in a festive, vibrant location.
Nola – (Palo Alto) This place offers a great taste of New Orleans, from the cajun/creole/southern menu to the fun atmosphere to the design and decor of the restaurant and bar.
San Pedro Square Market – (San Jose) This great food hall provides something for everyone, including a variety of eats, drinks and outdoor seating.
East Bay Places (an area I spent an unfortunately limited amount of time in, hence the abbreviated list):
Beauty’s Bagel Shop – Amazing breakfast sandos, an assortment of delicious bagels and toppings, and a lively, colorful coffee shop vibe.
Mua Oakland – Love this place for dinner. Great drinks and small plates in a seriously fun atmosphere. DJs spin while you eat in this renovated industrial warehouse, covered in pieces from local artists.
Noir Lounge – Warm, jazz era-inspired wine bar with classic movies playing on big screens on the walls.
Fig & Thistle – This charming, adorable, neighborhood wine bar is excellent for a sweet and intimate first date or catching up with a couple of girlfriends. Imbibing here feels like grabbing a drink in a large, bright, warm living room.
Ferry Building Marketplace – Yes, you can actually catch a ferry here, but it’s also home to an awesome food hall and a fabulous farmers market. You can sample the wares from some of the best food merchants in SF here – Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread Company, Boccalone Salumeria, Blue Bottle Coffee, Humphry Slocombe, Miette Patisserie, Dandelion Chocolate and more. There’s also an awesome bookstore, Book Passage.
Azalea – I have a particular love for the Hayes Valley location of this highly-curated boutique, which offers a fantastic collection of totally current, cool girl (and guy) fashion, jewelry and beauty/skincare products (the other shop is in the Mission).
Books Inc. – I love this local independent chain of bookstores. The locations are always super warm and welcoming, with an excellent selection of books and magazines alike. I can always linger in these stores for hours.
Lavish Boutique – Yet another awesome Hayes Valley find :) This is perfect location to pick out a lovely/funny/witty greeting card, a gift for a friend, or your new favorite coffee table book.
Golden Gate Park – Whether you want to visit the de Young or California Academy of Sciences listed below, or are up for a stroll through a Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park is a wonderful place to spend a day. Even though you’re in the middle of the city, standing in this place transports you to a completely different world, full of culture and natural beauty.
Hiking Yoga – This awesome program gave me an entirely new perspective of my new home upon arriving in SF, and introduced me to one of my dearest friends. Imagine meeting at the clock tower of the abovementioned Ferry Building on a weekend morning, after grabbing a cup of Blue Bottle coffee. An instructor leads your small group of workout-cloud women and men through the hilly sidewalks of San Francisco at a comfortably brisk clip, pausing at beautiful gems of city parks to guide you through a a few blissful minutes of yoga before you continue on your way. I’ve taken in incredible views of the city that I’d never otherwise witness thanks to this group. The session culminates at a beautiful SF landmark, typically either Coit Tower or Grace Cathedral, before you head off to enjoy brunch in the city. It’s awesome.
SFMOMA – This newly renovated museum is a must-visit for all modern art fans.
de Young – Located in the center of Golden Gate Park, this fine art museum boasts an incredible, diverse collection and has hosted some of my all-time favorite exhibits, including the recent Oscar de la Renta exhibition.
California Academy of Sciences – Check out the adults-only, Thursday night Nightlife events. It’s a great way to revisit your inner child without worrying about tripping over actual children. But seriously, these weekly themed events featuring food, music and cocktails offers a unique way to enjoy this incredible museum, which sports a planetarium, aquarium, rainforest exhibit, and a natural history museum beneath a living roof.
Running “The Dish” – I love this paved walking/hiking/running trail in Palo Alto, named for the two prominent satellite dishes visitors pass along the way. The hilly trail offers beautiful views of the peninsula and Stanford, and you might even spot a few deer if you’re lucky.
Explore all of the Charming Downtowns on the Peninsula – Burlingame, San Carlos, Palo Alto...they’re all adorable, and offer lots of food, drink and shopping options.
I think this post calls for a part two :) There’s way too much awesome in the Bay Area to fit into one post.
See you in LA!