Tourists flock to San Francisco and are easily spotted riding the Powell-Hyde cable car line, loitering on every corner of Fisherman’s Wharf, and trudging the thigh-busting streets of Chinatown. Like all tourists, I can be picked out of the crowd, sporting my camera and snapping pictures of just about anything that moves. Unlike the typical San Fran visitor, however, I’m on a relentless hunt for the local haunts—the neighborhoods that boast unique boutiques, exceptional eateries, and distinctive encounters that leave you wanting to move in and truly mix with the locals.
On our latest trip, I stumbled upon my dream hood—The Mission District. Anchored firmly by Valencia Street, The Mission is home to the outrageously funky and the down-right delicious. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Little Otsu (LO): Oh, little LO, my small press shop…my inspiration…my muse. From your gumball machine that churns out artist-made buttons to your soy-based ink and “tree-free” diaries, I can’t seem to get enough. LO collaborates with artists and designers to deliver zines, drawings, crafts, and any other one-of-a-kind oddity that brings out your DIY-spirit, inspires creative gift giving, and makes you wonder why you spend so much time and money on the big box stores. Details: www.littleotsu.com
Paxton Gate: What’s more fun than a marriage of taxidermy and carnivorous plants? The answer: Paxton Gate. This shop manages to weave the macabre and morose (glass eyes, bone jewelry) with the hauntingly beautiful (resurrection ferns and an extraordinary orchid collection). It’s a museum, a side-show, and a botanic garden rolled into one and perhaps the easiest way to kill an afternoon. Details: www.paxtongate.com
Dosa: Working up an appetite? Follow your nose to Dosa—The Mission’s award-winning Southern Indian cuisine. Dosa’s warm atmosphere serves as the perfect backdrop for this spicy comfort food. Specialties that keep you wanting for more include roasted rice crepes and pancakes, lovingly stewed lentils and veggies, and freshly, complex chutneys. Details: www.dosasf.com
Bi-Rite Creamery: A few blocks off Valencia’s main drag, find artisanal ice cream that can transform the dessert-averse into a raging fan. Each dip is made from organic, local ingredients (some from their own farm) and draws from a rich-palate of flavors. Along side some delicious standards, try an orange cardamom, double ginger, honey lavender, or salted caramel cone. Don’t be daunted by the long lines—one lick is worth the wait. Details: www.biritecreamery.com
Other more-than-honorable mentions include Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia’s pirate shop and writing center (www.826valencia.org); Dema Grim’s “twisted classics” clothing line (www.godemago.com); Ritual Coffee Roasters for the ultimate cup of foam-kissed locally roasted joe (www.ritualroasters.com); and Dog Eared Books for an eclectic selection of music, mags, and reads (www.dogearedbooks.com).