San Francisco is a city of hills and fog, immigrants and innovation, the Gold Rush and gay rights. Geographically, the city is only seven miles wide, but one weekend is barely time enough to take in what this city by the bay has to offer.
Despite the famously extreme elevation changes, San Francisco is a walkable city with an easy-to-understand public transportation system, as well as ride sharing apps and bike rentals. No matter what time of year you visit, it’s always a good idea to pack a sweater.
Saturday: Get Out There
The best way to start the weekend is with a sweet treat, and B Patisserie in lower Pacific Heights has just the thing. The Breton cake called kouign amann (pronounced queen ah-man) is the pastry to try, with its sweet, crispy layers.
Just around the corner on Divisadero is Atelier Yarns, a jewel box of a shop that has been in business for over 25 years.
There’s a lot of beautiful yarn displayed in a small footprint, with many unusual yarns, like handspun cashmere from Tanglewood Yarn Creations.
Up and over Divisadero drops you into the Marina. The large domed structure is the Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. But most visitors only have eyes for the Golden Gate Bridge.
My favorite views are from Crissy Field. Walking along the path between the bay and restored wetlands takes you to bathrooms, and a concession stand called the Warming Hut. There’s a steep climb up to the bridge on the Battery East Trail, or you can walk to Fort Point at the base of the bridge.
After all that exertion, follow Marina Boulevard over to Fort Mason and visit Greens for a delicious vegetarian meal with a view. Alternatively, on Friday evenings from March to October, you can sample a host of gourmet food truck offerings at Off The Grid. Just remember to bring a scarf for the outdoor venue (or knit one up quickly)!
A great way to experience any city is to a visit a market. The Ferry Building farmer’s market is the place to be on a Saturday morning. Stalls sell seasonal produce, as well as locally produced jams, honey, and flowers. Inside the Ferry Building are restaurants and stores, where you can grab a coffee and wander, or sit down for brunch.
While the city is known for cable cars, riding on one can often mean waiting in a very long line. A nice alternative is the fleet of vintage streetcars that run along the Embarcadero and up Market Street. You might ride the orange tram from Milan, or a restored streetcar from Kansas City. It makes for slower going than the subway line, but you can enjoy the sights while you knit.
From the Ferry Building, take the F Market to the end of the line at Castro. Walk down Castro Street and make a quick stop at Cliff’s Variety. The store is divided into hardware and craft sections, each with separate entrances, but the variety in the name should be taken most literally. It’s a terrific place to browse and pick up a souvenir or two.
Consider Cliff’s modest collection of yarn and fabric an amuse-bouche for the main course of ImagiKnit, at the corner of 18th Street and Sanchez.
ImagiKnit is Aladdin’s cave, but with yarn. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves brimming with yarn. Fortunately they also have numerous couches for first-time visitors to sit down and recover themselves.
The store has two rooms, one for plant fibers and one for animal fibers, with a sale section in the back.
After all that yarn, continue on 18th Street, past the impressive facade of Mission High School, and Dolores Park. On a sunny day the park is jammed with people, but if you walk up to 19th Street just above the playground, you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of the city.
Walk back down to 18th Street to find Bi-Rite Creamery which is famous for its salted caramel and for long lines on the weekend. Usually the soft serve window isn’t as crowded, but the selection is limited to the two daily flavors.
Stroll with your cone into the Mission, one of my favorite neighborhoods.
Vibrant street art is all over, but is most concentrated in Sycamore, Clarion, and Balmy Alleys.
You can find a map detailing the locations at Precita Eyes Mural Center on 24th Street. The Mission is rich in taquerias and restaurants, so finding somewhere to enjoy dinner Saturday night won’t be a problem.
Sunday: Tired Feet Be Damned
Start your lazy Sunday with a cappuccino in North Beach. This neighborhood is San Francisco’s version of Little Italy, with cafes around the central Washington Square.
Wander down Columbus to City Lights Bookstore, a literary institution since 1953, and publisher of Beat poets like Alan Ginsburg and Diane di Prima.
Walk up Pacific Avenue, through an area known as the Barbary Coast. This was the rowdy part of town in the 1850s. Sailors and prospectors frequented the dance halls, saloons, and bordellos. Nowadays it’s part of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the largest in the country. Skip the touristy Grant Avenue in favor of the many side streets. Stop into a bakery for an egg tart or find freshly made fortune cookies in Ross Alley.
San Francisco’s small neighborhoods flow into one another. Nestled at the base of Nob Hill is the Cable Car Museum and depot. You can visit the underground powerhouse, where large engines turn the continuously running cable which runs in the center track to pull the cars up the hills. There are cable car stops for two lines right outside the museum. If you’re determined to hop on one, the fare is seven dollars; you must have cash to pay the conductor.
Walking back through Chinatown leads into Union Square. This is the downtown shopping hub with big chains and splashy outposts of major brands. Duck down Post Street to the new location of Britex Fabrics.
Although there isn’t any yarn at Britex, they certainly have wool, and it’s worth a stop to admire the wall of brightly colored fabric bolts.
Upstairs boasts an equally impressive collection of buttons and trims in the notions department. Around the corner between Sutter and Bush, tucked into a lane of the same name is the French bistro, Cafe Claude. Sip a glass of wine and enjoy a cheese plate to recoup after a full day.
If you still have the energy, head back to the Ferry Building and take in the Bay Lights, a light installation on the Bay Bridge by Leo Villareal.
Across the water in Oakland and Berkeley, there is more to explore. Stay tuned for the next episode!