Mention the words Haight-Ashbury and members of a certain generation will either sigh with nostalgic longing or groan in exasperation. But once the crowds had tuned out, turned off and dropped back in again, the neighborhood resumed duty as one of the most liveable in San Francisco, with a high concentration of Victorian houses, many of them painstakingly restored and elaborately painted. The Haight, of course, was the epicenter of hippie culture in the 1960s (the word hippie is said to have derived from a derogatory beatnik term meaning “little hipster”). While the stretch of upper Haight Street between Masonic and Stanyan Streets still clings dreamily to its past, a younger, more progressive contingent has migrated down the hill to Lower Haight. The area’s main intersection is at Haight and Fillmore Streets, where trendy shops, tattoo parlors, funky bars and ethnic eateries radiate in all directions.
The Western Addition was not only the city’s first suburb, but also its first multicultural neighborhood. Mapped out in the 1860s to accommodate the post-Gold Rush population boom, the area was home to a thriving Jewish community in the 1890s. After the 1906 earthquake, the Fillmore District, the area’s heart, sprang to life as displaced residents, many of them Japanese, began arriving. A wave of black southerners migrating west for work followed the Japanese (many of the latter were sent to internment camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor). In the 1940s and ’50s, the Fillmore became known as the “Harlem of the West” as jazz and blues musicians thrived in the area, but in the 1960s, it was deemed a slum by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and torn apart under the guise of urban renewal. While it’s never fully recovered, the Fillmore is slowly regenerating with new music venues and restaurants—though the opening of the state-of-the-art SFJAZZ Center in nearby Hayes Valley has shifted the scene eastwards. Across Geary Street, three commercial blocks and a compound-like mall packed with noodle and sushi restaurants and alluring J-Pop shops comprise Japantown, which is also the location of Robert Redford’s flagship Sundance Kabuki cinema.
Southwest of Japantown, Hayes Valley was literally overshadowed by the Central Freeway for years, until irreparable damage from the 1989 earthquake brought about the roadway’s demolition and transformed the neighborhood into one of the hippest and liveliest shopping and dining destinations in town.
Things to do in The Haight, Western Addition and Hayes Valley
Purchased in 2006 by Robert Redford's independent Sundance Cinemas, the complex contains cafés and a full bar—you can even enjoy beer, wine and cocktails during certain screenings. The Sundance Kabuki also serves as the main venue for the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Restaurants and bars in The Haight, Western Addition and Hayes Valley
With an extensive menu of complex cocktails and an interior worthy of a movie set, it's not hard to understand why Smuggler's Cove is one of the most lauded tiki bars in the world. Patrons plunge straight into a pirate fantasy as they gaze at the three-story interior bedecked with a ship's bow, large anchors, mermaid carvings and even a waterfall. But the fanciful decor belies a sophisticated cocktail program. The hefty drinks list, contained in a thick binder, showcases traditional Caribbean libations and specialty creations from other famous tiki bars. Bartenders expertly mix, shake and blend the satisfyingly sweet and fruity concoctions using a stunning array of fresh ingredients—as many as a dozen in a single drink—and spirits that include seriously boozy overproof rum. Alongside the classics are lesser-known delights like the Batida (coconut cream, fresh passion fruit puree and condensed milk blended with the Brazilian sugarcane spirit cachaça) and the Tradewinds (a deceptively sweet drink made with two types of rum, apricot liqueur and coconut cream). Parties of ten or more can opt for punch bowls (some theatrically set alight), which come with two-foot-long straws to sip from your seat. The Cove also offers a serious selection of more than 200 rums. Regulars may choose to sign up for the Rumbustion Society, a punch card program that will help you chart your exploration of the spirit. Members who try at least 100 rums become Guardians of the Cove, earning a plaque, a me
One of the most exciting new restaurants to open in the past couple of years in a town full of exciting new restaurants, Rich Table melds San Francisco's famed farm-to-table credentials with a marvelous mélange of unique flavors and ingredients. Adding to the buzz is a location in the heart of Hayes Valley, a stone's throw from the Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall and the SFJAZZ Center. Starters such as house-made wild fennel levain bread, delicate sardine chips with horseradish dip, and dried porcini doughnuts will make you wonder why no one thought of these dishes before. Main courses change constantly according to what's on market, ranging from pasta with Dungeness crab and sea urchin to black cod with mustard greens, mango and chanterelles. Reservations, as you'd expect, are worth their weight in gold, and can be made as far as 30 days in advance.
Love it or mock it, this modern minimalist coffeehouse-bakery is perhaps the ultimate SF hipster café, combining expertly sourced, roasted and brewed small-batch coffee with a bakery that turns out loaves of Josey Baker’s (his real name) sumptuous sour wheat, country, rye and Wonder breads. You’ll need the wait in line to ponder what to order from the bearded barista at the counter. But whether you choose pour-over decaf Ethiopia Hunda Oli or Colombia Andino single-origin espresso, accompany it with a thick, chewy slab of toast, slathered with toppings ranging from almond butter with Maldon sea salt to cinnamon sugar and cream cheese with honey.
The fooderati's current “it” restaurant, Michelin-starred State Bird Provisions has garnered such a cult following, it has foodie hackers trying to game the online reservation system. For those without a programming degree, getting there early (5:30pm) is your best bet for snagging one of the coveted spots—including seats at the chef's counter—that are set aside for walk-ins. The menu is divided into Provisions, Pancakes, and Commandables—the latter two served as a la carte items, such as the signature CA State Bird (crispy fried quail with pickled sautéed onions) and sourdough pancakes with sauerkraut, pecorino and ricotta. But the real fun comes with the Provisions—nightly dim sum–style rolling carts, where dish after dish of inventive small bites emerge from the kitchen, from duck liver mousse with almond cakes to smoked trout-avocado “chip & dip”.
After more than 30 years, Zuni has developed a dedicated following as a destination restaurant that's on a par with Berkeley's Chez Panisse. One of a handful of restaurants that helped define San Francisco's fresh, seasonal and regional style back in the 1980s, it's still considered one of the best in the city. There's simply no equal for Zuni's signature Caesar salad and brick-oven roasted chicken for two. The French- and Italian-inspired cuisine also includes a fabulous burger, fresh pasta and, at lunch, heavenly pizzettas. The art-filled space comprises four separate dining rooms and can be quite a scene before and after symphony and opera events.
Thin rice and lentil crepes and flatbreads (dosas and uttapams) stuffed and topped with everything from sweet potatoes and chickpea masala to spicy potatoes, fennel and spinach are the focus of this southern Indian eatery. Their slightly more upscale Mission location has been augmented with a larger space in the Fillmore District, which packs in theater and nightlife crowds into the late hours. In addition to dosas, the restaurant offers a wide array of chaat, small plates, and curries.
A offshoot of the popular, acclaimed NoPa restaurant, Nopalito offers authentic, from-scratch Mexican cooking made with local, sustainable and organic ingredients. This is the antithesis of slapped-together street food. Dishes are carefully composed with subtle flavors to create deliciously complex interpretations of traditional Mexican meals: Carnitas is slow-cooked and braised in orange, bay leaf, milk, cinnamon and beer; Mole Coloradito con Pollo is made with toasted chiles, almonds, Ibarra chocolate, dried plums and a huge array of spices. Don't miss any version of tangy, tender nopales (cactus leaves), frequently on the menu in the form of tamales or in dishes such as Queso Flameado con Chorizo y Nopales (flamed Oaxacan and jack cheese with grilled cactus and chorizo).
Tonkatsu—broth made from pork bones cooked for 20 hours—and house-made ramen noodles topped with chashu (thin-sliced pork), bamboo shoots, marinated eggs, pork belly strips and other delicacies, are the hallmark of this immensely popular LA transplant, set on the second floor of the Japantown Center complex. The menu looks deceptively simple, but the complexity of flavors in their soups is anything but. Try the level 1-2-3 spicy or the Yamadaya. There's also an extensive sushi menu and bento box meals with karaage chicken and katsu curry.
Isobune may not garner top honors among critics, but it's undoubtedly the most entertaining sushi spot in the city. The original sushi boat restaurant opened in 1982, delivering high quality, affordable sushi to diners via dishes set on small wooden boats that circulate on a canal around the bar. The tradition continues in the Japan Center mall, where you'll find boisterous crowds plucking plates of colorful sushi creations out of the water and toasting the chefs with shots of sake. Each plate pattern has a different price and the plates are tallied at the end of your meal. This is a great place to introduce kids and novices to the splendors of sushi.
Be sure to book in advance at Thep Phanom—and once you're there, be sure to order the tom ka gai (coconut chicken soup) as a starter. The “angel wings”—fried chicken wings stuffed with glass noodles, grilled prawns stuffed with crabmeat, and prawn and pumpkin curry—are universally popular choices. After more than 25 years, chef Pat Parikanont's neighborhood fave is still going strong, often touted as one of the top Thai restaurants in San Francisco.
This beautiful, whimsically designed restaurant (it's meant to resemble an overturned champagne glass) is one of the best high-dollar special-occasion establishments in the city. Located a short walk from Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera House, it delivers a menu as opulent as the decor. Chef Traci Des Jardins continues to seek out the best local ingredients for a menu that features caviar, oysters, black truffles, duck breast confit, diver scallops, and bacon-wrapped rabbit. For an extra-special occasion, spring for the prix fixe menu with wine pairings—and the cheese course. The wine list includes an extensive selection of champagne and sparkling wines.
Music and nightlife in The Haight, Western Addition and Hayes Valley
San Francisco finally got the jazz hub it deserves with the 2013 opening of this $64 million center, the first standalone venue in America built with the musical genre in mind. The SFJAZZ Center comes complete with state-of-the-art sound designed by Meyer Sound Laboratories and a rustic Mexican restaurant from acclaimed chef/restaurateur Charles Phan. Now SFJAZZ has an appropriately majestic headquarters for the annual music festival it has produced since 1983 as well as a home for world-class performances not only in the jazz realm, but also for global music in its many forms.
The 1,200-capacity Fillmore was built in 1912, but is better known as the stage from which Bill Graham launched his rock-promotion empire and the 1960s "San Francisco Sound" with bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The venue later changed hands several times and became a private neighborhood club and a punk spot in the '70s and '80s before reopening in the '90s and establishing itself as the powerhouse it is today. The performers who play here tend to be on the verge of megastardom or already at its apex and reaching back for the intimacy that only this legendary room can provide.
There are no frills at this venerable black box apart from a stellar sound and light system—it's all about the music here. The Independent has always showcased a wide variety of sounds from self-made artists; the calendar is filled with a mix of touring rock, pop, metal, rap, jazz, Americana, jam and otherwise undefinable acts such as Madlib, Sunn 0))), the Boredoms, Fiery Furnaces, High on Fire and Lyrics Born. The lineups and genres are unpredictable and change from night to night, but you'll always have a prime view of the stage at this intimate 500-person venue.
Shopping in The Haight, Western Addition and Hayes Valley
Don't let the neon sign reading “Meat Locker” dissuade you: This is one of the best vintage stores on the Haight's row. It stands apart for its generous size (no squeezing among packed racks here), and refreshing organization. The store's wares are cataloged like a library, whether you're looking for retro jumpsuits, pillbox hats, naval uniforms, fur coats or letterman jackets. While other vintage stores are apt to heap an armful of dresses onto the same rack, here they're divided into discerning subsections: long '80s prom, hippie chic, '70s disco and Victorian among them. The store is loosely arranged from casual to formal, with tie-dyed and graphic tees up front and blazers, suits and gowns in the back. Two giant stands hold retro hats, and the tall shoe racks are rife with cowboy and riding boots.
This colorful shop is located at the apex of the cooler-by-the-day NoPa neighborhood, a stone's throw from the Mill (that of the famous $4 toast, not to be confused with the women's clothing shop), locavore grocer Bi-Rite, perennial brunch fixture Nopa and Alamo Square. Since 2011, the store has been headed up by Giselle Gyalzen, who has a particular penchant for handcrafted, thoughtfully designed and eminently giftable goods. That haul includes affordable art prints, ceramics and tableware, gourmet foodstuffs, locally designed jewelry, beauty products, design tomes and kids' toys. (Plus, several twirling racks filled with letterpress cards for topping off impromptu gifts.) The space also doubles as a gallery, with a focus on Bay Area–based illustrators and screen-printers. Take a spin through the store after brunch, then stroll through the Divisadero Farmers' Market, which unfurls every Sunday just across the street
This cheery bookstore near Golden Gate Park offers a welcome respite from the head shops and tie-dye tourist traps along Haight Street. Owner Christin Evans also runs Arts & Letters, Berkeley's author event program, and Booksmith is known for hosting a full schedule of readings, signings, and book parties. (In particular, it's lauded for the Shipwreck series the first Thursday of every month, wherein six writers rewrite cult classic books for comedic effect.) Thoughtful staff recommendations are scattered liberally throughout the shelves, each including a short reader's pitch. This is a bookstore that goes above and beyond in a number of categories, whether it's the expansive kids section, hard-to-find international magazine editions, or the beautiful range of coffee table tomes. But locals swear by the customer service. If for some reason they don't have what you're looking for—a rarity—they'll order it on the spot and call you in a day or two when it arrives.
This is an unparalleled boudoir for Bettie Page fetishists and wannabes, filled with pin-up inspired lingerie from the '30s to '60s. The voluptuous mannequins are draped in silk, satin and lace; you'll find no itchy polyester or garish rhinestones here. Though the bulk of the merchandise consists of peek-a-boo bras, panties and vintage slips, you'll find all manner of alluring extras, including tassels, garters, corsets, lace thigh-highs, girdles and feathered toys. The sizing flatters women of all sizes, from A- to G-cups. Forget Spanx: Bettie packs the largest array of vintage shapewear in the city, from waist-cinchers (for faking that hourglass figure) to girdles. In addition to dead-stock vintage attire, the shop also carries pin-up inspired styles from contemporary brands like Mary Green, What Katie Did, and Felina & Jezebel. If you fall for the Dita Von Teese aesthetic, check out Dollhouse Bettie's sister store down the block, Bettie Page, where you'll find retro frocks to complement your new underthings.
You wouldn't be the first shop visitor to fantasize about wrapping yourself in a Pendleton throw, settling into the broken-in leather armchair and never having to leave. This gift and home-furnishings shop is the brainchild of prop stylist Rod Hipskind and photographer Kelly Ishikawa. As one might expect, every surface and nook is impeccably styled. The vibe is rustic and nautical-cool, from the anchor motif to the collection of vintage typewriters. (Browsers are encouraged to type a short note on the blank pages supplied.) The goods include housewares, home decor, ceramics, jewelry and industrial-era décor arranged throughout the moodily lit space to artful effect. The back area contains the SF outpost for Oakland-based kitchen and barware shop Umami Mart, where you can peruse Japanese imports and gold-plated cocktail shakers, shatter-resistant highball glasses, exotically flavored bitters and beautiful ceramic cookware.
If Unionmade is the gold standard for the stylish SF guy, Welcome Stranger is a little more rugged. It's a store for the outdoorsy guy that wants to look put-together, but not like he's trying too hard. The clothes are scattered among vintage trunks and camping equipment, adding to the urban woodsman feel. The emphasis is on fit and functionality, with finds like Jungmaven T-shirts, APC jeans, Zig-Zag shoes, and Barbour waxed canvas jackets—plus accoutrements like Otter Wax to make your leather and suede last. This is a great spot for affordable eyewear from brands like Capital and Westward Leaning, especially since the demise of Warby Parker in nearby NoPa. The store clerks are unobtrusive—more of a friendly “hey, man,” greeting than a “what are you looking for?” pounce—but are knowledgeable about fabric, fit and styling. The shoppers here may not care about capital-F Fashion, but they still look stylish as hell.
Acrimony owner and buyer Jenny Chung has a distinct point of view—you're not going to walk into her store and find yet another iteration of the A-line floral dresses and chambray button-downs that are de rigueur at every other store. She relishes being the first to introduce her fashion-savvy regulars to a brand. That means annual trips to Scandinavia and the Netherlands to scout the latest collections from labels like Second Female, Ann-Sofie Back, and Henrik Vibskov. You'll find all the perennial runway trends with a twist here, whether playful prints, color blocking, or cutouts. The accessories are worth the trip alone, including Super sunglasses and standout, stackable jewelry. (If you're a fan of the baubles, check out Chung's Russian Hill sister store, No. 3.)
In existence since 1981, Cookin' is the holy grail of vintage cookware, catering to esteemed Bay Area chefs as well as budget-conscious home cooks. Owner Judy Kaminsky collects much of her store's stash in the flea markets of France and supplements the Parisian wares at thrift stores and estate sales around the Bay Area. The assortment includes cast-iron pots and pans (including colorful enameled pots and Dutch ovens by Le Creuset), kitschy cake stands and baking accessories, barware, servers and dishes. It's akin to a more storied, less sterile Sur la Table. You'd be hard-pressed to name a kitchen tool that you can't find here, though you may need to do some delicate digging to find it. Though Kaminsky, who lives upstairs and often mans the register, may come off more cranky than charming, regulars consider her a local legend.
It's indicative of the sought-after shoes here that Gimme maintains two Hayes Valley stores less than a block away from one another and that both are perpetually packed. Located amid Hayes Street's bustling restaurants and bars, it's a regular post-brunch stop for locals and an easy time killer while waiting for a table for dinner. The mini-chain offers a range of hard-to-find brands for women and men, from international labels (Coclico, Repetto, Chie Mihara, Costume National among them) to homegrown designers like Rag + Bone, Loeffler Randall and Jeffrey Campbell. In fact, Gimme was among the first Bay Area stores to import European labels like YMC, Dries Van Noten, and Veronique Branquinho. Though many of the shoes here are splurges, locals keep tabs on the sale nook in back, where past-season styles are marked up to 60 percent off.
The beautifully styled window displays here lure tie-dye swathed tourists and neighborhood regulars alike: a fur-lined tartan coat one week, a crinoline-lined belted '50s dress the next, a World War II uniform—all surrounded by dated treasures and knickknacks. The shop is shoebox sized, but well stocked with finds from the '40s to the '70s: winter coats (wool and fur), cropped jackets, '50s skirts and dresses, and old fraternity garb. Netted, feathered and felt hats are draped across antique mannequin heads, and beaded clutches glint from the shelves. A bureau up front bears vintage postcards and vintage photos, costume jewelry and antique bottles and decanters. In the late summer months leading up to Burning Man, the assortment takes on a bit of a Steampunk air, punctuated with feathers, fur, Victorian ruffles and leather.