1. Its street art
You can’t go to San Francisco and not stand in awe of the breathtaking graffiti and murals that abound the city. Even if you’re not really into the whole art thing, it’s still imperative that you at least take the time to appreciate these artists’ dedication not only to their craft, but to their city and culture as well. The best place to go see all the amazingness is the Mission District (aka The Mission) neighborhood.
Known for its rich Latino history, The Mission is home to several Latino cultural and artistic establishments, many of which were created back in the 60s and 70s in the midst of the social renaissance in San Francisco. One of the most jaw-dropping pieces of street art in The Mission is the MaestraPeace Mural on the walls of The Women’s Building on 18th Street, which was made in 1994. Definitely a site for sore eyes!
Other great places to go in The Mission for graffiti are Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley.
2. Its insanely delicious food
If you’re in the mood for some Central American grub, go to La Santaneca De La Mission restaurant in The Mission. Not only does it have the best papusas (pictured above) known to man, but its prices can’t be beat: a tasty, fulfilling meal won’t cost you more than $6. Nothing better than cheap and good eats!
For those of you who can’t get enough of Southern comfort food, hit up Gussie’s Chicken and Waffles in the Western Addition neighborhood. While the prices aren’t as cheap as La Santaneca, their signature meal more than makes up for it. The combo of their succulent fried chicken, melt-in-your-mouth waffles, butter that’s so effin’ good that you could eat it on its own (although you’d probably get weird stares and suffer from a mild heart attack) and maple syrup that might as well be drinkable (more stares, less heart attack and possible diabetes) will have you salivating even after you’re finished.
3. Its gay culture
You haven’t lived unless you’ve crossed ‘Go to The Castro’ off your bucket list (and it should be on your bucket list, FYI). From peculiar sex toy shops to men walking around completely naked, this neighborhood will keep you on your toes.
But before The Castro became one of the world’s top gay destinations, it was known as a predominately Irish, working-class neighborhood in the 1930s. Thanks to the hippie movements of the mid-1960s, it was transformed into the vibrant place that it is today.
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in California, is definitely the area’s most well-known resident. He aided in the breakdown of several social barriers and was the flagship of gay rights during his time in office in 1978. But no need for a full-blown history lesson here: if you want a glimpse inside the hero’s life, go to Harvey’s restaurant on Castro Street. There, you’ll see several photos of Harvey with friends and colleagues and also some of the many protests and campaigns that he led throughout the city. It’s worth noting that the restaurant’s mission is to keep Harvey’s legacy alive through charity work and staying involved with countless causes throughout the country.
Another cool spot that’s a bit different than Harvey’s but still just as interesting is Hot Cookie, a cookie shop on Castro. This joint makes one helluva sweet treat, but it’s known most for its penis-shaped, chocolate-covered macaroon cookie. Yep, you read that correctly. Sure, it’ll set you back nearly $7, but the novelty of it all is definitely worth it.
4. The most crookedest street in the world is there
The route of Lombard Street spans a few different San Franciscan neighborhoods, but that’s not the cool part: a section of this street consists of a one-way block that contains eight absurdly sharp turns. These turns have become world-famous and have been featured and illustrated in films and many popular TV shows. Try not to come down with a bad case of motion sickness while conquering this bad boy.
5. The Haight-Ashbury district
Haigh-Ashbury is where all the cool kids go to be, well, cool. You can’t blame them, though; it’s a very eclectic part of San Fran and has some of the quirkiest and unique shops in the country. Like The Castro and The Mission, this district has a very rich history and eye-catching aesthetic. Not only are many of the homes boldly colored and architecturally beautiful—-the Painted Ladies Victorian style is a trademark here—-but the various independently-owned coffee shops, book and music stores and vintage shops on Haight Street all aid in maintaining the neighborhood’s “come one, come all” vibe.
6. Alcatraz. ALCATRAZ!
Amidst all the great oddities that make up San Fran is the island of Alcatraz, located in the San Francisco Bay. The island is home to arguably the most bad-ass prison in the history of prisondom, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. From 1933-1963, some of America’s most dangerous criminals did their time here, including George “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger and Al Capone. If you know anything about these guys, you know they’re the real deal. Why not pay a visit to their old chill spot?