Steal this tip: the residents of the Sunset, a stalwart breed, know the secrets of the ever-changing atmosphere at Ocean Beach. On any given day, you can experience balmy breezes, violent surf, or near-Caribbean tranquility and sunshine a mere few feet away from urban San Francisco. Wet your feet, brave the dunes or wander along the paved footpath. It extends along five miles of beachfront on Great Highway from Sloat to Lincoln or past the Golden Gate Park toward Land’s End. Bring your sunglasses and layers for an unbeatable day of fun.
Start at the corner of Terrace and Portola and make your way into the manicured lawns of the St Francis Wood. This is San Fran’s version of Wonderland with sprawling gardens and some of the most visually inviting tree-lined streets the city has to offer. Enjoy the shade, the architecture of the mansions and the fair weather. This is a great spot for photo shoots since there’s lots of greenery and fewer cars than most neighborhoods.
Laidley Street hides one of the secret treasures of fog city with the plush stairwell, Harry Street. With more than 230 steps, (if you can count them without getting distracted by the outrageous foliage, more power to you) Harry Street in Glen Park is a gem. It explodes with color, greenery and uneven steps. You’ll get a solid work out. Head up toward Beacon and Diamond and back for a loop to see a little of everything.
Leaving Ocean Avenue can bring many joys as you abandon the dense traffic for the charming 1950s-styled houses of Ingleside Terraces. Start on Cerritos and walk downhill toward Urbano Drive, where the hillside will drop into view as you make the oval. Enjoy explosive gardens in bloom and the hush that is positively seductive.
Dolores Park with Downtown SF view | Courtesy of Edward Whitmore
18th Street in Mission Dolores is one of the chicest places to stroll, see and be seen. Over-the-top restaurants, gourmet delis, trendy cafes, Frisco-style ice cream and boutiques flank the promenade up to Dolores Park, which has been newly remodeled. It is one of the few places where the sun seems to always shine. Spend an afternoon eating all the goodies you picked up along the way on the grass in the park. Catch performances of all kinds, day or night.
Start at Russian Hill Park on Bay Street and stroll through the park to the Larkin Street exit. Continue two blocks south to Lombard, along or through George Sterling Park, until you get to the top of the twisty street that is a requirement when visiting San Francisco. While Lombard is a very popular street to drive down, the stairs along either side of the twisting roadway make this a fun place to walk and enjoy the gardens, architecture and general buzz of the area at any time of day.
Cortland Avenue street view with boutique | Courtesy of Edward Whitmore
An afternoon jaunt through Bernal Heights is a feast for your senses. Shops, boutiques, cafes and fine-dining intersect with colorful flowering gardens, steep narrow roads and sudden dirt paths. Brave the incline from Mission to earn your coffee at the top of Cortland. At Bocana, turn north into the woodsy area behind Bernal Hill. Follow the road to the peak for breathtaking city views.
From the elegant domed building of San Francisco City Hall to the Asian Art Museum, the Opera House and the Civic Center Plaza, Mid Market is energetic, fun and absolutely gorgeous. Watch where you’re stepping and take in the public art of permanent statues and temporary exhibits as you tour Franklin, Grove, Larkin and McAllister. Catch the Civic Center Farmer’s Market and the Gourmet food trucks for good food while you’re pounding the pavement.
There’s quite a bit to see and do as you walk along Beach Street to Bay Street toward Fort Mason. If you don’t mind bay breezes and jostling crowds, start on Hyde and keep going until you get to Fort Mason. Have lunch in the park or take in the sights at the Marina. If the water and people don’t get your attention, the architecture will.
Hilltop view from Potrero Hill | Courtesy of Edward Whitmore
The hilltop garden on Vermont and 20th Streets is an apex of our city’s big skyline views if you’re on foot. Giant hills and wide streets provide an invitation to stand and gape. Hoof it to low ground past the Victorian beauties to Mariposa and Jackson Playground for a rest. Surrounded by bars, restaurants and trendy big-front shops, it’s easy to stick around for the whole day. Potrero Hill is still developing, but her vistas are well-established for those in the know.