The Low Down
Located in the heart of the city, this bustling neighborhood was once overshadowed by a freeway but is now one of San Francisco’s liveliest urban hubs. There’s plenty of shopping, eating, and drinking to be done so make sure to give yourself a full day to explore.
One thing is for sure: you’ve got a lot of options. Here are our top three, but you really can’t go wrong just roaming around the neighborhood.
For Breakfast: 20th Century Café serves up delicious house-made bagels, poppyseed babka, Russian honey cake and more fresh pastries on dainty china that adds to the tea party feel. But don’t worry, the coffee is just as on point. 198 Gough Street; (415) 621-2380
For Lunch: Your midday meal should be fast, casual and absolutely delicious. Souvla is all those things. It’s an order at the counter joint where you can choose between sandwich or salad versions of souvlaki (chicken, lamb, pork or veggies). Even if you order a salad, get the fries. They’re perfectly crispy and topped with fresh herbs and just a tiny bit of salty cheese—they pair well with everything. The best part? It’s smack dab in the middle of all the shops, perfectly situated for a little refueling. There may be a line, but don’t be dismayed. It moves fast and they turn tables quickly. Don’t forget to grab a frozen yogurt on your way out the door—the baklava is a crowd favorite but the olive oil and salt will surprise you in the best kind of way. 517 Hayes Street; (415) 400-5448
For Dinner: Husband and wife duo Evan and Sarah Rich are at the helm at their passion project, Rich Table. Come for the dried porcini mushroom doughnuts, stay for fresh pasta dishes loaded with farm fresh ingredients like spaghetti with caramelized onions and aged beef. The food is delicious and it’s a popular spot with the opera crowd, so you’d do well to make a reservation well in advance, otherwise you’re looking at a long wait. 199 Gough St.; (415) 355-9085
You want to go shopping? Just stroll down Hayes Street. But just know that it’ll probably take you a few hours to get through four blocks. Here are our can’t-miss picks.
For Women: To find that effortless San Francisco style, head to Azalea Boutique. It’s full of billowy floral dresses in the summer and cozy, baggy sweaters in the winter. The clothes are both edgy and unique but also insanely comfortable (because if San Franciscans are nothing else, we’re at least comfortable). 411 Hayes Street; (415) 861-9888
For Men: The name says it all: Welcome Stranger is the perfect men’s boutique. You’ll find beanies, flannels, travel suitcases and quality backpacks, as well as a few masculine home goods. The staff is always friendly and ready to chat or help you find the exact khaki short you may be looking for. 460 Gough Street; (415) 864-2079
For Everyone: Usually, shopping for tee shirts is something you can leave for doing at home. But we recommend you go a little crazy at Marine Layer. These are some of the softest, most comfortable tees you’ll ever find and they have deals that make buying more than one worth your while. They’ve also got great blouses, workout gear, and dress shirts so you can always be comfortable. 498 Hayes Street; (415) 829-7519
For Interiors: If you enjoy looking at pretty things, stop by Maker & Moss. Its entrance looks like an artist studio and the store definitely has that feel. It’s full of unique pieces from local artists that run from purely decorative to beautifully crafted chairs and furniture. Take some extra time to admire the laser cut wood geographic maps of bays around the country.
After all that eating shopping, it’s time to unwind. Here are three places that will cater to exactly what you’re looking for.
For Cocktails: For a serious mixture, squeeze into Two Sisters Bar and Books. This little hole-in-the-wall packs some serious punch. Cocktails are scrolled on the mirror above the bar, but it’s probably easiest to just grab a menu and read from there. The winter mulled wine is a favorite, but the chamomile old fashion is a mainstay. It will be crowded, so don’t expect a seat right off the bat unless you arrive early. 579 Hayes Street; (415) 863-3655
For Beer: The Biergarten is always packed but in the best kind of way. Large wooden communal tables make it easy to get to know your neighbors over a hefty mug of Bavarian lager. Order beer and food at the front and snuggle under a felt blanket if the fog happens to be rolling in. 424 Octavia Street; (415) 252-9289
For Wine: Tucked in an alleyway off of Gough Street, Fig & Thistle is a wine lover’s oasis. With a curated list of glasses to choose from and a knowledgeable staff who’s more than happy to walk through the list with you, you’ll find your perfect glass of pinot in no time. Not a fan of wine? They’ve also got plenty of ciders and beers for you to test too. 313 Ivy Street; (415) 589-7005
Did we mention this neighborhood is one of the hubs of SF culture?
For Music: The new SFJazz Center is a hot ticket for a weekend show. The state-of-the-art venue hosts jazz legends like Hugh Masekela and up-and-coming artists like Kasami Washington or the Grammy winners Snarky Puppy in an intimate setting. Tickets sell out in advance, so check the calendar to see who will be in town when you are too. 201 Franklin Street; (866) 920-5299
For Theater: Whether you’re looking for a hilarious Christmas pageant or for a heavy discussion of world affairs, The Nourse Theater is your go-to. Home to the Gay Men’s Chorus, the theater hosts their raucous Christmas show as well as their performances throughout the year. But it also hosts City Arts & Lectures, a lecture series that is constantly bringing relevant speakers to town like author Jeffrey Tobin, comedian Abbi Jacobson and artist Marina Abramovic. 275 Hayes Street
For Everything: Back when the neighborhood was first being re-developed post-freeway tear down, the block on Hayes and Octavia was basically empty. It has since become the neighborhood’s heart and soul: the Proxy. Here you’ll find movie nights on the walk-in movie theater, workout classes and community events like the annual kick off to the SF Jazz Festival, which takes place in June. Hayes & Octavia Streets
Sandwiched between the Civic Center, Alamo Square, and the Fillmore District. Accessible by many forms of public transit. Bart’s Civic Center station is just a few blocks away while the Muni light rail Van Ness Station is the neighborhood’s main transit hub.
Back when the Ohlone tribe were the city’s only inhabitants, Hayes Valley had a creek that would flow every winter and yield plenty of wildflowers come spring. By the time the Gold Rush rolled around, it became farmland and was developed into city streets in the 1850s. The name Hayes belonged to a prominent landowner at the time of development, Thomas Hayes, whose brother Michael was on the street naming committee. The neighborhood was narrowly spared by the major fire of 1906. An elevated highway was built over the neighborhood in the 1950s for the 101, but it was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. After a lot of local campaigning, that portion of the highway was removed and the neighborhood began to gentrify.