The Low Down
NoPa: so hot right now. It’s the neighborhood where all the young people want to live, where the businesses want to open up shop and where the weather is just right. It’s the land of fixed gears that still has that little bit of edge that gives the neighborhood its character. In other words, you should check it out.
NoPa stands for North of the Panhandle, which refers to the Panhandle Park, which serves as the entrance to Golden Gate Park. To get here, take the 5 from Market Street downtown or follow the Wiggle on a bike from Civic Center.
The neighborhood’s name is relatively new. It was often lumped together with the Western Addition until a few years ago when real estate agents rebranded it to appeal to young techies looking to settle down in the city. It’s always been north of the Panhandle though, which was created in 1870. Before that, it was just the start of the field of sand dunes that led to the Pacific Ocean deemed the “Outside Lands.” It was civil engineer and designer of Golden Gate Park William Hammond Hall who discovered that planting barley helped solidify the sand enough to serve as the park’s foundation.
One of the many things this neighborhood does right? Food. Your options are nearly endless. Here are our favorites.
For Breakfast: For better or for worse, San Francisco is known for it’s $4 (sometimes, $5 or $6) toast, and The Mill is where you’ll find it. To say it’s run-of-the-mill is both wrong and exactly right: Josey Baker (yes, that’s his name) and his team grind their own whole grain flour and bake roughly 350 loaves a day on site. Try the Dark Mountain Rye with cream cheese or the Whole Wheat Sesame Poppy with butter and strawberry jam. Then find a spot in their parklet to watch the neighborhood pass by. 736 Divisadero Street; (415) 345-1953
Also for better or for worse: there is always a line. So if you’re not a fan of waiting, check out Matching Half Café just a few blocks away, where homemade pop tarts pair well with a latte. 1799 McAllister Street; (415) 674-8699
For Lunch: Saddle up to the counter at Brenda’s Meat and Three and prepare to chow down. This casual southern spot is the second location of the incredibly popular Brenda’s in the Tenderloin. Go for the Gumbo that’s brimming with crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, okra , and rice. Or indulge in a fried bologna sandwich. Or a fried chicken sandwich. Really, order whatever sounds good it is all fantastic. 919 Divisadero Street; (415) 926-8657
If you’re not in the mood to gorge yourself silly, check out Green Chile Kitchen, which serves up a delicious taco salad and freshly squeezed melon juice. You can also indulge in a burrito there—no one is judging. 1801 McAllister Street; (415) 440-9412
For Dinner: Oh, the options. If you’re looking for a nice night out, go to Nopa. It’s a beautiful space that serves up delicious, sophisticated dishes (housemade pappardelle with fennel sausage, anyone?). Plus, their cocktails will make you sit down. You’ll need reservations though, and it books out well in advance. 560 Divisadero Street; (415) 864-8643
Nopalito, however, doesn’t take reservations. You can call ahead and put your name on the list and then go browse around the neighborhood. It’s worth the wait: Mexican specialties are served tapas style to share with a group (did we mention this is a great place for groups?). That means you can try the summer squash quesadilla, the Birria de Res beef stew, the seared trout and the pozole rojo with pig shoulder. 306 Broderick Street; (415) 535-3969
There’s a wait wherever you go, but if you’re looking for something casual right before a show, 4505 Burgers & BBQ is your spot. This BBQ joint is all about whole animal butchery, and serves up a delicious burger and—you guessed it—barbecue trays. The brisket is the best but always sells out fast so get there on the earlier side. 705 Divisadero Street; (415) 231-6993
Wet your palate with whatever strikes your fancy.
For Cocktails: Time to get fancy—or at least, your cocktail will be. Horsefeather whips up delicious concoctions in precious barware, but you can be dressed in jeans and a tee shirt and they won’t blink (ah, San Francisco style). Try the Thunderbird for something sweet (gin & pineapple) or the Nighttrain for an excellent nightcap (we’ll never get over the espresso whiskey). 528 Divisadero Street; (415) 817-1939
For Mezcal: You might be asking yourself, what is Mezcal and why would I want a bar dedicated to it? Short answer: Mezcal is like tequila but way better and El Mercado at La Urbana has oh-so-many different options behind the bar. It’s like wine tasting, but with a smoky, poignant liquor. Get situated at one of the white collapsible tables and maybe pull out the dominos while you watch the sunset while you go through a flight. Not a fan of mezcal? They’ve also got a killer sangria and beers galore. 661 Divisadero Street; (415) 440-4500
For a Party: Alright, the drinks aren’t much to brag about but Madrone Art Bar is definitely a party spot. On weekends, it’s a dance party that’s packed to the gills. On Mondays, you’ll find a Motown get down. On Tuesdays, pop in for a local jazz band rocking out. You’ll find everything you’re looking for on draft and the mixed drinks don’t disappoint. 500 Divisadero Street; (415) 241-0202
For Gifts: Find the perfect only-in-SF souvenirs at Rare Device. This little boutique is excellently curated with local creations and jewelry. Just make sure you budget well—local good don’t come cheap. 600 Divisadero Street; (415) 863-3969
For Home: Smell all the soaps at The Perish Trust, where you’ll find an apothecary and home goods all unique to San Francisco. It’s an eclectic mix of the bizarre and intriguing, so give yourself plenty of time to explore the space. 728 Divisadero Street; no phone
For Music: Whenever you’re in town, check the schedule at The Independent and try to snag tickets to a show. It’s one of San Francisco’s most intimate music venues and it always books out great acts. If you’re willing to splurge, grab a VIP ticket to get upstairs and watch the action from above. 628 Divisadero Street; (415) 771-1421
For Outdoors: Remember, this neighborhood only exists because of The Panhandle. This little slice of a park has basketball courts, a bike path and plenty of room for picnicking under the shade of a eucalyptus.