Just off the Haight-Ashbury stop on Muni's N Judah line sits Cole Valley, a neighborhood filled with Victorians, local shops, bars, and eateries. While unknown to many city visitors, this tight-knit family community is an easy walk to Golden Gate Park—though it has plenty of its own offerings as well.
Get your Caffeine Fix
For your morning or daytime drink, Cole Valley serves up a variety of coffee shop options. There's Cafe Reverie, a joint-business with Say Cheese that boasts a lovely back patio brimming with vines of morning glory and colorful fuchsia bushes that attract occasional hummingbirds; they offer a rotating array of evening entertainment as well. Just a couple doors down is the newer Wooden Coffeehouse, with wood furnishings, VHS box art, and pastries from Jane, an SF bakery where everything's made from scratch daily. Occupying the former Tassajara Bakery (which belonged to the city's Zen Center), La Boulangerie de San Francisco serves up soups, salads, and sandwiches along with delicious baked goods. For a straight-up coffee experience, nothing beats Peet's, a Bay Area craft coffee staple since it first opened in Berkeley in 1966.
An urban oasis in the heart of San Francisco, Mount Sutro Forest is one of the remnants of a 1,100-acre stretch hand-planted by former SF mayor Adolph Sutro (also responsible for Sutro Baths) and his team in the late 19th century. This stunning cloud forest sits along a 900-foot-tall hillside between Cole Valley and UCSF Medical Center, right in the path of the city's well-known fog belt. Walking mist-shrouded trails lined with towering eucalyptus trees—some reaching as tall as 250-plus feet—can feel like something out of a dream, though one that includes a bevy of mountain bikers. Keep an eye out for them barreling around corners while soaking in Mount Sutro's spectacular and oh-so-lush greenery.
A neighborhood stalwart since 1976, Say Cheese is one of San Francisco's most beloved cheesemongers. It's home to more than 300 types of cheeses—including rare fromages that are hard to find elsewhere—both from the SF Bay Area and around the world. This family-owned shop sells wine to match, along with custom-made gift baskets brimming with chocolate, local honey, charcuterie, and more. You can also purchase one of Say Cheese's gourmet sandwiches to go—perfect for a picnic in Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach, just a Muni train ride away.
Following suit in the city's beloved tradition of street fairs (including ones like the Castro Street Fair, the Folsom Street Fair, and the two-day North Beach Street Festival), Cole Valley began its own annual neighborhood event in 2003. With a wealth of activities such as face painting and balloon animals, the Cole Valley Street Fair is very much a family event—but there are plenty of shopping ops for adults as well. Artisan vendors sell handmade coffee mugs adorned with SF transit logos, soy candles in scents of honeysuckle and lavender, wire jewelry, linocut prints, and glass-blown coasters. You can also find food trucks along Cole Street from Carl to Grattan.
Another Cole Valley secret is Tank Hill, a small and rocky outcropping 650 feet up the side of a steep hill. It offers incredible panoramic views of everything from the SF skyline to the Golden Gate Bridge, and you can often see all the way out to Point Reyes in Marin County. The 2.8-acre mini-park also provides a glimpse into San Francisco's indigenous landscape, with its craggy surface and wildflowers that burst to life in spring. Kestrels and red-tailed hawks are frequently seen perusing the skies of this hidden getaway, which sits where Clayton Street and Twin Peaks Boulevard intersect.
Choose Your Cuisine
Whether it's crêpes, sushi, burgers, or pizza, Cole Valley is brimming with a variety of great dining options. Join the crowds outside Zazie for one of the best brunches in town, or sample Arabic comfort food at the new Beit Rima. Some of these independent eateries (Bambino's and Grandeho's Kamekyo) have been welcoming guests for years, while others (Padrecito) have gained a more recent following. Whichever restaurant you select, prepare to be impressed.
Find the Perfect Place to Imbibe
For such a small community, Cole Valley is home to a disproportionately large number of options for imbibing. If it's a watering hole you're after, Finnegans Wake is your place. Formerly Maud's—San Francisco's first lesbian bar—Finnegans has been slinging beers and serving cocktails for now more than three decades. There's a pool table and dartboard indoors, a jukebox that can keep you occupied for hours, and a picnic area with string lights and ping-pong. Kezar Bar & Restaurant provides a more refined experience, with a vintage bar and delicious eats to accompany its array of signature cocktails. For tequila and mezcal, the previously mentioned Padrecito is your place, while locals head to InoVino for Italian-centric wines and plates of Brussels sprouts and pan-fried artichoke hearts.
Indulge in a hot fudge sundae, sip an alcohol-infused fountain drink, or devour a waffle cone filled with two scoops of butterscotch ice cream at this wonderful neighborhood addition. A visit to Cole Valley's Ice Cream Bar is akin to returning to a past era—one when soda jerks wearing bow ties and caps worked the counter and guests savored sweet samplings on round-top stools. Everything from the waffle cones to the brownies are made in-house, and the bar features an authentic Streamline Moderne-style soda fountain that came all the way from Mackinaw City, Michigan.
Each year on October 31, Cole Valley's Belvedere Street (from Parnassus to 17th streets) transforms into one of the zaniest, spookiest, and most colorful blocks around. Halloween on Belvedere Street is one for the ages: a pedestrian-only get-together of hundreds (if not thousands) of costumed kids, adults, and pets that wander from home to home, trick-or-treating and taking in all the incredible décor and outfits. Not only is it excellent people-watching, but it's one of the best places city-wide to bring the family for candy and camaraderie.
Cole Hardware has been a neighborhood fixture since 1920, and it remains one of the city's most lauded hardware stores, with additional locations in Russian Hill, North Beach, and Oakland. Along with a wonderfully helpful staff, the shop is known for its large selection of garden supplies, kitchen appliances, outdoor furnishings, and more. You can get keys made here, purchase Muni transit cards or add money to your Clipper transit cards, and even hire a locksmith 24/7.