When the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, it would inevitably change the face of San Francisco, and neighborhoods like the Embarcadero and Hayes Valley, in particular. What was a relatively rough section of town dictated by the Central Freeway morphed into a hip and high-end enclave of boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and endless innovation, from superb street art like Shepard Fairey's large mural of labor leader Cesar Chavez to Proxy, a walk-up outdoor theater showing free independent films throughout the year. Ready to learn more? Here's your guide to Hayes Valley's best features.
With such a central San Francisco location, it makes sense that Hayes Valley is part of the city's broader cultural heart, home to superb venues like the 1,687-seat Sydney Goldstein Theater (formerly the Nourse), where the City Arts & Lectures Series presents leading figures in music, politics, literature and more ranging from Rachel Maddow to Bruce Springsteen, often in onstage conversation with a celebrated host. It's also where you'll find the San Francisco Jazz Center, a top-of-the art live music venue for jazz and jazz-related greats such as the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Béla Fleck, and Roseanne Cash.
Since first opening in 2009, Smuggler's Cove has paved the way for a new wave of cocktail-focused Tiki bars across the country. Still, this stand-alone original remains one of the country's best all-around imbibing establishments. The two-story space is like walking into a bedazzling pirate ship where Polynesian artifacts and rum abounds. Along with traditional drinks like banana daiquiris, you find exotic cocktails from legendary tiki bars and Smuggler's Cover originals such as the Top Notch Volcano, a fiery rum punch with pineapple, passion fruit, fresh lime and cinnamon that takes four to tackle. Don't miss happy hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. daily.
You can easily while away a day perusing Hayes Valley's endless array of fashion boutiques, shoe stores, and design shops selling everything from luggage and travel accessories to home décor. Browse handmade tableware inside an Airstream trailer at Mmclay Ceramics, then test out the latest in tech at b8ta electronics before storming the high-end clothing and accessories at spots like Clare V., Azalea, and Dish Boutique. True Sake—America's first sake store—stocks rice wine styles and brewers from across Japan, while Timbuk2 sells tech totes, roll-top backpacks, and the SF-based company's iconic messenger bags, which have been a city presence since the early 1990s.
Catch Some Sun in Patricia's Green
First created in 1999 after the removal of San Francisco's Central Freeway neighborhood right-of-way, Patricia's Green is a now one of Hayes Valley's most recognizable sites—a long park at the center of Octavia Boulevard between Fell and Hayes street that offers ample bench setting, a small children's play area, and an impressive display of rotating public art, much of which made its debut at Burning Man. This outdoor gathering space has featured incredible works like Squared, a towering 50-foot-tall LED sculpture by SF's own Charles Gadeken, and David Best's interactive Temple. Patricia's Green also plays host to occasional events like the Urban Air Market, a pop-up shopping market of sustainably-minded artisans and designers, including jewelers, potters, illustrators, and more.
Raise a Glass...or Stein
Thanks to Karl the Fog, outdoor drinking, and eating establishments have long been few and far between in San Francisco, but Hayes Valley's plethora of heating lamps and cozy blankets have changed this. Biergarten has the latter, along with a traditional Bavarian beer garden setting that includes wooden communal tables, pretzels, bratwurst, and potato salad, and both liters or half-liters of beer (including non-alcoholic wheat) served in authentic glass steins. Let the prousting begin!
Discover the Alleyways
Hayes Valley is a frontrunner in many ways, including when it comes to "living alleys," traditional alleyways that have been transformed into inviting throughways dotted with shops and other businesses. Both Ivy and Linden streets are two such examples. While Ivy Street is home to the Fig & Thistle, a rustic wine and beer bar offering a selection of California vinos and small artisan bites, Linden Street welcomes foot traffic with widened sidewalks, landscaped gardens, hanging lanterns, and comfy benches for enjoying cups of Blue Bottle coffee and Smitten Ice Cream scoops. This alleyway is also where you'll find Streets of San Francisco, a bike tour company hosting both electric and classic guided rides citywide.
Here's a place to get your caffeine and cuddles all at once: Hayes Valley's KitTea Cat Cafe continues to be a huge success, especially on weekends, when the cafe's ticket-only cat lounge (there's also a regular cafe upfront) is typically already sold-out (so plan a day or two in advance) with crowds sipping unlimited green tea and getting a chance to interact with nearly two-dozen kitties—some playful, others shy, but all adoptable rescues from Hopalong Animal Rescue. Dine on delicious slices of avocado toast, devour cups of hot chocolate and milk tea, and get to know some gorgeous felines who are simply looking for love. It's worth it.
Whether you're looking to engage in a leisurely brunch at The Grove, Stacks, or Straw, join the crowds out for dinner at standouts like Domo Sushi and Rich Table, enjoy a deep-dish pizza from Patxi's or a Greek sandwich from fast-casual Souvla at one of Hayes Valley's many parklets, or try one of the neighborhood's many innovative eateries such as Petit Crenn, Nightbird, or the beloved Hayes Street Grill, you will never go hungry here. The area is filled with delicious eateries catering to a wide range of budgets and cuisines. Of course, dessert spots are just as prominent. Swing by Smitten or Salt & Straw for ice cream, or go for alternative sweet treats at places like Christopher Elbow Chocolates, French patisserie Miette, and Chantal Guillon Macarons.