Known collectively as “The Outerlands," San Francisco's Inner and Outer Richmond neighborhoods—along with Golden Gate Park and the Sunset district to the south—were a region of wind-swept sand dunes. The area started to see development in the late 19th century, beginning with the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, both just north of Ocean Beach. Today, the largely residential stretch is known for its foggy days, lingering cafés, large Russian population, and one of the most beloved independent bookstores in the city. Plus, it's home to SF's more authentic "Chinatown" on Clement Street. Here's your chance to explore this San Francisco neighborhood like a local.
While tourists flock to the neighborhood between North Beach, Nob Hill, and Union Square to purchase bags of fortune cookies and wander the buzzing sidewalks, locals know that San Francisco's “newer Chinatown” is on Clement street in the Inner Richmond. Here, you'll find Chinese bakeries and groceries selling Asian produce such as boy choy and durian fruit, and hear Cantonese spoken almost as much as English. This is the place to come for an affordable wok, inexpensive holiday stocking stuffers, Chinese herbs, and even acupuncture—not to mention delectable dishes of Mandarin, Burmese, and Vietnamese cuisine.
Green Apple Books opened its first location along Clement Street more than 50 years ago, and thankfully—in a world of online shopping—has been going strong since. In fact, this San Francisco icon now has three distinct locations, including an annex (just a few doors down from the original bookstore) that sells new and used novels, music, DVDs, and magazines.
Still, it's the original shop near the corner of Clement Street and Sixth Avenue that's a true treasure trove of the written word. At times you can literally find yourself lost between the stacks, ducking into a secluded nook to take in a page or two, or meandering along a creaky back staircase to discover a whole other room filled with tomes to keep you occupied for hours. More recently, Green Apple acquired the independent bookstore Browser Books in Pacific Heights, showing that in San Francisco, reading is alive and well.
For years, locals have been flocking to the Richmond neighborhood to get their bite-size portions of shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, and fried sesame balls. At Ton Kiang, a two-story banquet-style eatery with clothed tables, servers whisk around trays of potstickers, egg tarts, and every dim sum imaginable for the choosing. Dragon Beaux (from the owner's of Daly City favorite, Koi Palace) takes a more innovative approach to dim dum; here, they top traditional dumplings with Chilean sea bass and offer an assortment of xiao long bao made with crab roe, kale, and black truffle. They're also known for their hot pot specialities.
Don't have time for a sit-down meal? You can order dim sum on-the-go at the Inner Richmond's Good Luck Dim Sum on Clement Street.
Go Park Hopping
With Golden Gate Park on one side and The Presidio and lesser-known Mountain Lake Park on the other, the Richmond is prime grounds for getting your nature on—especially on those days when Karl the Fog keeps his gray sky tendrils at bay. Try your hand at fly fishing at the Anglers Lodge or spend a few hours pedal boating around GGP's Stow Lake. You could also embark on a trek around one of the city's last natural lakes or delve into history at the Presidio's Officers' Club. Better yet, do it all!
Designed by the same architects who dreamed up the Fairmont Hotel in Nob Hill, the Richmond's Balboa Theatre first opened in 1926. These days, one of the city's oldest operating theaters is a favorite among SF residents, many of whom flock to these “outerlands” to catch first- and second-run flicks and beloved classics like "Elf" on duel screens. This neighborhood cinema boasts a small concession stand with popcorn and beer as well.
You can literally eat your way around the globe in the greater Richmond District, sampling cheese- and meat-filled piroshkis from Russian bakeries, savoring East Coast-style pies at the old school pizzeria Gaspare's, and gorging on seafood at Pacific Cafe.
The Richmond is especially known for its bakeries (spots like Marla Bakery Restaurant, which does a Friday night fried chicken dinner, and Schubert's, where cakes, tortes, and tarts are the specialities), and—not surprisingly—Asian cuisine. It's home to an array of Burmese eateries, including the city's iconic Burma Superstar, as well as Vietnamese pho cafes and ample Japanese and Chinese restaurants. You won't go hungry in this neighborhood.
Whether you're looking to down a beer or two at a pub or sip craft cocktails in a dive bar, there are plenty of places to whet your palette in the Richmond. Order a few pints of Guinness at Irish pubs like Ireland's 32 or The Blarney Stone Bar, or opt for draft ale and some fish & chips at the very British The Pig & Whistle. The two-story Neck of the Woods serves up cocktails along with a bevy of live entertainment ranging from salsa classes to live music, while tiki-themed dive bar Trad'r Sam will get you rightly warmed with their highly intoxicating scorpion bowl.
In a city where burial plots are either unmarked or nearly non-existent, the copper-domed Columbarium offers a unique twist on the after-life. This stunning Neo-classical structure houses a large rotunda and 45-foot-tall atrium surrounded by four stories of burial plots—spaces for cremated remains ringed with a person's most cherished belongings. Come and visit the encased memoriams of some of San Francisco's most notable residents, including “Mayor of Castro Street” Harvey Milk, and Chet Helms, the father of SF's “Summer of Love.”