I grew up in Illinois (2 hours of south of Chicago) but frequented the city/suburbs frequently. Most of my family lives in the Chicago area and so does my best friend. We try to visit as many times as we can but our time in the city neighborhoods are always cut short. We did manage to visit a few great spots this trip and are excited to browse Airbnb soon to find a place in a city neighborhood for spring.
Today’s CITY GUIDE is brought to you by Laura!
It only took a day for me to fall in love with Madrid. Against all odds, I didn’t miss the ocean or the beach but was intrigued by the small streets, huge buildings, and the art community. The capital of Spain has so much to offer and I am happy that Allie gave me the chance to share some of my favorite places with you.
When I lived in Madrid I lived right on Calle Fuencarral. Next to Gran Vìa, Calle Fuencarral is the biggest shopping street, with an indoor mall, the Mercado Fuencarral, small boutiques and Spanish retailers such as Custo, Pull & Bear, Oisho, and Desigual as well as restaurants, bars, and pubs. Some of my favorite boutiques and bars are a few streets away from the main street in a small barrio called Malasaña.
Malasañas heart is the Plaza del 2 de mayo. A little square that turns to a flea market on the weekend and that is just far enough from the main streets to let you enjoy a sunny day in Madrid in one of the little cafes located around the square. I usually get a caña at Café de Mahón, a bar that display art by locals, before strolling up Calle Veladere to visit my favorite vintage stores and little boutiques. La Mona Checa, La Cierva Vintage, and Moskitas Muertas. Also located in Malasaña are two of my favorite bars/clubs: The Via Lactea and the Tupperware. Both play amazing music, and while the Via Lactea is a place to listen to music, grab a beer, and play a round of pool, the Tupperware is a funky club to get your groove on.
If you are looking for more main stream places, the Puerta del Sol is the perfect meeting place. Not only is Sol the heart of Madrid and Spain, it is also the point where all the main streets from the city center meet, the place to start a great night out, and to catch a metro to almost anywhere in the city. If you are at Sol, watch out for ‘El Oso y el Madroño’, one of Madrid’s most known statues. If you take Calle Mayor from Sol, you will walk down a big street, hosting two places that captivate the spirit of Spanish food the Museo del Jamón and the Chocolatería San Ginés. Museo Del Jamón, is a typical Spanish bar and restaurant that serves all kinds of Spanish food, with emphasis on ham iberico. Everybody loves the churros con chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés. After you get out of a club or bar, you can stop here to get a snack before taking the metro home- If you walk a little further, you will end up at the Royal Palace, the Palacio Real.
The Retiro is the Central Park of Madrid, a huge park with a lake in the middle. It is the perfect place to go and relax, no matter what time of year it is. There are always musicians, dancers, and other artist to entertain the crowds. Make sure to check out the Palacio de Cristal, a building entirely made out of glass, that is used as an exhibition space for El Prado museum. No matter if you feel like taking a walk, renting a paddleboat, or just laying in the afternoon sun, the Retiro is the perfect place to go. Especially, after a Sunday at the local flea market: El Rastro. Located in the more bohemian parts of Madrid, Lavapiés and La Latina, the flea market offers a lot of great Spanish flavor. Go early to shop for antiques, or a little later to enjoy bargaining with the vendors and have lunch at one of the many Moroccan restaurants around.
*Featured image by DavidHT
Today’s CITY GUIDE is brought to you by Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy!
Louisville has been called “Portland of the East” and “Austin of the North,” but this quirky, compact town shines in its own right. Locals aren’t surprised when their city is named among the “most livable” in the country, or picked as a top travel destination.
Let’t start with what you already know: Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May each year, and it’s fabulous and fun and worthy of a spot on your bucket list. Louisville is also the traditional gateway to rural bourbon country. Launch your trip from here, or stay right in town and hit the Urban Bourbon Trail–a DIY tour of the best bourbon bars in the city.
But there’s far more to Louisville than horses and bourbon.
Louisville is a foodie town: the city is packed with community gardens, farmers’ markets, and independent restaurants. The East Market district (also known as NuLu, for New Louisville) packs many diverse choices into a few short blocks. Popular picks here include fast and fresh Taco Punk and La Coop, the swanky French place next door.
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, try Please and Thank You–a combination coffee shop/restaurant/record shop in the next block–that serves coffee from local roaster Argo Sons. This is a coffee town: Louisville boasts an unusual number of shops (and more importantly, roasters) for a city its size. Local favorites that roast their own are Sunergos, Quills, and Vint, where you can get a Vint Julep: an improbably delicious latté sweetened with smoked bourbon and mint julep sugars from Bourbon Barrel Foods.
NuLu is within easy walking distance of central downtown. If you time your visit right, you can see groundbreaking theater before anyone else does at the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. The gleaming Muhammad Ali Center is right around the corner, and sports fans will want to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum, impossible to miss because of the 120 foot baseball bat displayed out front.
(If you’re staying in town, the place to go is 21c Museum Hotel, known it by its distinctive red penguins, bejeweled limo, and replica statue of David. Make sure you visit the bathrooms in the lobby.)
Downtown is flanked by Waterfront Park, a fairly recent addition to Louisville’s vast park system. Louisville loves its parks, which were thoughtfully woven through the city more than 100 years ago: famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed Louisville’s park network, and these parks are heavily used today.
Visit the Cherokee Triangle’s Willow Park, lovingly known as the most popular park per square foot, and home to weddings, summer concert series, art fairs, and everyday lounging. The park is overlooked by a series of stunning homes, one of which is speculated to be the model for Daisy’s house in The Great Gatsby.
The park sits in Louisville’s charmingly quirky Highlands neighborhood, which is home to “restaurant row.” Favorites include the former speakeasy Jack Fry’s and Seviché, which serves award-winning Nuevo Latino fare. Hipsters flock to the neighborhood for its unique shops and thriving farmers’ markets.
Louisville’s a great place to live, and a great place to visit. You may come for the horses and bourbon, but you’ll stay for everything else. Enjoy your visit!
*Skyline photo by peacemel
Barcelona is a pretty special city because it offers just so many different things and there are so many good places to shop and eat that I’m often overwhelmed by the choices when giving recommendations.
The most famous places, la Sagrada Familia, el Parc Güell, el Museu Picasso etc are nice to see if you are a tourist but I always recommend moving to other neighborhoods to eat and walk around because that’s where the best of Barcelona is. This city guide is full of recommendations but, honestly, the best thing to do most of the times is to wander and try a bit of everything you find interesting.
There are different areas and each has a different vibe so I don’t think I could ever choose a favorite. The city is relatively tiny and you can walk from one place to another or use public buses, metro or trams.
This is one of the old, medieval, parts of Barcelona. There is so much goodness there. Here I recommend…
Starting with a laid back breakfast at El Café del Born with a book. Or buying a mascarpone croissant at Hoffman Bakery (or a healthier pastry at Reykjavik organic bakery) and eating it on the steps of Santa Maria del Mar, which is my favorite cathedral in Barcelona.
Buying some macaroons at Bubö or some chocolates at Demasié to take home and make someone really happy. Visiting the beautiful houses in carrer Montcada and the Santa Caterina Market, which has a rainbow colored mosaic roof (and a great restaurant inside it).
This area was planned and developed after the medieval walls of Barcelona were finally torn down in 1860s. The most significant buildings were designed by modernist architects, being Gaudí just one of the many geniuses of that time. There are two main paral·lel streets, Passeig de Gràcia, where you can find La Pedrera, La casa Batlló and many other modernist buildings (and the floor sidewalk tiles were designed by Gaudí); and Rambla Catalunya, which is calm, with outdoor terraces and a fewer cars. Here I recommend….
Visiting La Pedrera. (If you don’t have enough time, I would do this instead of La Sagrada Familia.) Lunch at Mordisco, which is very nice, makes wonderful food of all kinds and has the best carrot cake. Or at Mauri for old fashioned tapas and cheese croissants. Shopping in Rambla Catalunya and Passeig de Gràcia (those streets are very nice but some of the best shops are in the streets that connect the two main ones, so don’t forget to wander around a bit.)
This is another medieval part of Barcelona to spend a wonderful morning or afternoon just wandering. Here I recommend…
Stopping at the Sant Felip Neri square, just because it’s beautiful. Walking in the little soap, paper, bike or book shops all over the tiny streets.
Having a great breakfast or afternoon merienda at Dulcinea, for the best and most authentic hot chocolate and melindros (cakey, soft cookies). Or at Caleum, which is much more like a tea room and usually smells amazing. Visiting random art galleries and small museums. And, if you like ancient stuff, the History Museum of the City literally has a real Roman city in the basement. Those ruins always impressed me so much as a kid.
If you go to Barcelona you’ll end up in las Ramblas because that’s where every tourist ends up. It’s not one of the best parts of the city, but there are a few places that will help you survive the chaotic Rambla experience, especially if you move West, towards the Raval neighborhood… Here I recommend…
Bar Lobo for tapas, where you should try to sit outside. Escribà, which is one of the oldest patisseries and offers very tiny portions of hot chocolate, if you just want something warm and delicious but have eaten too much already.
A fabulous gelato in Sant Agustí square. (Unfortunately, that place has no name and after talking to the owners I learned that they are still thinking about it. The ice cream is wonderful though!) Looking at the skaters at MACBA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. And then eating empanadillas or pizza at Mucci’s.
This is not one of the first places I would take someone visiting for a few days, but it’s one of the nicest areas (not the neighborhood, but the beach itself) to simply chill out. They’ve recently restored the space near the new, super fancy W hotel with many restaurants and I’d really recommend it, if you are in the mood for paella. If you want something cheap to eat by the sand instead, Woki market for noodles or Buenas Migas for focaccia are my most favorite.
*Featured image by Jsome1
Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Marissa of Bourbon and Goose!
When people head to Los Angeles more than likely they want to hit the beach. Well, being in LA for 10 years, I’ve lived or been to every point you can image. It really is as beautiful as you’ve seen in the movies. Once you hit the sand, you realize why everyone wants to live here and why most of us never leave. Each beach city is unique and exudes that jen ne se qua that brands it. You’ll find everything you are looking for: shopping, outdoor activities, star sightings and lots of culinary treats for every individual. In this land, gluten-free and vegan reign supreme. (Yes, Dawn from The Babysitter’s Club wasn’t making that up). So let’s start with the most glamorous of all: Malibu.
When traveling to LA, you have to make it to the Bu. Why? Because 1. It’s gorgeous and 2. You’ll see way more celebrities here than Hollywood. Guaranteed. My last sighting was Jay Leno zipping through Malibu Creek Canyon in a classic roadster.
Make your way to Leo Carrillo State Park. This beach has caves, tidepools for exploring and if you like to camp that option is available but you have to book early. Plus, for us dog lovers, this is the only beach where they can join in while you get your tan on.
From there drive the iconic PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) for a 27 mile drive down the Malibu coast. Gawk at the insane beach front properties (Malibu Road is perfect for this but you didn’t hear that from me). Like to get your workout on? Hit Pepperdine University for the most insane set of stairs. They make Santa Monica stairs look like a beginners run. Worked up an appetite? Now you have 2 options: Malibu Seafood Mart for the best fried shrimp or for a healthier option: John’s Garden located in the Malibu Country Mart. At this gem you’ll have shopping options galore. Top off all this luxury with GROM, the healthy gelato. Food Intolerants? They got your back, and support your sweet tooth. Now that you’ve overindulge, time to get back to PCH, we still have 2 hot spots left.
Next up : Santa Monica
Skip 3rd Street Promenade and head directly to the Santa Monica Pier. Check out the iconic ferris wheel, roller coaster and if you timed it right, the free summer concert. Grab a bike (don’t worry you can rent) and start your adventure. Along your ride keep your eyes open, you’ll see the experts practicing out their latest acts on the swing, ring and ropes. You might be lucky enough to see a duo crossing the sing-a-ring set. (See Anna Paquin practicing here) Now that you are inspired detour up to Main St for a quick ride along on the shops including one of my local favorites, the Closet Trading Co. This special gem is resale and consignment, meaning you can score big for less. The boutique feeling and friendly service feels more intimate and the selection would make Malibu jealous.
Once back on the boardwalk, continue heading south and in 10 minutes you’ll be in…
With the shopping bug out of the way, continue back down to the boardwalk for your journey to…
Venice Beach : The melting pot of for all creatives.
In a couple of miles you’ll be in the thick of it. Lots of street performers, options for great eats and drinking but take really take moment to experience it all. Explore the skate park, sit in on the drum circle, grab a can of Montana Gold and hit the graffiti wall and by no means, do not miss the roller skating dancers. This small stretch is filled with so many inspiring, unique and eclectic people you’ll have plenty of stories to share upon your return home.
Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Katherine Lightner!
Oxford, England, is a city steeped in culture and history, famous for its University, its creation of world leaders, and its dreaming spires. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis spent many years here honing their craft, inspired by their surroundings. To spend a day in Oxford means taking a step back in time as you walk its cobbled streets and alleyways.
Oxford is home to some world-class museums. The Ashmolean, recently renovated, has an extensive collection of art and antiquities. Immerse yourself in ancient culture and then have a meal in its rooftop restaurant. The University Museum of Natural History is always a favorite but is closed for repairs during all of 2013 so head instead to the Pitt Rivers Museum next door and take in its amazing archeology and anthropology collection. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of objects chronicling the development of mankind, even shrunken heads.
What many first time visitors to Oxford don’t realize is that the University is everywhere and is actually comprised of 39 separate colleges. Make sure as you walk around to peek through the open doors, many will lead to open courtyards. The public can visit many of the colleges but be sure to check their opening hours and most are only open for limited hours.
A visit to Christ Church, the largest and most well known college, is well worth it. Christ Church is home to both Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter and a gorgeous Cathedral, claimed to be the smallest in England. On a nice day, Christ Church meadow is a lovely spot for walks along the river or picnics.
In the center of Oxford, you’ll find the Bodleian Library, one of the most celebrated libraries in the world. The Bodleian first opened in 1602 and includes a significant collection of rare books including an original Gutenberg Bible. Visiting hours are limited but guided tours are available.
Oxford isn’t really known as a shopping mecca, while you can certainly find many of the standard High Street shops. The Covered Market is worth a visit, full of quirky gift shops, eateries, and food shops.
But if you’re a bibliophile, there’s really no better place than Oxford, home to Blackwell’s one of the oldest bookshops in the world. Be sure to go downstairs and take in the grandeur of the Norrington Room where over 10,000 square feet are dedicated to books.
For a traditional pub lunch, head to The Bear Inn, tucked in a corner just outside Christ Church. Dating from 1242, it’s the oldest pub in Oxford. Have a seat at one of the tables and take in its quirky collection of ties hanging on the walls.
If you’re looking for something more modern, head to Quod located on the High Street. This bustling restaurant is full of contemporary food and their 2-course lunch special is a super deal. Adjoining Quod you’ll also find the Old Bank Hotel, a charming independently owned hotel. Some of the rooms in this Georgian property have amazing views of the sights of Oxford. Quod also offers something almost no other place in Oxford has, free parking in back.
For a sandwich on the go, try Olive’s Delicatessen, also on the High Street. Olive’s doesn’t have any seating but just grab one of their delicious handmade sandwiches and head over to Christ Church meadow or the University of Oxford Botanic Garden for a picnic.
Zappi’s Bike Café is a great place to stop for artisan coffees and light snacks. Located on St. Michael’s Street, Zappi’s shares space with the Bike Zone cycle shop and is usually full of locals. It’s a great alternative to the big coffee chains.
Oxford is just a short train journey, less than an hour, outside of London and can easily been toured in a day. And whether you’re into history, architecture, outdoor spaces, or family adventures, there’s something in Oxford for you. Come visit!
Today’s city guide is brought to you by Kristin of Halifax!
Hello and welcome to my neck of the woods – Halifax, Nova Scotia! We’re a quaint little seaport city located on Canada’s far Atlantic coast. But that’s what I love about it the most – we have the luxury of city life and its amenities, but with the honest to goodness friendliness and ease that goes along with simple country life. We’re a very laid back city where anyone and everyone is welcome, where you’ll always run into a friendly face (honestly, it’s difficult avoiding bumping into an acquaintance on any given outing) and no matter where you’re from, you’ll quickly fall into our relaxed way of life.
One of my absolute favourite places to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning is at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. The market is open all weekend long year round (with additional days during the warmer months), and is filled with great food, drink, locally made crafts and art work, home grown produce and plants, and often you can catch the odd musician or busker performing. It’s a well-rounded little market with a bustling atmosphere that really celebrates all of the talents and crafts of our locals from within the city proper, and out into the rural countryside as well.
While in this neck of the woods, a local and tourist favourite is a stroll down the waterfront. The boardwalk really comes alive in the summer months – with buskers and entertainers, fireworks, bikers, artists, musicians, you name it! – all out in force. It can get a bit crowded, especially on weekends, as it’s a well-known and popular tourist location.
But, there’s still tonnes to be enjoyed as a local. There are fantastic restaurants all along the length of the boardwalk and handfuls of little shops and stalls depending on the season. I highly recommend The Bicycle Thief, an Italian and North American bistro – not only does it have delicious food, but it’s also a beautifully designed space from the interiors right down to the menu. Perfect for design-enthusiasts and foodies of all sorts.
Though they’re closed in the winter, if you’re in the area during the late spring to late autumn, two absolute musts are to stop and get a BeaverTail pastry (then you can call yourself a true Haligonian!), and wander over to Cows Ice Cream (hands down the best ice cream to be found, and they have an adjoining t-shirt and souvenir shop filled with hilarious cow meets pop culture puns and illustrations).
And if that’s not enough waterfront-y goodness for you, hop on the harbour ferry over to Dartmouth (the city on the opposite side of the harbour). It’s a short ride which will give you spectacular views of both cities, and the harbour mouth leading out to the Atlantic ocean. Plus, you’ll get a little taste of a local’s daily life as many workers come in and out of the city daily via the ferry.
For the shoppers of the bunch, Halifax has lots of unique and locally owned shops and boutiques. One of my personal favourites is The Black Market. A “you’d miss it if you blinked” spot, this quaint little shop is jam packed full of goodies from top to bottom. Jewelry, scarves, and assorted trinkets are brought in from all around the world. The merchandise is constantly changing so there’s always something new to look forward to on each visit. A few other much-loved locally owned and founded stops include: retro-inspired clothing shop Biscuit General Store, stationery and letterpress boutique Inkwell, and for the sweet tooth, stop by Freak Lunchbox, a novelty candy shop filled with everything wacky and sugary under the sun.
I’d be a terrible, terrible Haligonian if I failed to make this guide weather proof! Our winter’s are cold, and we usually get a solid dumping of snow a few times throughout the cold months (as evidenced by my photo selections here… the snow couldn’t be avoided!). One plus side to the frigid weather and near constant blanket of white is the recently built Halifax Oval outdoor skating rink. It’s typically a bustling spot on the weekends, so my insider tip would be to hit up some grub first, and then take to the ice in the evening. Just a few blocks away is my absolute favourite place to eat in the entire city, B-Well Sushi and Cafe. Fill up your belly, take a little stroll back through the Halifax Commons park area where the rink is located, and then strap on a pair of blades for a little skate in the park under the lights.
Another great outdoorsy location a bit off the beaten path is Point Pleasant Park. Located at the south-eastern most tip of the peninsula upon which the city sits, this sprawling woodland park is full of trails for walking, biking, dog walking, and, my poison, a long, morning run. The park has beautiful views throughout the forested area, and being at the tip of the peninsula, when you reach the edge, you can see straight out to the Atlantic ocean.
Though this is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope you’ve enjoyed my favourite little spots from around the city of Halifax. Feel free to give me a shout if you’re ever out this way – I’m happy to dive in deeper for any visitors! Happy travels. :)
*Featured image by joshbousel
Over the summer (which seems so far away now that it’s the middle of January!), I teamed up with Allie to bring you Brooklyn City Guide–and it was so much fun that I decided to do it all over again, this time featuring up-and-coming neighborhoods for Brooklyn City Guide Pt. 2! This edition focuses on three neighborhoods–Greenpoint, Red Hook and Bed Stuy–that house some of the city’s best kept secrets.
Some say it’s the new Williamsburg. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from the infamously hipster-heavy hood so the young, hip and artsy vibe pumps through the streets, but it’s not nearly as crowded or colonized as the ‘Burg. This is because the main mode of transportation is the G subway which goes from Brooklyn to Queens and doesn’t pass through Manhattan, keeping the neighborhood full of Brooklyn residents.
I recommend having brunch in lovely local cafe called Brooklyn Label on Franklin Street between Java and India Streets. I had a scrumptious goat cheese omelette and a cup of lemon ginger tea, both were incredibly delicious! This is also a great place for vegetarians and vegans, and I imagine the bar scene at night is an unfussy place to grab a good local brew.
Once you’ve gotten your fill, take a gander at the street art. Greenpoint is chock-full of (mostly functional) warehouses and still has a very industrial feel. Rumor has it that the companies and owners of these warehouses commission graffiti artists to fill the walls of their buildings.
When it’s time to refuel, hit up Cookie Road, a “hole in the wall” bakery featuring delectables best described as cookie art, sugar cookie creations and home of an unexpectedly amazing creamy and delightfully strong cappuccino. Take your coffee and cookies over to the local bookshop, Word. Word features an impressively niche novella section, staff book reviews on new releases and most notably events almost every night, ranging from readings to debates and author Q+As.
Last but certainly not least, you must visit the famous Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop. This old-school Polish bakery has the best doughnuts in all the city (it’s a favorite of Tina Fey!). I ordered the cinnamon bun–which is definitely big enough for three people to share–and was floored by the flavor, texture and overall pastry experience.
To Brooklyners, Red Hook is widely known as destination IKEA but it has so much more to offer than $1 frozen yogurts and cheap furniture. It’s right on the shore, where the ubiquitous New York City pigeons are replaced with seagulls and an uncharacteristically fresh, salty breeze blows through. It’s home to lots of local sea-based activities and shops including the Red Hook Lobster Pound and the Red Hook Terminal, which is the only port in New York City located east of the Hudson River.
Another great reason to visit Red Hook: Baked, a bakery famous for its gorgeous cakes. This is a laid back spot, perfect for chilling out with a coffee (or tea!) and delicious pastry. I opted for the apple turnover, which wasn’t too sweet and had a perfect pastry shell (read: flaky, buttery and not too dry) and a warm, gooey apple filling.
If you’re not up for sweet fare, stop into Fort Defiance, an eclectically decorated and low key brunch spot. It’s named after a Revolutionary-war era American fort and is owned by famed food author and bartender, St. John Frizell. The tomato soup is solid, the wait staff is super friendly and while I didn’t have a brunch cocktail, I left wishing I did because the mimosas looked like the perfect Sunday afternoon indulgence.
BED STUY (short for Bedford Stuyvesant):
Bed Stuy isn’t typically a destination spot, but slowly and surely several amazing eateries are emerging, luring the city’s most seasoned foodies into the depths of Brooklyn. As a Brooklyn resident, I am ashamed for not knowing about Saraghina until relatively recently. The interior is airy and rustic, decked out with vintage decor (fun fact: many of the restaurant’s decorations were once props on the sets of various Woody Allen films!) and complete with a back room pizza-making station for guests’ viewing pleasure. There are both cafeteria style tables and smaller tables for two and four, creating a light-hearted and communal atmosphere, a good place to bring a big group of friends. I first went for brunch (and had an amazing omelette) before realizing that pizza is their specialty. Several of my NY-based friends believe that Saraghina serves the best pizza in all the city. It’s famous Neopolitan-style wood-fired pies are medium sized but hard to choose from, so we (thankfully) ordered two: the Ortolana, a white pizza topped with roasted veggies and the Capocullo, a margherita-style pizza with spicy ham. Both were crisp, sweet and thoroughly enjoyable, definitely giving Lucali and Joe’s a run for their money.
Thank you so much for having me, Allie! I really enjoyed curating both Brooklyn Guides and hope to hear from you and your readers if you ever pay a visit!
Today’s city guide is brought to you by Kate Wong of Stripe Cat Studio!
San Francisco’s Mission District is one of the city’s best known neighborhoods: first for its seedy character, later for its reputation as a haven for artists and hipsters. Step into The Mission, though, and you’ll easily find evidence of the area’s multiple personalities. Dive bars, graffiti, and elaborate murals coexist alongside the upscale boutiques and top-notch restaurants located along Valencia Street and around Dolores Park. My recommendations include just a handful of the neighborhood’s activities, so my best advice? Get on Google, grab a travel guide, or just wander until you’re lost in The Mission’s distinct (and quite complex) flavor!
The Mission is chock full of independent cafés, and any coffee lover could have a great time walking along Valencia Street. Although coffee shops always offer a selection of pastries, I prefer to make two stops to create my breakfast: Ritual Coffee and Tartine, morning stops that are both too fabulous to pass up. Tartine is well-known for their pastries and baked goods, and they’ve earned their word-of-mouth reputation. The bakery serves up a variety of fresh-baked treats out of an unmarked building on the corner of Guerro and 18th Street—you’ll know you’ve found Tartine by the storefront’s navy trim and perpetual crowd. Order a morning bun to go, and take a stroll past The Mission’s hip boutiques and enormous murals to get to Ritual Coffee, on Valencia Street between 21st and 22nd Streets. Of all the cappuccinos I’ve head, Ritual’s is far and away the best, and it’s worth ordering a drip coffee just to watch the café’s pour-over process.
After breakfast, continue your exploration of Valencia Street. Down the street from Ritual Coffee, you’ll find The Touch (956 Valencia St.), a retreat for lovers of mid-century modern furnishings. Nearby Viracocha (998 Valencia St.), an antique shop filled with quirky finds and vintage typewriters, is also worth a look. The Curiosity Shoppe (855 Valencia St.) is well-known for its modern, whimsical offerings, and if you’re in the market for some mid-priced local art I highly recommend a visit. On the same block you’ll find 826 Valencia, a store catering to pirates and wannabe swashbucklers. The shop’s distinct brand of playfulness is rather famous, but to be honest, I’ve never had the courage to step inside!
While the much loved Public Bikes resides further down Valencia and has an incredible collection of bicycles and accessories, I love Mission Bicycle Company (766 Valencia St.), a smaller shop with a not-overwhelming selection of brightly colored bike frames and curated accessories. If you visit The Mission before the end of January 2013, Photojojo is hosting an exceptionally delightful pop-up shop in the same building, just upstairs from Mission Bicycle Company.
If all your exploring has you craving a small treat, step into Dandelion Chocolate (740 Valencia St.), a company specializing in small-batch artisan chocolate. Upon walking through the door, you’ll immediately notice the strong smell of cocoa wafting from the open factory space, which visitors can observe while they wait for a specialty hot chocolate.
The Mission offers plenty of lunch options, and is famous for its countless taquerias and burrito joints (evidence of the strong Latino presence the area is known for). Anyone and everyone—including the good folks at Yelp—could point you towards a delicious Mexican restaurant, likely just a block or two from where you are. If Mexican isn’t what you’re craving, I recommend the Margherita pizza at Pizzeria Delfina (3611 18th St.). After lunch, walk up the street to Bi-Rite Creamery for a scoop of what many consider the best ice cream in San Francisco—my personal favorite flavor is their salted caramel. Be warned: if the weather is nice, the line will extend far out the door. Stop by Bi-Rite Market across the street for a pint of ice cream if you’re not a fan of waiting. Bring your cone up the street and enjoy it at Dolores Park (corner of 18th St. and Dolores), where you can take in incredible views of Mission Dolores, the rest of the Mission District, and the neighborhood’s residence lounging around the green space.
San Francisco has no lack of vibrant neighborhoods, but if you’re looking for variety and a hipster vibe, nothing beats the Mission District!
To see the other San Francisco city guide, click here!
Today’s City Guide is brought to you by Tracy of Good Day Howard!
Sacramento seems to be the least loved of California’s big cities. It’s often called a ‘cow town,’ and thought of by those fancy cityfolk as podunk and tiny. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though. Sacramento is a hidden treasure trove of total awesomeness. Sacramento has proximity to the mountains, the beaches, and ‘the city’ (San Francisco), and at its heart is Midtown, one of my very favorite places on earth.
Midtown Sacramento is a 30-block grid surrounding the Capitol building, bounded by two rivers and two freeways, and filled with pretty old houses and lots of places to play. Midtowners don’t drive — everything you need is within walking or biking distance. By everything, I mean everything. I’ll never be able to share even half of the places to stop in Midtown – coffeehouses, salons, museums, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, parks, retail shops, tattoo parlors, theaters…and then, oh, the events! This place is too much fun.
One of best things about Midtown is the food. Try Spanish tapas at Aioli (that’s the shrimp special on my birthday last summer, above) or Tapa the World. There are literally (haha, not really) one million Mexican food restaurants on the grid, every single one of them delicious. I normally like the ceviche with my margarita at Azul, but that chimichanga was not bad, i.e. it was delicious.
Among our plethora of restaurants are a healthy handful of sustainable, local, farm-to-table dining options, with new ones opening all the time. A couple of my favorites are Grange (which reminds me so much of a New York steakhouse) and Mulvaney’s Building + Loan.
We also boast our own brewing companies and wineries! Visit Rubicon Trading Company on a Tuesday for $2.50 pints of their own brews (and cider!). Find one of Ruhstaller’s yummy beers at Bows + Arrows and a growing number of other local bars. Go wine tasting at Revolution Wines right on the grid and stumble home after.
So, there’s kind of a lot of drinking in midtown. Responsible, healthy drinking of course. But that’s not our only favorite vice. This is the land of the independent coffee house. Naked Lounge, Temple, Old Soul, Insight, Broadacre, Shine, Mangia…most roast their own beans, and some even have multiple locations! Our baristas take their craft seriously, making coffeehouses a second home to many.
We love us some art in Midtown. See what all the hip kids are making these days at Bows + Arrows, Verge, and Beatnik. Our Second Saturday art walk has turned into a city-wide festival of arts and crafts and general merry-making. I like to walk around Second Saturday people-watching; that’s the real art right there. You’ll also find art everywhere you look as you’re walking down the streets.
Midtown has some excellent vintage shopping. Stop by Cuffs, Thunderhorse, Crimson + Clover, and Bows + Arrows, and you’ll be sure to find something good. You’ll notice that I’ve already mentioned Bows + Arrows a couple times here. It’s one of my favorite Midtown establishments because Trisha and Olivia have created the most creative space for all the creative people to play! Part vintage shop, part art gallery, part cafe/bar, Bows also hosts live music, adult spelling bees, nerd nights, and community meetings. If something amazing is going to start up in Midtown, it probably begins here. This is also my favorite place to shop for jewelry — local designers Freya, Witt + Lore, and Heavy Metal are pretty much all you need in your collection.
With all our talented local musicians, we’ve got to have some good music stores too. Phono Select has all the records and the best customer service. The owner once played me records for 45 minutes to help me find exactly what I needed for a friend’s gift. The Beat is where to go for concert tickets and to browse the CD sale racks.