San Francisco is our home city—full of rolling hills, roller disco, sourdough rolls—and let’s just say we’re pretty happy here. This year, Zendesk Relate comes home to roost at the top of Nob Hill, one of the most scenic spots in the city. Of course, there’s plenty to see around the historic Fairmont, so if you’re just in town for a few days and can’t bear to tear yourself away from the big event, you won’t be disappointed. (Check out the end of this article for some recommendations.)
San Francisco is full of rewarding surprises if you do venture farther afield. Believe me: it was tough to keep this list short. Look for design-focused stores, fresh California fare, live music, and laid-back vibes.
Amnesia Beer and Music Hall
There’s no better place to feel instant camaraderie than in this small bar in the Mission. It draws a mixed but committed crowd for the winning combo of beer and live music—from gypsy jazz to indie rock. When the band gets going, the place can’t be beat. Once I even had the pleasure of seeing Nora Jones do a surprise show. Maybe you’ll be so lucky.
This bar hasn’t been around forever, but it’s already a craft cocktail institution in the city. As someone who’s inclined toward lesser-known spirits, I’ve never been disappointed. As a bonus, Trick Dog is also known for their high concept menus that change each season, presenting drinks in the form of Pantone swatch books, dog calendars, and even a series of real-life companion murals. (To be spotted in the wild, all over the city, long after you’ve finished your drink.) Step inside this narrow bar and don’t shy away from the food, either. They offer tasty bar snacks and small plates to match.
Heath is an icon of California craft-based ceramics design. Here, you can peek in on the factory floor or just spend an hour touching every single beautiful mug, dish, and bowl in the display room. There’s also a well-stocked magazine store in the factory foyer. Once you’ve had your fill, turn around the corner, for another San Francisco must-stop: Tartine Manufactory, serving the best bread in the city of sourdough.
If you’re willing to make the trek to the Outer Sunset, you’ll hit a small strip well worth the trip: General Store, Trouble Coffee, Black Bird Bookstore, and Outerlands. At General Store, an artist and an architect curate a cool mix of desirable items. Furniture and design books share the space with crafty items like wooden radios, chairs, and baskets. Open the door to the back garden to enjoy the fog, seagulls, and salty air. Then make a stop at Trouble Coffee for cinnamon toast and a fresh coconut. If you’re into something more filling, Outerlands is well known for its rustic California cuisine and driftwood counter. Don’t forget, Ocean Beach is just a few blocks away. Give the ocean a wave.
Mollusk Surf Shop
Sure, I’ve only been surfing once. But I really like to collect the goodies—and the good news is that surf aficionados of every commitment level can get their fix at this Outer Sunset store. Spend a while checking out custom boards, cozy sweaters, and a great selection of art prints. When people run into you, they’ll swear you’re the living embodiment of chill. While you’re out here, you’re not too far from General Store (see above).
San Francisco’s Japanese shopping and entertainment emporium showcases the latest in Japanese pop culture. It’s basically three jam-packed floors of kawaii fashion, food, stationery, manga, and music. They also host J-pop events, film, and food festivals. While you’re nearby, take care to check out Benkyodo—this small café is known for its superfresh mochi. If you’re hopin’ for mochi, get there early in the day because they’re known to sell out. But if you do make it, the fresh blueberry and strawberry are must-try.
If you’re venturing through North Beach and find yourself feeling hungry, stop by Comstock, an old-school saloon-style bar with cozy booths and classic cocktails. The aura of the gold rush is strong—until you see the menu, which includes an epic burger and the outlandish Unicorn Tuna Tartare. This place is popular, so it’s probably wise to make a reservation. If things don’t work out, you can always walk over to The House of Nanking or Golden Boy Pizzeria—or really anywhere in the neighborhood. Bonus: there’s live music every night, no cover.
While you’re in North Beach, be sure to stop in this nostalgic café. It’s the heart of the neighborhood and the first espresso coffee house established on the West Coast. Once you step inside, you’d believe it—check out the gallery wall with celebrity photographs or flip through the old school jukebox. With the rich history, Italian-style coffee, and impromptu music, it’s the perfect place to post up with a notebook or that book of poetry you just picked up at City Lights.
There’s a few locations of this stellar coffee shop, but my favorite is their headquarters, right by the Zendesk office. The owners take great pride in their beans, and in case you’d ever doubt how serious they are, there’s a huge roasting machine right in the middle of the store. There are plenty of seats over two floors but no free Wi-Fi, which means you may have to...gasp...talk to your neighbor. (Seriously, try it. Once I got a non-creepy offer to stay in a cabin in Santa Cruz.) If you’d like a treat, they offer afternoon affogato at the upstairs bar.
Just up the street on Market from our home office, Kantine serves up Danish food that helps us at Zendesk stay true to our roots. While it’s still on my must-try list, our founder-CEO Mikkel Svane is a fan of the spot, probably because it’s one of the few places that serve smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches). Try the liver paté or creamy potato and I’m sure you’ll feel right at hjem.
Also, if you’re attending our user conference, here’s a few more choice spots in the vicinity of Nob Hill and the Fairmont hotel:
- Grace Cathedral Yoga: Stunning hilltop church with weekend yoga class.
- Masonic Auditorium: Historic music venue with cathedral-esque design
- Del Popolo Pizza: Wood-fired pizza, Neapolitan-style
- Tunnel Top: Vertically oriented watering hole and DJ hotspot
- Native Co.: Healthy food takeaway
- Ryoko’s: Underground sushi spot spinning old school hip hop
- Liholiho Yacht Club: Hawaiian fusion food in a hipster hideaway
- Mr. Holmes Bakehouse: Expert-level pastry shop
- Audium: Custom space for listening to sound sculptures
- Mezcalito: Mezcal bar with a taco tasting menu
Olivia Kingsley is a copywriter. She believes in the arts, slow-scrambled eggs, and beginner’s luck. Olivia can be found on Twitter: @oliviakingsley