Some of the best things in San Francisco are the hardest to find. While its collection of big museums, major landmarks, and five-star restaurants is impressive, the city's real treasures lie off the beaten path.
Dogpatch gets very little love in San Francisco — in fact, plenty of city residents don't even know where it is. One of the few spots that draws traffic to this historic neighborhood is the Just For You Cafe (732 22nd St., 415-647-3033, JustForYouCafe.com), a tiny restaurant famous for its New Orleans-style beignets. This cafe is completely packed for weekend brunch and has occasional live music in the evenings.
Now a quirky relic of long-gone era, divey sports bar Double Play (2401 16th St., 415-621-9859) used to be a hotspot for San Francisco Seals fans when the minor-league baseball team still played across the street on Potrero Hill. The neighborhood has changed drastically since 1909, but Double Play still carries a laid-back, blue-collar charm in the rapidly gentrifying area.
On your first trip to The Sword and the Rose (85 Carl St., 415-681-5434), you'll probably wonder how you've never been there before — even though it's sort of impossible to find. Hidden behind a green courtyard in Cole Valley, the Sword and the Rose sells homemade incense, oils, candles, and beautiful exotic jewelry, and offers tarot readings. Since it sort of stands in a category of its own, it's hard to define exactly what type of shop the Sword and the Rose is, but it's definitely worth a visit.
An overpriced Mai Tai at The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar (located in the Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., 415-772-5278, Fairmont.com/sanfrancisco) is a favorite guilty pleasure. This deliciously kitschy tiki bar falls under the radar of most out-of-towners. Grab a seat next to the once-functional indoor pool-turned-"lagoon," listen to some live music, and just wait for one of the hilarious simulated indoor monsoons to begin.
When you're in the mood to go out and don't quite know where, Amnesia (853 Valencia St., 415-970-0012, AmnesiatheBar.com) is reliable for good live music nearly any night of the week. The schedule is a diverse mix of jazz, rock, folk, and occasional electronica, with the cover usually around $5 and rarely more than $10.
It's hard to decide if the quaint Lovejoy's Tea Room (1351 Church St., 415-648-5895, LovejoysTeaRoom.com) seems perfectly San Franciscan with its Victorian charm, or delightfully out of place in a tech-savvy city. Originally an antique shop that served its patrons tea, Lovejoy's evolved to become a Noe Valley institution offering a variety of tea and an eccentric food menu.
Don't miss: With the famous upscale vegan Millennium Restaurant (580 Geary St., 415-345-3900, MillenniumTestaurant.com) just down the street, it's easy to overlook the humbler Golden Era (572 O'Farrell St., 415-673-3136, GoldenEraVegetarian.com). Both are all-vegetarian and very much worth visiting. ... It's hard to compete with Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St., 415-831-1200, Amoeba.com), but the Mission district's tiny Aquarius Records (1055 Valencia St., 415-647-2272, AquariusRecords.org) holds its own as a great independent record store. ... The Sixth Ave Aquarium (425 Clement St., 415-668-7190, 6thAveAquarium.net) carries an immense and beautiful assortment of freaky sea creatures that are fun to look at. ... Buy hot retro lingerie or star in a sexy boudoir photo shoot at Dollhouse Bettie (1641 Haight St., 415-252-7399, DollhouseBettie.com).