I Followed San Francisco Locals’ Advice For A Day. Here’s What Happened.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY BRITTANY SHOOT
When I moved to San Francisco four years ago, I decided to explore the city as if I’d have to relocate again at any moment. It’s not that I plan on leaving, but I want to go everywhere and do everything. So when I heard about Assist, an app (currently in beta mode here in SF) promising to connect me with savvy locals for recommendations (think Yelp with a personal texting feature), I knew this would be an interesting way to see the city.
I started my morning with a simple task: asking Assist for recommendations for a café with good coffee and prime people watching. I was pleasantly surprised when it suggested Mavelous Coffee and Wine Bar. A fabulous pick with a nice nook in the back and great drinks, but by “downtown,” I’d meant the Financial District, not Mid-Market near Civic Center. Lesson learned—I tried to be more specific after that.
Connect with insiders on Assist to answer the eternal question: “Where do the locals go?” Courtesy of Assist.
Over the course of the day, every time I needed a suggestion—or even just a second opinion—I asked the app for a local’s perspective. Craving a mid-day snack while in the Inner Richmond, a local helpfully directed me to Cinderella Bakery and Café on Balboa, which I’d never thought to try. My husband and I ordered a raspberry hamentashen and, on the counter server’s recommendation, two black currant macarons, which were divine. Turns out this was a hidden gem, as there was a constant line out the door. Fortunately, there’s a charming parklet in front of the café, so there is always ample seating.
The long line is long forgotten when you’re faced with delicious baked goods at Cinderella Bakery and Café.
I knew about a cute vintage-centric boutique nearby and wondered if there were others I should check out. I asked a local for suggestions for a “cool shop with nice gifts, Richmond or Sunset.” When I got recommendations for shops in Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, unfortunately too much of a detour from the neighborhood where I already was, I headed to the secondhand store I like for its mid-century chairs and charming tchotchkes: Mixed Nuts on Balboa. (So old-school stylish, it doesn’t even have a website.)
When I requested “the best milkshake in the city,” I canceled the request after 15 minutes without a reply. When I tried again, this time with a more specific request for a “milkshake near Golden Gate Park,” we were directed to The Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley. Once there, the service was friendly and prompt, and the enormous $9 milkshakes looked delicious. But somewhat full after those Cinderella’s pastries, we couldn’t resist something simpler, yet equally satisfying: mint chip in a homemade waffle cone and a junior cup of butterscotch. We’ll go back for milkshakes when we aren’t so stuffed.
Dig into inventive flavors of all scoops and sizes at The Ice Cream Bar.
TABLE FOR TWO
When dinnertime rolled around, I requested “Italian food in Nob Hill or the Financial District, price unimportant.” I should have been more specific, because although the recommendations were solid, they just didn’t match my mood or price point. I asked again, this time for something a bit more casual. Up popped a recommendation for the Nob Hill Café, one of my favorite go-to spots where the staff knows us so well they often hug me hello. Off we went.
What I hadn’t known was that the neighborhood was teeming with not just tourists, but also concertgoers waiting for a show at the nearby Masonic Temple, plus hordes of marathon runners carbo-loading for the next morning’s San Francisco Marathon. The line of people waiting for a seat in the tiny café was 30 deep.
Passing the hungry mob, we took a right on Clay Street and walked straight through Chinatown to another favorite, an unassuming trattoria at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid. Given the insider recommendations I’d been getting all day, I imagine with more requesting, a local would have directed me to where we ended up: Mangia Tutti. There, the ever-present owner Antonio kisses us both whenever we arrive (which is at least several times a month). It’s a charming, out-of-the-way spot beloved by locals. I was happy to be there, but another night, I’ll ask for more suggestions, hoping to discover something new.
Out with friends a bit later, I opened the app to help us find some after-dinner drinks, requesting a recommendation for a spot along the Divisadero corridor with good beer and wine. “So many great spots there!” the local enthused. He recommended Toronado, which is a great spot—but for beer snobs, not wine lovers, and we had both. After a bit of back and forth with the friendly local, we decided to head to a nearby dive bar we all know and love because it has both microbrews and vino on tap: The Page.
Local dive The Page keeps regulars coming back with a range of microbrews and wine on top.
As it got dark, we wanted to watch the sun set. I asked a local where we should go, and he recommended Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks is where I often take friends visiting from out of town because the view of the city is so spectacular. But since the park part of the hill faces east, we headed to our preferred west-facing stretch of Ocean Beach. Pelicans swooped between the waves of the rising tide, and a few cargo ships dotted the horizon as the sky turned orange. We stayed until the sun dipped behind the Pacific, then joined the slow, mass exodus of cars driving back toward the city that now felt more familiar than ever.
We finished the day beside the golden sunset on Ocean Beach after seeing the city in a different light.