Our ‘my city’ series puts a new perspective on some of our favourite places, as we catch up with creative residents, asking them to divulge their best kept secrets. From their recommended cheap eats, to their go-to coffee spot, there are plenty of hints and tips on how to stay like a local.
We’ve picked the brains of one of Silicon Valley’s finest to get under the skin of San Francisco. Dan Pupius runs engineering for the publishing platform Medium. Dan’s a software engineer by trade, and previously worked at Google on Gmail, Google+ and web app infrastructure.
If a friend’s visiting and you want to impress them, which is your go-to restaurant?
Alexander’s Steakhouse. They serve high-quality, perfectly cooked steaks — including Wagyu imported from Japan. The service is perfect; always there, never in the way, attentive without being pretentious. A more casual option is to eat at the bar, where you can chat with the bartenders and try out their experimental concoctions.
And your favourite cheap eat?
Nothing’s really cheap in San Francisco, but burritos and burgers are safe bet – good value and the competition keeps the quality bar high. Papalote’s in The Mission has good burritos and the best salsa in the city. Garaje in SoMa, which bills itself as a divebar-taqueria-gastropub, has great beer on tap and a tasty selection of tacos, zapatos, and burgers.
Where do you go for the best coffee in San Francisco?
San Franciscans are serious about their coffee; the style is smooth but strong, there are minimal options, and good foam and fancy latte art are expected. There are a lot of coffee shops: Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, and Sightglass are popular favourites. All have great coffee, great atmosphere, but the queues are long and it’s not unusual to wait 20 minutes or more for your fix. My current favourite is a place called Cento, hidden in a back alley in SoMa (South of Market), near where I live. It’s modish and Italian themed, and has amazing croissants if you get there early.
Can you reveal your best-kept San Francisco secret?
Few residents know about Seward Street Slides. It’s off a quiet street, tucked behind the trees, and the polished concrete slides are seriously fast. Bring cardboard or plastic to ride on, and pack a first aid kit. (Officially, adults must now be accompanied by a child.)
Tell us something that only a resident of the city would know?
No one calls it San Fran, and certainly not Frisco. It’s SF, The City, or San Francisco.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in San Francisco, and why?
San Francisco is pretty fringy, so after a decade my baseline for weird has probably shifted a bit. Bring Your Own Big Wheel is a funny annual event where people race down Vermont Street — an insanely steep and windy road — riding plastic kids bikes and wearing fancy dress.
Are there any tourist traps that should be avoided?
Fisherman’s Wharf is the most famous tourist trap. It’s where you’ll find the cheap souvenir shops, the wax museum, and the oh so authentic San Francisco Dungeon.
What’s the best thing to do in San Francisco for free?
If you come at the right time of year, the Stern Grove concert series is free, and the natural amphitheatre nestled amid tall fir trees, is a great place for a picnic while enjoying music. On the same theme Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a big music festival that takes over Golden Gate Park, and is paid for my local venture capitalist Warren Hellman.
Beyond that, my main recommendation for visitors is to just walk. You can walk around the Embarcadero, bridge to bridge, skirting the edge of the bay – you’ll see the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, views of Treasure Island, Alcatraz, Sea Lions, Fort Mason and Crissy Field. Or, walk over to Sausalito; follow 24th Street from the Mission up to Twin Peaks. Bernal Heights is a nice place to hang and look out over the city.
Are there any local customs or traditions that visitors to the city should be aware of?
San Francisco seems to attract a lot of people who have a penchant for nakedness. Whether it’s the Bay to Breakers race, Pride, or one of the street fairs, you’re likely to see a lot of skin. The last Friday of every month marks Critical Mass, a semi-organized group bike ride that attracts hundreds of people. It’s fun to participate in, but for visitors may lead to unexpected traffic jams.
Where would you go to get your fix of San Francisco’s cultural and creative scene?
San Francisco is steeped in the maker culture. The Maker Faire is the biggest annual event, but it’s not hard to find other creative parties and gatherings where people show off their works: from Steampunk monstrosities to home printed fabrics. The San Francisco Ballet and Alonzo King Lines Ballet are something else. And SF MOMA will be reopening in May this year.
Where do you go when you need to get away from it all?
One of the things I love most about SF is how easy it is to get into the outdoors. There are beautiful coastlines North and South. Wine Country is a short drive away. And in a few hours you can get to wilderness areas near Tahoe, Shasta, or Yosemite.
But, if we want a quick break from the city, our favourite spot is Fort Funston, an ethereal beach, south of the city, where dog owners flock, and you can sometimes see dolphins or whales playing in the surf.
In your opinion, when’s the best time of year to visit?
Even though San Francisco is renowned for its fog (who is called Karl) we actually get around 300 days of sunshine a year. Due to being on the tip of a peninsula, caught between Ocean and Bay, there are a myriad of weird micro-climates. It can famously go from being 30°C in the morning to 10°C in the afternoon as the wind blows in. SF has an Indian Summer, so people often say Autumn is probably the best time overall. But Winter is a good time to visit because it’s so warm and mild compared to other places.
If you didn’t live in San Francisco, where else would you live and why?
Probably Seattle. My wife’s family live there and while I don’t love how rainy it is (I left England for a reason!) there’s a nice balance of outdoors and city living. I do kind of have a dream of living at the northern end of the Big Island in Hawaii, but not sure how practical that really is.
When you leave San Francisco, what do you look forward to most when you come back?
The weather (300 days of sunshine and a clarity of air that makes everything slightly desaturated and pastel), the coffee and the fact that you can walk or cycle everywhere (we only need to use the car when we’re going on an adventure).
All images Copyright © 2016 Dan Pupius
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