It’s always fun to poke around shopping districts like Union Square and the Marina, but to get a better flavor of San Francisco’s diversity, you’ll want to head to the ethnic neighborhoods.
The Mission – If you’re looking for Latin culture, the Mission district is the place to be. Bordered by Portrero Hill, the Castro and Noe Valley, this area is known for its food, music, funky shopping and colorful murals depicting the life and history of the people living here. The district is home to Mission Dolores, the oldest building in the city, finished in 1791. As for window shopping, walk Valencia Street and get the most bang for your buck. While everyone has their favorite burrito spots, we go to Taqueria Cancun on Mission Street, which sports picnic style tables and multicolor paper cutouts hanging from the ceiling.
Chinatown – This is an easy walk when staying in the well-traveled downtown areas. Close to Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach. Enter through the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue. While many of the stores cater to tourists, selling everything from jade statues to coin purses, the more interesting stores are the ones catering to locals. Here you can find loose tea, hand-made kites, instruments, dried herbs and fruit stands. If you get hungry, you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from, in addition to Chinese bakeries selling egg-custard tarts and pork buns.
North Beach – In this Italian neighborhood, you’ll probably spend more time shopping for food and cappuccino than anything else. Pasta, pizza and pastries are the three “p” things here. You won’t want to miss City Lights Bookstore – not only a fabulous independent place, but a favorite of the 60’s beatniks. Revel in the retro in North Beach, shopping for clothing at Old Vogue on Grant Street. And then shop for music at 101 Music, where you can go back in time flipping through a huge collection of albums and CDs.
Photo by Franco Folini/Flickr