To most visitors, the city can appear unchanging: Fisherman’s Wharf is still a great place to dine on sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder, and Chinatown remains overflowing with discount shops and dim sum eateries. But in the 17 years that I’ve lived here, San Francisco has undergone a metamorphosis. Neighborhoods like Cole Valley, a small community just off the N-Judah Muni line that runs from downtown west to the ocean, was once considered part of the hippie-esque Haight-Ashbury district. Today it’s home to young families and a handful of restaurants ranging from sushi to Italian to French, all located along a low-key stretch of Cole Street entirely unlike the sometimes manic mosaic of Haight Street, three blocks away. And a formerly deserted stretch of Divisadero Street — a north-south thoroughfare connecting the Castro district to the aptly named Marina — now houses tiny boutique shops like women’s vintage clothing purveyor Dina Louise and an array of restaurants, including Nopa, an urban-rustic eatery with locally sourced dishes ranging from rotisserie herbed chicken to Moroccan vegetable tagine. Thirsty? Corner café Bean Bag and nearby Fly Bar & Restaurant offer some of the best happy-hour prices (not to mention $6 pizza specials) in the city.
As the weather starts to cool, I hop back on my bicycle and start pedaling out of the Presidio toward McDowell Avenue. The ride is effortless at first, but the path soon morphs into a steep incline, forcing me to switch gears. With my legs now moving more quickly, I ponder the fact that this is a city where you have to work to get things done. It’s one of San Francisco’s most alluring qualities.