San Francisco has been called America’s original boomtown, and that moniker certainly applies to this supercharged moment in the city. From The Mission through South of Market and up into the Tenderloin, San Francisco is transforming itself yet again, with new skyscrapers and museums and all manner of restaurants and stores catering to the high-powered tech set.
Of course, the arrival of the new usually means some passing of the old, and with the opening of each sleek eatery or designer boutique, there likely goes a Lexington Club, the city’s last remaining lesbian bar, which closed in 2014, or a Coronet Theater or a Yoshi’s. And with real-estate costs continuing to climb – the city’s current median home price hovers over $1 million – more people are locked out of purchasing a house amid these hills.
That old San Francisco of memory, however, hasn’t completely disappeared from the city’s 47 square miles. From downtown, just hop on the N Judah Muni line headed to Ocean Beach, roll through Sunset Tunnel and you’ll emerge into overcast, wind-swept streets lined with unassuming Mexican restaurants, watering holes with old-school names like Pittsburgh’s Pub and stretches of understated houses that play down their soaring resale prices.
This is the Outer Sunset, a residential grid long considered one of the sleepier, more fog-bound parts of town. Your first-timers to San Francisco can check out Fisherman’s Wharf or the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city’s world-famous restaurants and clubs still make for a lovely night out on the town. People come to the Outer Sunset for that old market with the Chinese language sign hanging out front, the cafe still serving coffee in mugs on linoleum tables and lungfuls of salt air blowing in from the open Pacific.
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A hint of the neighborhood’s Italian and Irish roots awaits just to the west of the Sunset Tunnel – the enormous, pink, double-spired St. Anne of the Sunset (850 Judah St., 415-665-1600). The interior of this nearly 80-year-old church continues the pink theme with its towering columns, along with plenty of ornamentation and stained-glass windows.
Keep rolling down Judah, cross Sunset Boulevard and the neighborhood gets more human-sized. Check out the murals of the city and ocean painted on the facades of businesses on the north side of Judah between 44th and 45th streets. In that same neighborhood, The Mediterranean Cafe (3848 Judah Ave.) serves up reliable plates of hummus, falafel and shawarma. On the same side of the street, at the end of Judah, Java Beach Cafe (1396 La Playa St., 415-731-2965) offers a nice treat for reaching the end of the line. Built-in wooden benches and tables provide pleasant spots to take in the sun, on those occasions there is any. Inside, there’ll be plate-filling servings of sandwiches on bagels, croissants and French rolls, as well as salads and beverages.
Ocean Beach awaits across the Great Highway, with its lonely sand dunes and waves crashing to shore. This isn’t really the kind of place to swim or body surf, but somehow, it puts the rest of the city in perspective. Most of the Sunset was built on sand dunes whipped around by that wind, long after much of San Francisco was laid out on the other side of the peninsula.
The area still feels like a kind of buffer zone for the rest of the city, taking the cold winds and clouds while everyone else plays and works. In this case, all that fog has become a kind of amber preserving the Outer Sunset while the rest of San Francisco booms.
Country music festival
What: The three-day Stagecoach Country Music Festival will host Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney, Kip Moore, Shania Twain and many more.
When: Venue opens at noon, Friday, April 28; Saturday, April 29; Sunday, April 30
Where: Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Avenue 51, Indio
Cost: $395 for a three-day pass
Scenic train rides
What: Board a train for a leisurely 11-mile ride through wildflower country and the rolling Montezuma Hills.
When: 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. departures Wednesday, April 26, through Sunday, April 30
Where: Western Railway Museum, 5848 State Highway 12, Suisun City
Cost: $10 adults; $9 seniors; $7 children 12 to 14 years old
Wine and whiskey
What: A ticket to Oakley’s Wine and Whiskey event gets you a gourmet dinner, a chance to enter a gun raffle and plenty of wine and whiskey tastings.
When: 5-10 p.m. Saturday, April 29
Where: La Grande Wedding and Event Center, 1799 Carpenter Road, Oakley
Cost: $75 per ticket