The northern neighborhoods of San Francisco offer a wealth of pedestrian-friendly sights and activities. Our proposed walking itinerary includes time in the Presidio District at a leading spa, a stroll through the Marina District and our favorite spots for light bites, wine and dinner.
Start your day at the 13,000-square-foot SenSpa (1161 Gorgas Avenue). Located in a renovated World War I Army barracks, this exceptional wellness center offers 14 treatment rooms and one couples room with a Jacuzzi and steam shower. The full-service spa menu includes massages, aromatherapy and integrative medical sessions such as acupuncture and nutrition counseling. I recommend the Swedish-inspired Muscle Refresher massage, which is ideal for both men and women. Afterward, the Warming Room offers chaises longues set around a working fireplace. Other amenities include a bamboo garden and a eucalyptus steam room.
Duly pampered, head out into the urban bustle. Turn left on Gorgas Avenue from SenSpa, and walk for five minutes to the idyllic setting that is the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre (3301 Lyon Street). The classical rotunda and colonnades of the Palace are set in parklike grounds and front a lagoon inhabited by swans, herons, ducks, geese and turtles. Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition by the architect Bernard Maybeck, the structure was designed to represent the reawakening of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake.
From here, continue on foot to Chestnut Street in the Marina District, where you will find delightful boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops. Two of my favorite stores are Books Inc. (2251 Chestnut Street), an independent bookshop with 11 outposts in the Bay Area that can trace its origins back to the Gold Rush days, and Taylor Stitch (2030 Chestnut Street), a high-end store that develops bespoke fabrics and offers tailored men’s and women’s apparel.
At this point, why not stop for a pick-me-up of coffee and dessert at Le Marais (2066 Chestnut Street)? I highly recommend its choux à la crème, a crispy puff pastry filled with custard.
Continue east up Chestnut, then turn right on Fillmore Street to head up to Union Street. Turn left onto Union and pop into Twig Gallery (2162 Union Street), famous for its American crafts and unique San Francisco souvenirs. A few doors down, pass through an unmarked portico that leads to an inner courtyard. Tucked in this small, leafy square is the inconspicuous Union Street Papery (2166 Union Street), which specializes in custom-printed paper goods and personalized letterpress cards of the engraved, thermographic or embossed varieties. I also suggest a few minutes of relaxation on one of the benches in the lovely courtyard.
For a pre-dinner drink, take a five-minute cab ride to Union Larder (1945 Hyde Street), a buzzing wine bar in the Russian Hill neighborhood that also offers tapas, cheese and charcuterie menus. The attractive interior has communal high-top tables, wine walls and large windows facing Hyde Street, where cable cars regularly pass. The curated wine selection is exceptional, and the staff are happy to provide tastings.
A short stroll away, the Michelin one-star restaurant Lord Stanley (2065 Polk Street) serves imaginative European-influenced cuisine in a gorgeous two-level space. I highly recommend the prix fixe tasting menu, which changes nightly. Every dish is complex and inventive yet unfussy, and there are few more agreeable places in which to end the day.