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The Cool-Hunting Hipsters Hit Valencia Street, San Francisco

Jesus Loves You Valencia Street

Well, somebody has to love you! (Tiled into a Valencia Street storefront)

“..the wide, low-slung street has become a gathering spot for the city’s latest breed of cool-hunting hipsters” (NY Times Travel)

Being a cool-hunting hipster myself, it was only natural that I would eventually end up on Valencia Street.  My equally cool hipster friend Cathy was coming up to see me in San Francisco and we wanted to go someplace a little off the beaten track, but that also gave us a taste of The City.

Mannequin Heads on Valencia Street

It was not always clear what was going on in some of the shops on Valencia Street, but the window displays were always inventive.

After conferring with my hosts here in San Francisco, we decided that Valencia Street would be our best choice – interesting shops, plenty of places to eat lunch, and do-able in about three hours or so.  So off we went.  Our first challenge – as usual in San Francisco – was parking.  We arrived in the neighborhood around 11 am and after some futile driving around we ended up finding a two hour free spot on Guerrero – a few blocks parallel to Valencia. We were around 24th street at that point – which was fine since the commercial district runs from around 24th to 15th street.

Our first serious stop was the Freewheel Bike Shop at 9q4 Valencia.  Freewheel is one of the several bike shops we saw along Valencia – along with many bikes, bike riders and well-marked bike lanes.  Cathy was in the market for a new bike and decided to try out a

Cathy trying out a Bianchi at The Freewheel Bike Shop on Valencia

Cathy getting ready to try out a Bianchi at The Freewheel Bike Shop on Valencia Street

beautiful turquoise Bianchi that they had in the store.  They pulled it off the ceiling and after going for a trial run around the neighborhood. she was in love.  “I think I’ll buy it in three years” she announced.  I announced back that three years was a long time to wait.  Especially after I saw the happy look on her face when she returned from her test run.

Wisely, we decided to lunch on it.

The Women's Building on 18th between Valencia and Guerrero

The Women's Building on 18th between Valencia and Guerrero

Although Valencia Street has no shortage of cafes and restaurants – many with outdoor seating – we had already decided ahead of time that we were going to eat at Tartine, the legendary bakery/cafe. I had never eaten there, and in fact, I had never heard of it before, however both Cathy and my San Francisco hosts are big fans and so off we went.

Disclosure: Tartine is not actually on Valencia Street, it is a few blocks up, on the corner of 18th and Guerrero.  So sue me.

We continued our stroll down Valencia, turning on 18th.  Our walk to the restaurant took us past the spectacular Women’s Building, which is completely covered with professionally created murals. My photo does not do it justice, but whether or not you decide to eat at Tartine, it is still worth turning off Valencia Street at 18th to check Women’s Building out.

Tartine near Valencia Street

A peek inside Tartine's cake case

We were at our destination within moments.  For reasons that are unknown, there is no signage on the building.  However, it is clearly a restaurant, with outdoor seating and lines out the door. The decisions were difficult.  Do we just go for it and eat a pile of baked goods? Or should we make an attempt to have “lunch”? We decided to do both, purchasing a large scone and ordering the “Cheese Sampler” for lunch.

Radio habana on Valencia Street

The Radio Habana Social Club on Valencia Street was closed when we walked by but it looked like fun.

Being that both Cathy and I both live in the wine country, our idea of a Cheese Sampler is a small platter with some crumbly and creamy chunks of cheese, a selection of fancy crackers, and paper thin pear slices laid out in a fan shape.  Tartine’s idea of a cheese sampler was three enormous melted cheese sandwiches on toasted homemade bread.  Good thing we had ordered only one!  Even after we finished eating, there was still plenty to take home.  Tartine is nice inside – rustic and informal, although seating was at a premium.  We were able to grab some seats at a long large table with several other people. We were soon joined by a young woman who introduced herself and said that she was originally from Michigan.  She also said that she was never going back there. 

ADS hat store on Valencia

Lots of unique hats at ADS Hat Store on Valencia Street

Fully sated, we realized that our two hour parking space was almost due.  We headed back, got in the car, moved it to a side street near 15th, and continued our walk. My only stated goal for Valencia Street shopping had been to visit the Alternative Design Studio at 418 Valencia. Voted San Francisco’s best hat store by SF Weekly, ADS is all about hats!  Handmade and unique, there was such a great selection that I was able to find two great summer hats almost immediately. Plus the delightful owner gives a chemo discount, so I left a very happy camper. Unlike many of the hats I have been using while on chemo, the hats I bought at ADS are so nice that they will probably continue to be in my wardrobe even after my hair grows back.

Motorcycle store on Valencia Street

Political rhetoric and motorcycles peacefully co-exist on Valencia Street

We continued to wander in and out of various stores and boutiques until we stumbled upon Clarion Alley.  Located near 17th Street, the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) is 20 year old public art project.  The alleyway is an art gallery. Huge murals – which change periodically – line entire alleyway. There is a fair amount of  political rhetoric associated with CAMP.  Political rhetoric bores the living hell out of me, so if you are interested in pursuing that end of it, feel free to research CAMP on Google.  Be my guest.

The murals were fun, colorful and exuberant.  Here is the flickr slideshow:

BTW, after we finished up and Cathy took me home, she returned to the Freewheel Bike Shop and bought the bike of her dreams.  A happy ending to a great day.


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  1. […] had been there several weeks before and thought it would be a fun place to revisit.  Cathy (of the Valencia Street Bianchi bicycle escapade) drove.  Lory rode shotgun.  We were on our […]


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