I started this post before I moved, intending to pay homage to my short but sweet stay in of San Francisco’s most well-rounded neighborhoods — NoPa or North of the Panhandle. Of course I didn’t get to it before leaving and now it’s been six-ish weeks since I moved to LA. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Here it is anyway-
In the grander scheme, San Francisco was a blip, full of ups and downs and minor chaos for me. Certainly not the easiest time of my life. The best period over the fifteen month stint was the last bit in NoPa, at 535 Broderick Street. The neighborhood is one of the city’s best, with a central location and proximity to other key areas like the Castro and Pac Heights. It’s next to two beautiful parks, full of new and hip bars and restaurants (some of the city’s most popular), and is served by excellent, sub-half-hour bus service to and from Downtown SF. My big, white, 4th floor bedroom with huge east-facing bay windows and epic morning sunlight was the icing on an already great geographic cake.
Six weeks ago I relocated to Los Angeles to work for italist.com. Although inconvenient logistically (I was only on Broderick Street for three months and was just starting to like it), the job checks several boxes for me and feels like an impassable opportunity, so I had to take it. Leaving San Francisco was bittersweet as there are great elements and not so great elements—the city is rife with topical urban problems like income inequality, an all-around high cost of living, and a somewhat oblivious, tech-obsessed, often myopic young population that doesn’t really understand what’s happening outside their bubble. Those problems exist in all cities, or soon will. SF is just a more extreme version of what’s happening elsewhere, so I wasn’t totally broken up to leave, but I was just starting to settle into a routine that I liked. NoPa specifically will be hard to give up.
Nearby Alamo Square may be my favorite feature of the neighborhood, and one of the most elegant urban parks I’ve ever enjoyed regularly. It has a recent restoration going for it, with delineated sections for picnicking, off-leash dog play, and raw nature. It’s elegant and orderly without being overly pretty. It feels like a touch of the wild in the middle of the city (San Francisco is good at that), especially given the posted warnings of nighttime coyote activity in the park.
I developed a sweet running route over the course of a few months that took me from my apartment around the Panhandle green space first for a flat mile and a half warm-up, then in loops around Alamo Square. Up one long side, down a short side, then up another long side, with a flat last side of the rectangle. I came to love the route because it had a gentle start, then slowly increased in intensity until it punched the air out of me toward the end, culminating in a victory lap past the Archbishop’s mansion and stately Victorians that line the park. I haven’t found anything quite as satisfying in LA yet.
I also have fond memories of meeting friends and family in and around NoPa. I brought my two of my best friends from Tampa to The Mill for breakfast and coffee. I brought my dad and stepmom there for red tea and avocado toast. I also met my aunt who lives just north of the city in Point Reyes at The Mill several times—she would always take a loaf of their house-made bread home.
For dining, NoPa has a great mix of local and revered, new and upcoming, trendy and modern. There’s a BBQ place across from The Mill, which is in front of a marijuana dispensary and across from a tapas joint. Che Fico is still popular even after months on the “it list.” I only went to Boba Guys once, but it was delicious. My favorite spots might have been Souvla and RT Rotisserie, which are local fast casual places serving upscale salads and sandwiches (the former is Greek inspired and the latter has a Southern bent). Interspersed among these newer arrivals are neighborhood watering holes that I admittedly never explored much as I’m not much of a drinker.
But, I loved the energy of the neighborhood, even if it meant sirens at all hours (SFFD fire station 21 is around the corner from my old address) and the frustration of often paying a premium for bougie groceries at places like Bi-Rite and Falletti. I ended up taking the bus downtown to get groceries from Trader Joe’s instead.
The great part about SF, or one of its great qualities anyway, is its walkability. My gym (Fitness SF) was a pleasant twenty minute walk through the Western Addition. The funky shops and restaurants like Parada 22 on Haight Street were but a short walk across the Panhandle. And I’d often hop on one of the many bus lines that ran through NoPa to get down to The Castro (line 24), to Downtown (the 21 or the 5), or to The Mission (the 22). Though it wasn’t completely reliable, MUNI was a cheap, clean, quick way to get around town.
During the time I was slowly making my exit, I would often go to the movies alone at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, a throwback with just four screens and intimate auditoriums with just fifteen or twenty seats. They were no-frills, but I loved the art-house foreign films they showed like Piranhas and A Faithful Man. I’d puff some weed, bring a bar of dark chocolate, and zone out. Then I’d walk home through Hayes Valley, past the elegant flats between the theater and my home, taking in the evening energy and crisp late-summer weather.
There were a lot of great aspects about San Francisco and about my little corner of NoPa. But ultimately, I am much happier in Los Angeles. It may be sprawled out and flashy and a little bit superficial, but it’s fun. It’s relaxed and a little bit lazy in a way I can relate to. And there’s copious sunshine. I realized recently that I haven’t really napped since moving to LA because I don’t feel depressed by the crummy weather, something I struggled with in SF.
In my short time there, I formed some excellent friendships, relished the time I spent with my family outside the city, and loved all the epic views. No matter where you are in the city, there’s probably a view of something nearby.
Here’s to NoPa, a charming crossroads at the center of one of America’s best cities.
For a list of great spots in NoPa, see my custom map.