The Beauty of San Francisco

Big and Small just want to share some photos of various attractions and fun in San Francisco. Click on each individual photo for more info. Please comment and enjoy our photos!

 

Customized Itineraries For Your Next Trip To San Francisco

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Making your way to the City by the Bay? Big & Small Travel has teamed up with Joyage to offer customized itineraries of San Francisco. We can help you Eat & Walk Your Way Through the City to catch both must-see attractions and hidden gems. We can lead you to some of the best spots to eat, walk, and explore, from the Mission’s best burrito to the finest handmade chocolate, from sweeping coastal vistas to the most scenic (and least touristy) summits.

Sign up HERE, and let us do the rest!

Happy Travels!
Big & Small

Black Sand Beach in Northern California & More

We visited an overlooked Black Sands Beach in Northern California. Black Sands Beach is in the south end of a long walkable coastline that is over 20 miles long in Shelter Cove along the Lost Coast Trail. Check out our Youtube Page and watch our Videos in Northern California.

 

Why is the sand so dark here? You’ll find black sand beaches in three types of regions: in areas with high wave energy, those next to volcanoes, and places where the source rock is primarily dark-colored and lacking in silica. In this part of California, the black get the color from dark colored sandstone and shale produced by tectonic activity of one continental and two oceanic plates meeting just offshore.

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We unearthed and found a video from our long European trek of Lisbon, Portugal. Watch us discuss the trams, graffiti, and culture of Lisbon —- the rawest capital of Western Europe.

We have updated our post San Francisco’s 8 Best Running Trails  Check it out!

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A Day Exploring San Francisco’s Spectacular Coastline

Already spoiled with panoramic bay views, high hilltop outlooks, and charming natural oases, the downtown dwellers of San Francisco rarely make it all the way to the other side of the city. It’s a bit ridiculous given the 7×7 quaintness of San Francisco, but, hey, it’s quicker to cross the bay into Oakland then to journey all the way to the outer reaches of Fog City—a nickname that only becomes fully realized the more you venture west.

So, Big & I decided to take a day trip out to the coast, to nosh on some fancy toast, explore whimsical windmills, climb up sandy dunes, wander through ruins, hike the coast, and walk what has to be one of the most scenic labyrinths in the world. Here’s a look at our journey, with full details (and a handy walking map!) below—we recommend every part of it.


1. Trouble Coffee Co.: Grab a coffee, coconut, and slice of cinnamon toast

This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
This tiny coffee shop at 4033 Judah Street were the pioneers of the (in)famous $4 artisanal toast wave. Note the “Back in 5” sign here: That 5 was more like 20 for us, but the adjacent tree-trunk-sculpted parklet made the wait a bit more tolerable.
coconut
No complex menu here: just order the thick slice of cinnamon toast slathered in Grade AA butter and add a cup of joe and a fresh young coconut to wash it all down.

2. Cool Beach Bungalows: Strike a pose 

Feelin’ the colors…
Feelin’ the colors…

3. The South (Murphy) Windmill: See the largest of its kind in the world

The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.
The Murphy Windmill would attempt to outshine its sister attraction (the next spot on our list) by becoming the largest windmill in the world outside of Holland when it was completed in 1908. Its sails reach out 114 feet. It was used to pump fresh well water into the park. After going into a state of disrepair, it’s been brought back to its former glory thanks to windmill experts based in the Netherlands, of course.

4. The North (Dutch) Windmill: Frolic through the tulip gardens

The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the whimsical focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.
The Dutch Windmill was built in 1902, before its much-bigger sister, and is now the focal point of the bright and beautiful Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, intricately speckled with thousands of vibrantly colored bulbs.

5. Sutro Heights Park: Get a bird’s eye view of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
Walk along the Great Highway and take a right at Balboa Street to climb these sandy steps.
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The top of Sutro Heights Park offers sweeping views of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.
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Weave your way to the park’s peak and explore the area where Adolph Sutro’s luxurious, cliffside estate once sat above the original Cliff House.

6. Sutro Baths: Explore the abandoned ruins of what was once a world-famous pool

Sutro Baths
Sutro’s other local marvel has also been reduced to ruins, but these ones make for a pretty fun urban spelunking adventure. The Sutro Baths were once contained the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It’s now a spot to gawk at the sea, and get some pretty fantastic engagement photos!

7. Lands End Coastal Trail: Hike the well-trodden path

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At the top of Sutro Baths, take the Coastal Trail leading towards Mile Rock Beach and Eagle’s Point. This trail is fairly touristy—it’s mostly flat and grants nice views of the Pacific and the Golden Gate Bridge—but it’s easy enough to catch a moment or two of solitude, especially when you get to the big (hidden) attraction…
Mile Rock Beach Stairs
Follow the signs for Mile Rock Beach and descend the sandy stairs. Halfway down, you’ll see that the stairs continue to your left—this will take you to Mile Rock Beach. Don’t take those steps; instead, keep heading straight up to the small rocky cliff. And look down!

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Time to calm the mind and… handstand

8. Lands End Labyrinth: Go off trail for this manmade seaside wonder
This labyrinth was first created by artist Eduardo Aguilera in 2004. After a few jerks destroyed his artwork in 2013, a group of local volunteers rebuilt it in 2015.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.
Walking the stone-guided paths of this labyrinth—with the waves crashing below—is the best type of meditation.

9. The Golden Gate Bridge: The photo opps are endless

Can never get sick of this view...
Can never get sick of this view…

10. Lincoln Park Steps

Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.
Walk along the path at the edge of Lincoln Park until you reach California Street. Head down the stairs and look up at this very cool neighborhood project.

Follow our path…

The entire 4-mile journey.
The entire 4-mile journey.

BONUS: Head into the Sea Cliff neighborhood and weave your way down to China Beach then Baker Beach. From there, you can take the Batteries to Bluffs trail to get even closer to the great Golden Gate. READ MORE HERE about that hike.

Updated Best Coffee Spots in San Francisco Bay Area

Summer is almost upon us, so what a better way to get energized and excited than discussing —- Coffee in the San Francisco Bay area. We have updated our San Francisco post on the best coffee roasters. Here is the new updated link Coffee: The New San Francisco Treat

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Exploring North Beach and San Francisco’s Top Trails

Happy 2016 from Big and Small Travel!

J-Crew and Handstand Steph are back from a big European vacation with an update from their home base of San Francisco. First, we take you on a tour through the coastal city’s many scenic and hilly trails that offer both incredible views and butt-kicking workouts. Check out our picks for San Francisco’s Top 8 Running Trails here!

Then, we head over to North Beach with a brand new video showcasing one of our favorite corners of this historic San Francisco hood, where we like to go for good coffee and macarons:

Handstand Steph talks about a legendary place for sandwiches in North Beach:

Stay tuned for more from Big and Small Travel and be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates.

 

Classic Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco

California is such a romanticized destination, from its dramatic coastline to its quirky characters — and it’s all best experienced on the road. Subscribe to our Big and Small Travel Youtube  and watch our travels in California. 

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica. The beginning of our journey.

One of the best and most popular road trips in the Golden State involves driving along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway between sunny Los Angeles and foggy San Francisco. Here’s our photo guide to must-see sites and stops along the way, starting in L.A. and going north.

Continue reading “Classic Road Trip: Los Angeles to San Francisco”

San Francisco’s 8 Best Running Trails

From hippies to techies, love-ins to hack-a-thons, the culture of San Francisco has certainly changed throughout the decades. But one thing has remained the same: the city’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. There’s eye candy surrounding nearly every nook and cranny of San Francisco, whether you’re up for taking a jog through Nob Hill, the Marina, Pacific Heights, the Presidio, even the FiDi and the Mission. It’s truly the greatest motivation to get your butt outside and moving. So, here, I’ve cobbled together a few of the city’s best urban jogging routes that will take you through breathtaking sites, streets, sidewalks, paths, natural green areas, boardwalks, and beaches. No gym membership necessary, however a word of caution: It’s always critical to watch where you’re walking/running in this city, as you may end up stepping on a stinky surprise from either dog or human… Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Before starting, check out an update with Handstand Steph at one of the more popular stair workouts in SF:

We’ll begin at our own neighborhood, with what we’ve dubbed, “The Russian-Nob Circuit,” developed and created by Handstand Steph with consultation by J-Crew.

The Steps of Ina Coolbrith Park on the Russian Nob Circuit.
Ina Coolbrith Park on the Russian Nob Circuit. Looking up the steps toward Taylor Street.

1. The Russian-Nob Circuit:

Rough Mileage: 0.6 miles one way, to the point you reach the Green Street stairs on the left side of Taylor Street.
Level of Difficulty –
Moderate-Difficult depending on how many hills you do and how fast you go.
Extra Challenge:
Make it a 6-, 8-, or 10-hill workout that spans Nob Hill and Russian Hill (see below for more details).

Trail Details: A- Begin at Pine and Taylor, which is a block down the hill from Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill. Run up and down the Taylor Hill twice, preferably from the wider left hand side, where the Masonic Center stands. Proceed north up Taylor, running toward Broadway. (Optional: Note the beauty of Grace Cathedral and, if you’re feeling extra energetic, jog up the steps past the maze, exit the Cathedral grounds on Sacramento, then head down to rejoin Taylor Street.)

Steph conquering the Broadway stairs on the 'Russian Nob
Steph conquering the Broadway stairs on the ‘Russian Nob” Circuit.

 B- Make a left turn at Broadway and run up the hill. At the top, admire the awesome view of North Beach, the Transamerica building, and the Bay Bridge.(Optional: Run the Broadway steps twice, once on each side, for an extra kick in the butt.) Turn left and continue upward (with another big hill) on Taylor.

C- At the top, and to the right, you’ll come across Ina Ina Coolbrith Park between Green Street and Broadway. This hidden gem has a beautiful and winding staircase leading to Chinatown then North Beach. Run up and down these stairs a couple times. If you’re feeling strong, continue on Taylor until you reach the Green Street steps to the left.

D- Go straight up the narrow, steep staircase, which connects to Green Street. I recommend doing these steps hard at least once or even twice before heading to Jones Street and making your way back to Pine Street.

Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing the Green Street steps, run about three blocks to Hyde Street. Take a left and continue on Hyde until you get to California Street (there are a few extra hills here to add to that workout!). Reward yourself with a treat or cup of Stumptown Coffee at Flour and Co., located at 1030 Hyde Street.

 

Running to Coit Tower
Running the Macchiarini stairs to Coit Tower.

2. The Lyon Street Steps of the Presidio:                                                        

Rough Mileage: Nearly 300 steps.
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult, depending on your speed and frequency.

Trail Details: A- Begin at Broadway and Lyon, at the top of the stairs. I usually start from the top of the hill and walk down to prepare the ascent up the majestic Lyon Street steps. On weekends and sunny days, prepare for tourists and locals with cameras, because the view is vast and regal. On the way down the stairs note the Palace of the Fine Arts and the wondrous blue hues of the Bay ahead, as well as the lush, green Presidio to the left.

Looking down from the Lyon Street Stairs.
Looking down from the Lyon Street Stairs.

B- Prepare for 288 steps, broken up into a few different staircases. From the bottom, the first half is steeper than the second half, so don’t lose hope! From there, at Vallejo, the steps get wider and are broken up into a few sections, which are flanked by elegant landscaping. At the top, you’ve reached one of the wealthiest streets on the West Coast (home to the Levi family and more) — congrats.

Extra Challenge: For a more comprehensive workout, add some push-ups and crunches at the top, then head back down and repeat until your legs shake uncontrollably. Be sure to stretch (particularly the calves and the derrière) once finished, as this stairway workout is guaranteed to hurt at least a day or two.

Steph at the bottom of the Lyon Street steps.
Steph at the bottom of the Lyon Street steps.

3.Coit Tower Run

Rough Mileage: 0.40 miles from bottom to top of the Filbert Steps
Level of Difficulty:
Easy-Moderate, depending on where you begin.

Trail Details: A- You can either start at Kearny and Broadway (to get in some more mileage) or Filbert and Columbus, where you’ll run to the start of the Coit Tower path. Starting at Kearny and Broadway will lead you to the Macchiarini stairs. Here, you’ll encounter fewer people, but will have to contend with two steep hills, with uneven steps to add to the fun. Be careful of scattered trash and people stopping on the steps. If you begin at Filbert and Columbus, you’ll experience a gradual incline until you hit the Filbert Steps.

Peter Macchiarini stairs leading to Coit Tower.
Peter Macchiarini stairs leading to Coit Tower.

B- Once you’ve reached the steps and path leading to Coit Tower you’ll see more people angling for pictures and admiring the awesome views of Downtown SF, including landmarks like the Transamerica building, North Beach and the Embarcadero. Take the stairs to the main trail leading to Coit or divert off-trail and on to the dirt for incredible views of North Beach and beyond. You’ll reach Coit Tower within 5-10 minutes. If you’re looking for a quick workout with moderate ease, this is your best urban workout.

Recommended Pit Stop: Once finishing Coit Tower, run down to Columbus Avenue and go to Pacific. Grab a great cup of coffee or better yet an espresso at Reveille, located at 200 Columbus Avenue.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower

4. The Embarcadero Waterfront Route

Rough Mileage: From approximately 1.5 to over 2 miles.
Level of Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, depending on speed.

Trail Details: The ultimate run through the “concrete jungle,” the Embarcadero path is ideal and very convenient for even those coming from outside the city. Depending where you begin — good starting points include the Ferry Building, AT&T Park, or Fisherman’s Wharf — you’ll see many of San Francisco’s leading attractions. There are typically many local runners that take this path, helping to motivate any beginner runner. If that’s not motivation enough, breezy views of Coit Tower, the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, Alcatraz, and more will leave your senses overwhelmed.

Tip: Run early or later in the day to avoid higher foot-traffic times.

In awe of the Golden Gate Bridge along the Coastal Battery Trail.
In awe of the Golden Gate Bridge along the Coastal Battery Trail.

5.Coastal Trail Battery Path near Golden Gate Bridge                                  

Rough Mileage: 3.2 miles
Level of Difficulty: Moderate-Tricky, due to trail conditions

This is a very scenic and, thus, very popular trail with its sweeping bay and ocean views. Start at Battery Chamberlin on Baker Beach, or overlooking Baker Beach on the dirt path along Lincoln Avenue. The main appeal of this trail is the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous artifacts of military history — generations of coastal defenses line the Coastal Trail between Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. The batteries along this portion of the Coastal Trail generally predate the great wars of the 20th century — Batteries East and West were erected just after the Civil War. From these forts to Nike missile sites, San Francisco’s seacoast is evidence of how the art of war and defense has evolved over the decades.

Steph checks out the numerous batteries along the Coastal Trail Battery Path.
Steph checks out the numerous batteries along the Coastal Trail Battery Path.

Tip: This is a true running trail, so beware of loose dirt, uneven ground, and rocky areas.

6. Golden Gate Park: This large, lush park is littered with trails — like the ones circling Stow Lake and going up Strawberry Hills — and even offers a well-maintained track for sprinters and stair-runners at Kezar Stadium.

Steph handstanding near Lovers Lane among one of many Presidio paths and trails.
Steph handstanding near Lovers Lane among one of many Presidio paths and trails.

7. Bernal Hill: This Outer Mission park/nature area has it all: trails, views, and elevation. There are various starting points here to get to the main trail, which circles the hill and rewards you with spectacular views of the city. You’ll be sharing the trail with lots of neighborhood residents and dog-walkers.

Your SF trail/workout warriors in the Presidio.
Your SF trail/workout warriors in the Presidio.

8. The Presidio: One of the more underrated neighborhoods in the city, the Presidio boasts numerous scenic trails (including the Coastal Trail Battery Path mentioned above) that snake through lush sections of forest and along the coast. This is a great resource for specific trail information at the Presidio Information Page.

San Francisco in 10 Years, 10 Spots & 20 Songs

A look at the bridge from Marshall's Beach
Climbing rocks to catch a glimpse of the great Golden Gate from Marshall’s Beach

This October marked my 10th anniversary in San Francisco. Yes, I’ve seen this city change dramatically, and, yes, it has become grossly expensive. The streets are a messy dichotomy of new construction and rotting feces. Beloved spots are hastily transforming into faceless condos, while too many of its people miss out on its quirks and quaintness because they’re staring down at a screen. But enough has been bitched about regarding growing economic disparity, greedy landlords, corporate takeovers, Zuckerberg and Google buses, “bro”-grammers and millenials swooping into a city whose history they don’t give one damn about it. I’m not here to add to that circular conversation, or romanticize San Francisco’s more culturally stimulating “better times,” or to yell at these kids to get off my lawn (I’m just an expat from the Midwest, after all). Continue reading “San Francisco in 10 Years, 10 Spots & 20 Songs”

Coffee: The New San Francisco Treat

Coffee is a way of life for us here at Big and Small Travel. Many a night, Julian and I lie awake, excited for the morning when we can savor a wonderful cup of joe. But it’s not just simply the thought of the steam warming the face or the bold, earthy liquid flowing through the digestive tract, warming the heart and awakening the mind. And it’s not about the caffeine… not always, at least. It’s the whole cafe experience that goes with this morning ritual, from ordering it (even from the crankiest and snobbiest of baristas) to taking that first comforting sip. Here, we attempt to give you a practical and thorough guide to San Francisco’s most famous coffee brands, spots, and trends. The city’s coffee scene has quickly grown in just under the last decade, especially since the launch of local favorites like Blue Bottle and Ritual back in 2005.

Below, Julian covers 10 local coffees. He evaluates each brand by flavor, body, and acidity. As the scene continues to blossom, this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but a trusty snapshot into the great variety of coffee options available in the City by the Bay. Battle Mountain are based around the Russian Hill, Twitterloin, TenderNob neighborhoods, so first up is our nearby pick: Equator Coffee. —HandstandSteph

Equator Coffee | Overall Rating: 9.2   Acidity: 5.5   Flavor: 9.5   Aftertaste: 8.5
Equator Coffee was started by Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell in a Marin County garage in 1995, well ahead of the third-wave coffee revolution that would hit San Francisco in the 2000s. Their first cafe didn’t open until 2013 in Mill City (pictured), and they opened their San Francisco location, situated in the Warfield Building on 986 Market Street (near the infamously dubbed Twitterloin). More importantly, their coffee is exceptional, created with a whole lot of care for the beans themselves and where they are sourced from. We tried a cup of the Colombian single-origin as well as their house blend; both were smooth, rich, and velvety. Self-described as a “concierge” roaster, Equator focuses on wholesale coffee sales, but their cafes offer a unique experience with helpful and knowledgeable baristas. There is a variety of coffee sold at Equator, many with beans from Colombia, as well as places like Rwanda, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The owners are dedicated to providing good working conditions to every farm they work with as well. Overall, Equator has a fantastic mission with exceptional coffee. We think it’s a great pick, especially for those that prefer darker roast coffees.

Coffee! Coffee!
Contraband Coffee Bar on Larkin Street in Russian Hill

Contraband Coffee | Overall Rating: 7.2   Acidity: 8   Flavor: 8   Aftertaste: 6 
Contraband is on the forefront of coffee in the Bay Area, serving beans from Latin America to New Guinea to Yemen — not typically your standard fare. Contraband makes coffee a science, even employing a precision coffee brewing contraption called the Blossom, designed by a former Apple designer/NASA engineer, which specifically calibrates for a “more nuanced” cup of coffee that offers less astringency and bitterness, and more sweetness — be prepared to pay a pretty penny for this selection, though. Overall, Contraband serves quality coffee that is acidic and generally strong. To our taste buds, though, the beans seems “over-roasted” because of the complex and wild nature of their selection. I give Contraband a 7.2, an above-average score that also takes into consideration price and presentation.

Ritual
Ritual Cafe on Valencia Street in the Mission

Ritual Coffee | Overall Rating: 8   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8   Aftertaste: 7.7
Another popular Bay Area brand, Ritual defines coffee as a “delicious, sweet, and complex fruit.” Ritual’s coffee has bite and is generally on the more bitter and acidic side of the coffee spectrum. Ritual uses fair trade beans from Latin America and Africa, where they work intimately with their coffee bean producers. Ritual prides itself on craftsmanship by utilizing a Hario V60 pour-over station to exquisite effect. I’m generally a classic dark roast guy, but I appreciate the way Ritual specializes in light roasted single origin coffee beans and also features “seasonal” espresso beans. The Ritual espresso or macchiato has an expressive and covertly nutty quality that perks you up with the right amount of acidity, flavor, and body. Ritual were one of the pioneers of the artisan coffee movement in SF, and their passion and social consciousness has contributed much to their success..

Sight Glass Cafe in SOMA, San Francisco
Sightglass Cafe on 7th Street in SOMA

Sightglass Coffee | Overall Rating: 7.5   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8.3   Aftertaste: 6.9
Sightglass has carved its own space in a more desolate part of SOMA. If you like Blue Bottle (mentioned below), you’ll probably love Sightglass. The cafe’s grand industrial space is wonderful and ideal for working. I usually opt for the Colombian coffee called Finca Las Florestales that they describe as having “sweet flavors of grape juice, mango, and guava … complemented by a syrupy body and pluot-like acidity.” This acidity is what gives the coffee its brightness and, more significantly, its liveliness. Sightglass also offers beans from Latin America and Africa. The acidity and berry notes are the major components to Sightglass’ specialty light roast, so as a fan of darker roasts I typically prefer a bolder brew.

Four Barrel Cafe in the Mission loves playing records especially classic rock.
Four Barrel Cafe on Valencia Street in the Mission shows off an impressive vinyl collection

Four Barrel | Overall Rating: 8.7   Acidity: 7.0   Flavor: 9.7   Aftertaste: 8.1
Four Barrel’s home in the Mission is complete with roasters, vintage machines, and even turntables. Coffee and records go well together — and Four Barrel’s vintage ambiance goes well with their old-fashioned roasting methods. The cafe offers no Wi-Fi, which means tables are thankfully free of Macs. This is definitely a place to enjoy a great cup of coffee over a good conversation. A Four Barrel cup of coffee is clean, sweet, and complex, with just the right amount of acidity. Four Barrel has a diverse selection of beans that span the globe; I’m partial to the Latin American varieties. They pride themselves on having an “artisan” approach. As it says on their site, “We hold our roasters’ dedication to the constantly changing variable of coffee in high regard.” This means they’re coffee is always smooth, bold, and goes down easy.

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Blue Bottle | Overall Rating: 7.9   Acidity: 8.7   Flavor: 7.3   Aftertaste: 7.6
Blue Bottle has become an institution in the Bay Area. The company originated in Oakland, Calif., where its founder was sick of ubiquitous “grande eggnog lattes and double skim pumpkin-pie macchiatos.” The name is inspired by Central Europe’s first coffee house (The Blue Bottle) — an awesome story; read here. It’s important to note that Blue Bottle serves beans that’ve been roasted within the last 48 hours. The coffee is strong and vibrant and the body is nice and full, with a clean yet acidic finish. As referenced above, their signature light roast has potent berry notes that may turn off fans of darker roasts. Still, Blue Bottle continues to grow, even expanding to New York. Overall, their coffee is worth the typically cheaper price tag, especially for those craving more acidic and fruity tones.

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Contraband Coffee Bar on Larkin Street in Russian Hill

Highwire Coffee | Overall Rating: 8.2   Acidity: 5.8   Flavor: 8.7   Aftertaste: 8.1
Highwire Coffee is based in Oakland, however it is available at Craftsman and Wolves in the Mission area of San Francisco. Highwire Roasters proclaims to “love the guts in a cup of fully developed coffee” and “the subtleties that speak to its place of origin.” The core espresso blend I had was full of body, smooth, and perhaps the least acidic coffee I’ve ever had in the Bay Area. Highwire offers darker roasts that are more akin to a typical cup of coffee found in many European countries. However, their philosophy is that light, medium, and dark roasts are all delicious in their own special way. Still, their blends are typically more balanced and less acidic than those favored among the “third wave coffee” scene, led by Blue Bottle and others. Highwire is also available in Oakland at Nido and Hive, the Place to Bee.

Philz at Van Ness, San Francisco
Philz Coffee on Van Ness Avenue near Civic Center

Philz Coffee | Overall Rating: 6.1  Acidity: 6.5   Flavor: 6.7   Aftertaste: 5.7
Philz has also become quite an institution in the San Francisco Bay Area. They pride themselves on their artisanal and high quality coffees, and the unique experience of ordering the coffee itself. While you typically pay first for coffee at most cafes, Philz has reversed the process. At Philz, the experience is friendlier and funkier than many of its contemporaries. The coffee is made to order, and the menu can be quite intimidating for newbies, especially with wacky names like Jacobs Wonderbar. You can request a roast, flavor, and sweetness that is exactly to your liking. But a major drawback here is that they don’t offer espresso — a purist coffee lover’s delight. Still, Philz has mastered the art of the fresh pour-over coffee. They feature several different blends, from light to medium to dark roasted, and even offer multiple decaf options, along with flavors like mint mojito. What makes Philz unique is that you can carefully craft and tweak your coffee until you’re 100% satisfied — which often just seems to be more of a headache after the already overwhelming ordering process.

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Bicycle Coffee | Overall Rating: 6.8   Acidity: 7    Flavor: 8.9    Aftertaste: 8
Bicycle Coffee, based in Oakland, is readily available throughout the Bay Area, especially at funkier alternatives like Revolution Cafe in the Mission and Another Cafe near Nob Hill. Bicycle Coffee, whose beans come mainly from Central America, is dependably smooth. To a newbie, it may seem moderately strong since some medium roasts can be bitter. However, the beans vary seasonally and every cup of coffee depends on your barista, too. The round, oak notes and caramel hints dominate in a typical cup of Bicycle coffee, a reliable morning pick-me-up.

Chromatic Coffee | Overall Rating: 8.0   Acidity: 8.9   Flavor: 8.3   Aftertaste: 6.9                    First, we stumbled across Iron & Steam Espresso Bar and were dazzled by the 60-year-old Gaggia lever machine. Unfortunately, Iron & Steam Espresso bar is closed, but Chromatic Coffee, based in San Jose, is  readily available in the SF Bay area. Chromatic coffee sticks to the back of your throat and penetrates your digestive system in a powerful way. The taste and flavor are very strong with bold hints of cacao bean — it’s almost as if you’re drinking rich, raw hot chocolate. In essence, the tiger mottling effect comes from the crema, the thin and dark golden-brown layer atop the espresso shot. This crema contains emulsified oils, created from the machine’s high pressure, which disperses gases within the liquid. Much of the shot’s aromatic and nuanced flavors is pronounced in the crema. Overall, I was impressed with Chromatic Coffee and their devotion to unique singe-serve coffees from ethically sourced beans. It may be worth a visit to Santa Clara to check out their home base.                    

With those 10 options, I feel lucky to live in such a vibrant and happening town for coffee, especially since this scene has only come about in the last decade. And I’m happy to see a recent return to more dark roast coffees in the area. It’s important to note that the darker the brew, the higher the coffee is in beneficial phytonutrients, which not only help in the carmelization process but also increase antioxidant activity. All that said, in the end, all we desire is a fine, reliable cup of coffee to start our day. Fortunately, San Francisco offers a plethora of choices. Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which I will review international brands, featuring powerhouses like Nespresso and Illy.