Take a Trip in the San Francisco Time Machine

A Little Yumminess - San Francisco Bay Area
January 31, 2012

If your family enjoys a little bit of living history, there's plenty to discover within San Francisco's 49 square miles. Make a whole day of it by exploring a whole neighborhood, or make a quick trip back in time at one of the city's perfectly-preserved throwbacks.

Beatniks, Dapper Dans, and Old World Flavors in North Beach
For a big day out, North Beach is a great destination to give you an authentic flavor of San Francisco's past intermingled with new and equally cool spots. It's packed on weekends, but for those who can make a mid-week trip you will be rewarded with a laid back, locals vibe and maybe even a parking spot. You could while away a whole day roaming eccentric alleys and tasting your way around some of San Francisco's oldest eateries. Start by grabbing a slab of focaccia from Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton Street, at Filbert), a slice of old school San Francisco at its best. The Soracco family has been baking up authentic Italian focaccia since 1911. Walking into the bakery with its spare counter, simple rolls of white butcher paper and twine will conjure up another era and the flavors will transport you straight to Genoa, Italy. Other worthy old school foodie stops in North Beach are Molinari Delicatessen (373 Columbus Avenue at Vallejo), Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Café (566 Columbus at Union) and Little City Meats (Stockton Street and Vallejo) to name just a few. Stop in at the new (but old in spirit) Goorin Bros. Hat Shop (1612 Stockton) to revel in dapper retro style, and have a Beatnik moment at the famed City Lights Bookstore 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway).

Historic Trolleys and a Greasy Spoon Lunch Along the Embarcadero
A ride on the historic trolley cars of the "F Line" (jump on along Market Street and ride out to the waterfront), followed by lunch at Red's Java House (Pier 30 on the Embarcadero near Bryant Street) and a walk along the Embarcadero is another great excursion to take you back into time. Prime yourself for the trip by reading up on Muni's fleet of historic streetcars and check out Sepia Town, a cool website that knits together historical photographs of San Francisco on an interactive map. Red's Java House is the kind of place where time stands still. This is an unapologetically no-frills dive, and the patio out back is the perfect spot for imagining the busy working docks of yore while you fuel up on a greasy spoon menu of burgers, dogs and fries.  Walk, bike or scooter your lunch off with an extended waterfront stroll where there are plenty of both old and new sights to take in.

For shorter trips in the San Francisco time machine:

  • Sample ice cream circa 1948 at Swensen's (1999 Hyde Street at Union). It's a refreshing return to the basics in a world of trendy salted-caramel cones, bacon brittle and olive oil splashed sundaes. From here, you're perfectly positioned to hop on a cable car for a ride down to the Aquatic Park and Fisherman's Wharf.
  • Pay a visit to the gold fire hydrant in Dolores Park (near the corner of Church and 20th Streets). This humble hydrant single-handedly saved this section of the city from the ravages of fire after the 1906 earthquake. It also happens to be the perfect spot for some log rolls down the grassy hillside, taking in spectacular views of downtown, and mingling with the new-school hipster hoardes that gather at this popular spot. A walk down nearby Chattanooga or Vicksburg streets offer a great place for viewing iconic early 20th century Victorian row houses.
  • Meet Laughing Sal the mascot of long-gone Playland at the Beach at The Musee Mechanique, by far one of the coolest free museums in the city. You can go old school by trying your hand at a game of Ms. Pac Man on a table machine or way, way old school by sampling the sounds of turn of the century player pianos and arcade games.
Stacie Dong and Simran Singh are San Francisco Bay Area moms and the creators of A Little Yumminess, a family food blog where they share spiced-up recipes and kid-friendly food adventures. You can also find them on Facebook.

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