Best of the Bay 2013 Editors Picks: City Living

The Bernal Piano: Best Renegade Recital



Editors picks are chosen by Guardian editors for special recognition for brightening the Bay Area experience.



And then one day in June, a piano appeared. Not a tiny Schroeder model, but a full-size, stand-up set of ivories, plopped on top of Bernal Hill with an open invitation attached for giggly renditions of "Chopsticks" and gorgeous, soul-stirring Chopin scores alike. Bernal Heights being the magical neighborhood it is, a full-on recital was planned and performed for a grinning crowd of over 200 very lucky folks. The Bernal Heights piano lineup of skilled musicians sent sassy jazz numbers and symphonic pleasures into the breeze and charmed the perching crowd, as the sun set over the city below. The piano may not be a permanent fixture on the Bernal bedrock — indeed, the instrument used for the recital was a replacement, hastily lugged up by the same start-up workers who donated the first, after it disappeared. ("One does not simply get rid of a piano," one of the gifters wrote in a blog post. "[We] concocted a plan to bring it to a public place so that it could be enjoyed by many.") All the more reason to hike to the top and play sweet, sweet songs for the city you love.



We all got a four-day taste of Bay Area life without BART during the labor strike in early July (with another one coming in October, or so it seems at press time) — and it was hardly a transit flavor we savored. But amid all the bitter, there was a sweet worth noting, for anyone who used the opportunity to finally try commuting by San Francisco Bay Ferry. What a way to go! For instance, did you know we actually live on a bay, with water and everything? It's true! With the ferry, you're out on that very water, viewing the Bay's waterfront cities from new vantage points, traveling in comfort, usually right on schedule — with access to an on-board bar serving reasonably priced beer and cocktails, no less. Plus, the ferries travel to Marin County, that land considered so inaccessible for adherents of non-aquatic public transportation. It's almost enough to avoid the underground for good. Almost.



Look, we've all done it: accidentally spilled a tall glass of vodka on our laptop keyboard, but kept watching our Breaking Bad marathon anyway. Sure, a few of the keys have stopped working, but we're far too engrossed in the saga of Walter White to shut down, wipe down, and store that sucker in a bag of rice for a couple days until it dries out. Uh oh, though — the next morning it won't turn on at all, or the morning after that. No need to hover around the Apple Store's genius bar in dismay, hoping for a shot at paying $750 for a basic diagnostic — and who knows how much to actually repair the thing. The superfriendly, incredibly attentive folks of Keane Mac Repair can save the day quickly, professionally, and far more cheaply. (Recently they charged us $150 for an out-of-warranty diagnostic.) Full-service, fully licensed, and located somewhat incongruously in the gorgeous historic Flood Building — no wonder were keen on Keane.

870 Market, SF. (415) 835-9800,



As San Francisco's Mission District undergoes rapid rent increases and neighborhood demographic change, spaces like the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics become fewer and farther between. We need spaces like this, where artists and activists come together to share stories of their fights for economic and social justice, or deliver stirring performance through music, poetry, art, and dance. Named for beloved Mission dweller and Guatemalan activist Eric Quezada, who lost his battle with cancer in 2011, the space seeks to be a cultural gathering spot that is both affordable and accessible — just blocks from 16th Street BART, and in the middle of a stretch of Valencia more known for spendy restaurants and hipster bars than progressive candidate forums and multicultural celebrations. An apt setting for those seeking to retain their sanity in a shifting SF.

518 Valencia, SF.



Roll up hot and cruise in the cool company of other bike-loving women who make up Fixed With Out Dix—a nonexclusive weekly ride for female-identified folks and their two-wheeled BFFs. The crew meets every Wednesday at the Lake Merritt BART station and pedals around parks, crushes hills, and rolls through town with the wind in its grinning faces. Whether you straddle a flashy fixie, speedy road bike, rusty cruiser, or your aunt's muddy mountain ride, FWOD welcomes your wheels and the company. Share a snack, make new friends, and discover fresh trails for adventure. They're pumped to empower women and encourage cycling, and these badass biker babes want others to feel good, be safe, and revel in camaraderie on the move.

Weekly rides meet Wednesdays, 6:30pm, free. Lake Merritt BART station, Oakl.



Should you need a custom cabinet, a staircase rehab, perhaps a new cupola on your clock tower, you can turn to Clipper Construction's Mathieu Palmer. But 501 Waller, the storefront Palmer owned and used as storage space — as he told local blog Haighteration — wasn't the best use of a neighborhood-facing corner shop. Enter Palmer's friend Dan Daniel, who created Clipper Repair from this clutter, a friendly place for fixing up, designing, or refurbishing anything you could imagine: lamps, cabinets, antique furniture, electrical things. The interior is a gorgeously organized wonderland of screws, nails, tools, gears, and random curiosities. And then! Garret Peters turned Clipper's back storage room into a bike shop called Wiggle Bikes, conveniently located off the Wiggle, our crosstown thoroughfare for the two-wheeled. Could there be a more useful stop-off for lovers of sustainable transportation and reuse than the Clipper Repair-Wiggle Bikes complex?

501 Waller, SF. (415) 621-4733,



This is the Bay Area — of course our most ubiquitous meteorological feature has a Twitter, and that Twitter belongs to Karl the Fog. Also of course: Karl trains CrossFit, Karl writes poetry about Folsom Street Fair, Karl creeps the "young, new, and pretty" eastern span of the Bay Bridge (although he's gentlemanly enough to shout out the "babe" western span as well). Oh, and as befits a major part of our cultural landscape, Karl gets political, too. "The Tea Party and I have a lot in common: we're great at obstruction, we're really dense, and we're almost entirely white," Karl quips. And yet, like a silver-skinned Barry White, this smooth mover rolls a comforting blanket of seduction over all our areas, high and low, uniting and reminding us that there's no place like home.



Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission adopted Plan Bay Area, a regional recipe for funneling an influx of new residents into San Francisco and the Bay's other urban cores. It calls for San Francisco to somehow absorb 280,000 new souls, who will live in 92,000 new housing units and drive 73,000 more cars, by the year 2040 (see "Planning for displacement," 5/28/2013), while doing little to preserve the homes of current residents, expand public transit, or discourage driving. In other words, it's a free pass for developers, masquerading as environmentalism. Though the plan been challenged in court, activism is our best hope at mitigating the worst parts of it. To get involved, visit,,, and the websites of other good activist organizations — and keep reading the Guardian.



It certainly touched a nerve. "Hey gurl, where you moving to? Moving to the East Bay, living life the broke way. SF keep your money. FUCK YOUR MONEY!" Esta Noche drag star Persia and local electro duo Daddies Plastik's "Google Google Apps Apps" single came bouncing through the Web early this summer and ricocheted off hyperlocal blogs, paradoxically gaining speed through the power of social media. A bouncy yet sardonic party track that seriously skewers the tech industry and its effects on the San Francisco cost of living, the song (and wacky-genius video featuring the whole freak posse) successfully captured the rage of a city caught up in a tragic transition. It was an anger Persia herself felt when Esta Nocha, the Mission's Latino gay bar, was in danger of closing. But she took that rage and turned it into summer anthem gold. Hey girl, could you tag me in that pic?



It has been remarked that West Portal is quite the happy village in the middle of this teeming city. We concur. Tucked into the side of a hill topped by a Twin Peak, slung happily along a leafy central promenade, the neighborhood is not the worst model for Main Street, USA. Tip and Top Vacuum & Shoe Service, particularly seen in this light, is an all-American gem. Bring in your dirt sucker for a fix-me-up and the capable staff will get it back to dirt bunny-busting in two shakes of a dusty rug. And like any good member of a small community, Tip and Top is a multitasker, as evident from the boots in the window. The shop also repairs shoes, and will even custom-cobble you a boot or slipper. To recap: Tip and Top fixes vacuums and shoes, it's cute as a button, and you kind of need to check it out.

173 W Portal, SF. (415) 664-9320


Though the neighborhood can fascinate in a historic sense, sensory overload is a constant threat among the chain stores, tour buses, and souvenir sweatshirts of Fisherman's Wharf. One can always head to Richard Henry Dana Place for a brief respite, however. Incongruously tacked onto the waterfront edge of Leavenworth Street, the quiet dead end — placid in a sea of tourist turbulence — was renamed in 1988 as part of a City Lights Bookstore proposal to name a dozen streets after local artists and authors. Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s renowned contribution to our canon, Two Years Before the Mast, contains some of the first accurate descriptions of the West Coast from aboard a merchant vessel. (Melville famously wrote of it, "But if you want the best idea of Cape Horn, get my friend Dana's unmatchable Two Years Before the Mast. But you can read, and so you must have read it. His chapters describing Cape Horn must have been written with an icicle.") Dana's namesake street therefore manages to combine both literary and sea-faring history in one charmingly ramshackle locale.

Leavenworth and Jefferson, SF.



Long before Miley irrevocably shifted the national conversation in the direction of feverishly jiggling glutei, there were the Twerking Girls. This unabashedly trio of bootylicious women joyfully — but with hilariously straight faces — rapidly oscillated that which their mothers gifted unto them up and down the city. They shimmied through the Apple Store and all around Union Square. They headstood on cable cars and cafeteria tables, invaded laundromats and tiny GoCARS, stunned 'em on BART and at Macy's. In the sight of God and 2Chainz, they twerked their way right down the veggie aisle at the Safeway. The hypnotically undulating hijinks of Cherry Red, Dollface, and Tastee were captured this summer in a viral video, "Twerking in San Francisco Prank" by the Simple Pickup crew (a trio of dudes made infamous by filming themselves aggressively hitting on unsuspecting women; this celebratory video proved there is a spark of good in everyone). At first watch, you can't stop laughing at the befuddled, bewildered, or frozen faces of some of the people shocked by the Twerking Girls' hypnotic undulations. But then a larger, deeper point takes over: damn, San Francisco's gotten mighty uptight. Thank you, Twerking Girls and friends, for shaking some soul in the city's face.



The de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences have the giant advertising budgets and thus get all the press, but Golden Gate Park's hidden gem lies just down JFK from those twin attractions: the Stow Lake Boathouse, perched alongside the built-in-1893 lake. The historic, recently renovated boathouse (it was getting a little creaky) contains a café stocked with handmade piroshkis and serves as the launch spot for Stow Lake's fleet of boats, including the iconic paddleboats so beloved by tourists — and locals who aren't too cool to admit it. If hanging out on the water's not for you, stroll around the lake, dodging rapidly waddling geese and ducks on the paved path. More ambitious hikers can cruise to Strawberry Hill atop Stow Lake's tiny, wooded island. On days when the fog lifts, the view there is well worth the huffing and puffing.

50 Stow Lake Dr. E., Golden Gate Park, SF.



When the Exploratorium reopened at Pier 15 earlier this year, tech wizards Obscura Digital transformed the historic waterfront building's façade with an ultra-high definition light projection show, dazzling nighttime gazers who flocked there with an array of spectacular, nature-themed dreamscapes. Enormous blooming crystals, fast-forward budding plants, time lapse microorganism interactions were all brought to life, precisely projected in a way that contained them within the lines of the building's architecture — yet totally screwed with viewers' perception. It wasn't the first time this 13-year-old design studio has treated San Francisco audiences to surreal sound-and-light shows in public spaces. Its "Corazon Under the Dome" exhibit at downtown's Westfield Centre dazzled shoppers with convex architectural mapping, and Obscura's "Digital Arts Panorama" at the new San Francisco Public Utilities Commission building offers visitors a dynamic virtual tour of the regional watershed.



If you're a local baseball fan and you haven't yet run the Giant Race, you're missing out, and not just because race entry includes a bobblehead (this year: sparkle-eyed Sergio Romo decked out in running gear) and a shiny medal (also this year: an homage to the World Series ring ... with glitter, because WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS). The late summer race, which benefits Project Open Hand and offers nearly pancake-flat 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances, begins just outside AT&T Park but ends on the field. Sure, certain parts of the sacred grass are roped off, but the bulk of the diamond is open for post-race stretching, hydration, and field-of-dreams fantasies galore. Die-hards take special note: There are companion Giant Races in San Jose and Scottsdale, too. No AT&T Park finish, obviously, but think of the superfan bragging rights!



Between competing coffee shops and obscured by the whirl of growing foot traffic on Divisadero Street sits an old Victorian, surrounded by a fence, upon which hangs a hand-painted sign. The SF Skate Club's mission says it all: "[The club] strives to provide a safe, positive, and fun environment for youth of diverse backgrounds to pursue their passion to skateboard." Skate Club creators, skateboarder Shawn Connolly and educator Thuy Nguyen, are on their grind to use skateboarding as a medium of youth empowerment and community building, and their school is a hub of fast friendship and solid ollies. Summer, weekend, and after-school programs for kids of most ages are offered which teach the basics and tricks. The school also organizes mobile outings, and hosts drop-in visits from professionals. If its pupils' enthusiasm is any indication, after just a few months it's already on a roll.

635 Divisadero, SF. (415) 572-2065,



Perched above Sutro Baths near Ocean Beach, on a cliff whose face always seems to be exploding with colorful blooms, the exceedingly graceful 4,050 sq. ft. National Park Service visitor center at Point Lobos known as Lands End Lookout is one of our new favorite places in the world. (Although it's closed as of this writing due to the government shutdown, boo.) Opened earlier this year, it contains a smart little cafe, oodles of info on the area's environmental features, wildlife, and historical hot spots, and a nature-loving staff. Most people will come here at a starting point of an energizing down to the or through the surrounding hills. But the low and angular yet surprisingly capacious design of the Lookout itself, by EHDD, fits so perfectly into its Point Lobos surroundings (and puts further to shame the industrial barn-like Cliff House next door) that you may find yourself lingering beyond a cappuccino to enjoy the light and light-filled space, waves frothing on the rocks far below.



Fancy foodie joints, indie movies, trendy pop-ups, and all that jazz: all great ways to unwind the weirdness of date No. 2, but when it's a Tuesday, you worked all day, and exhausted yourself in yoga, let's be real: you're hangry and horny. This evening out requires two things immediately: food and liquor. Forget trying to be impressive, go with our proven routine. We call up the Little Chihuahua on Divisadero, order something to go, and walk your awkward and excited date next door to The Page — one of the few chill, homey spots left on the rapidly developing (and stressing out) "Divisadero Corridor" — where one can snag a bar stool, drink some whiskey, and feast on your delicious assortment of salsas and burrito fare. This neighborhood staple is cool with your takeout as long as you promise to clean up your foils and spills — and generously tipping your bartender never hurts. Your date will be well fed, your confidence levels will be on the up, and the night is young. It's time to turn the page on this.

298 Divisadero, SF. (415) 255-6101,



Face it: cafes do not want an all-day camper leeching off their wi-fi (and scaring away their customers), and people working on their laptops want a place to work where they don't have to keep buying single espressos just to get that last report done. Now we out-of-office worker bees can bow to our caffeine-overlords guilt-free: The Workshop Cafe is a spot where laptop use is not only condoned, its encouraged. In fact, calling it a cafe may be a misnomer — it's really a hip and sleek public office space that a cafe snuck into and never left. (And it's already looking to expand to a location near you.) Each table is equipped with rows of outlets to charge your gear, and there's a smartphone app to order coffee without moving your rump. Cubbies deep inside the FiDi coffee joint-cum-workspace come equipped with white boards and markers for impromptu meetings, and widescreen monitors await your PowerPoint-laden laptops. Workshop even offers scanning and printing services: no need to head to FedEx or Kinko's or whatever the heck they call themselves these days. Pro tip: there are free portable batteries to plug your laptops into if you want to toil at the tables outside. For only two bucks an hour, you can work as long as you like, minus snide looks from annoyed baristas. Now we can work forever! Free time, what's that?

180 Montgomery, SF. (415) 322-1048,



Clamber up to the Queen Anne Victorian home on a quiet Richmond corner to find some of the best free health care in the city. For 20 years, the SF Free Clinic has tended to the uninsured and underinsured, doing the work that our great federal government is only just now starting to get to. Started in 1993 by Tricia and Richard Gibbs, two general practitioners who wanted to make the connection between low-income San Franciscans and the city's high quality health resources, the facilities offer preventative health screenings, vaccines, and non-emergency care. Services like free diabetes screenings are aided by health facilities and pros from across the city who lend a hand at the California Street location. Example: renowned yoga instructor Betty Roi offers a regular healthful yoga class. The SF Free Clinic has seen more than 70,000 patient visits since it opened its doors, a staggering number that shows how valuable the clinic is to the city's health and wellness.

4900 California, SF. (415) 750-9894,



"I'm so disappointed in Tartine. They can't make a real croissant. They're too heavy!" "I've had a really hard weekend, I'm exhausted. All I've done is go to music festivals." "You know him, he's a serial entrepreneur. We are going to have him give a talk!" Nothing could be more indicative of the tragically funny contemporary state of San Francisco than the exclamations posted to the Dispatches from Entitlementistan Facebook page. As the page's anonymous proprietor explains "I overhear the most asinine snippets of conversation outside of our window. Here is a handcrafted, artisanal, seasonal, locally-sourced, curated selection of comments from the heart of the Mission." Links to cringe-worthy tech exposes, snaps of "only in privileged SF" moments, and even some nuanced critiques of the state of this rapidly changing city are posted almost daily. Dispatches is no mere anti-tech hate fest, however. It showed some serious viral power when it posted a Bud Light "Party on the Playa" Costco banner at Burning Man time, and a now-iconic pic, shot by Meredith Perry and picked up by Valleywag, of a Google Glass-sporting nerd with a bicycle at Dolores Park selfie-ing while two leather clad unicorns frolicked in the background. The caption? "Perfection."



The organization has offered lectures and panel talks on key policy issues to Bay Area audiences for years, but the Commonwealth Club of California's Climate One series deserves a shout-out for bringing the most pressing environmental issues of our time to the fore. Climate One was founded by Commonwealth Club Vice President Greg Dalton in 2007 after he visited the arctic circle in a Russian icebreaker boat and saw firsthand the effects of climate change on life in that part of the world. So far, the series has brought together public officials, academic experts, key business players, and advocates for serious, in-depth conversations on everything from fracking and the implications of rising sea levels to "Corn, Cows, and Cars." The result: scary stuff, but with a reach toward actual solutions. Educate thyself with a Climate One talk at the Club's San Francisco headquarters or download a podcast from a recent event.



The cocktail menu at Virgil's Sea Room pays homage to our city's unfathomably quirky, endlessly entertaining heroes: fashionista twins Marian and Vivian Brown, departed philanthropist and devoted banjo player Warren Hellman, drag queen Empress I Jose Sarria, perennial 12 Galaxies sign-hoister Frank Chu. But when speaking of our burg's best loved, mustn't we also mention progenitors of accommodating neighborhood watering holes? If indeed we must, hoist a glass to the triple-threat owners of one of Bernal Heights' new favorite hangouts. Lexington Club owner Lila Thirkield, DJ-promoter-political dervish Tom Temprano, and former Nickie's drink slinger Gillian Fitzgerald opened their watering hole early this summer in the space that once housed karaoke dive-a-rama Nap's III. They've slapped on some nautical accents, spruced up a surprisingly roomy patio, and nurtured a relaxed, quirky ambience that raises a welcoming flag to buoy local spirits — while saluting San Francisco's rambunctious past.

3152 Mission, SF. (415) 829-2233,