As I mentioned in my last post, we went to the Bay Area to visit family, and thus didn’t get to do most typical “touristy” activities, i.e. a selfie with a Golden Gate backdrop. However, we did make it a priority to support small, local businesses (especially coffee shops). We stayed in San Leandro and Castro Valley, but we managed to journey into San Francisco twice during our stay. Here are some of the businesses we visited and loved!
In addition to its cafés, boutiques, and tattoo parlors, this area actually had a specialty sock shop! I bought my fiancé a pair of robot socks shortly after we moved in together, so we couldn’t resist adding to the collection.
Amoeba is the Shangri-La of Record Stores. There are three locations (we visited San Francisco & Berkeley—I shopped at their Hollywood store on my last trip in 2013). This place makes Newbury Comics look like a sick joke. Their prices are outstanding for used CDs, which are great quality unless otherwise denoted. I bought way more albums than I intended to…but who can resist $1.95 for a Sondre Lerche CD? C’mon. My fiancé loves this place because of its expansive World Music section (he was on the hunt for obscure Turkish artists the whole time). They even had a John Zorn section!
Stanza Coffee (I can’t find a proper website for this shop!)
Stanza is a super adorable little café on Haight St where we hung out for a while before heading out of the city. Great coffee, great vibes, great logo.
Decades of Fashion is a vintage clothing and costume shop that is a version of heaven. I found vintage blue Louboutins there in my peculiar size (9.5) for $195 and I DIDN’T buy them for my wedding. I am a moron. I will never forgive myself. I might have to actually call the shop and have them special order the shoes to me. I nearly cry every time I think about this.
DoF even had a friendly shopcat named Halston. Such a handsome boy!
Cold Brew of the Gods. As you can see in the first photo, the menu here is incredibly simple (and stunningly displayed). They don’t even have flavored syrups! This place is the coffee purist’s dream! Gorgeous rustic/industrial décor, amazing coffee—a perfect place to hang out.
The Mission District & Valencia St.
Amazing and authentic Mexican food, street art, eclectic shops, and Boba Guys. What could be better? Full disclosure–Boba Guys was closing up when we arrived, so I didn’t actually get to try it, although it was on my must-do Bay Area list (next time!!!). Some cool places we stopped into were Afterlife, Needles & Pens, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records/Lost Weekend Video, Dijital Fix, and Borderlands Books (which earns hella bonus points for selling naughty vintage postcards and having an adjoining café). We had massive veggie burritos and Sierra Nevadas at La Corneta Taqueria. I bought brand new copies of NW by Zadie Smith (hardcover!) and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for $6.95 each at Dog Eared Books. I’m tellin’ you.
I’m surprised my fiancé didn’t shed happy tears upon entering this place. It. Was. Dope. You know how you have to scour a normal record store for their experimental section, which consists of about 5 CDs? Aquarius is basically a massive experimental section. I had only heard of, like, three bands in the entire store. For such a small place, they had a huge world music section as well. It’s so cool to see that specialty record stores can still exist and thrive in an Amazon-dominated world!
We only got to stop at Mua for a drink (it was a Sunday night and they closed fairly early). I had a Mexico Mule, which is lunazul reposado, lime, cilantro, and ginger beer. Amazing. Their menu looked absolutely incredible—my cousin vouched for it. Tons of vegetarian options! I will definitely be coming back here on my next visit to the Bay.
We stopped here for a drink after Mua closed down. The huge selling points of this Oakland institution are its kitschy, cluttered décor and its fresh squeezed greyhound. No lie—they have grapefruit halves in bowls that they actually juice in front of you.
Best breakfast burrito of my life + a pitcher of Bellinis for $10. Can’t be beat. We stopped here on a whim for brunch one day and I’m so glad we did. They put scallions in their homefries and keep hot sauce on every table! Super reasonable prices for all of the food and drinks. I’ll definitely be back on future visits.
Okay, so technically these shops are all over (we have one in Allston). I fell in love with this place in 2004 when my cousin found a PJ Harvey concert t-shirt at their Long Beach location. Such an awesome shop with a great selection and great prices. For under $20, I bought an adorable Zara blouse in addition to the Free People dress pictured below. Who knows? Maybe it will end up as my reception dress…
Philz Mint Mojito has ruined me for all other coffees. I (sadly) only got to go to Philz once (a fucking travesty, let’s be honest), so I can’t report on their other concoctions, but their concept is so fresh that I can’t imagine they’d serve anything less than heavenly. Their slogan, as you can see above is “One Cup at a Time”, which literally means that each cup of coffee they serve is made to order (they use the pour-over method as far as I can tell). I’m sure this falls under the trendy, touristy Bay Area shop category, but I don’t care at all. #TeamPhilz
Right next door to that particular Philz location is this marvel of a shop:
You choose a doughnut and they fill it in front of you with the filling of your choice (such as creme anglaise, chocolate, or jelly). It’s like the In-N-Out of doughnut shops: there are only like 4 things on the menu, but they are fantastic and in my mind, iconic. A+++, 5 stars, 2 thumbs up.
Valley Java was one of the best coffee experiences we had in California. The café is all organic, and sells a variety of equipment and goods, including local honey! I had a caramel macchiato with almond milk and a jalapeño bagel with cream cheese. Swoon-worthy stuff. The owner, Vince, who was from Hong Kong by-way-of Connecticut, was an absolute sweetheart! Love meeting fellow New Englanders on the road! He called me “Classic Lady”, flattering me by saying I looked like an old-timey movie-star. My fiancé never fails to mention this detail when we talk about our trip.
I sadly didn’t get any pictures of this hidden gem. It’s tucked away in an industrial park, but it’s worth popping into your GPS. The proprietor served me, and since I used to manage a coffee shop, we got to chatting about vendors and brewing methods. He’s a firm believer (as am I) in the magic of cold brew, and his coffee certainly showcases that. It’s so smooth you can drink it black, and I take my coffee very almond-milky. César (which I gleaned his name is from the Yelp reviews—many apologies if I’m wrong) is pursuing his dream without investors, so the décor leaves something to be desired, but I wish him all of the success in the world, and sincerely hope his operation goes bicoastal!
Sabino’s Coffee is right off the 580 in San Leandro, and it’s yet another suburban gem. It’s totally unassuming, but when you walk in, you can tell they mean business. This was perhaps my favorite iced coffee during my entire vacation—VERY high praise. They also serve Vietnamese coffee, which my fiancé is obsessed with, so that’s a huge selling point. Also—pro tip—this café is hella cheap. I paid around $5 for a prepared iced coffee, a hot Vietnamese coffee, and a to-go black iced with no ice (which made us 2 cups later in the afternoon). Coffee is obscenely expensive in California, so this was a breath of fresh air. If you live in the East Bay you have to drop by Sabino’s.
I don’t have any pictures of Porky’s since I didn’t technically “go” here, but this was my fiancé’s late cousin’s favorite pizza place, so on the anniversary of his death we ordered their pizza as part of a weekend-long celebration of him. It was really special to be a part of such an emotional family gathering.
I can see why Porky’s was his favorite though. This pizza is so legit. The veggie is outstanding—it’s absolutely smothered with veggies, from fried eggplant to artichoke hearts. I hear they also have an amazing selection of beers—something we’ll have to put to the test next time.
Okay, so technically this is in San Lorenzo, but it’s right on the line. We went to four Rasputin locations (this one, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Pleasant Hill). This place rules. Can’t you tell from the smile on his face?
Rasputin is a used CD-buyers wet dream. I bought a Joni Mitchell CD in perfect condition for $0.95. They have thousands upon thousands of CDs priced from $0.50. I think we spend the bulk of our travel money at record stores.
And last, but certainly not least…
In-N-Out Burger is a California institution. It is both the only fast food I will eat AND the only meat I will voluntarily eat. I make sure to swing by once every time I’m on the West Coast. Not everyone shares my rabid enthusiasm for this burger joint, but it definitely has a cult following. I got a t-shirt when I was there. No judgment!
Fuck a golden arch. In-N-Out is Where-It’s-At. Two words: Animal Style.
From all appearances, it seems like all I did in California was eat and drink coffee. It’s not very far from the truth, but we did spend a little bit of time in nature. But that’s a topic for another post.
Until next time,
P.S. Shout out to Peet’s for being as common in the Bay as Dunks is here. We’ve got to class it up, Boston. Peet’s is the shit.
*All images are my own unless otherwise noted.