I never understood why someone would choose to live in San Diego instead of San Francisco. Well, that was until I discovered the North Park neighborhood, which is located north of Balboa Park.
Ten years ago North Park was an area where most didn’t go during the day, and definitely not at night, as it was considered rough. Today, Forbes Magazine is calling it one of America’s best hipster neighborhoods.
I won’t lie, I was a little worried about North Park being too hipster for me. Was I about to spend a week in San Diego’s version of San Francisco’s Mission District? I like the Mission, but at times it has this cocky hipster vibe that I could live without. North Park does have a hip urban vibe, but there is nothing cocky about it.
My exploration of North Park started with meeting “Big Cal,” the security guard at Bluefoot Bar & Lounge. Now, if he didn’t say anything, you’d think Big Cal was this mean guy who could hurt you without breaking a sweat. But within minutes of meeting, he cracked the first of many jokes about this “Frisco” chic (his words, not mine) and I no longer was buying his tough guy act.
I also quickly gathered that Big Cal is a staple in the community. Many flock to Bluefoot to hang outside and chat with him, including me after a few nights in North Park. I could have chatted with him for a while that first night, but I went inside to meet a date I had set up while in town.
Scanning the room looking for my date, I noticed Bluefoot had a diverse crowd and wasn’t a place I’d go for craft cocktails. However, it was the perfect neighborhood bar for watching a game, dancing to old school hip-hop, or catching up with a friend over a game of pool. That night they had local artists in the back area painting and selling artwork, which had me crying to my date how I wished we had a bar like this in San Francisco. To make matters worse, I heard one of my favorite songs by Soulection only to look up and see Andre Power, a Soulection DJ spinning.
My night in North Park was already too good to be true. Yet, as a self professed whiskey aficionado, I needed to check out Seven Grand Whiskey Bar. Walking into this bar with its dark wood decor and deer heads everywhere, I immediately felt I was required to order a spirit forward cocktail.
Of course I tested the bartenders to see if they could pass my Trinidad Sour test, and both passed without even flinching. One even suggested I try the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, which is hard to find and one of my favorites. The only thing that was slightly disappointing was that Seven Grand Whiskey Bar didn’t have St. Germain liqueur to make a Recoil. Fortunately, the bartender made up for it by creating his own elderflower inspired cocktail that was just as amazing.
I was getting hungry after drinking several cocktails and it was time to hit up some late night food in North Park. I told my date that my friend had suggested I try carne asada fries, which are fries covered in steak, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. He took me to this hole in a wall called Colima’s Mexican Food. The place was rundown and looked as if it could be the oldest taqueria in North Park. Yet, it was clear from the long drive-thru line and the one inside that nobody cared about the ambiance. The food was hella good and exactly what I needed after a night of drinking and dancing.
The next morning, I grabbed some coffee and did a little work at Young Hickory cafe before checking out more of the neighborhood. Young Hickory screamed hipster, especially with the wall covered in beer decal stickers and the two hipster poster boys sitting next to me in their beanie hats, tank tops, scruffy beards and skinny jeans. That said, I loved this cafe and again wished we had one in San Francisco. I mean what’s not to love about a spacious cafe that has a beer and espresso combo, plenty of outlets, good background music and stays open late?
After a few hours of staring out the window people watching, I gave up on getting any work done and took a stroll towards 30th and University Street to see if I could find any hidden gems. I stumbled upon Pigment about one block away. This colorful store had a little mix of everything from artisan jewelry, succulents, and craft cocktail mixers. Though I found a lot of interesting things, I thought it was a bit over priced and the only store that didn’t focus on locally sourced items.
Continuing towards University Street, I remembered seeing a cute clothing boutique the night before across the street from Seven Grand Whiskey Bar. As soon as I walked in Mimi & Red, I knew I was in trouble. The clothes were very stylish and had everything from lazy weekend attire to being at a luxury resort. The prices weren’t bad either, as I think the most expensive thing I saw was a romper for $226. I didn’t end up buying a lot, but I know if I lived in North Park, I would be in this store every weekend.
After shopping at Mimi & Red, I was ready for an afternoon drink. I am not a huge beer fan, but I knew a trip to North Park was not complete without visiting one of the many microbreweries. Mike Hess Brewing, which was around the corner, was a great spot for an afternoon break. I grabbed a seat at one of the long communal tables in this open warehouse and attempted to finish my three beer tasting. As I listened to Lauren Hill and Digital Underground in the background, I was surprised once again by the diversity. At one table was a family with kids playing Jenga while there was a group of 20-somethings drinking beer and watching the Women’s World Cup. I did my best to finish my beers, but it was either fail miserably or be alone wasted.
I opted to fail miserably and head next door for some vintage shopping at The Girl Can’t Help It. The shop owner is this personable guy from Holland that definitely has a great eye for vintage. I found a few things that I wanted to buy, but had some restraint.
Honestly, there are so many great places in North Park I could go on forever, as I didn’t even touch on some of the amazing meals I had at places like The Smoking Goat. I never once felt like I needed to leave North Park to go downtown to the Gaslamp district.
North Park truly has everything I want in an urban neighborhood except a beach, but I guess you can’t have it all. It does still have a chilled vibe of a beach town in an urban setting, a great foodie scene, a variety of bars, and is culturally diverse. The thing that stood out the most, is that everyone I spoke to mentioned that they loved that North Park is a community.
I don’t think I’m packing up to move to North Park from San Francisco anytime soon, but I did leave a little of my heart in North Park.
Other Must Visits
- Geographie – adorable shop a with mix of modern and vintage
- Urban Solace -amazing burgers
- City Tacos – must try the carnitas tacos
- Polite Provisions (Normal Heights) – best drinks in the area
- Soda and Swine (Normal Heights) – dirty fries are worth the trip
- Blue Boheme (Kensington) – lavender-lemonade mimosas is a must
- Clem’s Bottle House & Deli – the Bevmo of beer