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Insider San Francisco: Exploring Polk Street

By July 26, 2012

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You don't have to go all the way out to more residential neighborhoods like the Richmond District or the Outer Sunset to shake free of San Francisco's tourist trail and immerse yourself in a local scene.

Polk Street, which crosses the central core of the city from north to south, is just on the other side of  Nob Hill from Chinatown and North Beach, but feels worlds away.

On Polk Street you will encounter the full spectrum of San Francisco's eclectic real living, from the gritty but colorful street-life and southeast Asian restaurant smorgasbord where it begins down near the Civic Center to the high-end restaurant scene and overflowing sidewalk cafes of it's last stretch before it terminates at Fisherman's Wharf. Polk Street is San Francisco in a microcosm.

Running parallel to Van Ness Avenue (Highway 101), just one block over,  but built for pedestrians instead of heavy traffic, Polk is a 20-something-block-long continuous stretch of commercial activity, all of it serving the local community.

A good way to check out the vibe is to take the California Street Line of the Cable Car, which is nowhere near as crowded as the other two lines, and get off at Polk Street. Here you are smack-dab in the middle of the action and at the center of the spectrum. The area is bohemian and multifaceted, classic and constantly changing at the same time.

Grab a coffee at Royal Grounds, catch a flick at the Lumiere - one of the city's top independent movie houses - or stand in line to get your maws on some fresh seafood at Swan's Oyster Depot. At night, the Red Devil Lounge showcases local and touring musical groups and the Cinch is a hang-out for the area's substantial gay population. All of this is within a two block radius of the California Street interection.

There is tons more, but Polk Street is made for walking and exploring on your own as the treasures you will encounter here - everything from spiritual bookstores to transsexual discos - are rarely mentioned in guidebooks or online guides to SF. And maybe thats a good thing; uncharted territory is often the most rewarding to explore.

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Photo by Ocean Malandra

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