Remember the scene in Being John Malkovich, when John Cusack opened a portal and tunneled through Johnny’s mind? West Portal got its name as the one-time, end-of-the-line tunnel to this funky San Francisco neighborhood. It attracts hipsters galore with a Goodwill that has a vast selection of cashmere sweaters and the line at El Toreador rivals the one at Peet’s, you know the one for tired mommies looking for their morning fix? It’s not punk rock, but it’s a cool place to while away an afternoon or spend a Saturday morning ramble with your brood. Walk through the portal to a whole new world and enjoy the view.
What to do: Whatever you choose to do in West Portal, you’re in for some fun. Make a coffee-fueled pit stop at one of the many picnic tables at West Portal Playground. Let the little ones climb the massive climbing structure, scoop in the sand pit, and roam the lovely field perfect for playing chase or a pick-up game of soccer.
Take in a movie with a box of popcorn at the Empire at 85 West Portal, an old San Francisco theatre that was remodeled with comfy seats and best of all, no long lines!
Where to shop: Browse through not one, but two delightful toy shops. Ambassador Toys is a huge store with loads of toys (board games, stuffed animals, dolls, and wooden toys) for infants to older children. 186 West Portal Ave. 415-759-8697. Choose from the myriad creative and educational toy options at Growing Up. 240 West Portal Ave. 415-661-6304.
Support your local indie bookshop and stop in West Portal Books. This neighborhood treasure is packed with back rooms to explore and a wonderful selection of children’s books. 80 West Portal Ave. 415-564-8080.
For a trip down your own musical memory lane, tuck into The Music Store to browse their wide selection of CDs, LPs, videos, and DVDs. You can show your kids the tunes Mom and Dad used to listen to back in the day. 66 West Portal Ave. 415-664-2044.
Where to eat: Day of the Dead tricked-out Mexican restaurant El Toreador is a comforting yet festive retreat from a foggy day. So let the sun shine and sneak in some veggies Jessica-Seinfeld-style and order spinach enchiladas for your unsuspecting kids. 50 West Portal Ave. 415-566-8104.
You say Fuji I say sashimi. With great daily specials on sushi, tempura, and udon and friendly chefs, you’ll be in Japanese heaven. Make your kids try the Dinosaur Foot and they can have green tea ice cream for dessert! 301 West Portal Ave. 415-564-6360.
Market & Rye is a brand spankin’ new salad and sandwich spot owned by Ryan Scott of Top Chef fame. With tasty gourmet sandwiches and nibbles, communal tables, and a children’s play area, you’ll laugh and raise a glass to toast your good luck. Try the homemade Twinkies for dessert in flavors like Root Beer Float and S’Mores (with no fire required). 68 West Portal Ave. 415-564-5950
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, head to Mozzarella di Bufala for oozing cheesy cornmeal crust pizza and pasta. 69 West Portal Ave. 415-661-8900.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Shaws. For over twenty-five years Shaws has sold candies (chocolate-covered gummy bears!), gifts (PEZ and M&M dispensers), and Mitchell’s ice cream (try rocky road). 122 West Portal Ave. 415-681-2702.
Nearby excursion: Ain’t no mountain high enough, but at 927 feet Mount Davidson Park is the highest natural point in San Francisco. Hike to the giant cross on the hill and then follow the trail to the edge for stunning views east and north of San Francisco. You’ll be glad you made this short trek to the top.
— Nicki Richesin