Soaking Up Laid Back Surferburbia in the Outer Sunset
I grew up in San Francisco but I’m not even close to discovering all the hidden corners and out of the way neighborhoods around this town. And how is it that I’ve discovered the Outer Sunset only after decades of exploring? There is more popping up all the time to draw us out there, but luckily the tinge of trendiness hovering over this neighborhood hasn’t ruined the laid back and low key feel of “surferburbia”. Not yet at least! It’s especially great to visit on a sunny day when you can walk or bike along ocean beach and stare out into infinity and catch the surfers doing their thing, but foggy days have their charm, too. It is San Francisco after all!
A few weeks ago, one of my oldest and dearest pals Rachel, a friend I’ve known since our elementary school days in Noe Valley, trekked out to the Outer Sunset with the express purpose of finding out whether the food at Outerlands Cafe (Judah at 45 Ave.) was deserving of all the hype. We packed up my little one and headed out, stopping for a stroll and some pre-lunch caffeine at Trouble Coffee, the local coffee hot spot just down the street. Our preschoolers were not with us but they would have surely loved the parklet outside Trouble Coffee. It’s more organic than the other parklets around town and built around a massive piece of driftwood which just cries out to be climbed — the best kind of entertainment to give mom or dad a few minutes to enjoy that coffee.
I can happily report that Outerlands Cafe indeed does have some of the most amazing bread around which of course translates into incredible sandwiches too. Perhaps it was not the best option, and maybe a little bit of torture for Rachel who has been trying to avoid the carbs. Sorry Rae! Luckily the salads were excellent which may have made up for it at least a little bit. We also tried their super simple parmesan broth which was just a light parmesan-infused stock with some tiny diced vegetables, the right accompaniment for all that bread and cheese and totally perfect for dunking. The little bambino was all over that one! It’s safe to say I’ll be stealing that idea for some experimentation at home. For me, the ambiance at Outerlands Cafe is almost as appealing as the bread. If you love that surf-y, driftwood, verging-on-but-not-quite hippie vibe, you will adore it too. Rachel and I noticed the list of interesting cocktails and libations as we were enjoying our meal and since it was not that kind of lunch, we made a pact to come back and give them a try sometime soon.
There’s not too much foot or car traffic on the flat streets of the Outer Sunset so it’s a great place for little cyclists and scooter-riders to roll. Between Outerlands Cafe and Java Beach Cafe at the foot of Judah (and across the street from the Ocean) are a few blocks of shops and cafes to browse. [Java Beach Cafe, by the way, is another good option for eats if Outerlands doesn't fit into your plans. It's more of a basic coffee and bagels type of place, but it has that feel of "real San Francisco" to me and younger kids will enjoy the view of the N streetcar turnaround.] And if you happen to be exploring these parts when dinner time comes around, you will hate yourself if you do not pop into Thanh Long for some crab and garlic noodles. It’s bib-wearing, decadent deliciousness and a good place if you like umbrellas in your drink.
Cap off your Outer Sunset adventure by walking past Java Beach Cafe to the tiny La Playa Park community garden across the street. It’s a sweet place to wander for a few minutes, sit and soak in whatever sunshine is out there, and a good place to play if it’s too windy or cold at the beach. If you have the time, one more stop worth a visit is the Mollusk Surf Shop which is just a few blocks away on Irving Street at 46th Ave. In addition to surf gear, you can check out their gallery space as well as some fun, customized vehicles and a treehouse right inside the shop. I promise you’re coolness meter will crank up a few notches just by walking inside.