When you stay at HI San Francisco City Center, you’ll be forgiven if you think that you’ve somehow been transported to Vietnam based on the restaurants and markets in the neighborhood surrounding the hostel. Little Saigon is a two-block stretch of Larkin Street guarded by a pair of dragons sitting atop stone pillars and officially recognized as an area with the same cultural significance as Chinatown or Japantown. The neighborhood has an active Vietnamese community running local businesses, and along the colorful streets you’ll feel transported straight from San Francisco to Saigon. Here are a few favorite highlights to enjoy on your journey.
Step into one of the hole-in-the-wall coffee shops to try out a cup of strong and sweet Vietnamese coffee. What makes it different from the standard cuppa Joe? The coffee is brewed to order and served in a glass with a healthy dose of super sweet condensed milk to perk you up even on the roughest of mornings.
Little Saigon is a haven for travelers on a budget because it’s easy to score a hearty lunch for less than $10. If you fancy a sandwich, you can’t go wrong with an authentic bahn mi made with a fresh-and-crispy baguette filled with meat or tofu, cilantro, jalapeños, and pickled carrots. Saigon Sandwich (on Larkin Street about two blocks down from HI SF City Center) is a favorite of lunch-time crowds, but if you’d like a few more options and a shorter line, L&G Sandwiches on Eddy Street is another beloved option with sandwiches under $5.
On cooler days there’s possibly nothing better than pho – a warming bowl of broth heaped with greens, herbs, meat and a tangle of skinny noodles served in oversized bowls usually enough to satisfy two travelers. Turtle Tower is known for their Northern Vietnamese-style pho and fresh-made rice noodles, and you can mix and mingle with locals in the cozy setting at nearby Pho2000.
Asian Art Museum
Get inspired and amazed at the Asian Art Museum, about a five-minute walk from the hostel on Larkin Street, where you can see one of the most extensive and complete collections of art collected from all over Asia. Go on Thursday evenings when there is discounted entry and special programs (usually from February to September), or if you happen to be around on the first Sunday of the month, visit the museum for free.
HI USA Tip: Get to know more of San Francisco with this off-the-beaten-path bucket list for those returning to the city and first timers who choose the roads less traveled, and learn more about the Tenderloin neighborhood’s not-so-hidden beauty you can explore.
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