Over the course of her life thus far, Shilpa Shah, cofounder of socially conscious womenswear brand Cuyana, has called two of America’s most vibrant cities her home. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Shah moved north to attend college at UC Berkeley, returned to L.A. to work for Disney, then landed back in the Bay when her husband began a medical residency in the area. She’s been there ever since, graduating from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 2012 and starting her company (with CEO Karla Gallardo) in the heart of San Francisco in 2013. (Today, Cuyana has stores in both SF and L.A., plus pop-up shops in other cities around the country.) Though Shah will always be an Angeleno at heart, the Bay Area continues to impress and inspire her: “There is an energy in San Francisco that encourages you to build something from the ground up,” she says. We enlisted Shah to pick her favorite places in her adopted region, from where to eat (she loves watching chefs work in the open kitchen at the New American restaurant Commis) to where to find the best view (hint: it’s at her alma mater). Read on for the rest of her guide.
What neighborhood do you live in in San Francisco, and how long have you lived there? I live in the Upper Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland. Prior to that, I lived in Temescal–one of the East Bay’s most vibrant scenes! I've been in Oakland since 2004, after moving to the Bay Area from Los Angeles.
Where would you put up friends visiting town? Unfortunately, the hotels in San Francisco are all concentrated in and around Union Square. While I enjoy this neighborhood and it is the home to the Cuyana headquarters and showroom, it isn't my favorite environment for getting a feel for the city. I often suggest friends rent an Airbnb instead. My favorite neighborhoods to recommend are Russian Hill or Hayes Valley–they give the visitor a good sense of the city's hills, energy, and restaurant scene. They are also centrally located, and easily accessible to most SF neighborhoods, like the Marin and the East Bay. (airbnb.com)
What would you say is the region’s signature dish? Where is the best place to find it? So many options! Here are a few of my favorites. Zuni Cafe’s roasted chicken is an SF classic and the ultimate in comfort food (1658 Market St.; 415-552-2522; zunicafe.com). Kokkari’s Lamb Chops (Arnisia Paidakia) is another mainstay (200 Jackson St.; 415-981-0983; kokkari.com). Aziza’s Basteeya, which has has been on Aziza's menu since they opened 20 years ago. It's different than the classic Moroccan chicken dish because they’ve changed it to highlight duck confit (5800 Geary Blvd.; 415-752-2222; aziza-sf.com). I love how many restaurants blend traditional dishes with new fusion flavors.
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? I like taking visitors somewhere unconventional like Nick's Crispy Tacos (1500 Broadway; 415-409-8226; nickscrispytacos.com), or to a restaurant that has an innovative way of delivering fresh California cuisine, such as Statebird Provisions (1529 Fillmore St.; 415-795-1272; statebirdsf.com).
Where can you find the best cocktails? I'm a sucker for a great mezcal or tequila cocktail at Mezcalito 9 (2323 Polk St.; 415-441-2323; mezcalitosf.com) or Duende (468 19th St.; 510-893-0174; duendeoakland.com).
Beer list? The Trappist is an old-world style brewpub with one of the largest selection of Belgian beers in the Bay Area. I love the Allagash Curieux. (460 8th St.; 510-238-8900; thetrappist.com)
Wine list?Nopa SF. Every bottle listed matches the restaurant flavors and their fresh, seasonal menus. The wines are interesting and unique–I love the light, floral red varietals (which pair nicely with their famous pork chop). (560 Divisadero St.; 415-864-8643; nopasf.com)
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? Lazy Bear, Commis, or Benu. Lazy Bear feels more like a dinner party than a restaurant (3416 19th St.; 415-874-9921; lazybearsf.com). Each evening has two seatings with a prix-fixe menu. Whether you go with a small or large group, the evening will be memorable. I love sitting at the front bar at Commis because it has the best view in the house–you can watch the chefs construct each beautiful dish (3859 Piedmont Ave., Oakland; 510-653-3902; commisrestaurant.com). Benu is perfect for an intimate celebration (22 Hawthorne St.; 415-685-4860; benusf.com).
What is your go-to after-hours bar? I love the cocktails and atmosphere at Trick Dog (3010 20th St.; 415-471-2999; trickdogbar.com) or at the Burritt Room (417 Stockton St.; 415-400-0561; mystichotel.com). Both bars are intimate and refined, but have a relaxed vibe. The drinks are delicious. I love the Sam Flores at Trick Dog and the Pajaro at the Burritt Room.
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon? Taking a boat out on the bay, eating oysters in Sausalito, and grabbing a beer at Fort Point Beer Co. outside the Ferry building. (644 Old Mason St.; 415-906-4021; fortpointbeer.com)
What is your Sunday morning routine? A great Vinyasa yoga class at Namaste Yoga in the East Bay (3229 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland; 510-832-9642; ilovenamaste.com) followed by a fantastic brunch at Boot and Shoe Service (3308 Grand Ave., Oakland; 510-763-2668; bootandshoeservice.com).
Where is the best brunch? The Hog's Apothecary in Oakland (375 40th St., Oakland; 510-338-3847; hogsapothecary.com) or Outerlands in San Francisco (4001 Judah St.; 415-661-6140; outerlandssf.com). The food and ambiance are perfect for brunch. Both places have a great vibe–relaxed and charming.
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? Blue Bottle, for their classic drip coffee. But sometimes when I've had too much caffeine, I get their Matcha Au Lait with almond milk. Many people don't know they have a green tea option since it's not on the menu. (Various locations; bluebottlecoffee.com)
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? I love the view from Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, or from Slacker Hill in the Marin Headlands. (1 Centennial Dr., Berkeley; 510-642-5132; lawrencehallofscience.org)
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? Tennessee Valley Trail in Marin. It takes you right to the beach and you can walk or bike it. (591 Tennessee Valley Rd., Mill Valley; 415-331-1540; nps.gov)
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions in the city? Balmy Alley in the Mission–it's the best place to see a large collection of concentrated murals in the city. It's in the heart of the Mission district and is a great representation of San Francisco's political expression. (50 Balmy St.; balmyalley.com)
What’s your favorite shop or boutique in the city and what do you buy there? Cuyana! Our classic leather bags, silk essentials, travel accessories, and so much more! We also offer live monogramming every day (291 Geary St.; 415-445-3001; cuyana.com). I also love stopping by Space NK on Fillmore Street (2000 Fillmore St.; 415-923-9044; spacenk.com), and Umami Mart in downtown Oakland (815 Broadway, Oakland; 510-250-9559; umamimart.com).
What’s the best-kept local secret? The best way to see the city is by walking it. Since it's only 7x7 miles, you can easily see it in a day, walking from the Ferry Building to Union Square, up through Chinatown to Ghiradelli Square over to Pacific Heights.