West Portal

West Portal is a little village within San Francisco. It is based on the metro station of the same name where the L-Taraval, M-Oceanview and K-Ingleside all come together. It’s quite a hub of transportation, yet at the same time has a bit of small town feel with a bit of a high price tag.

You’ll find very few chain stores here. I think Walgreen’s still stands out as the only major chain. Most of the shops here are of the Mom and Pop type where if visit any of them a few times the store owners will remember you.

West Portal is a funny area in that before the tunnel was built in 1918 it was rather difficult to get to. The tunnel which no services the SFMTA originally was a hole through Twin Peaks to enable streetcars to traffic people downtown in about fifteen minutes.

It’s funny to travel there during the week because after all the hustle and bustle of the morning commuters taking the trains downtown the place turns very quiet. Parking is everywhere and the place takes on a rather sleepy kind of presence. The only place you’ll find lots of people are at the tables outside the coffee shops, in particular Peet’s where you’ll find the older retired Bohemians sitting around talking about the news of the day over coffee.

You don’t find too many hipsters here and you only see someone at a coffee shop with a laptop occasionally and that’s usually at Starbuck’s. Most of the time you’ll see people here to shop or eat at one of the many restaurants. Did I just say restaurant? Well there are many here such as Fresca serving Peruvian cuisine [sorry, they don’t serve guinea pig] to the Mediterranean Bursa or if you like something less upscale there’s always Mozzarella di Buffala for a quick slice of pizza or authentic Brazilian dishes, yes you read that right or Noah’s Bagel’s for a quick nosh.

In the evenings if you want to experience a bit of old school it would be best to stop by the Philosopher’s Club to get your drink on an debate the state of politics with the locals. Be careful though for fisticuffs might ensue! While there are at least four bars on the strip of West Portal you’ll hardly ever see a fight though. This is a place where the genteel upscale people live being bordered by Forest Hill. It’s a step up from the working class here.

In general West Portal is well, nice. It’s a safe place to visit and shop. Everyone seems to have a smile on their face and there is a great sense of community here. The Merchants get together to fund decorating the parking meters for the holidays and they have a yearly arts and crafts show on the sidewalks that always brings the locals to visit.

Oh and in case you’re interested, I’ve started making neighborhood t-shirts at the behest of my Sunset District neighbors. You can see some of them at my Baghdad by the Bay Store.

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Local News

No, I mean REALLY local news. Not what the local TV stations or newspapers who are owned by large out of town companies [anyone else noticed that the Examiner always suggest that San Franciscans vote for the Republican candidates in the elections?] I’m talking about those little free newspapers like the Westside Observer, Sunset Beacon, West Portal Monthly or Richmond Review that talk about what’s really happening in your neighborhood.

I don’t know if the Mission District, Financial District, Nob Hill or Pacific Heights have their own papers but if they don’t they should. When I want to find out what really makes people tick I turn to these papers. I was eating my lunch while looking over a copy of the Westside Observer only to find out that the Recreation and Parks Department got $185 million dollars to upgrade and refurbish all the playgrounds in the city then Mayor Newsom told RPD they had to cut their budget after updating and upgrading all the playgrounds so what did they do? They fired all the people who run the playgrounds and locked up the club houses. They’re even thinking of leasing out the clubhouse of the J.P. Murphy park to a private client who will have more access to the club house and playground than the people who live in the neighborhood.

These newspapers tell you what the city isn’t doing right and while I’d like to think we’re perfect, when you start reading through a copy of one of these papers you realize we aren’t. There’s a medical marijuana dispensary that wants to open up a few blocks from my house on Taraval street. Sunset Beacon had that one covered with the pros and cons. I have to admit most of the cons came from people who didn’t seem to have any experience with drugs or drug related crime, but that’s just my opinion.

As far as I can tell, none of the writers get paid for what they do. Several have former supervisors, politicians or famous locals writing for them and in most cases they give a pretty good perspective on the neighborhoods. These are the newspapers where I find out when the Mayor or our local Supervisor Carmen Chu is have a meet up where people can talk about the problems they’re having in the neighborhood. I’ve been to a couple of them and found them very interesting. I wouldn’t have found out about them if I went to the Chronicle or Examiner. I also get to find out about local businesses in my neighborhood because they’re the people who are covering the costs to keep the free papers free. If you’re not from SF, but visiting here these are the newspapers you should check out. It’ll definitely give you more info about what’s going on in San Francisco than the bigger papers. The best place to find them is at one of the local libraries.