Explore San Francisco

Talking the "Real San Francisco" with Artist Wendy MacNaughton

The illustrator and graphic journalist on her hometown

San Francisco native Wendy MacNaughton’s book "Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words," published in spring 2014, captures the soul of the city with playful, clever drawings of residents going about their daily lives. Her illustrations have been featured on NPR and in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time. A trained social worker, she also designed humanitarian campaigns for nonliterate audiences in Kenya and Rwanda. Her latest book  “Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them,” written with Buzzfeed Books editor Isaac Fitzgerald, comes out this month.


“Meanwhile in San Francisco”  City Hall
“Meanwhile in San Francisco” (©Wendy MacNaughton/Chronicle Books)

How would you describe your work?

I tell stories using drawings and words.

Tell us about your book “Meanwhile in San Francisco.”

It’s a collection of 17 illustrated documentaries about unsung communities in San Francisco. I spent anywhere from a day to a month hanging out with people, getting to know them, drawing them and writing down what they said. Then I took their words and my pictures and put them together to tell a story. Most of the drawings are done from life. The cover comes off and unfolds into a poster-map of San Francisco.

How does it appeal to visitors?

Some people have called the book the "real guide" for visitors. It shares stories and locations in San Francisco that aren’t about tourism. It’s about the actual people and stories that make up the City by the Bay. From the SF Public Library to the bison in the park to the gaming parlors in Chinatown to the burritos in the Mission, the book is a great way for people to get a real feeling and sense of the city from the local’s point of view.

How long have you lived in San Francisco?

I was born here and have lived here on and off, but since I moved back four years ago, I can’t imagine ever leaving.

What inspires you?

Meeting people, hearing stories, the fog rolling over the hill.

Where do you go to find artistic stimulation?

Any place with good people-watching and great coffee shops. The Mission, Potrero, Chinatown, Ocean Beach...

What do you enjoy about working in the Bay Area?

Amongst many things, the scale. The city is small enough to really know and move around in, and big enough that there is always something new to discover.

Marin Headlands
Marin Headlands (©NPS/Kirke Wrench)

Where do you take visitors to show off the city?

The best views are, in my opinion: number one, Potrero Hill overlooking downtown and the Bay Bridge, and number two, the Marin Headlands—it blows me away every time.

What’s your favorite neighborhood?

Potrero and the Mission—it’s my neighborhood so of course I have pride of place—but I really feel like there is some of the best weather, best restaurants and bars, best art and design stuff going on, plus fantastic views and parks.

Tell us about your latest project.

I’m working with local chef Samin Nosrat on an illustrated cookbook that will come out in 2015. And the project “Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them” that I did with past-SFer Isaac Fitzgerald is coming out this month.

Where can visitors find and view your work?

The major museums (de Young, SFMOMA) carry my books, and there’s a semi-permanent installation in the SF Chronicle building at 5th and Mission streets. Prints and such are available on my website.



“Meanwhile in San Francisco”
Inside “Meanwhile in San Francisco” (©Wendy MacNaughton/Chronicle Books)


Start off by getting some coffee at Four Barrel in the Mission or Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley. Do some people watching. Probably some people drawing.

Late Morning

Head to my studio in Potrero Hill and work for a while and bring our dog, Susan Sontag, with me. Then head downstairs to the best art store in SF, ARCH Art & Drafting Supply, and see what new fun supplies they got in.


Walk up the hill to Farley’s, a great coffee shop with a simple lunch, and sit outside in the parklet for more people watching and drawing. Walk over to the intersection and check out one of the most spectacular views in the city, then head into Christopher’s Bookstore and do some browsing. Stop into Baked just across the street and get a Rolo brownie. Then regret eating the whole thing in under five minutes.

Late Afternoon

Take a walk along the Embarcadero to Pier 70 and walk around the historical buildings, peek in through broken windows and try to pet the stray cats that live there. Stop in Piccino for a glass of wine afterwards.


Head to April Bloomfield's Tosca in North Beach for dinner. Get a cocktail and the gemelli and the focaccia. Call my pal local chef Samin Nosrat, and ask her what else to order. End up ordering everything on the menu.