My loving attempt to steer you to the best of the City by the Bay.
Visiting San Francisco?
Happy to share with you some of our favorite haunts in San Francisco – nothing like the recommendation of a local when you’re visiting from elsewhere. (Links are to places that have their own sites only.)
If you are in the downtown/financial district, you may be surprised by the fairly narrow choices for dining in the evenings. If you are willing to walk a half-dozen blocks or more though, you can find wonderful places in Chinatown and North Beach.
Fantastic seafood restaurant on a par with Tadich Grill, this is a San Francisco original, in operation for over one hundred years. Best to call ahead for reservations, and ask for a curtained booth. Entrees in the $20 range; recommend the Caesar salad with Dungeness crab, and the Hangtown Fry. Sam’s is at the corner of Bush Street and Belden Place – there are a half-dozen restaurants in the alley with outdoor (heated) seating – you almost can’t go wrong here.
All within three blocks, these are somewhat interchangeable, but very good, French bistros. Claude and Le Central are quietest; Claude and Bastille have outdoor seating; de la Presse has the best bar experience. Le Central is a hangout for former mayor Willie Brown, generally at lunchtime.
Yes, House of Nanking has great food, but be prepared to hang out on the street waiting to get in, and I’m not fond of having dishes selected for me, which they always try to do. For much better value, try R&G, though to be truthful, there must be a hundred decent Chinese restaurants to recommend.
Firenze By Night Ristorante
Our favorite of many Italian restaurants in North Beach (take a cab or walk from downtown). Traditional fare, great service.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store
Pop in for a grilled sandwich and a glass of wine or beer. Sit at the counter or at a table in the window, and watch the world go by, including Tai chi groups in the park.
Neighborhood Fare on Polk
If you’re in the mood to explore a neighborhood, and perhaps dine at a more “authentic” locals place, consider heading out to Polk Street, or Chestnut Street in the Marina District.
You’ll find all kinds of great places to eat. We particularly like Shalimar (Indian) and two or three Middle Eastern Restaurants in the Polk Gulch area, and the Tipsy Pig and A16 are worthy candidates on Chestnut.
Again, downtown and the Financial District simply don’t have many places to go for a drink that meet my requirements – knowledgeable staff, well stocked bar, good atmosphere and clientele. Try these on:
Bit of a hipsters joint, located right above the Stockton Street tunnel two blocks from Union Square. Not too loud after work, but gets pretty busy later on.
This is in my opinion the best hotel bar in the City, featuring a Maxfield Parish mural. Expensive, but a decent pour.
Love this one for the 1930’s décor, and for the fact that despite being in North Beach, it is mostly frequented by regulars.
The Hi Low
Good friends who sought their own place after working at the Tunnel Top, originally taking over KoKo's on Geary just below Van Ness. With that whole block due to be demolished for a new hospital and medical center, they have finally managed to get through the regulatory process and open the Hi Low on Polk. Ten on tap, straightforward bar, and a list of ten great specialty cocktails.
Okay. You simply have to stop here if you come to the City. $12 cab fare from downtown, to Union Street right below Van Ness.
The smallest pub we have in 47 square miles – seats twenty-two but fifty-four is the record. Lean back in your barstool and rest on the wall. Give up that stool to ladies, as it’s a house rule. No cell phone conversations allowed inside.
Bathtub behind the bar holds one keg of cask ale and a selection of international brew in the bottle.
The. Best. Pub. Experience. In. SF.
Yes, visit Alcatraz (locals do after they’ve lived here for twenty years), but remember to book ahead, especially in the summer. Take MUNI to the Golden Gate Bridge and walk across. Ride the tramcar line that runs along Market Street and out to Fisherman’s Wharf (but don’t get off there!). Visit the Ferry Building for enlightenment on California food culture.
Take your kids to the Exploratorium, and to the Cable Car Barn in Chinatown (free!).
The best art is at SFMOMA, but the best museum architecture is a tie between the De Young and the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
Adventurous? Visit the Mission. Not so much? Visit Chinatown.
Bring a coat. In the summer.