I have been working on organizing our travels into (somewhat) more focused location-based pages. Ultimately I would like to create downloadable city guide type mini booklets. But lets not put the cart before the horse.
Most of these pages are still under progress, but all of these types of ‘guides’ now live under the “TRAVELS” drop down in the navigation menu.
Until I have it all sorted out, here’s a list of places that we visited while in SF this time around. This is by no means an all-inclusive list of all our favorites/recommended places to visit/see/do/eat/drink — just a summary of the *few* places that we managed to hit up on this past trip.
FOOD + DRINK
Cafe’s / Bakeries / Coffee Shops / Sweets
Tartine / My favorite French Bakery. I love the morning buns and chocolate croissants (pain chocolate).
Philz Coffee / Try the Turkish coffee. So good
The Warming Hut Cafe + Bookstore / At the edge of Crissy Field, by the bridge. Cafe and well-stocked gift shop. Go for the views. And also, if you’re in Crissy Field looking for a bathroom, they have some here.
Land’s End Lookout Cafe / Similar to the warming hut — little cafe, cute modern building, amazing view. Very limited seating — mostly just a bench.
Anthony’s cookies / my favorite cookies in SF. I love the cookies and cream cookies.
Beard Papa’s / cream puffs! I like the plain vanilla ones at the Yerba Buena location. After eating a few puffs, head across the street to the Metreon and check out the Chronicle Books store ( I dare you not to buy anything) or if you have more time, the SFMOMA.
Belly Good Cafe & Crepes /Japanese-style crepes. I always get the #22.
Creations Dessert House / Hong Kong style desserts. Get the mango mochi.
Bi-Rite Creamery / “Craft” ice cream. They are especially known for their salted caramel, but everything is good
Boudin Bakery / There are a ton of these everywhere, but the one on the wharf is probably the most scenic (plus you can take a tour and learn about sourdough bread). I recommend skipping the chowder in a bread bowl and just splitting a loaf of your choosing with a bowl of soup. I feel like this way you are less likely to waste the bread, which is sort of the whole point of going to a bakery.
Diners / Burgers
Tyger’s / This was our neighborhood greasy spoon so I’m not sure if it’s a place to go out of your way for, but if you’re in the neighborhood, the pancakes are massive and delicious. I think we have eaten everything on the menu at least 100x – nothing to brag on social media about but it feels like home here to us.
In n Out / Fast food done right. You know about the ‘secret menu,’ right? It’s not really that secret. We always get the fries “well-done”
Super Duper / Because anything topped with a fried egg is A-OK with me
Outdoor Markets / Food
Farmer’s Market / Thursdays, Sat + Sun are the times to go. Saturday probably has the most vendors, but also the largest crowds. My little parking secret: I can usually find street parking on Sansome St, north of Union. Otherwise, take the BART/MUNI
Crab Crackers / Located at Fisherman’s Grotto; a line of outdoor crab and seafood stands in front of a series of Italian style seafood restaurants. It can be kind of intimidating walking down this alley of seafood stalls and restaurants because everyone is trying to get you to come inside. In my opinion, I would skip over the indoor/Italian restaurants and opt for the outdoor stalls. The restaurants have great vintage appeal, but are usually overpriced with just ok food whereas I have always been satisfied with a freshly steamed Dungeness crab from an outside vendor.
More Substantial Food
House of Prime Rib / As old school as they come. You will either love this (obvi we do) or hate it (we are no longer friends). Note: this place is like what fine dining was circa 1950, so don’t go expecting like Michael Minas or Gary Dankos. It’s just not that kind of place.
Sushi Sams / Located just outside the city in San Mateo (feasible to get here via BART). There are fancier places in SF for sure but Sushi Sams has never disappointed us. Sit at the bar and order the chef’s 12pc omakase. We have never ordered anything else. Warning: the wait time can be ridiculous on weekends/prime time hours. Get there early.
Lolinda / Formerly Medjool, site of many a drunken rooftop gathering. The good news is that this reincarnation is a good one — tasty food (small plates — good for sharing), great drinks, and the famous rooftop (El Techo Lolinda) is still around. If nothing else get a drink on the rooftop and enjoy the view.
Yank Sing / Dim sum. The main reason we go here is because they can accommodate a large group (we always go to the one at Rincon — ask to sit in the atrium), the food is solid, and unlike many dim sum places (Ton Kiang) you can make reservations.
Stone Korean Kitchen / Full disclosure: we are good friends with one of the owners of this restaurant. For as long as we have known our friend, he has been passionate about food — so he decided to open a restaurant focusing on Korean home-style cooking. The location is great — right along the Embarcadero — and they have outdoor seating, bulgogi fries, Hitachino, and a great happy hour!
Smuggler’s Cove / Tiny place, awesome Tiki Bar, artfully crafted drinks. Can I just live here?
El Rio / This place is sort of a divey neighborhood bar, but I have always loved it because its unpretentious, has a dance floor, and has an awesome outside patio. Oftentimes they serve food. Just watch your drinks (something that holds true no matter where you go) == you don’t want to get roofied.
THINGS TO DO
Photoboof Sf / Vintage tin type portraits. In searching for the link for this place, I discovered it the studio closed last year. NOOOOOO. The good news is that you can still get tintypes made with the same photographers that worked there, just not at that location anymore.
Union Square / Super touristy spot but if you know where to look/go you can find good deals. Our favorite was always the Macy’s shoes sale — the Macy’s on Union Square has an amazing floor of shoes. We would always find amazing deals when stuff went on sale. The mall across the street on Market has a surprisingly decent selection of restaurants if you get hungry while shopping.
Chinatown / Personally I don’t think Chinatown — or I guess the shops along Grant Ave / Chinatown gate — is all that interesting — it’s mostly just a bunch of tshirt and souvenir shops and restaurants aimed at tourists (not that good). There is a bakery that sells super tasty egg custard tarts (just look for the line of people), aplace that makes fortune cookies, a pretty good dim sum place, and a divey old school tiki style bar that serves mai tais. R&G Lounge, House of Nanking, and Golden Star Vietnamese are a few decent places on the outskirts of Chinatown to grab a bite. Outside of that it’s very very touristy. Like annoyingly so. But if you are looking for kitschy souvenirs — or huge weird bronze statues adorned with fist=sized crystals — this is the place to visit. If you are looking for a “real” Chinatown get off Grant Ave and visit one of the side streets — or go to the Sunset district.
Japantown aka ‘J-town” / Unlike Chinatown, Jtown consists mostly of a few connecting indoor malls, a pagoda=like structure, and a couple streets of shops around the mall. It’s sort of like a Benihana level/style of Japan? Better JP food can be found pretty much anywhere else in SF, but I’m partial to the crepes place mentioned above. If you visit, some places that stand out for me: are the stationery store, the book store, the karaoke place (one of the first places sly and I went to!), the AYCE shabu place, the JP style spa, the Japanese dollar store, and the hair salon. Not that you would cut your hair if you were visiting, but if for some reason you wanted to — I used to always get it cut by Michiaki at the Japan Center Beauty Clinic. If you’re looking for a unique place to stay, check out Hotel Tomo. This would actually make a good, not-too-touristy, lower key place to stay if visiting — great location and the 38 Geary cuts across the city — taking you downtown in one direction or to Land’s End/Ocean Beach in the other.
Pier 39 / There are a few things I like about Pier 39: the sea lions, the puppet shop, the old tyme-y candy store, and the view of Alcatraz (I recommend the night tour of Alcatraz if you plan on seeing it – it’s well worthwhile) at the end of the pier. I guess the carousel is ok too. For a unique dining experience, check out Forbes Island: — where you can dine under the murky waters around Pier 39. far away from all the tourists! Everything else: tourist trap, way too many people and I swear there is a Bubba Gumps there. (OMG I googled it to double check and there IS a Bubba Gumps there. So yeah, it’s that kind of place.)
Coastal Trail to Land’s End to Sutro Baths / beautiful easy/moderate trail with stunning vistas and many side trails that lead to secluded beaches. I like to start at the Legion of Honor because parking is usually not hard to find. From there I hike to Sutro and then Land’s End and down to Ocean Beach. You can also go in reverse — parking at Land’s End and heading towards China Beach. Not really a wrong way to do it. The best thing about this trail is how secluded and rugged it feels. Highly recommended.
Sutro Baths / Old bathing house/public pool ruins that I find to be heartbreaking and beautiful. You can walk all along the foundation walls and it feels like you are walking on the ocean. There are a lot of ‘off=limits’ side trails and caves. I’ll leave that up to your discretion.
The Presidio / Crissy Field / The Presdio encompasses a lot of territory including, campsites (yes, you can camp IN SF), an awesome YMCA (take a yoga class here!), bowling alley, restaurants + cafes, Crissy Field, trails galore, little beaches, Sports Basement (if you like outdoorsy gear, this is a dream spot — but also a good hub for outdoorsy events and activities) — basically if you are outdoorsy you will like this part of SF. In my opinion its one of the best places to get a photo of the GG Bridge.
Ferry Building Farmer’s Market // see above
Dolores Park / there is usually always something going on in the parks, especially during the summer. Yerba Buena, Dolores, Golden Gate, Stern’s Grove, to name a few. The downside is that they get crazy crowded when the weather is nice or when there is an event.
Glen Canyon Park / A more rustic neighborhood spot with probably zero tourists. At the entrance there is a field, playground, and rec center — this is usually where most people hang out. But if you hike beyond that towards the cliffs you can find all kinds of secluded places to “get lost.” We used to like to pack some provisions from Glen Canyon Market and/or Cheese Boutique then find a nice spot on the rocks to have a picnic.
Musee Mecanique / Vintage penny arcade located in one of the most touristy parts of town. Don’t let that dissuade you though, it’s one of my most favorite places in SF. Follow up a visit here with a trip to Ghiradelli at Cannery Row – touristy but still fun (and tasty).