City Guide: San Francisco
Pre-Uber, our relationship with San Francisco was shaky at best. Let’s just say it’s become a lot more stable in the last few years. Really, our favorite way to experience San Fran is to make it a frequent one-night stop on our way to and from Healdsburg, Yountville, or down south to Carmel.
I always think of San Francisco as a rectangle to make sense of the orientation and angled streets. The bottom line is Cesar Chavez Street at the end of the Mission District, and the top is the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. I think of everything on the top middle to left as “sightseeing,” and everything on the mid to lower right as “eating and drinking.” The angled Market Street (and its parallel Mission Street) are the bisecting guideposts. Not scientific, but it makes sense in my crazy brain.
With that preamble, it makes sense to think of spending a few days in the city as dividing by area—where to stay, and clusters of what to do and eat. Just let that Uber take you from one hotspot to another, and start your wandering once you get there.
#1: The Embarcadero
Hotel Vitale, located right at Mission and Embarcadero, is a good bet. Our personal favorite, even though closer to South Market is the St. Regis, followed by Four Seasons. Both predictable higher-end bigger hotels, but in San Fran we have not fallen in love with any small boutique-style properties, so we opt out for close to Convention Center convention.
Start at the Ferry Building. It’s a great place to wander and see the shops. Then, walk the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s an easy, flat (unusual in this city), pretty walk. Enjoy the view of the Oakland Bay Bridge.
- Boulevard, one of the oldest and best-known restaurants in the city, is right across the street from the hotel.
- While you’re at the Ferry Building, indulge at Slanted Door (sit at the bar, of course), or Hog Island Oyster Co. for grilled cheese and oysters. Or go just about anywhere else in the building for wine, cheese, charcuterie, etc. and pack a picnic.
- Coqueta by Michael Chiarello for Spanish food.
#2: Financial District
Since these are both basically in the Financial District, you have easy access to the Union Square area (or you can stay at Union Square, see below). After that, it’s a good jumping-off point to walk the hills up to Coit Tower and up to Nob Hill. There are a number of places to get great views of the city.
Since there are no mentionable hotels south of Market or in the Mission District, we often use this location as a jumping-off point to explore the Mission District, too (below).
Almost everything is a walk or car (see my preamble about no concentration of energy), but Quince is right there and one of the best in town.
#3: Union Square
Union Square is a popular, centrally located place to stay with tons of options for hotels and shopping, but not as many great food options.
- Hotel Zetta is a great location, if not a great hotel (a Viceroy Hotel)
- Taj Campton Place is a good Union Square location, typically higher priced, although more traditional and somewhat worn in areas
Shop. Or leave the Union Square area for a sightseeing excursion or walking the hills to Lombard, Nob Hill, Coit, etc.
This is where the challenge comes in. All the good options are a serious walk. A few in the close area include:
- Leo’s Oyster Bar is closer, smack dab in the Financial District.
- Tadich Grill is great for dessert. It’s as old-school and well-known as it gets in San Francisco (it’s also a good dinner option if you want a classic-steakhouse type experience).
- The teeny-tiny Nob Hill Café is a bit of a hike to Nob Hill, but it’s cute, quaint, and has great Italian food. (This is a great spot if you’re staying at the well-known Intercontinental hotel)
- Swan Oyster Depot in Nob Hill has seafood as fresh as it gets—it’s in a fish market.
- Distillery/brewery Seven Stills recently opened Seven Stills on Nob Hill, a new bar that functions as a tasting room with food and other spirits, too
Restaurants (and clusters of them) worth an Uber Ride:
- Monsieur Benjamin (a modern spot inspired by classic Parisian bistros)
- Rich Table (a comfortable neighborhood place serious about their food and sourcing)
- Souvla (Greek sandwich shop and wine bar)
- Petit Crenn (a little finer, set menu dining from the visionary Dominique Crenn—we recommend the marble chef’s counter. Atelier Crenn is where she made her name, and she’s tremendously talented)
- Miette (a critical darling for your sweet tooth)
- Zuni Café (I can’t stress this one enough. If you don’t stop by as part of cluster, make it a destination. It’s truly a classic that has outlasted everyone else.)
Cluster 2 in Fillmore:
Mission has the best collection of restaurants close together, so you could actually make a few evenings out of it.
- Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina (an institution)
- Al’s Place (Aaron Landon’s corner restaurant, named Bon Appetit’s favorite a few years back)
- La Taqueria (a no-brainer)
- Tartine Bakery/Manufactory (a great spot for a cocktail and small bite, our favorite place is at the small bar)
- Mission Chinese Food (headquarted here in the Mission)
- The Beehive (new, kitschy-cool-retro with a cocktail focus)
- Locanda (great pasta and cocktails)
- Flour + Water (regional Italian spiked with Northern California influence)
- Trick Dog (a converted warehouse where the cool kids hang out, with a Beard-recognized bar program)
- Bar Agricole (modern farm-to-table with a great bar)
- Central Kitchen (also a heavy Northern California vibe, but not as good as Flour+ Water the original restaurant from the group)
- Foreign Cinema (worth it to see the cool building)
- True Laurel (pretty new, with cocktail/food pairings that emphasize the cocktails)
- The Morris (a bistro serious about wine)
- Last Rites (the hottest new tiki bar, just outside the Mission, with a dark vibe)
- Stonemill Matcha (new all-day Japanese in the former Bar Tartine space)