Best of San Francisco
Published: July 2011
By Heather Smith MacIsaac
A guide to the classic and the cutting edge in everyone's favorite city
Like the consummate Californian, the City by the Bay is continually experimenting, working on self-improvement, getting in shape. Neighborhoods devastated by the 1989 earthquake are more magnetic than ever. The waterfront is reawakening. Major civic projects like the Yerba Buena Gardens are changing not just the face but the focus of the city. There is much to take in, yet it all seems manageable when taken neighborhood by neighborhood: the hills are steep, but the streets are close. Whether you hit them strolling or striding, you will fall in love all over again with this city -- and your newly toned legs. San Francisco, here we come...
OFF TO A GOOD START:
Power Breakfast -- CAMPTON PLACE RESTAURANT 340 Stockton St.
Flower Power Breakfast -- FLOWER MARKET CAFE 698 Brannan St. 415/495-7162
Italian Continental -- CAFFE ROMA 414 Columbus Ave. 415/391-8584
Longshoreman's Continental -- RED'S JAVA HOUSE Embarcadero at Pier 30 no phone
French Continental -- CAFE DE LA PRESSE 352 Grant Ave. 415/398-2680
Brunch (Caribbean) -- MISS PEARL'S JAM HOUSE 601 Eddy St. 415/775-5267
Brunch (Pancakes) -- DOIDGE'S KITCHEN 2217 Union St. 415/921-2149
WITH STAYING POWER:
Fish -- HAYES STREET GRILL 324 Hayes St.
The Scene and the Food -- STARS 150 Redwood Alley 415/861-7827
Business Lunch -- JACK'S 615 Sacramento St. 415/986-9854
Ladies' Lunch -- BALBOA CAFE 3199 Fillmore St. 415/921-3944
Vegetarian -- GREENS Building A, Fort Mason Center 415/771-6222
Chef's Special -- JOYCE GOLDSTEIN'S SQUARE ONE 190 Pacific Ave. 415/788-1110
California Cuisine -- POSTRIO 545 Post St. 415/776-7825
OF THE MOMENT:
Fish -- AQUA 252 California St.
The Scene and the Food -- LULU 816 Folsom St. 415/495-5775
Business Lunch -- RUBICON 558 Sacramento St. 415/434-4100
Ladies' Lunch -- PLUMP JACK CAFE 3127 Fillmore St. 415/563-4755
Vegetarian -- VAL 21995 Valencia St. 415/821-6622
Chef's Special -- BRADLEY OGDEN'S ONE MARKET 1 Market St. 415/777-5577
California Cuisine -- BOULEVARD 1 Mission St.; 415/543-6084
SWAN OYSTER DEPOT 1517 Polk St. Shellfish salad
CHINA MOON CAFE 639 Post St. 415/775-4789 Noodle pillow
LULU CAFE 816 Folsom St. 415/495-5775 Oysters
MARIO'S BOHEMIAN CIGAR STORE CAFE 566 Columbus Ave. 415/362-0536 Focaccia sandwiches. Thursdays: polenta and sausage.
TADICH GRILL 240 California St. 415/391-1849 Seafood cioppino.
The drink of choice has turned from white wine to red to...
Champagne -- REDWOOD ROOM Four Seasons Clift Hotel 495 Geary St. The drink matches the setting in elegance and verticality.
Between The Sheets -- BIX 56 Gold St. A sexy glass of rum, brandy, Cointreau, and lime glows on a lamplit table in this glamorous supper club.
Mai Tai -- TONGA Fairmont Hotel 950 Mason St. Polynesian restaurant and hurricane bar complete with rain and lightning.
Faux Cappuccino -- TOSCA 242 Columbus Ave. Sip this comfort with a kick (steamed milk, chocolate, and brandy) to the strains of a Callas aria.
Martini -- RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL 600 Stockton St. In the lobby lounge, select from the martini menu and roaming vodka cart.
Margarita -- CAFE MARIMBA 2317 Chestnut St. You can't help but be happy under the twinkly tin-roofed bar.
Night and day, the Sherman House (2160 Green St.; ) is the one -- the hotel for romantics. By day the room to have is the Leander Sherman Suite, with a panorama of the city running like a wall mural above the parapet of the vast terrace. By night, every room is seductive (lights on dimmers, wood-burning hearths, feather beds), especially the Jan Paderewski Suite, with its bathroom fireplace and canopied four-poster.
The city has cornered the niche market with accommodations for...
Filmmakers -- HOTEL MILANO 55 Fifth St. Starkly modern hotel housing production facilities, Michel Richard's new Bistro M, and Nintendo in every room.
Sailors -- DOCKSIDE BOAT &BED Pier 39 Rock yourself to sleep aboard a sailing or motor yacht. Sea lions are your wake-up call.
Design Hounds -- TRITON HOTEL 342 Grant Ave. A one-stop compendium of every recent interiors trend.
Bathers -- MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL 222 Sansome St. Get deliriously soaked in select tub-with-a-view rooms of this high-rise
Nostalgists -- HUNTINGTON HOTEL 1075 California St. For tradition, comfort, and unforced hospitable service, it can't be beat.
Modest Budgets -- SAVOY HOTEL 580 Geary St. A standout among the small hotels to the west of Union Square delivering good value.
Businesswomen -- CAMPTON PLACE HOTEL 340 Stockton St. Trade a view for quiet, secure, elegant surroundings, excellent room service, and in-house laundry.
Japanophiles -- MIYAKO HOTEL 1625 Post St. Most rooms have deep soaking tubs with jasmine-scented bath salts; four have tatami, futons, and tokonoma alcoves.
Musicians And Groupies -- THE PHOENIX 601 Eddy St. Groovy motor lodge with pool has attracted 10,000 Maniacs -- both the group and the fans. Expect little privacy and lots of noise.
Opera Lovers -- INN AT THE OPERA 333 Fulton St. Steps from the Performing Arts Center; offers guests prime ballet, symphony, and opera tickets at cost.
Swimmers -- SHERATON PALACE HOTEL 2 New Montgomery St. and HOTEL NIKKO 222 Mason St. ; Both have indoor pools.
Indulgent Executives -- NOB HILL LAMBOURNE 725 Pine St. Arrive during Friday or Saturday happy hours for a complimentary neck and shoulder massage before checking in to your computer and fax-equipped room.
Civic-minded San Francisco is currently awash in projects. The coming years will see a surge of new openings and other inspiring changes. Stay tuned for . . .
- The ongoing conversion of the historic and scenic Presidio military post into a national park -- expected to draw more visitors than Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined. Already in place: a visitor center (102 Montgomery St.; 415/556-3111) and a variety of tours, both organized and self-guided. Slated for 1995: the opening of the bowling center, and the likely conversion of several buildings into bed-and-breakfast inns.
- A new aquarium, Underwater World (Pier 39; 415/705-5500), opened in spring 1996. Visitors will be transported through a variety of habitats on a moving walkway within a 400-foot-long transparent tunnel.
- The California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park (415/750-3600), reopened in November 1995 after extensive renovations and the addition of six underground exhibition spaces and a new restaurant.
- The reopened landmark Geary Theater, home of the American Conservatory Theater, after some earthquake retrofitting.
- A new main branch of the Public Library, just down Larkin Street from the present one -- with special centers for Chinese, African-American, and gay and lesbian collections.
- A variety of additions -- an IMAX theater, a 15-screen multiplex, an ice-skating rink, bowling lanes, and a children's cultural center -- to Yerba Buena Gardens, the development that has already changed South of Market from skid row 'hood to thriving culture complex. In the next few years, this area will welcome the relocated Mexican Museum, a Cartoon Art Museum, and a Jewish Museum, joining the already hopping Center for the Arts (701 Mission St.; 415/978-2700), the Ansel Adams Center (250 Fourth St.; 415/495-7000), and the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third St.; 415/357-4000).
treasures of japantown
KABUKI HOT SPRING Japan Center 1750 Geary Blvd. Relaxing and rejuvenating baths and shiatsu massage. Reserve ahead.
KINOKUNIYA STATIONERY AND GIFT Japan Center 1581 Webster St. Handmade art paper and origami paper in virtually all colors and patterns.
IKENOBO IKEBANA SOCIETY OF AMERICA 1737 Post St. Flower-arranging supplies, books, and workshops.
ISOBUNE 1737 Post St. Sparkling sushi arrives on boats via a countertop moat.
SOKO HARDWARE 1698 Post St. Japanese tools, hardware, garden supplies, and cooking utensils.
setting the scene
Before You Go Essential Read: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (1978)
Essential Rental: Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
While You're There
Déjà vu: 2640 Steiner St., the house managed by nanny Robin Williams in last year's Mrs. Doubtfire.
Burger Island (701 Third St.; 415/541-9196),where Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry delivered the unforgettable threat, "Make my day," in Sudden Impact (1983).
Golden Gate Park, which doubled as Sherwood Forest for Errol Flynn's green knight in the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood.
636 Cole St., once home to the city's most notorious dysfunctional "family," the Manson cult.
-- Heather Smith MacIsaac
San Francisco and the Bay Area by Barry Parr (Compass American Guides, distributed by Fodor's Travel Publications) -- An unbeatable combination of literate writing and superb color photography makes this a very special reference.
Zagat Survey: San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants (Zagat Survey) -- A comprehensive selection of over 550 eating establishments, rated by 1,500 diners, on quality of food, decoration, and service.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Random House) -- The first, and one of the best, of the hard-boiled detective stories, in which private eye Sam Spade roams all over the city trying to find the famous bird.
-- Martin Rapp
taking five with the kids
HERSHEL-SPILLMAN CAROUSEL Kezar Drive in Golden Gate Park The adjacent public playground is the oldest in the nation.
EXPLORATORIUM 3601 Lyon St. "Where the door to your brain opens daily."
MUSEE MECANIQUE 1090 Point Lobos Ave Bring lots of quarters. Just outside the building, check out the Camera Obscura ( ).
Q-ZAR 2801 Leavenworth St., in the Cannery Where kids can be armed (with laser guns) and not dangerous.
CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Golden Gate Park Housing a planetarium, aquarium, and natural history museum where a moving highlight is "Safequake," a simulation of the 1906 earthquake.
San Francisco itself is one big Stair-Master, but here are several other ways to get a workout.
- Scale the 45-foot wall at CityRock, an indoor climbing center scheduled to open this spring in a warehouse at the corner of 19th and Harrison streets. Call their Emeryville location for details (510/654-2510).
- Join 80,000 other runners (costume optional) in the 71/2-mile Bay to Breakers Footrace (third Sunday in May; 415/777-7770).
- Go "Bump &Jump" windsurfing (skipping across choppy water) off Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area for a list of schools and shops; 415/346-5276 for a video guide).
- Stroke through the bay in a swimsuit or a rowboat. Launch site: the Dolphin Swimming &Boating Club (502 Jefferson St.; 415/441-9329).
- Bowl to the beat of rock videos Thurs.-Sat. at Park Bowl (1855 Haight St.; 415/752-2366).
- Practice your driving at the 66-tee Mission Bay Golf Center (1200 Sixth St.; 415/431-7888).
- Sign up for Backroads' "Go Active Sampler," a five-day tour that keeps you moving through 15 different sports (800/462-2848).
- Stay at the Harbor Court Hotel (165 Steuart St.; 415/882-1300), which entitles you to free use of the adjacent Embarcadero YMCA (415/957-9622). The only thing better than the exercise area freshened by bay breezes and the view of the Bay Bridge is the Y's accommodating schedule: doors open at 5:45 a.m.
BELL'OCCHIO After browsing among the imported homewares, accessories, and assorted curiosities -- including Marie Antoinette's brand of face powder -- at charming Bell'Occhio (8 Brady St.; 415/864-4048), have lunch at nearby Zuni Cafe (1658 Market St.; 415/552-2522).
Hayes Street (Between Franklin and Octavia, Hayes Valley) --
WORLDWARE 336 Hayes Street Appealing environmentally correct weawr and wares.
DE VERA 384 Hayes Street 415/861-8480 Sparkling, perfectly displayed art glass
BELLA DONNA 539 Hayes Street 415/861-7182 Contemporary women's clothing, antique buttons, yards of silk.
ZONAL 568 Hayes Street 415/255-9307 Owner Russell Pritchard can make you swoon over a rusty bed frame or flaking picket.
For a Bite --
CAFE DELLE STELLE
330 Gough Street
Grant Ave. (Between Union and Greenwich, North Beach) -- QUALITY POSTCARDS 1441 Grant Avenue
SLIPS 1534 Grant Ave. 415/362-5652 Paper-entwined chandeliers, coffee tables and the objects to accessorize them, plus great slipcovers.
COLUMBINE DESIGN 1541 Grant Ave. 415/434-3016 Framed beetles and butterflies, seashells, ribbons, and blossoms.
M.A.C. 1543 Grant Ave. 415/837-1604 New outpost of the Post Street store.
YONE 478 Union St. 415/986-1424 Unlimited beads, if limited hours (Thurs.-Sat., 12-4 P.M.).
For a Bite -- CAFE JACQUELINE 1454 Grant Ave. 415/981-5565
Sacramento Street (Between Spruce and Divisadero, Pacific Heights) --
DOTTIE DOOLITTLE 3680 Sacramento St. Everything for hte well-heeled little princess, including pint-sized Chanelesque suits.
BUTTON DOWN 3640 Sacramento St. 415/563-1311 Luxurious casual clothing for the man suit-bound during the work-week.
JASPER BYRON 3364 Sacramento St. 415/563-8122 and LUPARDO 3232 Sacramento St. 415/928-8662 Both have gifts for (and from) the ladies who lunch and decorate.
VIRGINIA BREIER 3091 Sacramento St. 415/929-7173 The high priestess of contemporary and traditional crafts.
SUE FISHER KING 3067 Sacramento St. 415/922-7276 The queen of bed and table linens and accessories.
For a bite --
ROSMARINO 3665 Sacramento St. 415/931-7710 Lunch
THE HEIGHTS 3235 Sacramento St. 415/474-8890 Dinner
Fillmore St. (between Jackson and California, Pacific Heights) --
PAINT MAGIC 2426 Fillmore St. The only American retail outpost for Jocasta Innes's special paint effects.
RH 2506 Sacramento St. 415/346-1460 A standout among the city's topiary-populated garden gift shops.
FILLAMENTO 2185 Fillmore St. 415/931-2224 An ever-expanding emporium stuffed with furniture and objects of the moment.
MIKE FURNITURE 2142 Fillmore St. 415/567-2700 The best of California-style pale and overscaled furniture.
ZINC DETAILS 1905 Fillmore St. 415/776-2100 Art furniture, glass in brilliant hues, and clever objects from a young company that has up and come.
For a bite -- VIVANDE PORTA VIA 2125 Fillmore St. 415/346-4430.
Jackson St. (between Montgomery and Sansome, Jackson Square) --
ARCH 407 Jackson St. Paper goods, art and drafting supplies, tuck-in-your-suitcase gifts.
JAPONESQUE 824 Montgomery St. 415/391-8860 Stunning antique and modern objects, with prices to match.
LIMN 457 Pacific Ave. 415/397-7474 Art furniture central.
WILLIAM STOUT ARCHITECTURAL BOOKS 804 Montgomery St. 415/391-6757 One of the best shops in the country for architecture and design books.
ROBERT DOMERGUE &CO. 560 Jackson St. 415/781-4034 and FOSTER-GWIN 38 Hotaling Place 415/397-4986 Both stock an extensive selection of fine European antiques.
For the Young and Restless
CHESTNUT ST. The Union Street of the nineties.
HAIGHT ST. Used clothing and counterculture accessories from shops like the Wasteland, at number 1660.
VALENCIA ST. Bookstores, junk shops, and cafes for New Bohemians.
CITY LIGHTS 261 Columbus Ave. Books and Beat Poets
JOSEPH SCHMIDT CONFECTIONS 3489 16th St. 415/861-8682 Chocolates
GRANT'S TOBACCONIST 562 Market St. 415/981-1000 Cigars
M.A.C. (Modern Appealing Clothing) 812 Post St. 415/775-2515 Also a new location at: 1543 Grant St. 415/837-1604 Clothing
BRITEX 146 Geary St. 415/392-2910 Fabric
COOKIN' 339 Divisadero St. 415/861-1854 Kitchenware (Vintage)
JEFFREY FRAENKEL GALLERY 49 Geary St. 415/981-2661 Photographs
FRIENDS OF PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKSTORE at the Ansel Adams Center 250 Fourth St. 415/495-7242 Photography Books
PLUMPJACK 3201 Fillmore St. 415/346-9870 Wine (Bargains)
NAPA VALLEY WINERY EXCHANGE 415 Taylor St. 415/771-2887 Wine (Retail and Mail Order)
Unlike its auto-centric counterpart to the south, San Francisco is a perambulator's paradise, best seen on foot. Take a walk on the wilder side with these tours.
HAIGHT-ASHBURY Erstwhile hippie Rachel Heller leads the trip called the Flower Power Walking Tour (415/221-8442).
THE MISSION Nearly 70 vivid examples of wall art are the focus of the two-hour tours organized by the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center (415/285-2287).
CHINATOWN Shirley Fong-Torres leads "I Can't Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown" and other tours (415/355-9657).
SAM SPADE'S HAUNTS Follow in the footsteps of the great detective -- or, more immediately, Dashiell Hammett Tour host Don Herron (707/939-1214).
THE CASTRO Trevor Hailey is the guide for Cruisin' the Castro (415/550-8110), the center of gay life.
NIGHTLIFE A club crawl with Three Babes and a Bus (415/552-2582) involves not much walking but a whole lot of dancing.
don't leave town without...
- Following the 49-Mile Drive (starting at the Civic Center) past nearly every famous and scenic site -- with Tony Bennett crooning on the car stereo.
- Meandering down the Filbert or Greenwich Steps, starting at Coit Tower.
- Dipping into dim sum at Yank Sing (427 Battery St.; 415/362-1640).
- Taking in the truly uplifting Sunday morning services at the Glide Memorial Church (330 Ellis St.; 415/771-6300).
- Day-tripping to Angel Island: take the Red &White Ferry from Pier 431/2 (415/435-2131), and rent a mountain bike to explore the 740-acre state park (415/897-0715).
- Viewing the WPA murals depicting California history by Anton Refregier in the lobby of the restored Rincon Center (101 Spear St.; 415/543-8600).
- Catching a big-screen movie at the Castro Theater (429 Castro St.; 415/621-6120), accompanied by live music from the Wurlitzer pipe organ.
- Groping your way through the blackness of the tactile dome at the Exploratorium (3601 Lyon St.; 415/561-0360, reserve ahead).
- Visiting the Tien Hau Temple (125 Waverly Place), an explosion of red and gold lanterns at the top of a fourth-floor walk-up in Chinatown.
- Making off with the best new souvenir: a fog dome ($29.95) from the gift shop at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Third St.; 415/357-4035).