T+L's Definitive Guide to San Francisco
Published: July 2013
By Jaime Gillin
A culinary scene to rival New York City’s, eye-popping design, and a laid-back, outdoorsy ethos are just three reasons to visit San Francisco right now.
Lay of the Land
Union Square: Big-name luxury boutiques border this central plaza downtown.
Mission District: The fast-gentrifying neighborhood is known for its Latino culture and standout restaurants and bars.
Hayes Valley: A stone’s throw from the opera and symphony hall, Hayes Street is chockablock with chic shops and cafés.
Pacific Heights: Come to this mansion-filled hilltop for postcard-worthy views of the city.
SoMa: This sprawling area includes a plethora of museums, destination restaurants, and the ballpark, all amid a sea of parking lots and highway ramps.
The city’s hottest tables dish up an enticing mix of fusion cuisines.
Benu: Chef Corey Lee has reinvigorated the city’s fine dining scene with the clean-lined Benu, in SoMa. Here, every detail is carefully considered, from the porcelain tableware to the Eastern-inspired chef’s tasting menu (a 1,000-year-old quail egg; salt-and-pepper squid; lobster-coral xiao long bao, or steamed buns). $$$$
Rich Table: You’ll want to come back again and again to this homey restaurant owned by husband-and-wife chefs Evan and Sarah Rich. Dishes perfectly balance acidity and texture, and highlight surprise ingredients—the addictive sardine-laced potato chips are served with horseradish sauce; the chicken lasagna is sprinkled with crunchy popped sorghum. $$$
Cotogna: At the lively Cotogna, most plates come from the open hearth, including succulent, spit-roasted meats and wood-fired pizzas. As is the case at its sister restaurant Quince, the pastas are a must—try the buttery raviolo di ricotta with farm egg. $$
State Bird Provisions: Waiters roam the room serving innovative small bites from dim-sum-style carts at this casual, buzzy spot. Luckily, the food stands up to the quirky concept: the seafood selections in particular are worth flagging down for delicacies such as black-garlic aioli on a fried nori chip. $$$
Saison: After its smaller, scrappier spot received two Michelin stars, the farm-to-table Saison, run by chef Joshua Skenes, moved to a grander space in a SoMa historic building. Choose from an 18-course or a seven-course tasting menu—both highlight local ingredients, sourced from foragers and farmers’ markets. $$$$
Mission Chinese Food: This raved-about restaurant may have a divey interior, slack service, and an hour-long wait—but the food is worth it. Founding chef Danny Bowien (who last year opened an outpost in New York) calls his cuisine “Americanized Chinese food”; think fiery kung pao pastrami and a cardamom-laced beef brisket soup. Can’t brave the line? They deliver. $$
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Five stylish boutiques not to miss.
Rand & Statler: Co-owners Catherine Chow and Corina Nurimba have built a mini fashion empire in Hayes Valley, with the opening of Azalea in 2003 and Welcome Stranger in 2010. Their latest bid for retail domination is Rand & Statler, which is stocked with cutting-edge looks from the likes of Alexander Wang and Acme.
Wilkes Bashford: After a top-to-bottom refit, the town-house-style emporium in Union Square now has a men’s store featuring Brioni and Kiton boutiques and a made-to-measure bar for suits.
Heath Ceramics: The 65-year-old, Sausalito-based houseware company, renowned for its heirloom-quality tableware and tile, recently opened this 20,000-square-foot factory, shop, and café in the Mission District. Glass walls give visitors a peek at tile production while they browse the bowls, vases, and table linens.
Harputs: Proprietor Gus Harput turns out avant-garde pieces that look deceptively simple on the rack. Most can be worn a multitude of ways; the three-hole blazer and the swacket (sweater-jacket) are travel essentials.
March: This gallery-like space specializes in goods for the kitchen, home, and pantry. Owner Sam Hamilton has commissioned work by local artisans, including Carrara worktables, leather bags, and Japanese indigo-dyed clothing.
Want to know where to check in? Here, the hotels we’re excited about.
New & Noteworthy
Hotel Zetta: The Viceroy Hotel Group’s latest property attracts a high-tech crowd thanks to its sleek interiors (a curved wooden wall above the bed; butcher-block desks), a game room off the lobby, and a floor-to-ceiling Plinko installation that you can actually play. $$
St. Regis San Francisco: With its luxe rooms—cream-colored leather and Mozambican wood on the walls; acres of marble in the bathrooms—the St. Regis brings a dose of glamour to the SoMa district. The Japanese-themed restaurant Ame only adds to the appeal. $$$$
Inn at the Presidio: Set within the 1,491-acre Presidio park, this intimate, 26-room inn was carved out of two historic buildings—a 1903 brick structure and a neighboring clapboard house. What we love best: the hiking trails out the back door. $$
Mystic Hotel: Star chef Charlie Palmer recently took over the Victorian-era Mystic, exposing brick and adding vintage mirrors to the rooms and opening a speakeasy-inspired tavern that has quickly become a local favorite. $$
Mandarin Oriental: The just-renovated Mandarin has some of the best views of the city, especially from the Bridge to Bridge rooms (binoculars included). $$$$
Ritz-Carlton San Francisco: Fresh from a makeover (good-bye chintz, hello earth-toned geometric patterns), today’s Ritz, near Nob Hill, still has doting service. $$$$
Hotel Drisco: Expect a residential feel, turn-of-the-20th-century architecture, and plenty of complimentary perks (including bicycles) at this hilltop property in Pacific Heights. $$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
See + Do
Ferry Building: This is what foodie heaven looks like: dozens of local purveyors, hawking everything from cheese and chocolate to cupcakes, line the arcades of this historic waterfront building. Two standouts are Miette Patisserie and Acme Bread. Three days a week, the city’s most seductive farmers’ market—perfectly piled heirloom carrots; a full spectrum of peppers—sets up out front.
SF Jazz Center: The new $64 million, 35,000-square-foot SF Jazz Center is America’s first stand-alone space for jazz, with a 700-seat auditorium designed to evoke both a club and concert hall. The adventurous programming encompasses both emerging talent and established stars including Ahmad Jamal.
Golden Gate Park: A green jewel in the city’s crown, Golden Gate Park is a must-visit not only for its Herzog & de Meuron–designed de Young Museum but also for lesser-known gems such as the Victorian-era Conservatory of Flowers, paddleboating on Stow Lake, and a paddock where rare American bison roam.
Crissy Field: Sun-seekers, runners, dog-walkers, and kiteboarders come to this scenic bay-front beach and promenade. Pass through the restored tidal marsh en route to the Warming Hut, a cozy stop for lunch. Visit in the morning if you can; the wind picks up in the afternoon.
Proxy Project: A once-vacant lot in Hayes Valley has been transformed into the popular Proxy Project: a collection of converted shipping containers now houses pop-up businesses, including a beer garden, a sportswear shop, and a futuristic ice creamery that uses liquid nitrogen to create scoops in 60 seconds.
Three insiders share their favorite spots.
I have lived in the city for more than 20 years, and its spirit for innovation influences every aspect of the city. My go-to spots for great architecture: Daniel Libeskind’s Contemporary Jewish Museum and Thom Mayne’s Federal Building in SoMa. For cool contemporary furniture, don’t miss Dzine and Arkitektura. Another boutique worth checking out is Propeller, which sells beautiful decorative objects.
Executive chef, Michael Mina San Francisco
For me, the “real” San Francisco is all about food. My ideal culinary tour would include Swan Oyster Depot ($$), the Slanted Door ($$), and La Taqueria (2889 Mission St.; 415/285-7117; $$). Another favorite is the Moroccan restaurant Aziza ($$$). Chef Mourad Lahlou blows me away with his bold and vibrant dishes such as duck-confit bastilla. And the pastries (banana-cream tarts; éclairs) at Tartine Bakery & Cafe are second to none.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Women’s activist and documentary producer
I was born here and have lived all over the world but returned when my husband became mayor in 2003. I like to take my kids to the California Academy of Sciences, then walk around North Beach—aside from the strip of gentleman’s clubs—and take in the view of the bay from the 210-foot Coit Tower. The vista is breathtaking and reminds me of Italy. For breakfast, I’m a huge fan of Mama’s ($$), on Washington Square Park; try the cranberry-orange French toast.
All Hail the Mixologist
Bartenders citywide are elevating the cocktail with fresh ingredients and creative techniques. At Trick Dog, drinks are named for Pantone colors and employ unusual spices and even the odd beet. Try Grandma’s Sweater, made with gin, blood orange, and a rhubarb liqueur.
Call ahead to reserve a table at Wilson & Wilson, a detective-agency-themed bar with a three-drink tasting menu.
Rum fanatic Martin Cate opened the new-wave tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove to spotlight the 400-odd rums he’s sourced from around the globe.