The Locals-Only Guide to San Francisco
Before relocating to Los Angeles, I lived in San Francisco for six years. I moved there as a bright-eyed recent grad, not knowing a soul, excited for a challenging new adventure ahead. For me, having grown up on the East Coast, the California lifestyle was a definite adjustment. It was different in so many ways… the food, the people, the politics, the landscape. But I settled in quickly and soon found myself the city’s biggest cheerleader (okay, well, one of them). I started a blog about my neighborhood. I became the editor of a San Francisco lifestyle site. I convinced friends to move there.
I tried everything. I went to any restaurant opening party I caught wind of. I met local tastemakers, business owners, and chefs. With so many awesome new businesses opening weekly, it was hard at times to keep up, but I made it my mission to visit as many old-school and new-school spots as I could. Why? Out of curiosity—and hunger—I suppose.
Despite the fact that I have a firm handle on the city now, creating this guide was not easy. I haven’t begun to scrape the surface of how awesome this NorCal town is with the recommendations below… But at the very least, I’ve given you a range of still-buzzworthy old favorites, beloved dives, and under-the-radar gems. I hope you’ll sample your way through the city—and leave plenty of time for discovery.
With a focus on the cuisine of Campania, Italy (and its capital city of Naples), this restaurant in the Marina never disappoints with its wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, fresh pastas, and house-butchered and house-curated eats. But the real star is the wine. Owned by sommelier Shelley Lindgren, A16 offers a rustic menu complemented by flavorful wines, from Campania and surrounding regions, that you’ll very likely write home about.
A16 | 2355 Chestnut Street
Open since 1960, Bob’s Donuts is a cornerstone of the Nob Hill neighborhood—and one of the last indie doughnut shops still making their classic pastries from scratch and in-house. Open 24 hours a day, it’s also a veritable dive that draws yuppies and late-night wanderers after the bars on Polk Street close at 2 a.m., as well as early risers and families in the mornings for good old-fashioned breakfast treats.
Bob’s Donuts | 1621 Polk Street
Designed by acclaimed interior designer Ken Fulk, who just unveiled a collection for Pottery Barn, The Cavalier is a London-inspired brasserie from celebrated local restaurateurs Anna Weinberg, James Nicholas, and chef Jennifer Puccio—who also created much-loved sister restaurants Marlowe and Park Tavern (the latter is one of my favorites). Without a detail overlooked, on the menu or in the design, The Cavalier is a feast for the eyes and the tongue.
The Cavalier | 360 Jesse Street
It wouldn’t be a trip to California without a vegetarian meal. Greens, which is located in Fort Mason in the Marina, has a downright magnificent menu that will make you forget you ever ate meat. And best of all, it has stunning views of the adjacent marina and that ole icon the Golden Gate Bridge.
Greens | A, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Boulevard
Serving up Californian fare (like sardine chips and burrata with golden beets, nectarines, and sunflower) made with local ingredients, in a salvaged-barn-wood setting with an open kitchen, Rich Table, from an industry veteran named Sarah Rich, is relaxed as can be, while also a foodie thrill. Unsurprisingly, there’s no dress code.
Rich Table | 199 Gough Street
If you want a really unique dining experience, try to score yourself a table at State Bird Provisions, an urban-rustic restaurant with a changing menu of American small plates that are all served on rolling carts, dim-sum style. Think pickled local anchovy-tomato toast, pork belly pluot salad, and shishitos with cumin-goat cheese fondue. With James Beard awards for best new restaurant of 2013 and best chefs in the west for 2015, it definitely lives up to the hype.
State Bird Provisions | 1529 Fillmore St.
Every hipster under the San Francisco fog will rave about Bi-Rite Creamery or Humphrey Slocombe, two ice cream shops that wow with over-the-top flavors and excessive lines. But if you don’t feel like wasting your day queueing for a scoop, I highly recommend Swensen’s. You may recognize the name, as it’s a franchise now. The original location, which first opened in 1948, is still going strong at the corner of Union and Hyde in Russian Hill, and with classic, time-tested recipes and flavors, it’s definitely worth climbing the hill for.
Swensen’s | 1999 Hyde Street
The Mission’s La Taqueria is probably the most well-known taqueria in SF, but in reality, it’s known for its burritos. If tacos are what you’re after, drop everything and make a beeline for cocktail-driven restaurant Tacolicious, which now has locations in the Marina, North Beach, the Mission, and Palo Alto. The sophisticated menu, which is inventive yet authentic, will not disappoint.
Tacolicious | multiple locations
From celebrity chef Tyler Florence, Wayfare Tavern is a mainstay of the Financial District. The upscale spot serves up American fare—like deviled eggs, organic fried chicken, and baked mac ’n’ cheese—in an elegant British pub–style setting. I recommend sitting at the bar and sharing a few dishes with friends.
Wayfare Tavern | 558 Sacramento Street
Located in Golden Gate Park, the De Young Museum is a fine arts museum with an awesome array of rotating exhibitions. Better yet, it’s an architectural masterpiece, designed by the renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron—don’t miss the observation tower for some of the most incredible views you can find.
And while you’re at it, pop over to the California Academy of Sciences, directly across the street, for an in-house rainforest experience and lots of nature-focused sights.
De Young | 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
All good dogs go to heaven, and all good SF hipsters flock to Dolores Park. This Mission greenspace is packed with sun-soakers on bright and shiny days. Prepare to see picnickers, families, ravers, and everyone in between. Casual outdoor drinking is more or less permitted here; just be mindful.
Dolores Park | 19th and Dolores Street
If you want to catch a great concert while you’re in town, check the calendar at The Independent. All the best bands come through here, and the medium-sized venue is perfect for any mood you’re in.
The Independent | 628 Divisadero Street
San Francisco is known for its picture-perfect views—the gorgeous glimpses we get as one of our energy-efficient cars crests the city’s infamous hills. But there’s no gain without pain, so you have to test out those sea legs and try walking uphill. Running from Cow Hollow to Pacific Heights, the Lyon Street Steps make for a challenging walk or workout that pays off gloriously with absolutely stunning views of the bay.
Lyon Street Steps | 2460 Lyon Street
The ruins of a large, privately owned swimming pool complex that was built in the late 19th century, the Sutro Baths, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, are one of my favorite places to visit. Do the Lands End hike (a short one) and end there, and then go to Cliff House for a spendy lunch. Or start there and walk to the Legion of Honor for some more museum time. Don’t forget to walk up to the Lands End labyrinth while you’re there too.
Sutro Baths | 680 Point Lobos Avenue
One of my all-time favorite spots in San Francisco, Amelie is a cozy French wine bar that has a delicious small menu, a top-notch cheese board, and a seriously awesome wine list. The bartenders and servers are icing on the cake, with their smooth French charm and generous knowledge of wine.
Amelie | 1754 Polk Street
Located in Hayes Valley, a superbly charming neighborhood with lots of must-see shops, Biergarten is a traditional Bavarian-style neighborhood outdoor beer garden, serving German beer and locally sourced snacks like bratwurst and organic pretzels.
Biergarten | 424 Octavia Street
The Black Horse London Deli is by far the tiniest bar in San Francisco, and I heard once it’s also the smallest west of the Mississippi. There’s no refrigerator here: just a porcelain bathtub behind the bar that’s filled up with ice and imported beers every day. No wine or cocktails either, but if you’re lucky, one of the friendly bartenders will share a Rice Krispies treat. Everyone in this little pub knows your name, and soon enough they’ll be whipping you in a game of dice, too.
The Black Horse London Pub | 1514 Union Street
A turn-of-the-century-style saloon in North Beach, just a block and a half from the Transamerica Pyramid and bordering Chinatown, Comstock Saloon serves flawless classic cocktails. A great place to grab a drink before dinner at nearby restaurants like Cotogna, Quince, or Wayfare Tavern.
Comstock Saloon | 155 Columbus Avenue
Rickhouse is hands down one of the best cocktail bars in the city. Its drink menu could otherwise be described as "a cocktail bible," and it also boasts an impressive whiskey list. Located in the Financial District, it fills up with an after-work crowd and tends to be quieter later in the evenings.
Rickhouse | 246 Kearny Street
This tiki-themed bar is focused on one thing: rum. Serving traditional Caribbean drinks, classic libations of Prohibition-era Havana, and exotic cocktails from legendary tiki bars, Smuggler’s Cove walks the walk when it comes to tiki bars—it’s not just coconuts and tribal cups.
Smuggler’s Cove | 650 Gough Street
Frequented by the likes of Sean Penn and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, this longtime North Beach bar is a San Francisco landmark, known for its Irish coffees, red leather booths, and checkered floor. It reopened last year under Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield of NYC’s Spotted Pig, and has been well received, maintaining its old-school charm and bringing in an authentic Italian menu.
Tosca Cafe | 242 Columbus Avenue
A sibling of Rickhouse, Tradition is a hip craft cocktail bar in the Tenderloin that suits “the everyman.” From its main bar that suits a late-night crowd or happy hour drinks to its reservation-only snugs for small, intimate groups, it’s got something for everyone.
Tradition | 441 Jones Street
Opened by The Bon Vivants, a couple of respected cocktail consultants in the city, Trick Dog is my favorite spot to go for a cocktail while I’m waiting for a table at the nearby Flour + Water—one of my all-time favorite restaurants—or the adjacent Central Kitchen, both helmed by chef Thomas McNaughton. Trick Dog is always changing up its cocktail menu to something creative (a Pantone swatch book, record sleeves, horoscopes, and now a doggie calendar), and the drinks never let me down.
Trick Dog | 3010 20th Street
The term “antiques store” usually brings to mind stuffy, dusty old shops in which you tiptoe in fear of breaking something valuable. Big Daddy’s Antiques couldn’t be farther from that image. It’s both an antiques and vintage shop and a custom furniture store, and it’s a magical, Alice in Wonderland-esque space brimming with custom creations made from salvaged pieces, over-the-top reproductions, and one-of-a-kind pieces. Whether or not you’re in the market for home décor, it’s always an inspiring and fun place to browse.
Big Daddy’s Antiques | 1550 17th St.
Opened by a pair of alumni from Williams-Sonoma and Restoration Hardware, Hudson Grace is a goldmine of clean, modern, and classic entertaining items like hand-dipped cathedral candles, the perfect white dinnerware, and vintage hotel silver. It’s the ultimate place to shop for hostess gifts.
Hudson Grace | 3350 Sacramento St.
Designed by aforementioned interior designer Ken Fulk, The Battery is a beautiful members-only private social club that’s nearly impossible to get into for lunch, drinks, or what-have-you unless you known someone… or you’re staying the night. That’s right: It’s also a hotel with stunning views of the bay and the city skyline, not to mention seriously chic hotel rooms, suites, and a beyond-luxurious penthouse—and full access to the grounds.
The Battery | 717 Battery Street
Opened in 1908 in Nob Hill, the Fairmont San Francisco is the renowned luxury hotel brand’s grand original landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s beautifully appointed in a traditional style and has miles of history to discover. In fact, it’s where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” For any of you who like Hollywood Regency–style decorating, famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper, who spearheaded the aesthetic, also once decorated the hotel’s interiors.
The Fairmont | 950 Mason Street
Hotel Zetta, from the Viceroy Hotel Group, opened a few years ago downtown in Union Square, and it was just what the city needed. It’s modern, playful, and youthful—not so stuffy as many of the city’s hotels are, yet not too divey either. Its lobby is loaded with games like giant Jenga, shuffleboard, and Plinko, which makes travel all the more fun.
Hotel Zetta | 55 5th Street
What are your favorite spots in San Francisco? Share with us below.