I can already smell the bay air...
March 30, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

The wife and I are heading to San Francisco for a conference this weekend taking place at the Embarcadero Hyatt. My question is a two-parter: (a) Where in the vicinity should we go for breakfast, lunch etc. on our relatively-short breaks? and (b) After things wind down for the day, where should we explore? More criteria to follow.

I've seen a lot of the previous visiting-SF questions, as well as the wiki section, but I figured it was worth the additional insight to ask another, given the semi-structuredness of our trip. I'd appreciate any "Previous" links I might have missed though, especially those applicable to our schedule or area.

Our hotel (also the site of the conference) is here, very close to the Embarcadero BART station. We arrive Friday night and leave Tuesday night. Things we'd like to eat/see/do:

1) Breakfast and/or lunch spots in the area that we could likely get in and out of within an hour. Willing to walk, especially to escape fellow conference-goers. Is there a lot of street food in the area?

2) Possibly overlapping with (1)-- burritos. I hear great things. From previous questions, it sounds like we'd have to hoof it down to the Mission, and everyone has his own favorite.

3) Again, possibly overlapping-- seafood. Here, we'd prefer a restaurant featuring fresh and local in a more casual atmosphere. I know Fisherman's Wharf is touristy, but I went there a long time ago and I seem to remember small seafood storefronts. Are they up to par in terms of quality, or are we better off elsewhere? Swan Oyster Depot sounds like a winner, if a bit hectic/expensive; anywhere else?

4) Beer. There's a Rogue-branded pub on Washington Square, which sounds intriguing. We'd also be down for brewery tours, or just beer bars with great pub-food menus.

5) Outdoorsy stuff. What's the best balance of natural wonder and proximity to the city? I've been to Muir Woods, but it was like ten years ago.

Again, everything but (1) can be anywhere in the city, as long as it's walkable inside an hour, or accessible via BART. Our plan was to walk whenever possible; are there good places to walk around? Places that we should avoid walking around? This mostly applies to evenings (after 5-6), since we'll be doing conference stuff during the day.

posted by supercres to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And obviously, if the best strategy is just, "Walk around! You'll find plenty!", that's an absolutely valid answer.
posted by supercres at 10:29 AM on March 30, 2011

There are hills. If you're planning long walks you should be aware of this. But, you know, I'm guessing you already knew San Francisco has hills.

Also, the Embarcadero station serves not only BART but Muni Metro (think Philly's Green Line trolleys -- they run in a tunnel downtown, the same tunnel as BART, but then branch off) which go some places BART doesn't.

(And hmm, maybe there should be a meetup?)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:30 AM on March 30, 2011

Since you're so near it, it's almost obligatory you visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (8-2 on Saturday.) And if what's to eat there isn't enough, there's plenty else to eat at the Ferry Building.
posted by Zed at 10:33 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Ferry Building! You're super close and it has tons of awesome food options for breakfast or lunch.
posted by alaijmw at 10:33 AM on March 30, 2011

The wife here! I want amazing fish tacos! Can I get them at the Ferry Building? Anywhere else in that area?
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:37 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

4) Beer.

Rosamunde has a lot of excellent beer on tap, a wide variety of interesting and tasty sausages, and is so close to the 24th st BART station that you could practically fall into it.

If you have a weekday afternoon free, you could tour Anchor Steam (reserve early!), which is interesting and has a good tasting.

If the weather is co-operative, you could go to Zeitgeist - tons of good beer on tap, cranky bartenders, a large and dusty beer garden. They have food - pretty ordinary burgers, brats - but if you're lucky, the Tamale Lady will come around and you can eat tamales.

Fish tacos can be had at Mijita in the Ferry Building; I've heard good things about them but have not eaten them myself.
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Good idea, madcaptenor. Related Proposed IRL.

No worries if we can't get a crowd on short notice; it's be awesome just to have an effective "Go here! Seriously! To prove it, I'll go with you!"
posted by supercres at 10:49 AM on March 30, 2011

Nick's Crispy Tacos has great fish tacos and is a short cable car ride away. Good excuse to get up to the sunny north side.

But there's no reason not to explore the Ferry Building on Saturday! Get some nduja from Boccalone and an open faced fish sandwich from outside and have a mini-picnic on the ferry to Tiburon.
posted by kcm at 10:50 AM on March 30, 2011

If you're looking to walk around and get lost, nearby you've got North Beach (yes, touristy) and the Ferry Building Marketplace. Don't miss the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning.

Off of BART, both the 16th and 24th street BART stations will show you different aspects of the Mission.

Other walkable candidates: the Castro, Cole Valley, Cow Hollow, the Fillmore, the Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, along Clement in the Richmond.

Each of those neighborhoods serves very different demographics, so do some research (yelp is king here).

A note about seafood: SF doesn't do seafood as well as you'd think (especially compared to some place like San Diego or Seattle). We are in the middle of Dungeness season, however (I get my fix at Asian places, specifically Vietnamese, like PPQ).

We've had a very rainy winter, and this will be the first great weekend in terms of weather we've seen in quite some time. Don't overthink the visit too much, you need to work pretty hard to get a bad meal in this town.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:52 AM on March 30, 2011

Monk's Kettle if you like Belgian beer.
I think my partner had a good fish taco at Slanted Door which is indeed in the Ferry building.
The sandwiches at Bi-Rite are really good.
posted by jet_silver at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2011

When cobaltnine and I were in SF last year, we really enjoyed the cocktails/margaritas at Tropisueño which is somewhat nearby where you're staying.
posted by reptile at 11:08 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ditto the Ferry Building. Especially for breakfast on a nice day.

If it's sunny, get savory from the Cowgirl Creamery's Sidekick shop, or pastry from Frog Hollow. Directly around the Ferry Building it can be crowded, but there are many untraveled areas within a minute's walk where you can find a sunny, private bench, such as out on the apron of Pier 1 (first pier north of the FB) or on the little used public viewing terrace (above the Golden Gate Ferry's terminal).
posted by quarterframer at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2011

For lunch I'll fire the opening salvo in the holy war over San Francisco's best burritos: the carne al pastor burritos at El Taco Loco. There are 2 locations, one conveniently located right near the 24th St BART station (in the Mission District). You can get there for lunch and back in an hour, but you won't have time to linger.

For breakfast: on weekend mornings only, many taquerias serve a delicious stew called birria, reputedly good for hangovers. Again, Taco Loco's is excellent. They run out early, but your conference schedule will force you there in time. It's a large bowl of goat meat (which tastes like the best lamb you've ever eaten) cooked with tomatoes, onions, and spices, served with tortillas and lime. Probably enough for 2, unless you're very hungry.

Street food in your area mostly caters to downtown office workers, so it's pretty similar to what you'd get anywhere, although perhaps a bit better. The Ferry Building is fun to explore and has lots of eateries so it's probably your best bet for convenience, but it can be brutally crowded at lunchtime. Chinatown is another option, although not as easy to get to as the Mission District (requires walking and/or navigating Muni bus lines, not as simple for out-of-towners as BART) - probably not worth it if you're on a strict one-hour lunch break.

But really, it's hard to get a bad meal in SF. Just avoid the pizza and you'll do fine.
posted by Quietgal at 11:37 AM on March 30, 2011

Fast, simple breakfast in the Ferry Building:


They have a small menu for breakfast, but everything was made to order and was very, very good. I was there with my wife before heading to the airport pretty early, so we were able to sit right away. You order at a counter and a server brings it to your table, so it's quick... no waiting for a check, etc.

I haven't tried their lunch or dinner so I can't comment on that. The olive oil fried egg sandwich was insanely good. My wife had the porridge which was better than you'd think.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:46 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

For close awesome outdoorsy stuff I was going to suggest taking the ferry to Angel Island, but even though that would be super easy it's basically a day trip and it doesn't sound like you have that kind of time.

You could take the bus up to the top of Telegraph Hill and then walk down the Filbert or Greenwich St steps. Great view at the top (go up Coit tower if you want, but not necessary), and the Filbert steps take you through a cool little neighborhood that's kind of treehousey with lots of gorgeous gardens and such, and once you're down it's a pretty easy walk back to your hotel. You could also walk up the steps but the bus would certainly make it easier/faster plus you would see a bit of Chinatown/Little Italy - you could get the 41 basically right outside your hotel and take it to Washington Square where you'd get the 39 to go up the hill. The bus is $2 & you need exact change ($1 bills work). Or I guess you can get a card if you're going to take Muni a lot. Remember to get a transfer when you pay.
posted by yarrow at 11:54 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beerwise, the Speakeasy Brewery opens its doors from 4-9 on Fridays with $3 pints and some food trucks. It's crowded and very far from where you're staying, transit-wise, but fun!

An Anchor Brewing tour you probably would have already tried to book.

For an awesome selection of beers you can BART over to Oakland, get off at 12th Street and walk down Broadway to 3rd for Beer Revolution. They've got 44 taps and 4 fridges full of beer you can take to go or drink on their sunny patio. OR you can take the ferry over from Embarcadero to Jack London Square, for even less of a walk and more fresh air.

They don't have food but the vegan soul food place (SOOO Oakland!) is right next door and they'll deliver to your seat on the patio.
posted by blandcamp at 12:12 PM on March 30, 2011

Yank Sing is pretty good for dim-sum.
posted by jchaw at 12:15 PM on March 30, 2011

1) It's not open on the weekend, but for Monday and Tuesday I can HIGHLY recommend hitting up The Sentinel for breakfast (muffins and/or oatmeal) and/or lunch (sandwiches). But when I say muffins and sandwiches, I basically mean the Platonic ideal of muffins and sandwiches. It gets busy at lunch.

2) Yes, you have to go to the Mission. You can definitely make it there and back in an hour, but it wouldn't leave much time for actually eating. It might be better to save for dinner and then combine with checking out the neighborhood/beer.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:37 PM on March 30, 2011

The Speakeasy brewery is awesome, but so far from public transit that I wouldn't recommend it for a short trip, though it might be doable by taxi.

Just north of the Ferry Building is The Plant Cafe, which has good foodie food but is more of an expensive / sit-down place in relation to the stuff in the Ferry Building itself.

For burritos near you, your best bet might be Tlaloc, I like it but of course everyone has their own opinions. Definitely the Mission is where you want to be for burritos.

I would say that although North Beach is touristy there's also a lot of cool stuff to see there and it's very walkable. You could walk up north along Embarcadero to the Filbert Steps, check out Coit Tower (worth doing for great views of the city and Bay, but it's a climb), and then walk west to North Beach from there. City Lights is worth a stop if you're bookish, but since you mentioned beer:

The Rogue brewery is good and has a good variety of beers. I think it has a beer garden, too (right? Someplace around there does) and the weather should be good this weekend. Right next to it is La Trappe, which is a Belgian pub with a good selection, and it's worth checking out just for the cool ambiance downstairs. Also nearby is the Church Key, another place that specializes in beer. I like the place but I can imagine the crowd being iffy on a weekend night (North Beach crowd iffiness tends to lean in the loud frattish direction and is most noticeable on weekend nights).

For seafood, try to get some sushi while you're out here if you can (and you like sushi), there are lots of places and the average quality is high. I unfortunately can't think of a place I love right nearby you, but maybe someone else can chime in? If you have some time in the evening, you could take Muni metro (not BART) to Church Street and then go to Amasai Hide, which is one of my favorite sushi spots in the city.
posted by whir at 12:40 PM on March 30, 2011

Just avoid the pizza and you'll do fine.

But note there are exceptions to the lousy California pizza syndrome: Pizza My Heart, and Escape From New York. The latter chain even has a downtown branch, at 333 Bush (between Kearny and Montgomery.)
posted by Rash at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2011

The Ferry Building! Also, this may seem cheesy to some, but Fog City Diner is great. Food is really tasty and it is just a SF thing to do.
posted by flesti at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2011

For super delicious fish tacos I suggest you head to El Metate. They have probably the most amazing fish tacos I have had in a long long time.
posted by ruhroh at 2:07 PM on March 30, 2011

While you're at the Ferry Building, be sure to get Blue Bottle coffee. For a quick lunch at the Ferry Building, get a fantastic hamburger and a shake from Gott's (formerly Taylor's) and sit and eat outside at one of the the big picnic tables.

Avoid walking around in the Tenderloin at night.
posted by ewiar at 2:12 PM on March 30, 2011

Just avoid the pizza and you'll do fine.

While I'm slightly reluctant to start any potential pizza-related flame wars, SF has been undergoing something of a pizza renaissance (some may argue a glut) and there are a ton of places that are absolutely worth checking out (if you want pizza).

For a comprehensive map, check out this map or this article.

A few of my personal favorites include:

Pizzeria Delfina (hit up Bi-Rite Creamery afterward for an unbeatable one-two combo)
Little Star (Chicago style, multiple locations)
Gialina (crispier crust, very good, although a bit far down in Noe Valley...she just opened a spinoff called Ragazza that would be much closer)
Una Pizza Napoletana (not for everyone, given the $20/pie price tag and long wait, but this guy has a cult following for a reason)
Tony's Pizza Napoletana (haven't been there yet, but it's in the general North Beach area and is supposed to be great, with an unusually large selection of styles)

So...yeah. Probably more pizza-related information then you required.
posted by noted industrialist at 2:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome suggestions so far. For benefit of... whomever, I compiled most (if not all) of the suggestions so far into this Google Map.
posted by supercres at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2011

I can confirm both that Rogue has outside seating (both out front and in a back gardenish way) and that Tony's Pizza Napoletana is fucking delicious. There's usually a pretty long wait, but there's a little bar just a few doors down you can go hang out in, or the park across the street, and they'll call you. And I'm sure you can get pizza in Philadelphia, so you might not even care but just in case.
posted by grapesaresour at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2011

The best meal I've ever had in my life was at Sotto Mare. Please, please, go there. And for everything else, Yelp never EVER led us wrong in San Francisco.
posted by raisingsand at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2011

The fish tacos at Mijita in the Ferry Building are delicious.
posted by hwickline at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011

Ferry building! Ferry building! Nthing Ferry building!
posted by kestrel251 at 8:11 PM on March 30, 2011

Nick's Crispy Tacos has great fish tacos and is a short cable car ride away. Good excuse to get up to the sunny north side.

Be advised that the Powell-Hyde line is only running from the car barn to Hyde street; and the California line and the Powell-Mason line are both completely closed.

Also: San Francisco is now pretty skint for local seafood unless it's Dungeness crab (fall only), or oysters. Most fish is imported these days, even the red snapper for cioppino can no longer be fished on the Pacific coast (for the most part). So unless you really are craving seafood, there's not much you'll be getting here you can't get elsewhere. Oysters are an exception.

The Primavera stand at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Saturday has really good fish tacos. Lots of really good things, actually.

There is good California pizza: it is not New York or Chicago pizza, so don't expect that and you'll be good with Pizzaria Delfina, Gialina, Pauline's, A16, or Flour and Water.

I don't think you even really need to avoid walking in the Tenderloin- it's a hot mess, but unwary travelers and art students do it all the time and come to no harm. Various friends have lived there, and while they grew to hate 24/7 sirens, they weren't targeted in any way. The part I stay away from if I am on my own late at night is 6th between Market and Mission.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:11 PM on March 30, 2011

Yelp is very good in San Francisco, but I recommend reading the reviews for key words instead of relying solely on the average number of stars. On a venue's page, you can search within reviews with the smaller inline search box.

I love Out the Door [Yelp] [Flash] and San Francisco Fish Company [Yelp] in the Ferry Building, as well as the food stands that show up outside at the market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

You might like a chicken or paneer tikka masala burrito at Curry Up Now [Yelp]. I'm told that online pre-ordering works well, but I haven't tried it myself.

My favorite food truck, Onigilly [Yelp], is right outside your hotel during lunch hour on weekdays and doesn't have a long wait time outside of a brief rush right around noon.

Most places in the area are pretty efficient, since they sell to FiDi workers who are short on time. For example, Buckhorn Grill [Yelp] promises you your meal within five minutes of your order, and if they fail, you get a free meal voucher.

I feel self-conscious talking about pizza, but on Sunday nights, Local [Yelp] does all you can eat pizza in a nice setting. It's a weird location by the freeway on-ramps and has a huge confusing door, but once you get inside, it feels luxurious.
posted by tantivy at 9:09 PM on March 30, 2011

Nthing the Coit tower staircase walk. Eat at the Ferry Building to start, then depart and head North on Embarcadero, follow the instructions in the link to find the stairs. If it's a nice day you may see the Parrots of Telegraph Hill around. Wander around Coit tower, go up to the top (fee) if you want. The murals are quite nice inside. Wander down to North Beach, go past the old Hungry I (where Lenny Bruce and Tom Lehrer once performed, now converted into a dingy strip club). Keep going until you get to City Lights bookstore, which has a good selection of poetry in the upper room. Go next door and grab a cocktail at Vesuvio. Walk up a few blocks on Columbus to XOX Truffles, it's worth the detour. Stay away from unrecommended Italian food in North Beach, it's mostly bad tourist food. From here you could either veer northwest, perhaps hit the Musee Mechanique at Fisherman's Wharf. Afterwards, skip the wharf unless you want to go to Alcatraz. Renting bikes and riding across the Golden Gate bridge to Tiburon is a nice few hour ride, and there is a ferry back (with drinks onboard). If you get near the Presidio, check out the pet cemetary. If you're not interested in going alongside the water, you can head back down towards civic center and some of the museums and cocktail joints there.
posted by benzenedream at 10:50 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

IRL is set, for those who may be interested-- Saturday at 8:00 at Thirsty Bear Brewery and Restaurant.

Thanks for all the suggestions-- hope to see some of you there!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:23 PM on March 31, 2011

I thought I'd list stuff that's time senstivie.

Friday & Saturday nights, there are robot bartenders at Barbot. Full disclosure: I've worked there before.

Friday through Sunday, Wondercon runs at Moscone Center downtown. That's a comic book & science fiction / pop culture convention. If you like this, there are afterparties with Robert Kirkman Friday & Frank Quitely Saturday.

Saturday afternoon, the Crucible is having an open house in West Oakland. It's artists playing with fire.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:53 AM on April 1, 2011

There is a meet-up on the 2nd.
posted by chairface at 3:43 PM on April 1, 2011

chairface, if you look upthread you'll see that there's a meetup because supercres and two lights are coming to town.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:43 PM on April 1, 2011

« Older Oh, the Huge Vanity   |   What should my dad do with this house? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.