You’re so excited that people are coming to visit you that you forgot about one massive drawback - they’re going to want to hit all of SF’s tourist traps. And while that sounds like as much fun as accidentally gluing your fingers to your keyboard, you’re going to have to show them around no matter what. That’s why we made this guide. When you’re getting dragged from landmark to scenic view all day, these are the best places nearby to stop for a quick bite, a sit-down meal, or just a break from posing for photographs.
Coit Tower/ Washington Square Park/ Columbus Avenue
If you’re looking for a sit-down spot around North Beach, go to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. You can add your name to a waitlist online and skip the line, which will give you more time to talk about whether Joe Dimaggio got married in that church or just took pictures next to it. Their menu is massive and the pizzas are split up into tons of subcategories like dough type, oven, cooking temperature, and star sign. We like the classic margherita Napolitan and the coal-fired New Yorker with three different types of meat and ricotta cheese.
After you’ve gotten some booze from a nearby liquor store - that the cashier will insist you “shouldn’t” drink in the park - you’ll also want to get something to snack on before you go hang out in the grass at Washington Square Park. Liguria Bakery is a cash-only spot on the corner of the park that only makes focaccia, but it’s some of the best bread in the entire city. We like the one with rosemary and, if you’re OK with potentially getting a little messy, the pizza version with red sauce and green onions on top is a solid stand-in for an actual lunch. Make sure to ask for yours cut up, though, or you’ll be stuck ripping the giant loaf apart like an animal.
There’s a lot of unspoken competition between the places on Columbus Avenue to see which one can look the most “Italian.” And while you could walk by Molinari with their insanely packed window a million times and assume it’s just a tourist trap, they actually make some of the best sandwiches in the city. Grab a number, wait your turn, and get a huge sandwich full of imported and house specialty meats.
PIER 39/ FISHERMAN’S WHARF/ GHIRARDELLI SQUARE
A restaurant in the heart of tourist central that’s built like a 1960s houseboat sounds like somewhere you’d be forced to go after losing a bet. But that’s what Scoma’s is and it’s actually one of the only places in Fisherman’s Wharf you’ll find us. The menu is full of old-school dishes like Crab Louie salad and linguine con vongole, but what you’re really here for are the clam chowder and Dungeness crab. Get it whole-roasted, and make sure to ask for bibs, especially if your guests are wearing the only white shirts they brought with them for the trip.
You’ve seen the sea lions so many times that you think they might recognize you and start challenging you for space on the deck. But here you are again getting dragged to go see what used to be the funniest creatures ever one more time. On the way there, head to the Baked Bear and pick up an ice cream sandwich, so at least you have something to eat while you think about what the dynamic would be if you and the sea lions starred in a sitcom together. We like the chocolate chip cookies with coffee ice cream or the macadamia nut with salted caramel, but any combination here is good.
You tried to wait in line for a sundae at the Ghirardelli soda shop, but couldn’t take the screaming children and insane crowds - go next door to the San Francisco Brewing Company instead. The beer is as refreshing as ice cream would’ve been, and the outdoor picnic tables and corn hole sets make this place feel more like a backyard than a brewery. There are also pool and shuffleboard tables inside if you need more entertainment, and you can take a brewery tour, too. They have a standard menu of bar food like burgers and pizza, or you could keep going back to Ghiradelli for your one free piece of chocolate.
Ferry Building/ Embarcadero
There’s going to be a line at Hog Island - prepare for it - but the line overlooks the bay, so you can enjoy the view of the water and the seagulls threatening to carry away people’s small dogs and children while you wait. Once you get a seat (go for one outside), load up on raw oysters and clam chowder and you’ll be happy you stuck it out.
If the line at Hog Island is too long to deal with, go to Gott’s on the other side of the Ferry Building and get a bunch of burgers and fries. They also have beer buckets and a wine list that’s way better than you’d expect from a burger joint if you want to hang out for a while. You do lose your view of the bay sitting here, but you gain the people-watching around the Embarcadero, which could include anything from vagabond skateboarders who dress like ’90s computer repair men to nudist biker collectives wearing only capes.
The approximately 8,000 restaurants and kiosks in the Ferry Building can be incredibly overwhelming, but when all you want is something basic and comforting, stop by Cowgirl Sidekick next to the Creamery. They have a small menu of things that almost all involve cheese, but you’re here for the grilled kind. We like the Alpine version with gruyere and a cup of tomato soup to go with it.
This is the oldest restaurant in the state, so you’re just as likely to find people in suits who have been coming here for decades as you are to find a bunch of guys wearing old 49ers gear sitting at the bar. Grab a few seats and drink a martini over some fried clams, or cioppino if you’re really hungry, while you wait for it to warm up enough to go to the Marin Headlands to check out the views of the city.
Your friends didn’t realize how long the Embarcadero was when they said they were going to walk it, and now they want to take a break somewhere. Use that to your advantage and get them to stop by Red’s Java House for a few beers and to eat burgers served on sourdough rolls on the back patio that overlooks the water. After you’re done, continue that walk to try and offset how you spent the last hour.
Shopping in Union Square takes so much energy that it should be considered as a new event in the X Games. After a few hours of browsing designer pens you can’t afford, you can still eat like you could’ve bought that Audubon Deluxe Gold Coated ballpoint with lunch at Kin Khao. All of the food at this Thai place is incredible, and even though $20 for khao soi sounds steep, when you try it you’ll feel like you underpaid. You may need to get a reservation first, but it’s worth it for dishes like mushroom curry mousse and a pork bowl.
It’d be easier to convince your landlord to let you start raising bees on your rooftop than it would be to get a reservation at Liholiho Yacht Club. But Louie’s Gen-Gen Room below it is one of our favorite bars in the area (and the city), and it’s much easier to get a seat down there. It’s run by the same people, and you can get similar menu items like the house-made spam or waffles topped with things like bone marrow. If you’re not in the mood for a breakfast-inspired pre-dinner snack, though, go for the beef tartare.
Tacorea is a five-minute walk from Union Square, but it’s still far enough away to make you forget that all those people shopping for Minnie Mouse sweatshirts and designer keychains ever existed. This counter service Korean-Mexican spot makes great tacos and burritos - we like the “Kanye Asada” and the sweet and spicy Tacorea Kimchi Burrito filled with pork, Spanish rice, and sauteed kimchi. It’s small in here, but seats usually open up by the time you’ve ordered and gotten your food.
The Painted Ladies
Hooray, your friends got to see the house that DJ Tanner once ate a sandwich in front of. But now that you’re all thinking about food, you kind of want something to eat too. Head to The Mill. During the day they have lots of fancy toasts and great coffee, and it’s a good spot to hang out and take a break. Plus, it’ll pull your friends out of the 90s when Full House was the best thing about San Francisco and into whatever we’re calling this decade where the city runs on avocado toast.
4505 makes our favorite barbecue in the city, and while no one races to SF for barbecue, it can be the perfect thing to eat on a sunny day when you may potentially fall asleep in Alamo Park afterward. Eat classics like brisket and mac and cheese on their covered outdoor space, but don’t skip the thin-patty burger that’s one of the best you can find.
If you decide to make a day of hanging out in Alamo Square Park, you could start or end it at Horsefeather. It’s a five-minute walk from the park and works for brunch or dinner, especially when you want a great cocktail - like their Forge In The Forest with scotch, gin, mace, and something called “ocean aromatic.” Get the pork tacos and the double cheeseburger that you can easily split with a friend, then try to figure out what exactly a horsefeather is.
If you want something good, quick, and cheap, get in line at Good Mong Kok Bakery on Stockton Street. This take-out-only place serves dim sum classics like shrimp har gao and siu mai, all of which are solid. It’s also next to impossible to spend more than $6 per person here, so you can grab a few pork buns and walk around Chinatown while you consider buying a big sweatshirt with the Golden Gate Bridge on it - even if you live here - because why not.
For the classic dim sum experience in Chinatown, go to Lai Hong Lounge on Powell Street. No matter what you’re here for, this massive windowless banquet room covered in red and yellow feels like a wedding hall from the 1960s. All of the dishes, from the dry-fried green beans to the scallion pancakes to the har gau and beef roll, are solid, and it’s a great place to come with a group the morning after a long night to collect yourselves before starting the new day.
Mister Jiu’s is one of our favorite restaurants in the city for a blowout group dinner. It’s a reservation you need to get far in advance, so make sure whoever is visiting you actually tells you when they book their flights. The menu has Chinese and Chinese-American dishes like Dutch crunch BBQ pork buns, wagyu fried rice with beef heart, and roast duck with peanut butter hoisin, and while it’s been a few years since this place opened, it’s still one of the coolest dining rooms you can find yourselves in across the entire city.
Like the rest of the Haight, The Alembic has one foot in the past and the other in the present. This place has dark wood and leather booths, and you get the feeling that someone is going to turn the corner and start quoting Dickens, but they also have cocktails invented after the 1860s and food like spiced duck hearts and ricotta on toast. If you need a break from the sun, come in here, grab a booth, and hide out for a while. Preferably with a few drinks in hand.
The crowd at Padrecito tends to be more concerned with saving for their kids’ future college tuition than they are with what music festivals they’re going to this year, probably because it’s a fun, but not too crazy or loud option for a nicer casual dinner. The food here is Mexican, and aside from strong margaritas, they have great chilaquiles and tacos with fillings like duck, in addition to the classic carnitas. The best thing on the menu are the enchiladas, so make sure someone gets them if you’re here for dinner.
If Zazie had a roped-off queue instead of a clipboard for people to write their names on, it would have a longer line than most nightclubs. This place serves some of the best breakfast in the city - from great benedicts to incredible french toast and pancakes (get the gingerbread ones). When the weather is nice, they open the awning on the back patio and sitting there is worth the wait. But if you don’t really care about feeling like you’re on your dream back deck with breakfast service, the tables out front are first come, first served, so grab a seat as soon as someone gets up.