When we left off last time, I'd just deleted my entire list of suggestions and recommendations for San Francisco, and I'm sure you could hear me screaming from here. Remember that eardrum-shattering shriek you heard while watering your backyard in New Jersey or vacuuming your living room in Minneapolis last week? Yeah, that was me. Sorry about that. And please apologize to your neighbors.
Now, however, I've had a little time to compose myself---have also written "I must remember to save my posts, I must remember to save my posts, I must remember to save posts" a hundred times on the chalkboard in my kitchen (oops, hang on while I save again, okay, there we go)---and am ready to start all over again with the task of recommending some of my favorite haunts in San Francisco.
As I said the first time around, these are just some places that Sean and I find ourselves going to rather a lot---you will see that around ninety percent of them involve food or drink, wow, I wonder why---because I'm assuming that you can figure all that guidebook stuff out for yourself (yes to Coit Tower, City Lights Bookstore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz, especially if you do the night tour; no to Fisherman's Wharf, please, for the love of god.) I've only included places that we really, really love---and can therefore vouch for---but if anyone else wants to add their own San Francisco favorites in the comments, please feel free to do so, and we can build up an enormous MASTER LIST OF EXCELLENCE that will have the tourism board knocking down our doors and Mayor Gavin Newsom begging to take us out for pizza and a movie. (Hell, I wouldn't say no to that.)
As a little bit of background, San Francisco is all about the neighborhoods. Everyone thinks that their neighborhood is the best neighborhood (seriously, my neighborhood is the best neighborhood), but the good news is that it's pretty easy to get between neighborhoods, either by walking or taking the bus, cable car, MUNI light rail, BART, street car, or taxi.
The neighborhoods directly surrounding the Westin St. Francis---where BlogHer is taking place---are Union Square (basically one enormous outdoor shopping mall), the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and the bit between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, which more mature people call Lower Nob Hill and people like me call the Tendernob. The Tenderloin can be vaguely sketchy, but if you're used to big cities, you probably won't sweat it too much. It's not that it's dangerous, it's just that it's a little seedy. But be brave and venture out: it's also where you'll find some of the best food in the city.
The Tenderloin, Lower Nob Hill, and Nob Hill
Everyone in San Francisco has a favorite Thai restaurant, and everyone believes that their Thai restaurant is the best Thai restaurant. For us, that Thai restaurant is Bang San, a tiny hole in the wall with four tables and truly fantastic food. To mix it up a little, we sometimes go to the equally excellent Sai Jai Thai, and if we're in the mood for Vietnamese, we head to Pagolac (which---random aside!---is run by the family of sweet little Juniper's former daycare provider.) While we haven't found an Indian restaurant we're truly in love with yet, we find that Shalimar seems to satisfy our cravings for the moment; I've never actually eaten in there---we usually pick the food up---but it's noisy and crowded and very basic inside, so definitely don't go there expecting anything fancy. Down on Polk Street, you will find Cafe Zitouna, which Sean and I patronized both Sunday and Wednesday of last week, and no, we are not ashamed of that at all. Two words: falafel sandwich. Three numbers: $5.95.
Right around the corner from Bang San and Shalimar, you'll find Bourbon and Branch, a bar I resisted for a very long time because I thought it would be pretentious and hipster-ish, but then I finally went there and actually really liked it. You'll need a reservation, but it's got a speakeasy theme going on---they give you a password so you can get in---and the drinks, while expensive, are strong and delicious. For more of a dive, we like the Edinburgh Castle, where we consistently lose at trivia, but certainly enjoy the cider on tap. No, I'm sure the two have nothing to do with each other.
Going a little upscale, I'm a big fan of the Nob Hill Grille (particularly for brunch, where I demand that you order the pesto scramble, and then I demand that you share), and I also like the Nob Hill Cafe, which is awfully San Francisco in a very non-touristy way. Up the hill just a little---and now you're actually veering into Russian Hill---is Frascati, where we went for Sean's birthday last week and couldn't stop talking about for two days afterwards, primarily because of the chocolate bread pudding. Right around the corner is Swensen's Ice Cream Parlor, where they will let you sample pretty much anything before you make your mind up. Don't tell them I told you that.
North Beach is pretty much my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, and you should spend an afternoon there, walking around and stopping for a caffeine fix at XOX Truffles, where they give you a free truffle with your cup of coffee. One of my favorite places for lunch on a weekend is Cafe Francisco, where I say you should order the special on the board or the Mediterranean plate and Sean says you should order the Roast Beef Tuscany. For dinner, forget the touristy Italian joints on Columbus and try Trattoria Contadina instead, where they are awfully generous with their wine pours, if I remember correctly (and if I don't remember, I'm probably right!) It's also worth noting that if you live in a place where they don't have Trader Joe's---you poor thing---there's one in North Beach, and in my opinion, it's the least crowded one in the city. It's also where I do my weekly grocery shop, so maybe I'll see you there!
There are probably many people who can tell you which bars to go to in The Mission, but I'm not one of them, so I'll just tell you about the burritos instead. The Mission is famous for its burritos---you'll see taquerias in other parts of the city advertising "Mission burritos"---and I recommend you check out El Farolito (where my friend Alison was once eating while they got ROBBED), Taqueria Cancun, and El Toro, which was not only the first place I ate after we'd moved to San Francisco, but also the first place we got a parking ticket. Man, I'm surprised they haven't put a commemorative plaque outside.
You probably won't find yourself in SoMa much, other than if you're attending a baseball game at AT&T Park, or, uh, putting in a few hours at a dot-com company, but if you do, may I recommend the South Park Cafe, where you should most certainly order the Pig Salad, probably the best salad on earth. (It's mixed greens, crispy pulled pork, and thinly-sliced apple, accompanied by a tangy vinaigrette and a hunk of chewy baguette.) I also like The Butler and the Chef, where the sandwiches are the size of your head. No, not your head. Your head is fine!
Finally a non-food related suggestion! I recommend that you check out the sprawling Green Apple Books, where you will likely be able to find any second-hand book you've ever heard of. I also recommend that you pop into The Plough and Stars and have a pint of Magner's. I came here with my dad once and there was a group of people just practicing the Irish fiddle in the corner. Sean says they have the best Guinness in the city.
There are whole San Francisco neighborhoods that I haven't mentioned here, by the way---Hayes Valley, the Castro, the Haight, and on---and that's because I don't really go to them as often as I go to the ones above, so if you do, by all means chime in and fill the gaps.
Bringing up the rear with a miscellaneous category to finish, I'd definitely urge you to check out both the MoMa and the de Young Museum, and to head out to Crissy Field for a staggering view of the bridge or take the N-train all the way out to Ocean Beach for some good coastal California air. If you've never eaten at In-N-Out Burger, there's one at Fisherman's Wharf; I hate Fisherman's Wharf (can you tell?), but it's worth fighting the crowds for that Double Double with cheese. And if you find yourself with a sweet tooth, Fiona's Sweet Shoppe---which I posted about here---is only a few blocks walk from the BlogHer hotel.
And that's it! If you're visiting for the first time, have a wonderful stay in San Francisco, and if it's not your first time, well, then, congratulations on not picking up and moving here yet. You're a stronger person than I am, that's all I can say about that.