American Trails city guide San Francisco

How do you make a city guide that could ever do justice to this many-faced city, its location, and its history? You ask Laura Kiniry, who has lived in the city most of her life, to reveal her own personal favorites.

Words: Laura Kiniry Photo: Linda Gren and Laura Kiniry

5 Best Restaurants

Rich Table
Husband and wife team Evan and Sarah Rich opened this lively corner spot in 2012 and its been garnering praise since, dishing out a varied menu of locally sourced California fare ($33) to a food savvy—yet casual—clientele.
199 Gough Street
richtablesf.com

Leo’s Oyster Bar
A polished and classy throwback to the days when champagne flowed and oysters—whether baked, fried, or served raw on the half-shell—were king. Along with a formal dining room, there’s a bright, fern-filled conservatory perfect for cocktails and caviar ($14-32).
568 Sacramento Street
leossf.com

SPQR
Modern Italian cuisine that elevates pasta to a whole nother level, with dishes like gnocchi mixed with rabbit sugo, marsala wine sauce, and garden kale ($31). A dedicated chef’s counter provides prime kitchen views.
1911 Fillmore St
www.spqrsf.com

Petit Crenn
Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn’s welcoming French bistro includes both a la carte entrees and an ever-changing, seven-course menu ($87 includes gratuity) of family-style dishes, inspired by her grandmother and a childhood spent in Brittany, France.
609 Hayes St.
petitcrenn.com

State Bird Provisions
A frequently changing selection of small plate American dishes—many with Asian-inspired twists—all served dim-sum style from rolling carts amid urban rustic décor ($7-18).
1529 Fillmore Street
statebirdsf.com

5 Best Dive Bars

Bender’s Bar & Grill
Park your bicycle inside, then belly up to the bar for weekly drink specials like Whiskey Wednesdays—$5 for a can of PBR and whiskey shot. Along with a dedicated food counter, expect events like punk rock karaoke and kitchen poutine pop-ups. Two pool tables, pinball, a photobooth and more.Daily happy hour, $4 well drinks
806 S Van Ness Ave
bendersbar.com

Edinburgh Castle Pub
This dimly light neighborhood Scottish pub features multiple levels, fish & chips delivery from down the street, and a weekend DJ dance complete with disco lights. Its Tuesday quiz night is one of the city’s best.’Recovery Special’ $6 – pint of PBR/shot of whisky
950 Geary Street
thecastlesf.com 

Zeitgeist
A landmark biker bar known for its picnic table-filled beer garden, surly staff, and a killer Bloody Mary that will have you sailing through Sunday. The burgers are good, but the craft brew selection is even better. Drinks under $10.
199 Valencia Street
yelp.com/biz/zeitgeist-san-francisco

Hotel Utah
Nightly live music and Open Mic Mondays continue to draw crowds, who also flock to this more-then-century-old saloon for its loyal bartenders and solid drinks. The multi-story venue remains a familiar stalwart amid a neighborhood in constant flux. Drinks under $10.
500 4th St.
hotelutah.com

The Hi Dive
Strong margaritas and Bay Bridge waterfront views draw locals and tourists alike, especially following SF Giants baseball games. The small outdoor deck is perfect for sipping cocktails at Sunday brunch. Cocktails $10-$12.
28 Pier
hidivesf.com

5 Best Cocktail Bars

Laszlo
Along with the adjoining Foreign Cinema restaurant, this classic cocktail bar celebrates cinema history with a European movie motif. Drag bingo, DJs spinning vinyl, and film-inspired cocktails are par for the course. Cocktails $12.
2526 Mission St.
laszlobar.com

The Treasury
A welcome jewel amid the hub of the city’s Financial District started by some of the city’s biggest names in the SF food and drink industry. Housed in an early 20th-century Beaux Arts building, complete with marble columns, iron-gate entry, and bar fare that’s as noteworthy as its beverages. Cocktails $13-$15.
200 Bush St Ste 101.
thetreasurysf.com

Pacific Cocktail Haven (PCH)
Bar guru Kevin Diedrich knows how to create a cocktail, and his latest endeavor highlights the types of innovative drinks he’s built a career on—incorporating unusual ingredients like li hing mui and coconut lychee milk in a casual neighborhood space with a Hawaiian lean. Cocktails $10-13.
580 Sutter St.
pacificcocktailsf.com

The Alembic
An early frontrunner on San Francisco’s craft cocktail scene, this Haight-Ashbury favorite varies between traditional and ‘new school’ cocktails. Craft beers brewed onsite at Alembic’s sister site, Magnolia’s, are also available, along with a selection of gourmet eats. Cocktails $12-$14.
1725 Haight St.
alembicsf.com

Bar Agricole
Handcrafted cocktails and locally sourced Northern California cuisine served up in a stylish indoor/outdoor space, tucked along an industrial block in the city’s bustling SOMA district. Cocktails $10-$13.
355 11th St.
baragricole.com

Best Hotels

Hotel Zelos
A stylish boutique property with a prime location on the cusp of downtown’s SOMA and Union Square neighborhoods, and easy access to museums, shopping, and transport. Perks include complimentary bicycles and a buzzy restaurant with outdoor space that even locals love. Rooms starting at $179 USD a night.
12 4th Street
viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/zelos

Hilton Union Square
Rooms in this 46-floor Union Square high-rise run the gamut from luxe suites to smaller spaces with their own private balcony—a rarity in the city. The always bustling lobby has a central bar that’s perfect for people-watching, along with a gourmet market. Rooms starting at $169 USD a night.
333 O’Farrell Street
hilton.com

Phoenix Hotel
San Francisco’s proverbial rock star property is actually a revamped 1950s motor lodge with modern rooms, an outdoor pool, and free parking to boot. The neighborhood is a bit sketch, but the overall experience one-of-a-kind. From $188 USD a night.
601 Eddy St.
phoenixsf.com

InterContinental Mark Hopkins
One of the U.S. National Trust of Historic Preservation’s ‘Historic Hotels of America,’ this elegant 1926 landmark boasts original features like terra cotta detailing and a working mail chute. Perks include an enviable perch atop tony Nob Hill and the Top of the Mark penthouse lounge. From $229 USD a night.
999 California St.
intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com

Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf
A perfect hub for exploring the city’s kitschiest neighborhood, with easy access to Pier 39, Alcatraz Cruises, and Madame Tussauds wax museum. It’s both family friendly and affordable, with an onsite 24-hour convenience shop and pay-as-you-go laundry facilities. Starting from $129 USD a night.
555 North Point St.
fishermanswharf.centric.hyatt.com

5 Best Parks

Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s largest park (it’s even bigger than NYC’s Central Park) has seemingly everything: world-class museums, a Japanese tea garden left over from a World’s Fair—even a handful of buffalo. Add to this some of the city’s best music festivals, and it’s a destination all its own.
501 Stanyan St.
goldengatepark.com

Dolores Park
Hipsters, techies, and all types in-between flock this Mission District hangout, which catches some of the city’s best weather and offers supreme people-watching opportunities. On weekends, the palm tree-speckled park is home events like outdoor movie nights and robot dance parties.
Dolores & 19th streets
sfrecpark.org/destination/mission-dolores-park

Corona Heights Park
A 15-acre neighborhood park perched atop one of San Francisco’s many hills, Corona Heights offers excellent panoramic downtown views. There’s a rocky outcrop ideal for pondering life and a fenced-in area for free roaming dogs.
Roosevelt Way and Museum Way.
sfrecpark.org/destination/corona-heights-park

Alamo Square Park
It’s home to one of San Francisco’s most iconic images: a row of Victorian homes called the “Painted Ladies,” with the city as their backdrop. A recent revamp has given the undulating park new life, and its only a block from SF’s hottest new hubs: Divisadero Corridor.
Steiner and Hayes streets.
sfrecpark.org/destination/alamo-square 

Lands End
Part of the larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this coastal trail winds through Cypress forest and skirts the edges of bayside cliffs, offering unprecedented Pacific views. Turnoffs include a stairway to tiny Mile Rock Beach and a Golden Gate Bridge overlook.
680 Point Lobos Ave.
nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/landsend.htm

5 Best Things to Do on a Weekend

Sonoma Wine Country
Just an hour drive north of the city, this Napa neighbor is made up of rolling hills and endless vineyards, ideal for picnics and wine tastings. It also include the city of Sonoma, with its walkable downtown square, bustling restaurants, and vino at every turn.
sonomacounty.com

Fun Cheap SF
There are a ton of affordable (even free( things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area on weekends, you just have to know where to find them. This handpicked events calendar pulls together everything from flourishing food festivals comedy shows with free tiki drinks.
sf.funcheap.com

Muir Woods National Monument
Wander beneath centuries-old coastal redwoods in one of the SF Bay Area’s most magical places. Along with groves of towering trees, there’s the Dipsea Trail, a moderate 9.5-mile out-and-back hike to Stinson Beach that includes stunning ocean views. Entry $10.
1 Muir Woods Rd., Mill Valley
nps.gov/muwo/index.htm

Alcatraz Cruises
Pay a visit to San Francisco Bay’s most notorious island, “the Rock,” as well as a trip to Angel Island—a California state park that served as the U.S. “Ellis Island of the West” for millions of immigrants from 1910 to 1940. Alcatraz Cruises offers a combo tour that includes the notorious penitentiary’s award-winning cellhouse audio commentary.Alcatraz and Angel Island Combo Tour: $71/adults
Pier 33, Alcatraz Cruises, LLC, The Embarcadero
alcatrazcruises.com

Costanoa
Bed down at this luxe ‘glamping’ getaway along the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco, with onsite activities ranging from morning yoga to guided birdwatching. Local sights include Año Nuevo State Reserve’s elephant seas and the tide pools of Pescadero State Beach. Tents $100-$125/night.
2001 Rossi Rd, Pescadero
costanoa.com

My Personal Favorites

Restaurant

Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco’s historic ferry terminal is home to one of the city’s finest food selections, making it nearly impossible to stick to a single place. Whether looking for prosciutto-filled empanadas, European-style cheeses, or Vietnamese coffee ice-cream, you’ll find it here.
1 Sausalito – San Francisco Ferry Bldg.
ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

Dive Bar

HQ Bar and Restaurant
A longstanding Irish bar and restaurant in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Locals still refer to it as Martin Macks, though despite the name change a menu of good food and affordable drinks remains. Drinks $8.
1568 Haight St.
facebook.com/Martin-Macks-111991385492610/?rf=288620804818794

Cocktail Bar

Cityscape SF
Hidden atop the 46th floor of downtown’s Hilton Union Square, this upscale bar and lounge offers the best 360-degree views in the city, not to mention colorful cocktails and plenty of Instragram-worthy photo ops. Drinks $14.
333 O’Farrell St.
cityscapesf.com  

Thing to Do on a Weekend

Japantown
It doesn’t look like much, but this six-block neighborhood has much to offer: a dine-in movie theatre, a day spa with Japanese-style communal baths, and Nijiya Market, stocking the best bento boxes in the city. Also, restaurants specializing in everything from okonomiyaki to floating sushi boats.
sfjapantown.org

Park

The Presidio
A former military base that’s transformed into one of San Francisco’s most beloved parks, while keeping its historic structures intact. With wetlands, hiking trails, an aircraft hangar-turned-trampoline park, and a Yoda statue that’s become a pilgrimage site for Star Wars fans.
210 Lincoln Blvd.
nps.gov/prsf/index.htm

A Local’s Top Spots

Restaurant

John’s Grill
Dine at a true SF icon surrounded by vintage photos that showcase the place’s history, especially that of Dashiell Hammett, who ate here while writing The Maltese Falcon. Celebrated for its martinis and steaks ($26).
63 Ellis St.
johnsgrill.com 

Dive Bar

Lucky 13
Strong, cheap drinks, an excellent jukebox selection, and punk rock permeating everything from its posters to its clientele. This is a dive bar at its finest. Drinks $6-$8.
2140 Market St.
facebook.com/Lucky13SF

 Cocktail Bar
Smuggler’s Cove
It’s like an adult cross between the Pirates of the Caribbean and Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, with rum-filled drinks to match.Cocktails $8-$16.
650 Gough St.
smugglerscovesf.com

Thing to Do on a Weekend

Hit up the city’s vibrant night life—from concerts at The Fillmore to checking out up and coming acts at venues like Slim’s and the Regency Ballroom.
1805 Geary St.
thefillmore.com

Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum
A treasure trove of artifacts that will fascinate fans of classic Disney and the man himself, from original art to personal photographs, as well as his Seven Dwarves Academy Awards.
104 Montgomery St.
waltdisney.com

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Jonas Henningsson

Journalist and photographer, founder and editor-in-chief American Trails.