San Francisco Bay Area Essentials

Find the best places to go in the San Francisco Bay Area.
By: Ellen Lee

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to ...


Buck's, 3062 Woodside Rd. Woodside (650) 851-8010
This Silicon Valley institution is famed for the Silicon Valley venture capitalists and high-tech entrepreneurs who meet here over pancakes and coffee — and perhaps strike a multi-million-dollar deal before the meal is over.


Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom St., San Francisco (415) 863-0620
Staying true to its 1970s hippie roots, this popular San Francisco grocery co-op focuses on organic, natural and locally produced vegetarian foods.

Berkeley Bowl, 2020 Oregon St., Berkeley (510) 843-6929
Berkeley Bowl got its name from its original home in a bowling alley. It has since moved into a larger location and remains a regular staple for East Bay residents shopping for organic food.


San Francisco Ferry Building, One Ferry Building, San Francisco (415) 983-8000
Held every Tuesday and Saturday in front of the historic Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is always brimming with California-certified produce.


V. Sattui Winery, 1111 White Lane, St. Helena (707) 963-7774
V. Sattui is a popular stop during a Napa wine tour, offering a collection of wines for tasting, a marketplace and a deli with 200 cheeses and a tree-shaded picnic area.


Yank Sing
Rincon Center, 101 Spear St., San Francisco (415) 781-1111
49 Stevenson St., San Francisco (415) 541-4949
Three generations of the Chan family have run Yank Sing in San Francisco. On the weekends, the restaurant takes over the atrium at Rincon Center, where a waterfall cascades from the ceiling and the staff pushes around carts of dim sum in the open space.


Chinatown, Between Kearny and Powell Streets, Bush and Broadway, San Francisco
Skip Grant Street, where the tourists go, and head to Stockton Street for fresh produce, live crab, fish and other seafood, dim sum and Chinese pastries.

Clement Street, Clement Street, between Arguello and Park Presidio, San Francisco
Some call Clement Street San Francisco's "new Chinatown," but it's really an eclectic mix of Irish bars and Asian restaurants, from Burmese to Taiwanese, along with Asian grocers and bubble tea shops.

Japantown, Geary Boulevard, between Fillmore and Laguna Streets, San Francisco
Stop inside the neighborhood's Japan Center for a steaming bowl of ramen or freshly rolled sushi.

Pacific East Mall, 3288 Pierce St., Richmond
Anchored by Ranch 99, the Asian grocery chain, this plaza mingles all aspects of Asian food, retail and entertainment, from Chinese moon cakes to Vietnamese pho to Japanese anime.

Milpitas Square, 190 Barber Lane, Milpitas
A hot spot in Silicon Valley, this outdoor shopping center houses more than 60 Asian restaurants and shops, from a hot-pot restaurant to a store selling ginseng and herbs.

Oakland Chinatown, Webster Street, between 6th Street and 12th Street, Oakland
Though it's often overshadowed by San Francisco's Chinatown, Oakland's Chinatown is teaming with dim sum restaurants and bakeries, groceries and retailers selling Asian imports. It's easily accessible by train (BART, Oakland 12th Street station), and ample underground parking is available at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza at 388 9th Street.


Lucky Penny, 2670 Geary Blvd., San Francisco (415) 921-0836
The food is nothing to write home about, but this longtime diner is open 24 hours and popular for people hungering for a greasy spoon late at night.


Blue Bottle Cafe, 66 Mint St., San Francisco (510) 653-3394
Blue Bottle Cafe meticulously and individually brews cups of coffee from a $20,000 siphon bar imported from Japan.


Samovar Tea Lounge
730 Howard St., San Francisco (415) 227-9400
498 Sanchez St., San Francisco (415) 626-4700
This tea house pairs fair-trade teas from around the world with their corresponding cuisine: Chinese dumplings with oolong tea, scones with English tea, Indian curry with chai. With two locations, one at Yerba Buena Gardens, on the terrace above the waterfall, and the other in the Castro-Mission neighborhood.


Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, Cafe: (510) 548-5049, Restaurant: (510) 548-5525
Alice Waters' restaurant helped introduce California cuisine, with a menu that emphasizes seasonal, locally grown foods. Dinner reservations at the restaurant can be made one month in advance and can be hard to come by; foodies can also try the upstairs cafe, which is open for lunch and dinner and does not require a reservation.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...


Lindsay Wildlife Museum, 1931 First Ave, Walnut Creek (925) 935-1978
Not only is the museum a place to see and learn about wild animals, it also offers volunteer and teaching programs for children and teenagers, with opportunities to interact closely with the animals. It also serves as a wildlife hospital, taking in injured or orphaned animals and rehabilitating them.

Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp, 3115 Porter Creek Rd., Santa Rosa (707) 579-2551
Take a ride on the wild side at this 400-acre outdoor wildlife park. Families can hop into an open-air, Indiana Jones-style vehicle for a three-hour safari tour to see giraffes, gazelles, ostriches and other animals. Reservations required.

California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco (415) 379-8000
Experience a living rainforest under a 90-foot-diameter glass dome. Watch penguins dive for fish. Gaze at the stars in a state-of-the-art planetarium. The new California Academy of Sciences re-opened in September 2008 and is now home to more than 40,000 animals, including Amazonian piranhas, fruit bats and giant octopuses. The museum's youngest patrons -- infants and toddlers -- can also check out the Early Explorers Cove, where they can play in a tree house.

Exploratorium, The Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco (415) 561-0363
Classic exhibits such as the shadow box let children jump and pose in a darkened room and see their shadows captured on the wall. In the tactile dome, they navigate through a maze in complete darkness, using just their sense of touch. The Exploratorium is nothing if not hands-on, in the spirit of making science fun.


Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco (415) 621-4455
It's out of the way, but the Bottom of the Hill is known to draw bands about to make it big.

Cafe Du Nord, 2174 Market St., San Francisco (415) 861-5016
Intimate, with a speakeasy feel, Cafe Du Nord is a local favorite to catch an act.


San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco (415) 861-4008
Internationally renowned, the San Francisco Opera produces star-studded operas each season. Its stage has been used to premiere new works such as Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter and it has debuted well-known singers such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.


One day each month, San Francisco's museums are open to the public for free.

First Sunday:

First Tuesday:

First Wednesday:


AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco (415) 972-1800
Home to the San Francisco Giants, the ballpark on the waterfront draws capacity crowds each season. And in true Bay Area spirit, it offers wireless Internet access alongside garlic fries sans trans fat.


Telegraph Avenue, Telegraph Avenue, between Bancroft and Parker, Berkeley
Though some of the shops have made way for mainstream retail chains -- Hot Topic and Athlete's Foot, to name a few -- this corridor still retains its free-spirited feel, with street vendors selling tie-dyed shirts and Che Guevara tchotchkes.

Haight-Ashbury, Haight Street, between Central Avenue and Cole Street, San Francisco
If you're looking for a relic of the 1960s, look no further than Haight-Ashbury, where rockers such as Janis Joplin used to call home. Where else can you find a bookstore dedicated to anarchist literature?

Nightlife Essentials: Best Places to ...


Slide, 430 Mason St., San Francisco (415) 421-1916
Start out the night by going down a slide -- literally -- to this downstairs bar and nightclub. The speakeasy-style establishment sometimes receives poor reviews for the challenge in getting past the bouncer, but once inside, it's a packed, lively crowd.


John Collins, 90 Natoma St., San Francisco (415) 543-2277
Located in an alley in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, and within walking distance of the financial district, this watering hole draws regulars taking a break after a long day's work.


Top of the Mark, 999 California St., San Francisco (415) 616-6916
A little cliche? Perhaps. But the Top of the Mark, a restaurant and bar at the top of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, remains a classic destination for an old-fashioned romantic evening. Both tourists and locals are lured here by its cocktails and panoramic views of the city.


Dolores Park Movie Night, Dolores Park, 20th Street and Dolores
Dolores Park is a hot spot on sunny days, with locals spreading out their blankets on the lawn and enjoying the view. The park also attracts evening crowds once a month for its outdoor movie nights.


AsiaSF, 201 Ninth St., San Francisco (415) 255-2742
Each night, the restaurant's transgender "Ladies of AsiaSF" -- also known as their "gender illusionists" -- prance and dance on top of their runway bar. They also make appearances downstairs in the restaurant's night club. Bachelorettes get called up on the stage for some special time with the divas.


Do Re Mi Music Studio, 1604 Post St., San Francisco (415) 771-8884
Feel like belting out Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"? Singers and wannabe singers head to Japantown, where they can rent a private room at Do Re Mi Music Studio and choose from several albums of top American tunes.


440 Castro, 440 Castro St., San Francisco (415) 621-8732
A popular gay bar in the city's Castro neighborhood, its Monday Underwear Night packs in men in their skivvies.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to ...


Mt. Tamalpais State Park, 3801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley (415) 388-2070
The park's 60 miles of trail leads to sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, waterfalls and Redwood forests.


Crissy Field
Dogs often frolic on this stretch of beach, with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop.


Baker Beach
Northern California is not known for warm beaches, but Baker Beach, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, is a hot spot for laying out on a rare hot day -- maybe even in the nude.


Lyon Street Steps, starts at Broadway and descends to Green
A popular workout, the reward for climbing to the top of the Lyon Street steps is a beautiful view of the bay.

Treasure Island
Treasure Island, located in between the span of the Bay Bridge, overlooks San Francisco, offering a perfect view of the city skyline.

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