Ultimate Downtown San Francisco Vacation
By: Jennifer Maerz, Designed by Rob Shaw, Photographed by Molly Decoudreaux
This story is brought to you by the great people over at the Bold Italic. The Bold Italic is an online magazine, shop, and events hub in San Francisco. We celebrate the free-wheeling spirit of the city.
Downtown San Francisco can feel like an area best left to the tourists. Walking around those sardine-crammed streets near the cable cars is an exercise in extreme patience. And yet, there are times when it’s kinda magical to be among all those skyscrapers, to see the city like you’re landing here for the first time, to be mixed in among such a broad sampling of humanity. The secret is to hit the places that aren’t in every guidebook, to look beyond the obvious. There are some excellent places to visit just a few blocks away from Union Square, whether you’re coming here from out of town or looking to break your San Francisco rut with a little downtown staycation.
The Rock 'N' Roll Away From Home
I’ve always thought of Clift as San Francisco’s upscale rock ’n’ roll hotel. It could be because I’ve known touring bands who use Clift as their San Francisco base, or because over the years I’ve been to some crazy Halloween parties in Redwood Room (the glamorous bar with an impressive spirits selection that stretches to the ceiling) and San Francisco International Film Festival soirees in the suites. Clift also sponsored a rock ’n’ roll crash pad for The Bold Italic. As a partner for our soul-themed Spring Formal with Dusty Stax, the hotel offered a handful of rooms for guests looking to upgrade the night into something extra special.
Clift has hosted a mix of parties for locals and visitors, but my favorite ones have all had an artistic bent. That artsy vibe extends to the décor, which is bright and monochromatic in the elevator and the rooms, and veers toward rock royalty in the lobby (you can’t miss the giant throne in the lobby when you check in).
If you stay at Clift, don’t miss dinner at Velvet Room. The restaurant has an excellent wine list and fresh, seasonal dishes. When I was there last, we feasted on a mouthwatering selection of seafood (Monterey squid salad, oysters, and swordfish) and bright summer veggies, topped off by an amazing bread pudding for dessert. Velvet Room is a dinner destination in its own right, but if you’re already staying at Clift, even better.
One of the great things about downtown San Francisco is that a cheap breakfast can start anytime, day or night, at one of many 24-hour diners near Union Square. Should you want something a little more off the beaten track, though, Farm:Table is my go-to spot for starting the day. The tiny hole-in-the-wall serves up a small menu that changes daily (check the website or Twitter feed for the day’s options), as well as great coffee and creative beverage options. The dining environment is definitely unique – there’s only one communal table at Farm: Table, and you can expect lines of hungry customers crowding around it during peak hours. But on nice days, you don’t want to be inside anyway. Take your order to the grass-filled parklet outside.
There are a number of excellent ethnic cuisine options in downtown San Francisco. Try Katana-ya for ramen, Belden Place for French food, or Wise Sons for Jewish deli options. After busting at the seams of its Mission District location, Wise Sons is offering tasty noshes and sandwiches for the downtown crowd at a fitting location: inside the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
There aren’t many rooftop drinking options in San Francisco, but when the weather cooperates, there’s nothing better than bringing your booze outside. Jones has an awesome rooftop bar that’s sandwiched between taller buildings, meaning you’re protected on three sides from that damn San Francisco wind. You won’t get 360-degree views at this outdoor watering hole, but you will get to look out on all of Geary Street’s urban glory.
There are so many great bars downtown I could focus this guide on drinking alone. So I’ll keep this to two suggestions: Jasper’s is the bar my buddies in the restaurant business swear by, and I’ll back them up. The vibe is completely unpretentious, while the booze selection will knock you off your stool.
If you’re staying at a hotel with a rock vibe, it makes sense to hit a rock show, right? You’d never guess that a pizza place in the Financial District hosts great local punk, pop, and garage bands, but Escape From NY Pizza does just that. I’d suggest liking King Kong Bar@Escape From New York Pizza on Facebook to stay in the know about what up-and-coming acts are playing there from week to week. The FiDi clears out over the weekend, especially at night, so going to a show here feels like stumbling into a house party – one with a nice little patio that crowds can spill out onto in between bands.
Need a haircut? San Francisco has plenty of fancy salons with fancy prices, but not enough budget options for keeping your cut fresh with a stylish stylist. Public Barber Salon’s prices start under $40 for the basic treatment. That’s my kinda salon.
So these are my suggested stomping grounds when I’m downtown. But if you think I’ve missed something vital, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section below.
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