Our Editor Names Her 20 Favorite Places in the Bay Area
From dive bars to banyas, here’s what we personally recommend
What’s the best bar in town? Restaurant? Steam room? Surf spot? Clothing shop?
As your SF editor, it’s my job to report on the newest and brightest ones as they arrive. But no matter how many newcomers wash up in town, my personal favorites are near impossible to dislodge.
So today, I give you those: 20 of my very own Bay Area faves, from the dive bar across the street from my last apartment ($600 a month — it was a share, but still) to my go-to for Tomales Bay oysters.
Tell me it’s my last day in San Francisco, and I’d hit every last one of these places (uh, time permitting), beginning with the Banya and ending at True Laurel. And I’d have a bag (from Unionmade) packed with books from Green Apple, pens from Mai Do and paints from Case for Making.
And I’d be drunk, since it would necessitate at least one round each at the 500 Club, White Cap and Charmaine’s.
But it’d be an amazing day.
Best dive bar, now and forever: The 500 Club
You can’t love a bar as much as the one you loved when you lived across the street from it. Here’s hoping new owner Ali Razavi meant it when he said “Just being able to walk in here and get two drinks and a beer for 20 bucks — that’s special.” The most special, I’d add.
Best destination when your out-of-town friends want photos of the Golden Gate: Fort Point
Killer views from literally under the bridge, and even more incredibly, there’s reliable parking. And if they’re surfers, they might be interested in a spot that’s “one of the most unusual places to go surfing on the planet: safe and dangerous, beautiful and eerie, exposed and protected, easy and hard.”
Image from Green Apple Bookstore
Best bookstore: Green Apple
Unbelievably we still have plenty of independent choices: Aardvark, Alexander Book Company, Book Passage, The Booksmith (and that’s just the very start of the alphabet.) Even the used selection out here in the Inner Richmond is terrific (and more notably, well organized).
Best sauna where you very well may run into the next big startup team and they might not be wearing any clothes: Archimedes Banya
The Bayview location makes this an exceptionally appropriate stop before heading home after a long flight. Newly offering “hammam massages,” but for me it’s about the cold-plunge pool and the steam room.
Best workout if you want to meet 13 enthusiastically fit women: Burn SF
What’s the opposite of a sausage factory? The city’s pricy and challenging Pilates-inflected workout classes are without question the best way to meet/work out surrounded by a dozen-plus fit women with resources and ambition — and of the myriad options, this is the best. Trust: This is way better than Tinder, EliteSingles, Bumble, whatever. The 14-spot Mission studio, on Valencia, was the first and remains the smallest.
Best workout if you want to patronize the top yoga teacher in town: Stephanie Snyder at Love Story Yoga
God knows we have our pick, but Stephanie’s the best, and when she’s not off teaching in London or Maui, you’ll find her at Love Story — the studio she founded with David Acker in 2017.
Best workout if you just want to hit stuff: Hit Fit’s Boot Camp
This four-week morning boot camp with MMA pro Cole Nagy and Mr. Olympian 2018 Wayne Squires will get you started on the road to total dominance. Once that’s done, look for classes there with our forever-fave Jamel Ramiro, a TRX and Muay Thai expert.
Image from Unionmade
Best one-stop shop for clothing/magazines/home fragrance/everything: Unionmade
Buy this coat immediately — designed by Unionmade in collaboration with Golden Bear. And this Il Bisonte travel bag. And this woodsy candle. If you need anything else, stop by the shop on 18th Street.
Most iconic hike of all the hikes in the Bay Area: The Dipsea Trail
The ideal situation: waking up in Mill Valley (rather than fighting for a parking space), sailing over Cardiac Hill, and then meeting friends for early-afternoon drinks on the beach (and getting a ride home from them rather than hiking it).
Best place to take your daughter if it’s too rainy to hike: Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historic Park
Young girls can never have too many role models — and they could do worse than the six million women who entered the workforce while their male counterparts fought overseas. It wasn’t necessarily the safer of the two roles: Between Pearl Harbor and D-Day, the U.S. saw more industrial casualties at home than military casualties abroad.
Best oysters on Tomales Bay: The Marshall Store
OK, so you’re definitely eating by the side of Highway 1 — but you’re also eating on a perch above Tomales Bay (perspective is everything). Your choice of oysters — raw, smoked, barbecued, with chorizo, Rockefeller or Kilpatrick, and they’re all divine.
Image from Le Marais
Best French bakery: Le Marais
You know what everyone likes waking up to? French pastries and fresh-squeezed orange juice. If you’re in the neighborhood, make a beeline for this Chestnut Street storefront — and if you’re not, rejoice, because they’re going to be on Caviar momentarily.
Best craft cocktails: True Laurel
Too often, craft cocktail spots feel like they’ve been crafted solely to craft a division between you and your money. True Laurel is gorgeous from top to bottom, and the drinks here feel auteured, if you will — more like a friend saying “You gotta try this” than a robot shoving a bill for $54 for two drinks in your direction.
Best destination for everyone working in tech but thinking of a career as a painter: Case for Making
Walk into this tiny Outer Sunset shop — maybe after brunch at Outerlands or housewares-shopping at General Store — and you will absolutely walk out determined to forge a life as an artist. Also, carrying a bag with $100 of watercolor paints you may or may not know how to use — conveniently, they have classes for that.
Best destination for everyone working in tech but thinking of a career as a writer: Mai Do
We like Kolo as much as the next guy, but the real pick for people who care about their pens is Mai Do — the Kinokuniya-owned boutique of high-quality writing implements, like the exceptional, and pricy, Izumo series by Japanese pen brand Platinum.
Image from Johanna S./Yelp
Best cheap café for sitting and thinking and dreaming: The Café at S.F.A.I.
And I’m not saying that just because I went to school here for two exceptionally expensive years (along with my fellow alumni Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow and Kehinde Wiley, the Class of ’99 grad and Obama portraitist). Classes cost plenty, but the café is priced for money-strapped students, and the views — of the bay, Marin, Alcatraz, Angel Island — are spectacular.
Best hotel lobby: Proper Hotel
If you can’t be fussed with going up to Charmaine’s on the roof, there’s no shame in meeting up in the lobby of the Proper, designed to the hilt by miracle worker/interiors icon Kelly Wearstler. Take notes on the paintings and pieces you like here, then head to the Alameda flea market on the first Sunday of the month for your chance to bring some antiques home.
Best Tahoe experience: High Camp summer swimming above Squaw Valley
OK, we know, but hey, not everybody skis. There are fancier experiences to be had in Tahoe, but this one is low-key, family friendly, and fun.
Best beach bar: White Cap
Grab a spot as close as possible to the fireplace and order a White Cap martini, with Aviation Gin, seaweed-infused Dolin Dry Vermouth — it’s the superior oceanside bar experience, within the city limits. (But bring a sweater!)
Best pool: Indian Springs
It’s just the best, and the nearby steam vents make you feel like it’s heated by a volcano.
Main image from Indian Springs
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