A Guide to the Very Best Coffee in San Francisco

Need a better reason to justify your espresso habit? We’ve got 12.

April 9, 2024 8:01 am
latte on a plate next to a spoon
Four Barrel
Julia Stotz

In San Francisco, coffee goes as far back as the gold rush, when James Folger (yes, that Folger) came to work in the mines but ended up at a coffee roaster instead. The old saying “Coffee is the common man’s gold” rings no truer than in the City, where roasters have elevated a simple cup of joe to unimaginable heights. From technologically precise pour-overs to creative cocktail-style coffees, here are the 12 best places to indulge.  

Sightglass Coffee

A stroll through San Francisco’s SoMA district must include a stop at Sightglass Coffee. The soaring, multi-leveled space has a commanding presence, with roasting, wholesale and retail operations all under one dramatically pitched roof. This converted warehouse is the flagship location of a coffee mini-chain, where each cup is made individually with fresh-roasted beans. A highlight is the affogato bar, where scoops of seasonal Salt & Straw ice cream are drowned with a shot of hot single-origin espresso.

270 7th St, 3014 20th St, 301 Divisadero St

The Coffee Movement

In San Francisco’s cluttered coffee scene, where cafes often double as makeshift offices, tiny but excellent neighborhood cafes sometimes get overlooked. The Coffee Movement opened in 2016 out of the back of VW Bus, and the owner-operated business now has two cozy locations near Chinatown and Inner Richmond, bringing unusual drinks and tasty snacks to areas considered “coffee deserts.” Warm up with their version of a hot toddy — an Americano with non-alcoholic whiskey — and sit on the sidewalk patio in Chinatown to watch the cable cars roll by.

1030 Washington St, 1737 Balboa St

red chairs, white tables, white walls, people standing, gold light hanging
Jeffery Chang Photography

Spro Coffee Lab

Coffee drinks that seem more like craft cocktails are the order of business at this corner cafe in the Mission, which still has its original red truck location at Spark Social in Mission Bay and an airy outpost near the Civic Center. (A fourth location inside the UC Law San Francisco building opened on March 30.) Think sangria cold brew mocktails or espresso enhanced with ube, coconut and tres leches milk. A small but hearty menu of open-faced toasts and stacked sandwiches makes this a solid brunch or lunch pick. And yes, this is owned by the man who famously chased down a carjacker in 2022.

500 Church St, 601 Mission Bay Boulevard N, 525 Golden Gate Ave, 200 McAllister St

Caffe Trieste

Once a hangout for Beat Generation writers, when this North Beach cafe opened in 1956, it was the first European-style coffeehouse on the West Coast. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of the nearby City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, was a fan, as well as Jack Hirschman, San Francisco’s former poet laureate, who lived in an apartment above the cafe for more than 20 years. This coffee haven still inspires a loyal following today, and the crowd is just as much part of the charm as the drinks. Take in the eclectic decor, including photos of famous clientele, while you sip strong espresso and wolf down cannoli. They also serve beer, wine and cider. 

601 Vallejo St

people sitting at wooden tables, paintings on wall, wooden columns on ceiling
Four Barrel
Julia Stotz

Four Barrel

Four Barrel is the coffee house of your dreams. A rotating selection of local artwork graces the walls, the tables are made from reclaimed wood, and vinyl spins on a record player behind the coffee bar. What’s more, it anchors a stretch of boutiques and restaurants along the Mission’s bustling Valencia Street. But even without all the cool trappings, this would still be a destination cafe because the coffee is just so good. Beans are roasted in-house on a vintage German machine, and the pastry selection includes indulgences from the Mission’s Dynamo Donut. P.S. There’s no wifi or outlets, so bring a book!

375 Valencia St

Flywheel Coffee Roasters

You see the inner workings of a great coffee business as soon you walk in the door: that large roaster and those siphon brewers that look straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. This Haight-Asbury shop is the brainchild of owner Aquiles Guerrero, who was raised on a coffee farm in Nicaragua and grew up picking beans for his family. These days, his beans are sourced from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Honduras and Nicaragua, and he roasts them all on-site. For a quick cup to go, check out his coffee kiosk across the street in Golden Gate Park.

672 Stanyan St

white block with cashier, painting, wooden floors
Saint Frank
Albert Law

Saint Frank Coffee

The name is an homage to the city of San Francisco (the patron saint of coffee is, in fact, Saint Drogo), and the owners treat every aspect of the coffee business with reverential respect. All of the beans are ethically sourced from small farmers whom they’ve built relationships with through the years. The brews change with the seasons, so there’s always something new and exciting to imbibe. Try the single-origin tasting flight: a latte, espresso, hot coffee and cold brew. 

2340 Polk St, 120 Folsom St, 1018 Alma St

Neighbor’s Corner

Living up to its moniker, this under-the-radar Eureka Valley coffee shop truly is a neighborhood spot, and it’s the details that send it over the top. The Japanese-inspired menu might include specialty Okinawan Kokuto lattes made with black sugar or sodas spiked with homemade plum syrup. That influence extends to the menu too, which includes ginormous tamago sandwiches, homemade mochi, and insane pastries from the husband-and-wife team behind Tarts de Feybesse

499 Douglass St

Hey Neighbor Cafe

The first thing to know about this Portola coffee house is that it’s co-owned by a tuxedo cat named Boots. Second, the cafe is connected to a lush community garden, providing a super chill and leafy backdrop for your caffeine intake. The menu is always interesting and fresh here, as Dee Derisse, the owner, collaborates with local bakers and chefs to bring customers delights such as ube bread slathered with cream cheese from Rize Up and warm pastrami and collard green sandwiches from Rozmary Kitchen.

2 Burrows St

bald man in a blue buttoned-down shirt and glasses handling a coffee machine

Henry’s House of Coffee

At this off-the-beaten-path Outer Sunset coffee shop, you can expect cozy, old-school vibes and cups of smooth and excellent dark coffee. Founder Henry Kalebjian learned coffee roasting from his father in Lebanon as a child and has been personally roasting and blending coffees six days a week ever since opening his cafe in 1965. His son Hrag Kalebjian left his corporate job a decade ago to help out and never looked back.

1618 Noriega St

Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

We have owner Trish Rothgeb to thank for the term “third-wave coffee” — essentially, high-quality cups elevated to the level of, say, fine wine. Her small Cow Hollow shop channels a minimalistic Scandinavian vibe, with a few chairs at the coffee bar and a long white bench along one wall. After working as a barista for 15 years in Berkeley, Rothgeb moved to Norway in the early aughts and perfected her roasting style: nuanced, light and delicious. At Wrecking Ball, the pour-overs are best in class.

2271 Union St

Andytown Coffee Roasters

This Outer Sunset coffee chain is most famous for a drink named after a plump, fuzzy shorebird. The Snowy Plover may look like an ice cream float, but combines San Pellegrino, brown-sugar syrup and two shots of espresso over ice. It’s finished with fresh whipped cream and served on a wooden tray. They always use double shots of home-roasted espresso here, and if you’re feeling like something else, Steep Tea and housemade baked treats are available. P.S. The gorgeous beachside location on the Great Highway is a perfect pit stop before hitting the waves.  

3655 Lawton St, 181 Fremont Street, 800 Great Hwy


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