Category Archives: bars

A Brief Neighborhood Guide to San Francisco: The Upper Haight

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. As a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses mentioned may close with no warning.)

Besides its location as the gateway to the treasures of Golden Gate Park, the Upper Haight is just a fun place to hang out and explore, a daily carnival that packs a lot into its seven commercial blocks. (Is there a better/livelier neighborhood event than the annual Haight Ashbury Street Fair?) It’s famous cross street (Haight-Ashbury) has been

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A brief neighborhood guide to San Francisco: the Mission

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. As a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses mentioned may close with no warning.)

The Mission Just south of downtown, the culturally rich Mission is the epicenter of all that’s hip and happening in San Francisco these days. Not surprisingly, its demographic skews young, or young at heart – a youthful presence that began growing sometime in the 1980s (especially on Valencia) alongside what was, and still is, the city’s Mexican and Central American community.

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A brief neighborhood guide to San Francisco: Chinatown

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. Also, as a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses I talk about in the guides may close shop with little warning.)

Chinatown The most iconic neighborhood in San Francisco is also the oldest Chinatown in North America (est. 1848) and largest outside Asia. When I used to visit San Francisco during my time away, I would stay at the SF Plaza, a basic old hotel on the corner of Bush and Grant. It’s right next to the Dragon’s Gate at the entrance of Chinatown, and it was fantastic, grabbing a morning coffee at Café de la Presse then wandering

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A brief neighborhood guide to San Francisco: North Beach

(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. Also, as a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses I talk about in the guides may close shop with little warning.)

North Beach Like the perfect picture postcard of San Francisco, there’s no mistaking what city you’re in on a stroll through North Beach, and why it’s so popular with visitors. Another reason: its supreme walkability, one of the best in the city (despite four lanes of Columbus Ave); there’s something interesting at every turn. It’s also the most traditional and

established of San Francisco’s neighborhoods – residents have lived here for decades and Italian families for generations – and with the richest history. From the Barbary Coast to the beats, jazz to punk rock, the North Beach scene was instrumental in all of those eras. It’s also home to the first club in the U.S. to go topless (The Condor). Back then, if you were young and hip and seeking excitement, you went to North Beach. Yes, these days it’s a tourist magnet, but it’s not ‘touristy’, and anyway the tourists bring some bustle, and stay mostly to Columbus Ave and the Italian eateries along it. Venture off the main drag and things quiet down a bit, and that’s where you’ll find some of the quirkiest shops in the city, especially along Grant Ave. (or could until recently). The family-run coffee shops and cafés might not be hipster favorites, but there’s no better place to nurse a cappuccino and watch the city pass by. Caffe Trieste is not only filled with characters – on both sides of the counter – it’s the OG of west coast coffeehouses, while Caffe Greco would be my daytime home if I lived anywhere near the area. The same holds for some of the city’s best and most colorful old-school bars, like Vesuvio’s, Mr. Bing’s and The Saloon (the city’s oldest bar and best for live blues). And while restaurants along Columbus are often dismissed as tourists traps, they can be a fun and truly Italian experience (e.g. playful banter with the maître d’). You’ll find the city’s best old-school Italian eateries in North Beach, and the best pizza (Capo’s and Tony’s). Washington Square (state’s oldest park), Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, Saints Peter and Paul Church, City Lights bookstore, exquisite architecture (the Malloch Building), fantastic views, North Beach has a lot to offer and tops my list as the best neighborhood to visit.

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Weekend getaway: Santa Cruz

For someone who’s never been to California, the city of Santa Cruz is most likely what they imagine. Endless sunshine, miles of sandy coastline, surfers, hippies, old VW vans, legal weed, grungies and skateboard/street punks. More than any other Bay Area city or exurb, Santa Cruz embodies that classic California vibe – something like chilled-out surfer or stoned-out hippie – but mostly a contented attitude that comes when living within biking distance of the ocean is all that matters. It’s a beach town first, college town second, with blue-collar roots and hippie/yoga aspirations, the kind of place Cheech and Chong might retire to, or Jeff Spicoli would flunk out of if he ever got in.

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Merle Haggard’s beautiful little ode to San Francisco

When people think of Merle Haggard, they might think of old-school country, outlaw honkytonk, Bakersfield, Willie and Waylon, whiskey-soaked grizzled old country dude. They also might think of the song he’s most famous for, Okie from Muskogee, a paean to traditional conservative values and a sort of anti-anti-war anthem that small town country fans rallied around, and still do.

He also references San Francisco by name, derisively so, in a stanza that goes thus:

We don’t make a party out of lovin’;
We like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo;
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

I’m not sure what “pitchin’ woo” is, but you get the idea. The song became popular because of this critique of the hippie, leftwing, anti-war movement sweeping across the US at the time of its release in 1969, of which San Francisco was the cultural capital. But to imagine Merle as some reactionary, proto-Bill O’Reilly type is off the mark. He was a complicated man. I mean, the reefer-loving Haggard (he and Willie were buds after all) also included the line “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” in the same song.

But more than anything, Merle Haggard was a Californian, as in the entirety of the state. Brian Wilson was a Southern coastal middle-class suburban Californian, and Jerry Garcia was a Bay Area working-folk Californian. Merle Haggard was the rest of California, and all of it, born and bred by Okie transplants in hard-toiling central valley Bakersfield, and spending time in the rest of the state throughout his life, from Lake Shasta to his stint in San Quentin, his circle including the big cities as well. He knew San Francisco and SoCal more than people like Wilson and Garcia knew places like Bakersfield.

Which is why it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he penned one of the loveliest songs ever about San Francisco (this side of that Tony Bennett song). It’s such a sweet, heartfelt, wistful tune, made all the more poignant by the man behind the mic, and it even includes a mariachi-esque instrumental in the middle.

Here are the words:

Return To San Francisco

Should we ever lose each other somewhere along the way
Return to San Francisco, I’ll be somewhere by the bay
Climb the bridge, just comb beaches, ride the trolley cars again

Roam the hillsides of the city, count the seagulls in the wind

But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory

But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory

Boulder Creek and the best little brewpub in the Bay Area

Boulder Creek

I have a friend who’s up and moving to Boulder Creek at the end of the month, which inspired me to finally make a visit to the town this past weekend. If you don’t know, Boulder Creek is in the Santa Cruz Mountains along Hwy 9 about 15 miles north of Santa Cruz, or 22 miles south of Saratoga. It’s definitely out of the way, which is part of the appeal. There’s no easy way to get there, unless you’re a crow, but probably the easiest is to drive south on Hwy 17 and cut through Scotts Valley. (Tip: If it’s a sunny weekend day, expect lots of traffic heading to Santa Cruz beaches). You’ll pass through other small towns after turning north from Scotts Valley, from Felton to Ben Lomond to Brookdale, before hitting Boulder Creek, all old logging towns from the late 1800s. Mostly you’re driving through redwood forest, with houses spotted here and there off in the trees. Continue reading Boulder Creek and the best little brewpub in the Bay Area

8 reasons to get reaquainted with Sausalito (hint: it’s all about the food)

Sausalito is such a lovely town. Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or take a ferry from San Francisco, stroll along its waterfront, check out the shops, have lunch at Scoma’s or grab a burger and fries at Hamburgers, maybe an ice cream at Lappert’s or a drink at No Name bar, and you’ve had yourself a pretty darn good day. But venture off the well-traveled tourist path of downtown, and you’ll find some of the best of what Sausalito, and Marin County, has to offer. Continue reading 8 reasons to get reaquainted with Sausalito (hint: it’s all about the food)

The wonderful world of Pescadero: it’s a small town after all

I used to think of Pescadero as an overlooked gem. Not so much anymore, what with all the cars lining the main (and only) street on weekends. But this charming village of 643 human souls 15 miles south of Half Moon Bay and two miles east of Hwy 1 takes some effort to get to, whether driving south from the city or over the Santa Cruz mountains from the Peninsula, so it’s not a place to simply ‘drop by’. Which I suppose keeps it from being overrun by tourists. Continue reading The wonderful world of Pescadero: it’s a small town after all

Best wine bars of the Bay Area

If I get together with my friend in his crappy apartment kitchen, we drink beer. If I’m on another friend’s patio watching the sunset as the lights of the city come up, we drink wine. Beer is like a comfortable old sweatshirt that’s been washed a hundred times. Wine is like a velvet dinner jacket that fits you to a tee. Beer is your favorite football team on TV. Wine is a Monet exhibit at the museum.

This is a long way of saying that when judging wine bars, the setting can be just as important as the vintage on offer. Continue reading Best wine bars of the Bay Area