The Best Afternoon Tea In SF
photo credit: Maison Danel
Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition and a fun way of getting in some caffeine and sugar. Surprisingly, or not (if you use essence of bergamot as perfume), there are great places in the city where you can achieve your afternoon pu’er fix. Whether you’re looking to dress up and spend $300 on a royal-worthy high tea experience, enjoy some genmaicha in Golden Gate Park, or catch up with a few friends over itty-bitty sandwiches and baked things, this guide is for you.
photo credit: Lovejoy's Tea Room
Since the early ‘90s, Lovejoy’s has been serving Noe Valley relaxed afternoon tea in a parlor that looks like it belongs in an East Midlands cottage. Union Jacks cover the walls, mismatched furniture and china are plentiful, and tea-related knickknacks fill the wooden shelves. The tea (which you can order a la carte or with a fixed set of scones, crumpets, and sandwiches for $39) is bottomless, and comes in giant tea kettles that you’ll want to take for your ever-growing home collection. While the sandwiches and scones are nothing special, you’re really here to grab a felted crown from the crate in the corner and pretend you’re English royalty on a country vacation. Although not required, reservations will ensure a spot during their busiest tea-sipping hours (early afternoon on Saturday and Sunday).
photo credit: Julia Chen
When you want to impersonate a socialite and eat tiny desserts under a mesmerizing stained glass ceiling, the road leads to The Rotunda. The American restaurant on the 4th floor of Neiman Marcus is where to dress up, fantasize about zero responsibilities, and devour scones, sandwiches, and miniature cheesecake like you have endless cash flow. Their daily afternoon tea is the best value in the city: four generously portioned sandwiches, two scones, and five desserts for $54 per person, including complimentary chicken broth and a fluffy popover. Also be ready to take a bajillion pictures of everything, including yourself against Union Square views.
photo credit: Maison Danel
The swanky French tea room and patisserie in Lower Nob Hill smells like a croissant-scented air freshener at all times. Prepare to consume infinite sticks of butter. Or more realistically, a decadent ham and cheese croissant that’s warm and melty. Tea time under ornate chandeliers ($70 per person, and $295 for two with caviar service) involves a higher ratio of sweet to savory, so you’ll have a great time at Maison Danel if you bug out at the phrase “flaky, buttery pastry.” Miniature cakes, delicate macarons, chocolate twists (and those croissants) are stacked on tiered towers. They also have an abridged kids afternoon tea option ($38) with hot chocolate.
photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez
At first glance, Sip Tea Room in the Sunset looks like a cafe. But you’ll soon realize you’re at a casual but not over-the-top afternoon tea experience as soon as the finger sandwiches, black and green teas, and sausage rolls arrive. The rotating selection of freshly made scones is what sets this place apart. Warm to the touch, soft, and just the right amount of sweet, they pair perfectly with the tart strawberry jam, bright lemon curd, and thick clotted cream. To get the full experience ($49 for sausage rolls, sandwiches, scones, fruit, and tiny pastries), book a reservation at least 24-hours in advance, but walk-ins can always order the “lighter-fare” menu (sans fruit and pastries for around $25).
photo credit: Lani Conway
If you’re just visiting SF, you’re shelling out $16 just to get into the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park (FYI—residents don’t pay). But locals know that plant and tea therapy is the best therapy, so just get here. Head straight to the small wooden structure near the entrance and order a hot hojicha tea, paired with perfectly soft green tea mochi before making your way to a bar stool overlooking the pond (the best seats in the house). There are also serviceable but not great snacks, like simple udon bowls and chicken karaage (that aren’t crispy and taste a bit like a reheated-in-the-microwave situation). So, stick to the tea, and reflect on life goals like how to make money and not work, before strolling around the zen garden.