If you started walking in almost any direction in SF, you’re bound to hit one thing - a hill. But if you keep going, odds are you’ll hit water. We’re surrounded by water on three sides, which is why it’s no surprise that this city is full of excellent places to eat seafood. Whether you’re looking for a quick sushi fix, or phenomenal oysters for a special occasion, this guide has you covered. It’s the best places in San Francisco to go to when you’re in the mood for seafood.
Swan Oyster Depot
When we want to eat raw seafood, there’s nowhere we’d rather be than Swan Oyster Depot. Every oyster, crab, and crudo plate you’re served is simply prepared and incredible, and the people who run the place are so knowledgeable about shellfish that they could be Jeopardy champs on a crustacean-themed episode. The line is always down the block, but even if it were pouring out, we’d still wait for our turn to sit at this cash-only counter-service spot and spend all our money until we can’t eat anymore.
Even though they moved to this location on California St. in the 1960s, Tadich Grill is the oldest restaurant in the state. This place is old-school with a long, dark wood bar, and waiters who still wear white coats, and is the type of spot Roger Sterling from Mad Men might suggest for a business meeting. When we pop in here for lunch, we usually get a martini, and stick to their perfect crabcakes and clam chowder. At dinner, though, go for the massive bowl of cioppino, broiled sea bass, or the near-dinosauric petrale sole a la Newburg that’s stuffed with shellfish and vegetables and then covered in dairy and broiled.
Hog Island Oyster Bar
Long after we’ve left Earth behind and the elders are sharing stories of San Francisco around a campfire in space, they’ll tell the story of the seafood chowder at Hog Island Oyster Co. - it’s that good. This spot in the Ferry Building also has fantastic raw and grilled oysters that are worth waiting in the line outside.
At Hook Fish Co, you can get the fresh fish-of-the-day in taco, burrito, or sandwich form. The people at this Sunset spot are also super helpful and will steer you in the right direction if you can’t decide between salmon and flounder. Our favorites are the light fish and chips, and the burrito that’s simple and more like a wrap without a lot of rice and beans getting in the way of the fish.
The whole roasted Dungeness crab at Than Long is covered in a thick coat of salt and pepper that tastes great when you suck the meat out of the shell. The crab is heavily seasoned, tender, and sweet, and overall one of the best things to eat in the whole city. The only thing that rivals the crab at this spot in the Sunset is the garlic noodles. Get it with the crab to make a near-perfect meal.
There’s usually a wait at this sushi place in Russian Hill, but for the price, Elephant Sushi has some of the best quality nigiri and rolls you’ll find in SF. You can usually get in and out of this place for $30, and everything from the toro to the flaming sea bass roll they light on fire at your table is delicious - just watch your eyebrows when you order that one.
Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood Restaurant
When you have visitors who want a classic SF seafood experience, take them to Sotto Mare. The walls of this North Beach spot are covered in toy boats, wooden steering wheels, and other nautical memorabilia, and the bar is always full of people eating huge portions of Italian-American seafood dishes. Their cioppino is solid, but our favorite thing here is the linguine with seafood - get it with the cream sauce - that has shrimp, clams, squid, diver scallops, and mussels. It’s so big it could feed the entire 49ers defensive line. And if they have branzino as a special, order it - their pan-fried version with butter and capers is as old-school as it gets.
This place from the Saison people does quality food like their older sibling restaurant, but in a much more casual, affordable setting. While there are dishes like antelope tartare and an incredible radicchio salad with XO sauce, the majority of the menu is seafood. We like the big eye tuna starter with tomato jelly, and the whole roasted sole is the most perfectly cooked fish we’ve ever had.
Bar Crudo pulls double duty as both a great place to get seafood and a solid bar. We usually come here for the oysters and marinated mussels, as well as their incredible seafood chowder that’s full of shrimp, squid, different types of fish, mussels, and half the cast of Blue Planet II. Plus, they have a great Happy Hour from 5-6:30pm with $1.50 oysters, $5 beer, and $7 wine when you’re not trying to blow out your bank account. If you’re looking for a first-date spot on Divis, this is it.
Petit Crenn is the smaller offshoot of Atelier Crenn in Cow Hollow, and like the original restaurant, this place only serves seafood and vegetable dishes. The menu changes regularly but what you can expect from this seven-course, $105 tasting menu is near-perfect French preparations of things like roasted trout or squid ink boudin. Head here when you’re looking to celebrate an anniversary or impress someone on a special date.
We don’t usually go to Fisherman’s Wharf unless it means being physically dragged there by visitors, but if it means making a stop at Scoma’s, we’ll already be at a table waiting for our friends to arrive. This place looks like it was built in a 1960s houseboat, and serves up classics like clam chowder, crab cakes, and our favorite roasted Dungeness crab - getting to crack into one of these is the best reason to wear a bib. But even still, you’ll probably end up with butter and juices dripping down your arms. Go with it.
This small neighborhood restaurant in Noe Valley isn’t just one of the best places to get seafood in SF, it’s one of the best Italian restaurants, too. By the time you’re done with the baby octopus stew, you’ll want to wipe the bowl clean with bread so you don’t leave any of the tomato broth behind. Our favorite thing, though, is the Sardinian macaroni with sauce that’s made from tomatoes blended with sea urchin - it’s creamy and airy and light (and tastes like the ocean). If the Genie from Aladdin offered us three wishes while we were eating it, we’d tell him we already have everything we want.
The mounted marlin and model boats around the dining room at Woodhouse makes this place feel like they’re gunning for Red Lobster, but it’s still a good stop for a casual weeknight dinner when you’re in the mood for seafood. We like the clam roll, crab cakes, and fish tacos, but if we’re feeling like a super high-roller, the $40-lobster roll is fantastic.
This place on the Embarcadero has huge bay views and giant floor-to-ceiling fish tanks that make it feel more like an aquarium with table service than a restaurant, and when you have clients you want to impress, it’s hard to beat this spot. The menu changes up nightly based on what’s in season, but you can always phenomenal oysters, ceviches, and roasted fish like cod filets and swordfish steaks.
Leo's Oyster Bar
Leo’s Oyster Bar is one of our favorite places in the Financial District to head to after work, or for a third date. With its checkered floor, bamboo chairs, and floral wallpaper, this spot is a throwback to 1950s nightclubs, and coming here reminds us how much fun and luxurious eating oysters can be. They have a two-tier tower of oysters, shrimp cocktail, and snow crab claws, and we love their version of deviled eggs with fried oysters on top. If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial, the lobster roll is great.
A lot of omakase places cost over a hundred dollars, and - if you don’t have the confidence of a cyclist on Van Ness Ave. - the experience can be intimidating. We love Oma San Francisco Station because it’s an affordable, casual way to dive into the world of omakase. The least expensive menu at this eight-seat counter restaurant in the middle of the Japan Center mall is $30, which gets you five pieces of nigiri, a handroll, and smokey bone marrow soup that’s all high-quality and delicious.