13 Places To Take Tourists That Won’t Make You Hate YourselfNot all touristy SF restaurants are horrible.
Having visitors in SF is fun. It’s your turn to play tour guide, show off the city’s many gorgeous parks, and answer, “Yes, really” when asked if you really climb these hills every day. The visit is also an opportunity to take them to your favorite restaurants in town. But you’ll likely have to compromise and go count sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf, or watch a cable car rotate like a chicken on a spit—and pay too much for mediocre food at some gimmicky tourist trap. Don’t let this be your fate, and head to one of these spots. They’ll make your non-local friend happy, and you, the local, happy too.
Sotto Mare perfectly toes the line between beloved local spot and haven for tourists who want cioppino that’s big enough to fall into. And since it’s smack in the middle of North Beach, you can avoid having to brave the hubbub of Pier 39. The rambunctious seafood spot goes hard with decor that’s sensory overload—think life-sized swordfish on the wall, ship wheels overhead, and a “Welcome To The Chaos" sign. Best of all, it has the same seafood pastas, chowders, and plastic bibs you’ll find at a waterside restaurant, minus the crowds in “I Heart SF” fleeces.
Standing in the long line for Golden Boy is a rite of passage, whether you’re the new kid in town, a longstanding local, or simply a fan of pizza. As is ordering one of their fluffy Sicilian focaccia squares with a crispy bottom. This North Beach institution (est. 1978) with its iconic red neon finger sign makes some of the thickest and cheapest slices in town, starting at $3.50. There are also only six kinds on the menu, but we zero in on the pepperoni or the meaty combo with sausage.
Tadich Grill is the longest continuously running restaurant in California (they opened way back in 1849), a fact that has single-handedly drawn in a mass of tourists ever since. But we like checking in on this SF classic in the Financial District, since a meal here is like stepping back in time (in the most delightful way). Martinis and servers in long white jackets are everywhere, and there's free sourdough on deck. This spot is ideal for a power lunch at the bar or dinner with people visiting from a place where the nearest sea creature lives four hours away by plane.
A meal at House of Prime Rib is a full-blown production. Meat is carved tableside out of giant metal carts. Salads are spun and dressed from as high up as servers can reach. The madness goes down in a space that’s saturated with red velvet and Renaissance fair energy. Even if you’ve lived here for 20 years, a feast at this Nob Hill institution is one to have at least once. Drink some sort of old-school cocktail, and order the baked potato, which is probably on every Bay Area cardiologist’s most-wanted list. It’s smothered in sour cream and bacon bits and is exactly what you want to be eating at this legendary establishment.
You go to The Buena Vista for Irish coffee. In fact, the caffeinated cocktail was reportedly first recreated in the United States at this century-old saloon near Ghirardelli Square in 1952. Which certainly makes it a hub for tourists. Go with it. The long wooden bar is the best seat to watch all the action. Bartenders in white lab coats line up glasses, plop in sugar cubes, and fill them up with coffee, whiskey, and whipped cream. Whether you actually enjoy guzzling down a glass will depend on how much you like sweet and creamy drinks, and/or just enjoy checking out San Francisco tourist traps that are also classic institutions.
Any time someone new comes to town, they want a Mission burrito. You should absolutely take them to get one, even if they didn’t ask (but you already knew that). La Taqueria’s rice-less behemoth is certainly the most famous—and worth braving the line. They’re a glorious ratio of pinto beans to perfectly charred, perfectly fatty carne asada, and melty cheese inside a 13-inch tortilla. And ask for the burrito “dorado” (crisped on the plancha) if you want to make your guest feel like they’re in on the local secret.
Scoma’s, the seafood restaurant on Pier 47 in Fisherman’s Wharf, is an ode to the old school. Translation: this time capsule is charming as hell, especially if you like your linguine con vongole, clam chowder, Crab Louie, and other dishes executed with varying degrees of success, delivered by someone in a white coat. This spot’s a tried and true throwback in the heart of tourist central that even locals should experience at least once, preferably over a strong Manhattan or a glass of wine and some oysters at the front bar. The waterfront views from there aren’t too bad either.
Whether you live here or not, the Ferry Building is unavoidable. Locals working at a nearby highrise stop in for quick pastries from Acme or lattes at Red Bay Coffee. Others head over to peruse organic vegetables at the farmers market and pick up those Heath ceramics that've been in their online cart for months. The waterfront landmark is also an excellent humble brag—you live in a really gorgeous place. Also check out Hog Island Oyster Bar for some of the best clam chowder in the city, Señor Sisig for a newborn-sized California burrito, and Peaches Patties for buttery, flavor-packed Jamaican patties.
Yes, The Rotunda is in the thick of Union Square, and, yes, it’s inside a fancy department store. So you’ll probably need to push past the trust fund babies getting their yearly supply of red bottoms. But we love this place nonetheless. There’s a gilded stained glass ceiling, nice views of downtown, and surprisingly decent food (the stacked lobster club is a hit). Your reward for braving the throngs of downtown tourists is free chicken broth and golden-brown pop overs with melty strawberry butter upon arrival.
Zuni Cafe is home to an iconic Jenga tower of french fries and some of the city’s finest chicken-themed art. And also, the roast chicken. The perfect specimen is the main reason you and that wealthy relative you’re with are at this local Market St. gem. And also, to feel sophisticated in their copper- and brick-filled space while at a long lunch or dinner of wine and some of the best oysters in the city.
You're going out to one of the many bars on Polk Street with your visitor, so chances are high that you'll need a refuel at some point. Bob's Donuts is the place to be. Open 24-hours, this donut spot is where to satisfy your pastry sweet tooth, whether it’s the hazy end of the evening or broad daylight. You can’t go wrong with the classic glazed or the syrupy maple—or really, just go for the apple fritter if you want something that'll last you for the many messy blocks ahead—it’s that big.
The first stop after picking your visitor up from SFO will likely be Tartine, the bakery that you, your dog sitter, and your neighbor’s cousin in Iowa has heard of. And while you’ll probably have to stand in a line for their famous sourdough and other standout baked goods, suitcase and all, you should oblige—this spot that got its start in the Mission (and has now expanded worldwide) is iconic. Ordering a chocolate croissant is non-negotiable, but also pay attention to their morning bun, a cinnamon sugar-covered behemoth that’ll be the most-talked about treat from the entire trip.
Posing for photos in front of Coit Tower takes energy, so hordes of tourists descend on the pastry-and-egg wonderland that is Mama’s On Washington Square. The solid homestyle breakfast and lunch staples coming out of this North Beach spot overlooking, you guessed it, Washington Square, are comforting with a capital C, as is the homey space—the walls are sun yellow, the awning out front is covered with hearts, and “I Love North Beach” prints hang overhead. Just order at the counter, find a seat, and let the eggy french toast, hearty omelettes, and free coffee refills come to you.