The Best SF Waterfront Restaurants
photo credit: Waterbar
Being able to stare at large bodies of water is one of the biggest perks of living in San Francisco (right next to wearing only a "light jacket" in winter). At these restaurants, you can take advantage of that perk while also eating good things and (if you want) drinking four glasses of sparkling wine. Here are some great waterfront spots that are open with outdoor seating.
This Peruvian spot is a waterfront party. It looks like a classy teal and blue-colored hotel lobby set somewhere on Miami Beach, with two bar areas and a high-ceilinged dining room (and even more for private dining). The covered waterfront deck overlooking some piers is exactly where we want to drink never-ending pisco sours and fill up on tangy ceviche, sushi, grilled scallops over lentil tacu-tacu, and the fish-of-the-day with aji chimichurri. This small plate spot is always packed with tourists, locals popping in for the 3-5pm weekday Happy Hour, and people in town for some sort of convention, which certainly makes a night here buzzy.
Red’s Java House is an old shack on the Embarcadero overlooking the water that makes passable burgers and fries, and has a back patio that runs into the massive parking lot behind it. As individual parts, there’s nothing too mind-blowing about this historic hangout spot on Pier 30, but when it all comes together, and you’re drinking a cold beer while looking back up at the Bay Bridge, it’s a solid reminder about how great simple things can be.
This seafood place on the Embarcadero has huge bay views, a bit of a corporate atmosphere, and giant floor-to-ceiling fish tanks that might make you feel a bit like you’re dining in an aquarium. Which is why we go here with coworkers, important clients, or anytime we want to feel like a high-powered person over some very good fish. The menu changes daily, but you can always count on great oysters, ceviches, and roasted cod filets and swordfish steaks.
Pier 23 is a family-run bar and restaurant on the Embarcadero with good beer, stiff cocktails, and a menu of things like salads, tacos, and crab cakes. We usually skip the food when we’re here (this isn’t a place where you’ll say, “Hey, try this”), and instead use this spot as a ticket to waterfront drinking. Lots of umbrellas, tables, and plastic chairs fill the cozy but sun-lit outdoor area. Enjoy the views with a drink before moving on to the next spot.
Greens is a Marina institution that's been serving up entirely vegetarian dishes since 1979. The waterfront dining room in Fort Mason (with views of a harbor) has tons of natural light, huge windows, and colossal wood sculptures, all of which create a beautiful setting for long, leisurely meals consisting of vegan spring rolls, and pizza on cornmeal crusts. The food at the groundbreaking restaurant won't inspire songs, but it doesn't need to—a meal at Greens is an experience to have at least once.
The only thing better than throwing back raw and grilled oysters is doing so alongside an expansive body of water. Hog Island Oyster Co. is located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, and has a great waterfront patio to chill alongside half a dozen sweetwater oysters and think deeply about the circle of life. While you're there, get a bowl of clam chowder. It’s super creamy, and piled with whole clams and thick bacon chunks for a salty punch.
Atwater Tavern is where to go when you want to sit by the water near Oracle Park and get some sun before fulfilling your statistically challenging dream of catching a foul ball. It feels a little stranded on the pier (an open parking area is right in front of it), but there are some views of the bay, and plenty of patio space (including a rooftop deck). This casual spot has chicken sandwiches, salads, and flatbread pizzas you can order while you and your friends discuss how you think the season's going.
The waterfront bar on Pier 28 ½ is a favorite pre-Giants game hangout spot. It’s also the place to casually drop in for margaritas and beer or fuel up on burgers, BLTs, and fish tacos out on their patio before continuing a leisurely walk down the Embarcadero (or to the stadium). For bay views, grab a table on the side patio.
A meal at Scoma’s is one reason you’ll find us in the area mingling with tourists. The seafood restaurant is located on a quiet pier near Fisherman’s Wharf and is considered a San Francisco institution (or tourist trap if you're a glass-half-empty person), which you can tell just by stepping inside of it and noticing the dark wood paneling and brown leather swivel chairs. Their ode to the old-school extends to the food itself, too. There’s Crab Louie salad, cioppino, linguine con vongole, and other dishes that are executed with varying degrees of success. But you’re here for the roasted Dungeness crab—cracking into one of these is the best reason to wear a bib.
If you need to be reminded that you live in a place surrounded by water, head to Mission Rock Resort, a sprawling two-story restaurant and bar in Mission Bay. This lively spot takes reservations, but walk-ins are welcome. Find a spot on their ground-floor cafe if you want to avoid the wait. We always rely on Mission Rock Resort for the bay views, full bar, and solid (though kind of pricey) lunch and dinner burgers, sandwiches, seafood, and bar bites.
The Ramp is a bar and restaurant that also feels like a fun social gathering place. This Dogpatch spot overlooks the bay, and the patio is where to be to listen to live bands and DJs, or get down on salsa Saturdays. They also do weekend brunch, and have a pretty eclectic weekday menu of things like garlic noodles, shrimp pad thai, and BBQ ribs.