South of Market’s (SOMA’s) best
Referred to by old-timers as “South of the Slot,” signifying its location south of the streetcar tracks on Market Street, this colorful area was city center in the mid-1800s. This still-evolving area is filled with museums, art galleries, hip bars and clubs, and upscale hotels. Moscone Convention Center is also here on Howard Street between 3rd and 4th streets.
South of Market attractions
201 9th St./Howard St. Reservations advised.
This place seems to have everything going for it: good food, great entertainment, central location, easy parking, reasonable prices. All the waitresses here are actually men who dress as women. These “gender illusionists” also perform hourly–dancing and lip-synching atop a 40-foot-long runway on the red bar. This means everyone gets to see almost everything. Any wait to get in can be spent in a dance club downstairs, which offers more diversion at no additional admission charge. And though the show is the main draw, the East-West fusion food is tasty. Appetizers include chicken satay, Dungeness crab cakes, and a refreshing Thai shrimp salad, and scallops and filet mignon are among the entrees. Mixed drinks are colorful and fun—think Trina’s Pussycat made with Malibu Coconut Rum and Chambord or a Blue Margarita–and include some sake cocktails and a few non-alcoholic specials. For dessert, the tray of yummy miniature ice cream cones is the way to go. Lights are low, spirits are high, and wardrobe malfunctions and debauchery between shows is part of the experience.
Metreon 101 4th St./Mission St.
Originally built by Sony, this 4-story urban entertainment complex has a futuristic-style interior. It holds a movie theater with 15 screens–including an IMAX theater that is the largest west of the Mississippi and that also shows 3-D specials and screens feature films.
781 Mission St.
Fast and casual, this link in the L.A. chain offers cafeteria-style service. More description and images.
Serves traditional Japanese fare. More description and images.
783 Mission St.
Tasty, well-priced fast food. More description and images.
Stretches along Mission Street from Beal Street to Second Street, crossing Frist and Fremont Streets.
gondola entrance: 425 Mission St./Fremont St.
elevator entrances: several are found along Mission St.
Salesforce Park is 4 blocks long and covers 5.4 acres. Basically a botanical garden, this urban oasis holds 16,000 plants and 600 trees, and it has plenty of inviting expansive green lawns. More description and images.
San Francisco Giants
Oracle Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, King St./3rd St., Mission Bay. Fee.
Located on the city’s scenic waterfront, this new ballpark for the National League’s San Francisco Giants was designed to be a state-of-the-art old-fashioned ballpark. It features unobstructed views from every seat and plenty of restrooms. A unique public promenade parallels the waterfront from right field to center field, and fans can watch the game through portholes in the fence there at no charge. Tours are available.
South Park Ave./2nd St.
Founded in 1857, when it was surrounded by stylish brick homes that eventually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, this tiny oval park is the oldest public park in San Francisco. Now it is particularly popular as a lunch spot with tech workers in the area. It was recently renovated and features a large grassy area, picnic tables, and a contemporary children’s playground with a net swing, a serpentine climbing structure, and a butterfly garden. Jack London Alley is named for the author, who was born nearby at Third and Brannan streets.
St. Patrick Catholic Church
756 Mission St./4th St.
Located amid contemporary boxy highrises, this landmark 1851 gothic revival red-brick church is the oldest continually operated Catholic church in San Francisco. Its biggest bronze bell—which weighs over a ton–rings out the hour daily, and the ten smaller bells chime in before Mass on Sundays and religious holidays. Free half-hour chamber music Noontime Concerts are scheduled on Wednesdays.
Yerba Buena Gardens
Mission St./4th St., South of Market. Free.
Situated atop the Moscone Convention Center, this complex holds a variety of attractions designed for the education and recreation of young people. It also features an outdoor stage, two cafes, a butterfly garden, a redwood grove, public sculptures, and a 50-foot waterfall with a multi-language memorial to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen along a pathway behind it. Expansive lawns, fountains, a maze and play circle, and robotic sculpture invite open-air relaxation.
●Ice Skating & Bowling Center
750 Folsom St. Fee.
Year-round ice skating, and twelve lanes of bowling.
●Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission St./3rd St. Fee.
This innovative contemporary arts center presents art shows and live entertainment emphasizing the diverse artists and communities of the region. The idea is to teach about the urban environment and display art for social change. The center has two large galleries on the first floor and another smaller one on the second floor. More description and images.
South of Market museums
American Bookbinders Museum
355 Clementina St./5th St. Fee.
Located on a narrow street that you would unlikely ever see without intent, this new museum has an interesting collection of fully-functioning 18th- and 19th-century bookbinding equipment. More description and images.
Children’s Creativity Museum
221 4th St./Howard St., at Yerba Buena Gardens. Fee.
The entire family can explore creativity and innovation through the arts and media at this high-tech museum. Creating videos, viewing performances in a state-of-the-art theater, and learning about animation as art are all part of the program. A playground with a giant slide provides outside fun.
A beautifully restored 1906 Looff carousel at the entrance formerly made rounds at the defunct Playland-at-the-Beach. It boasts 65 heavily jeweled, hand-carved animals–including camels, rams, giraffes, and a rare gray horse whose mouth is carved with closed lips–and now twirls inside a glass pavilion.
California Historical Society museum
678 Mission St./3rd St. Fee.
Founded in 1871, this society has a collection of artifacts documenting California’s history from the 16th century through the present. That adds up to more than 500,000 photographs and 150,000 manuscripts, as well as thousands of books, maps, paintings, and ephemera. Among the gems in this small museum housed within the former Hundley Hardware Building are Emperor Norton’s cane and a stereoscope–the precursor to today’s 3-D films.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St./3rd St. Fee.
Retaining the original brick façade and some interior catwalks and trusses from the historic 1907 PG&E Jessie Street Power Substation building, this brand new museum has a very modern angular interior. Designed to explore Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas, the structure is filled with symbolism–for instance, the auditorium design is based on a map of Jerusalem. The museum has no permanent collection. A free cell phone tour is available, and a Family tour and drop-in art program occur each Sunday.
●Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen serves up Jewish classics and sandwiches. Meat is prepared in house and stacked high in the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, and each includes a heaping side of delicious potato salad or coleslaw and some pickle spears. Rye bread, challah, and babka are baked fresh. It’s counter service here, and tables do fill up. Museum admission is not required.
Museum of the African Diaspora
685 Mission St./3rd St. Free.
This museum celebrates the global influence of the African Diaspora on art and culture. (“Diaspora” refers to the settling of native Africans far from their ancestral homelands.) One particularly intriguing permanent exhibit depicts human adornment a la Michael Jackson’s famous face-morphing “Black or White” music video.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Two entrances: 151 3rd St. & off Howard St.
Located within a striking contemporary 5-story building designed by Mario Botta of Lugano, Switzerland, and closed for the past 3 years to complete a 10-story expansion by architect Snohetta that triples the gallery space, SFMOMA originally opened at another location in 1935. It was the first museum in the West devoted entirely to 20th-century art. Its collection is the world’s largest of contributed art and includes abstract art, photography (now the largest such gallery in the U.S.), and the work of acclaimed contemporary artists. Accesss to the first two floors is free. The most efficient way to see everything is to take the elevator to the 7th floor and work down. The new wing embraces an environmentally-friendly design that includes a self-watering vertical wall bearing green plants and a façade of rippling panels. Many outdoor spaces display sculpture and offer city views. Several different free tours are scheduled daily and greatly enhance a visit. And don’t miss visiting several of the colorful restrooms, which according to the designers are “works of art unto themselves . . . and look for the green flash after exiting the red restroom on the second floor, a classic example of after-image using complementary colors.” More description and images.
The museum gift shop purveys an array of exceptional merchandise and has a particularly noteworthy section for children. Adjacent to the previous rooftop sculpture garden casual Cafe 5 offers a lunch menu including organic salads, open-face sandwiches, and light snacks, and Sightglass at SFMOMA serves up coffee and pastries. On Collaboration: SFMOMA and Adobe Rethink the Selfie–a free selfie interactive photo booth–is set up here.
South of Market restaurants
The Grove–Yerba Buena
690 Mission St./3rd St.
In the rustic dining room here, a grove of real tree trunks is placed through the huge open space and threaded with colorful tiny lights. The ceiling is high, and an upstairs provides more seating, some of which overlooks the restaurant below providing a treetop view. Additional seating is provided outside in front. The menu is extensive, but you’ll probably be waiting in line for a while and have time to leisurely peruse it then. Once your order is taken, you’re given a number and so can then secure a table. You’ll need to fetch your own water and condiments. Breakfast is served all day. Food is decent but basically uninspired. My eggs Benedict was arranged on the plate in a sloppy manner, and the hash browns were terrible–stale, hard, and too salty (order the salad instead). But I’ll be back for the pleasant ambiance and another cafe mocha, and next time I plan to try the well-reputed chicken pot pie.
140 New Montgomery St./Minna St.
Located inside the stately and historic 1925 Pacific Bell Telephone Building, this restaurant features a stunning interior design that includes a curtain of silver bead threads defining the coat closet at the check-in desk and an efficient unisex restroom with gorgeous fresh flowers. A floor to ceiling sculpture crafted from the cross section of a century-old tree trunk greets diners at the entry. The restaurant’s high ceilings give it an open and airy feeling while the look is modern and sleek adorned with explosive firework-styled chandeliers. Many patrons opt for a seat at the long bar, dining on small plates and cocktails. The spacious dining room is lined with comfy booths, and quieter seating is available on the second floor–which also holds an impressive glass-enclosed wine cellar. The sophisticated Moroccan dishes are served family style and include an exceptional roast chicken with sides and sauces. Eggplant and bean puree with warm flatbread is a great starter, and couscous with garbanzos, honey, saffron, lemon, harissa, and brown butter is a delicious vegetarian main.
Samovar Restaurant & Tea Lounge
730 Howard St./3rd St., Upper Terrace of Yerba Buena Gardens. Try the housemade Masala chai here, or maybe one of the cultural tea services. More description and images.
342 Howard St./Fremont St.
Sitting in the wide-open, high-ceilinged main dining room here is the best, but when the place is jammin’, a communal table near the bar is a good alternative to a long wait. The historic brick building it is within is the former Marine Electric warehouse, built just after the 1906 quake. Floors are stained the color of dark chocolate, and handmade wooden tables and chairs plus original brick walls add to the inviting mood. Starter specialties include seafood chowder with housemade sourdough crackers, and steamed mussels in Old Bay tomato broth. Should scrumptious wild mushroom lasagna be among the choices on the ever-changing, mostly American menu, don’t hesitate––. Desserts are homey and special—warm pineapple upside down cake, pear-and-sour cherry crisp, butterscotch pot de crème—and the hot chocolate made with Parisian cocoa is like velvet.
South of Market hotels
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
757 Market St./3rd St. 12 stories; 277 rooms. Fitness room; full-service spa. Restaurant; room service. Valet parking.
Occupying the first 12 floors of a 40-story building, this sleek property features a muted decor and displays a collection of contemporary art by mostly California artists. South-facing rooms have views over the city and bay. Bathrooms are spacious, with a deep soaking tub and Italian marble vanities, and beds are made with down duvets and pillows. Kids get pint-sized bathrobes, and guests have complimentary access to the building’s ultra trendy The Sports Club/LA fitness center and day spa.
12 Fourth St./Market St. 196 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. Valet parking.
Featuring a sophisticated interior design, this well-located hotel operates on the 5th through 9th floors of a completely refurbished 1907 landmark building. Original modern art is sprinkled throughout. In Spanish, its name means “where the dove comes to rest,” and a quiet retreat is what is offered the weary traveler.
55 Fifth St. 116 rooms. Fitness room; restaurant.
Situated within a completely renovated century–old, neoclassic-style building dating from 1913, this hotel features a dramatic curved staircase leading to the mezzanine level and a 2-story fitness center. Room decor is modern Italian, and each room has its own Nintendo.
The S&R Lounge lobby bar—which stands for salvage and rescue—is an elegant and inviting spot to relax. The Cavalier restaurant is modeled after a British brasserie. Game heads decorate the wall of the high-ceilinged front bar, and posh banquettes invite relaxing in the back restaurant. Even farther back is a hidden speakeasy with its bathroom decorated to look like the cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” album, but getting into that room is another story. Appetizers include a sweet little Quail Egg Mayonnaise, a tasty Hen Egg Hollandaise with ham and cheese soldiers, the Duck Duck Scotch Egg with a colorful and tasty cherry chutney, and, straying from the egg theme, which I adored, addictive Crispy Brussels Chips, which I also adored. At lunch the Spicy Crab and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches are a refined treat, but the Wild Mushroom Pie is a tasty option and the fat “Marlowe” Burger with cheddar and bacon is a sure thing. Tea service brings on a proper cuppa served in a sweet blue individual tea pot, and desserts are the likes of sticky toffee pudding, peach crumble, and steamed pudding. Teas are Samovar, coffee is Stumptown, and cocktails, wines, and beers, but of course, are available, too.
2 New Montgomery St./Market St. 8 stories; 556 rooms. Indoor pool; hot tub; fitness room. 3 restaurants; room service. Valet parking.
When this grande dame hotel was established in 1875, it was the largest and most luxurious in the world. It also was the first hotel in the world with electrical lighting and the first to install an elevator, known then as a “rising room.” Though that original hotel burned to the ground after the 1906 earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1909 as the present structure. A dubious claim to fame from its past is the fact that President Warren G. Harding was staying here in the Presidential Suite when he died in 1923. Nowadays anyone with $7,200 can stay in the Presidential Suite, and the list of those who have includes Sophia Loren and Whoopi Goldberg. This landmark hotel spreads over an entire city block, and its Beaux Arts exterior features wrought iron filigree work and gold leaf embellishment. Guest rooms have a contemporary style and beds with white duvets, but the interior maintains much of its vintage charm. Hotel historic tours are available on Saturdays to guests only.
One of the most elegant public rooms is the Garden Court. Filled with tall marble columns and Austrian crystal chandeliers, its most glorious feature is a 70,000-plus-pane stained-glass dome said to be worth more than $7 million; and it is the only room on the National Register of Historic Places. Meals are served here, and since Green Goddess dressing was first created at this hotel, do try it on the Palace crab salad. A Signature Afternoon tea is served here (Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.; $68). It is an elegant but updated affair (no chintz or tablecloths here), with fussy finger sandwiches (the Black Forest ham on focaccia includes artisan cheese and lavender mustard aïoli), rose petal jam, and a classical harpist providing background ambiance. Cream puffs and scones arrive perched on a contemporary-style, two-tiered elliptical tray and include the essential Devonshire cream and lemon curd. And nowadays after feasting, many choose to whip out their cell phones rather than linger over tea. A special Prince and Princess Tea welcomes children 10 and under with a crown or scepter and includes kid-friendly hot chocolate and peanut butter & jelly finger sandwiches.
The Pied Piper Bar and Lounge is famous for the Maxfield Parrish “Pied Piper of Hamelin” painting, which was commissioned in 1909 and hangs behind the bar–dominating the room. More description and images.
San Francisco Marriott Marquis
55 Fourth St./Mission St. 39 stories; 1,500 rooms. Indoor pool & hot tub; sauna; steam room; fitness room. 2 restaurants; room service. No pets. Valet parking.
Referred to by locals as the “Jukebox Marriott” in recognition of its distinctive architectural design, this well-positioned mega hotel is the second-largest in San Francisco. It opened at 9 a.m. on October 17, 1989 and closed at 5:04 p.m. the same day, just after the strongest earthquake since 1906 hit this city. Fortunately, it sustained only cosmetic damage. Most rooms have a sweeping view of the city, and a panoramic view is available from the 39th-floor The View Lounge.
W San Francisco 181 3rd St./Howard St. 31 stories; 410 rooms. Indoor lap pool & hot tub; fitness room; full-service spa. 1 restaurant; room service. Valet parking. Situated next door to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this sleek and stylish hotel greets guests with a 3-story-high octagonal lobby that buzzes with activity most evenings. Rooms feature stunning city views and fluffy down duvets.
Super sleek Trace restaurant. features a wide open, yet cozy, dining room, with several ¾-circular booths providing very private seating.
(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)