SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Neighborhoods/Shopping+Restaurants
THE EMBARCADERO’s BEST
Alcatraz Cruises Pier 33.
Commonwealth Club 110 The Embarcadero. A San Francisco exclusive since 1903, the private non-profit Commonwealth Club was founded as a place where people could convene and learn new things. Interesting recordings of historic talks are found at the website. Well positioned next to Boulevard restaurant and just a block from the Ferry Building, It has been at this new location, which is well positioned next door to Boulevard restaurant and a block from the Ferry Building, the club has been at this new location since 2017. Constructed from the shell of the former historic building located here, the new clean-lined contemporary building has a glass façade in the front that faces the bay, while the historic part of the building remains in the back. Walls are insulated with used Levi’s jeans, and it meets LEED qualifications. All this and another claim to fame is that child actress and politician Shirley Temple Black was once a club president. The best of the best have spoken here, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 and including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown, Nancy Pelosi, and Bill Gates. Programs stress public affairs and current events, and non-members are welcome. For members, some programs are free, and some require a fee. About walking tours.
Embarcadero Center (click for information)
Exploratorium Pier 15.
Ferry Building Marketplace (click for information)
Boulevard 1 Mission St./Steuart St. Co-owned by chef Nancy Oakes and acclaimed local restaurant designer Pat Kuleto, this sumptuous restaurant offers a feast for both the palate and the eyes and has long been one of the most popular restaurants in town. Diners enter the gorgeous 1889 French-style building via a revolving door. The belle époque-style interior features stunning mosaic tiled floors as well as sensuous blown-glass light fixtures and pressed tin and ironwork accents. Some tables have three-landmark views--of the Ferry Building, Embarcadero Center, and the Bay Bridge. Large, serious forks foreshadow the exciting, full-flavored dishes to follow. One flawless meal here began with a Chinese-seasoned appetizer of two perfect prawns intertwined over a plump rock shrimp dumpling. The entree was a thick, honey-cured pork loin served with roasted potatoes and baby spinach. A pear tart with caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream provided a delightful finish.
Delancey Street Restaurant 600 The Embarcadero/Brannan St. The comfortable open room here lets in plenty of light and even a glimpse of the bay. Though that is enough to lure in plenty of diners, this special restaurant is also a training school of the Delancey Street Foundation--the country’s largest and most acclaimed self-help residential organization for former hard-core criminals. Completely self-supporting, it considers all tips as donations and all restaurant profits go directly to caring for the residents. Interestingly, no resident who has finished the 2-year training program has ever gone on to commit a serious crime. In this win-win atmosphere, it seems impossible to leave unsatisfied. Lunch is a particular bargain, with plenty of well-priced, well-executed sandwiches, a hot dog, a hamburger, and an assortment of heart-healthy items--including a Chocolate Decadence dessert that claims only 200 calories and 6 grams of fat. The menu changes daily and features international home-style dishes and also items reflecting the current residents’ backgrounds.
Fog City 1300 Battery St./The Embarcadero. Reservations advised. Glitzy with chrome and glowing with neon on the outside, this inviting diner offers a sleek Pat Kuleto-designed interior with an open kitchen and plenty of roomy booths hugging the window-lined perimeter. Because of its design and lonely location, it reminds me of that bleak painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (which the painter said was inspired by "a restaurant on New York's Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet"—is it coincidence that the F-car stop for this restaurant is Greenwich?), but it shakes that image with a happy roar once you’re inside. A long V-shaped bar with seating and a communal table fill the center. Menu items are designed to be shared. We started with tasty deviled eggs topped with crunchy quinoa and a sprinkling of tiny chopped chives, satisfying flash-fried blackened Brussels sprouts in citrusy ponzu sauce with chunks of crispy Asian pear, and oven roasted-yet-crunchy baby carrots in a bed of black garlic mole. Then we shared a delicate pink-fleshed trout filet served with flavorful Arbequina olives, fingerling potatoes, and the fish’s head!—all served attractively on an Alder-wood plank. Among the plentiful other main dishes are the kitchen’s signature whole chicken roasted in the wood oven and a good old American hamburger made special with a housemade bun and smoked tomato aioli. Bread, which is toasted in the oven and served with Straus butter, costs additional. Order up a cocktail—perhaps the margarita-like Paloma--and you’re ready to rock ‘n roll (however, there’s no jukebox in this former diner). Do save room for some Straus frozen custard—I had it with (OMG!) my own little pitcher of superb egg yolk caramel sauce, but plum sauce and dark chocolate sauce are also options—or perhaps a circular portion of apple pie flavored with chilis.
Hornblower Cruises Pier 3, Bay St./The Embarcadero. Reservations required. Diners at brunch are seated as they board, and the maitre d’ announces to each table when it is their turn to visit the bounteous buffet. Magnificent views of San Francisco and the bay are enjoyed as the boat goes out under the Golden Gate Bridge, past Sausalito and Angel Island, and beside Alcatraz. Live music plays in the background, and the Captain makes the rounds to greet everyone. After dining, there is time to tour the vessel. The dinner-dance cruise is more formal, with waiters serving four-course dinners, and they sometimes include spectacular fireworks viewing.
Special events are also often scheduled. Note that though highchairs and booster seats are not available, parents are welcome to bring aboard strollers with wheel locks, and children are given crayons and coloring books to keep them busy.
Il Fornaio 1265 Battery St./Greenwich St., in Levi's Plaza, near The Embarcadero. Diners have a choice of sitting inside beneath high ceilings at tables covered elegantly with white cloths or outside on a more casual patio at marble tables sheltered by a glass windbreak. Outside seating is prime in good weather and permits enjoying an adjacent park fountain that sounds like a rushing waterfall. Items on the traditional Italian menu lend themselves to sharing, and a salad, pasta, and main course making a generous meal for two. Several pizzas and risottos are also options. Breads and desserts are housemade.
La Mar 328 The Embarcadero/Washington St., at Pier 1½. Here, authentic Peruvian cuisine is the focus and small plates-sharing is the format. You’ll do well to order a selection of plates from the cebiches (Peru’s national dish of marinated seafood), causas (assorted kinds of potatoes, whipped and topped with something tasty), ensaladas (Peruvian-inspired salads), empanadas (delectable little pie turnovers with various fillings and dipping sauces), and anticuchos (traditional grilled skewers of fish or meat). Larger main courses and both vegetarian and gluten-free items are also available. My favorites are the complimentary “bread” course of fried plantain, sweet potato, and regular potato chips served with two dipping sauces, and anything that contains the big kernels of chewy Peruvian corn (the crispy-crusted crescent empanadas filled with a mashed sweet corn-cilantro mix are to-die for). A dessert trio is perfect if you can’t make up your mind, but the word is that the traditional picarones consisting of warm pumpkin and sweet potato fritters with spiced honey is a winner. A full bar serves an impressive selection of pisco cocktails (it is Peru’s national drink), and I can vouch for the punch packed by both the Pisco Sour and the tasty and beautiful passion fruit-based Maracuya Sour. A few Peruvian vintages are among the wine offerings, and beer and sake are also options. The best water view is available on the tent-enclosed dockside patio, but the vast interior room with its high ceiling, banquettes, attractive minimalist décor, and exhibition kitchen--you might get to see Executive Chef cutie Diego Oka in action--has its own charms.
One Market 1 Market St./Steuart St. Situated in a scenic corner of an attractive historic building dating from 1917, this popular restaurant has great bay views and an airy, substantial interior that is a delight to be in. Celebrity chef Bradley Ogden’s all-American menu includes crab cakes and barbecued oysters as appetizers. For entrees, the changing menu might offer tender Yankee pot roast with roasted turnips and potatoes, or succulent rosemary-roasted chicken breast with wild mushrooms and three kinds of garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert, expect old favorites—
a signature butterscotch pudding—and new takes on old favorites--strawberry shortcake with orange ice cream--plus stellar cookies and fruit sorbets. A special three-course lunch recently included a roasted pear salad with Pt. Reyes blue cheese and candied walnuts, grilled pink steelhead trout with Swiss chard, and toffee crunch cake. The minty Arnold Palmer drink here is particularly delicious and refreshing.
image courtesy of venue
Harbor Court Hotel 165 Steuart St./Mission St. 8 stories; 131 rooms. Evening wine; restaurant. Valet parking. This historic 1907 landmark building has an attractive vintage brick façade and offers some rooms with spectacular views of the bay and Treasure Island. Guests get discounted use of the YMCA full-service fitness center next door.
Hotel Griffon 155 Steuart St./Mission St. 5 stories; 62 rooms. Continental breakfast; restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. Among the guest rooms in this stylish boutique hotel are eight with expansive bay views plus five penthouse suites. All guest rooms feature whitewashed brick walls, high ceilings, and window seats. Guests have discounted access to a nearby fitness center with an indoor pool and hot tub.
Hotel Vitale 8 Mission St./The Embarcadero. 8 stories; 199 rooms. Fitness room; full-service spa. Restaurant; room service. Valet parking. According to owner Chip Conley, this luxury hotel is popular with “the post W, pre-Four Seasons crowd.” Designed to be modern, urbane, revitalizing, fresh, and nurturing, if it were a magazine it would be Dwell meets Real Simple. Building materials include luxurious natural stone and wood, and a particularly nice feature has the hallway lights shining down through a leaf-embossed Plexiglas cover that casts leafy shadows on the walls. Each room’s doorway holds a fragrant sprig of lavender, and the fog-colored room decor includes a puffy cloud-like bed. About half the rooms have a bay view, and seven suites feature 270-degree "infinity views." All have a flat screen TV. A free rooftop yoga class is scheduled each morning, and passes are provided to a nearby YMCA.
Americano Restaurant & Bar serves light Italian fare with a Northern California twist, offers a great bay view, and features a series of paintings depicting “American Dreamers” (all are friends of the chef).