San Francisco Dining in Three Great Days


San Francisco's fine dining institutions may not generate as many postcards as the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz, but they are just as much of an attraction.

Here's where to eat the next time you have three days to spend in the city by the bay.

Day One
Friday, 5 p.m.
Honking horns and fast-paced businessmen fill the streets of San Francisco's Financial District, where the Mandarin Oriental occupies the top 11 floors of a downtown high-rise. A speedy elevator opens to a glass sky bridge interconnecting the various wings of the hotel with spectacular views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Light woods and brassy accents are still prevalent in the hotel's updated guest rooms, but with tea waiting on the settee and one of the best city views in the world.

Friday, 7 p.m.
Take a cab to the Epic Roasthouse, located along the newly upgraded Rincon Park on the Embarcadero waterfront.

Its upstairs Quiver Lounge offers a Friday happy hour that's one of the liveliest in the area, fluctuating between a swanky interior martini lounge and heated patio area packed hip-to-hip with dapper businessmen and media gals.

Limit yourself to two drinks before heading back to the Mandarin Oriental; you'll want to be aptly hungry for the culinary feast that comes later.

Friday, 10 p.m.
The flow of passersby downtown has slowed to a trickle as newspapers blow by and the occasional shopping cart clinks down the street.

The hotel's complimentary sedan service chauffeurs you across the bay to Berkeley's acclaimed Chez Panisse by Alice Waters. The main floor restaurant and more casual upstairs café offer impeccable cuisine derived from organic, locally grown vegetables and fruits normally picked within hours of eating.

Day Two
Saturday, 7 a.m.
Instead of utilizing the in-house gym of 3.0 treadmill hogs, you hit the Equinox located catty-corner to the hotel. The former home of the Pacific Stock Exchange, the Beaux-Arts building features a chiseled set of bay area residents getting their fitness on in the three-level structure complete with yoga studio and lap pool.

Saturday, 11 a.m.
Wearing your cutest jogging shoes, lace-up and head toward the Ferry Building Marketplace, located along the San Francisco Bay at the end of Market Street. It's a gourmet food hall of high-end eateries and boutique grocers. Saturday morning features a local farmer's market of organic growers and artesian food vendors.

After browsing the outdoor stalls, head inside to Boulette's Larder, one of the greatest counter-style gourmet cafés in the United States.

Saturday, 2 p.m.
Galleries and grazing. Make your way out of the Embarcadero District and toward Union Square to 49 Geary. A series of individual art galleries and photography boutiques feature one of the area's largest collections of local artists assembled in a mid-century high-rise.

Stop into the Wirtz Gallery for the latest works by Ulrike Palmbach and Melanie Pullern before strolling up to Post Street and Hespe Gallery with its collection of works by Berkley's Marianne Kolb.

Saturday, 5 p.m.
Grab a cab and high-tail it to Hayes Valley. It sounds like a utopian suburb, but it's a hip-and-happening SF enclave of bohemian shops, furniture boutiques and entirely chain-free coffee houses.

Once you've browsed stores like Zeni and Alabaster, hit Arlequin Wine Merchant for a tasting or simply grab a half-bottle and take a seat on the front sidewalk to enjoy the great people watching. If you feel some hunger rumblings, try the neighboring café and its selection of sandwiches and homemade soups.

Saturday, 9 p.m.
Located on a posh strip of Fillmore in Pacific Heights, the owners of SF's A-16 offer the new SPQR, a one-room sanctuary of simplistic Italian dining attracting rave reviews and fanatical diners.

The space isn't the fanciest in town, all-white with vintage posters and marble-topped bar flanked by intensely focused foodies. The hearty menu of Italian specialties includes battered fried-pumpkin, spiced rack of lamb and homemade pastas in garlic and oil sauce.

Saturday, 11 p.m.
Shake your full belly. You may have second thoughts about your night out on the way to Apartment 24 located in North Beach. The streets are filled with a wild set of local revelers popping into the various pizza shops, peep shows and dive bars of the area.

Located in the former Dolce space, Apartment 24 features a city-themed nightclub with two separate VIP areas flanked by chain-maille curtains and bed-shaped loungers flung with dressed-up locals and predatory cougars.

Day Three
Sunday, 9 a.m.
Brunch with Dennis Leary at Canteen. Yes, that Dennis Leary has morphed a dodgy Sutter Street diner into one of the most spectacular culinary destinations of recent years. The 20-seat space features a late-week lunch menu and fabulous weekend brunch that includes seafood specialties and fresh baked breads.

Afterward, walk off those calories with a browse through nearby Union Square and the outposts of YSL and the new Helmut Lang located on Maiden Lane.

Sunday, 1 p.m.
It's never too late to go vegan. You'd think you were walking into a formal French restaurant, but Millennium is actually one of the city's flagship vegan restaurants.

The dining room is ultra-luxe, with dark wood paneling and white tablecloths behind a lively bar area overlooking Geary Street. The food, however, can tempt even the truest of carnivores with delicate rice cakes, tossed spinach salads and ingenious tempeh dishes.

Sunday, 7 p.m.
End the weekend with an edible bang. Located in a high-end neighborhood between the Marina District and Presidio, Spruce presents one of SF's burgeoning chefs in a dazzling dining room created from a 1930s car barn. The brick and intricate masonry façade lead to a tranquil lounge area intersected by locals making their way to the take-out café.

The main dining room seats no more than 70 guests under an exposed steel ceiling, with mohair couches accented in cream and beige leathers perfect for ending your weekend of gourmet gluttony.

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