In The City by The Bay, trendy places have their moments. But it's the tried-and-true vistas and hideaways that hold on to your heart.

By Susan Haynes
January 08, 2007
David Sanger

During the many years I lived in the embrace of San Francisco,the hooky monster rose from time to time, saying, "Don't worktoday." So I'd walk to the Buena Vista Café above AquaticPark. On weekends and way into the nights year-round, tourists packthe "Bee Vee," as it's known. But try it around 9 a.m.

That's quiet time for regulars, who read the Chronicle as they work through vast servings of eggsBlackstone or crab Benedict. They may even kick the day into gearwith a piping-hot Irish coffee. I've spent mornings here again andagain, and it's never changed.

While San Francisco continually boasts new cafés and shops,emerging neighborhoods, and improved parks, some of the best placesmay have faded from the headlines or have never been widely known.But, like the Buena Vista, they remain beacons for localhabitués. In this city made for walking or busing, all youneed to reach these pocket destinations is a good pair of shoes anda Muni transit pass.

Forget the car. Scenic bus routes include the No. 29 through thePresidio, Golden Gate Park, and the Richmond and Sunset districts;No. 14 to the Mission District; and No. 30 through the MarinaDistrict and Chinatown.

For tucked-away romantic dining, chef Jacqueline M. Margulis hasbeen whipping egg whites into savory and sweet soufflés since1979. Little has changed at Café Jacqueline―certainlynot the soufflés-only menu. A lobster soufflé entréeand delicate hot lime soufflé dessert make good choices beforeor after Beach Blanket Babylon (BBB) at nearby Club Fugazi.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this June, campy BBB keeps reinventing itself for current humor, and manylocals have seen the evolving show a dozen times or more. Itsheaddresses and clever costumes have become more outrageous anddazzling over the years, but the underlying plot never changes:Ingenue Snow White leaves San Francisco with her little redsuitcase and meets up with sparkling satire and song as she travelsthe world in search of Prince Charming.

Never known for keeping late hours, San Francisco mourned lastApril when Pearl's popular jazz venue closed. But a spiffed-upPearl's reopened in September at the same Columbus Avenue location.The City's only exclusively jazz nightspot again fills the housefor performances until its 2 a.m. closing.

Such late outings won't keep San Franciscans of every stripefrom showing up at Glide Memorial Church's Sunday morninggatherings in The Tenderloin neighborhood. The T.L., as many callit, rocks and rejoices with soul, blues, gospel, and jazz fromGlide's choir and instrumental combo. Known here 40-some years forhis rousing and inspiring messages for all faiths, Rev. CecilWilliams ends the service with a smile and a command to themusicians: "Play somethin' for me, baby!"

After Glide, or any day from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., The City'sarray of dim sum parlors can satisfy the appetite. For an authenticChinatown experience, the not-new New Asia restaurant fills thebill for shrimp dumplings, meat-stuffed buns, flaky custard tarts,and turnip cake (that has no turnips and isn't a cake). Ellen LeongBlonder, author of the evocative cookbook Dim Sum, swears by Ton Kiang, in the Richmond District."It's sometimes less intimidating for people not used to dim sum,and the food is outstanding," she says.

When hunger strikes again, there's the ever-delightful Fog CityDiner. Once the darling of the press with its glitzy opening in1985, Fog City has settled into a lively middle age. Locals stillfrequent the bar and wide booths for drinks, imaginative "smallplates," and hearty comfort food. Thankfully, the spicy Red CurryMussel Stew remains a staple.

Many visitors might snub wacky-looking Caffé Sport, inNorth Beach, thinking it a tourist trap. Big mistake. Here's theplace for rich, garlic-infused, old-fashioned pastas and fish, andbig simple salads, all served on oversize oval platters. Waitersused to bring out what they wanted you to have, despite your order.Now the customer rules. "We became a little more nice," says waiterEduardo Riena, who's worked here 21 years.

Panoramas abound along San Francisco's waterfront and fromnumerous hilltops. Locals treasure the tucked-away Black PointBattery, at Fort Mason. Four large picnic tables, which may bereserved through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, take inmesmerizing views of the bay and Aquatic Park. Another belovedscenic is the Vallejo Street steps. From Jones Street to Taylor,the descent skirts a quiet little park that pans the bay toBerkeley and Oakland.

Town gems include uniquely San Francisco shopping. Since 1861,people have revered Gump's emporium of home luxuries. "Anything youwant, we'll find," says assistant Lucie Marcotulli. On Geary,four-storied Britex Fabrics beckons shoppers from around the world.Many pop in just to ogle this home to 30,000 buttons and everyweave of cloth imaginable.

Since 1946, Biordi Art Imports, on Columbus, has been the sourcefor exquisite Italian pottery. Gumshoe fans shouldn't miss the SanFrancisco Mystery Book Company in the charming Noe Valleyneighborhood. And for an unusual twist on galleries, the Academy ofArt locations purvey fine student work from sculptures to oils toillustrations, and more―at reasonable prices.

The arms of this city extend a bouquet of treasures hard toleave behind. At the close of each BBB performance, star Val Diamond delivers the robust lyrics"San Francisco, open your golden gate." When she gets to the partabout "other places only make me love you best," any local, orformer local, knows just how she feels.