101 Reasons to Love San Francisco

2018 has already seen a number of closures of beloved institutions. So we thought you might need an arbitrary, not-even-remotely-comprehensive list of reasons why this city is still so great.

It’s become a depressingly common rite: sharing the news of the next neighborhood institution that lost its lease or can’t afford a new landlord’s rent increase or which is otherwise disappearing. We’re not even three months into 2018, and already Tenderloin gay bar The Gangway and North Beach’s Caffe Roma shut their doors, while La Victoria Bakery seems not long for this world. The Vestry, Babu Ji, and Brasserie St. James all called it quits on Valencia only a few months after 25-year-old vintage shop Retro Fit sold its last wig. Kinky cafe Wicked Grounds had a brush with death only to recover after an extraordinary outpouring of financial support.

Legacy registries and cultural districts can only do so much to stanch San Francisco’s bleeding. It’s not that treasured icons never disappeared before the tech bubbles; it’s that the churn of this particular phase of capitalism seems so vicious. And behind it are people living real lives. We shouldn’t lose sight of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of residents who loved and frequented these places and who’ve been forced out of San Francisco, either — just as we shouldn’t let ourselves get too worked up when people who have no idea what they’re talking about callously dismiss the closure of a neighborhood institution.

SF Weekly publishes our annual Best Of issue every May, but this year, we thought we’d supplement it with a list of 101 Things We Love About San Francisco. We present them in no order and with no claim to the list being comprehensive; undoubtedly, we love many more things than just these. They’re not all businesses — not even close — and they’re not necessarily at risk of disappearing. Some of them are vistas that will be with us for a million years or more, until fault lines and erosion shift the entire Bay Area’s topography. But we offer them as an incomplete snapshot of life in this city in early 2018, in all its weirdness, its coolness, its evanescence, and its beauty.

  1. Art Deco parking garages and automotive repair places. Why do they have the best bones? 
  2. Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire, a 100-foot sculpture near the Presidio’s Arguello Gate that’s made from 37 cypress trees pressed together. 
  3. Sing-along Little Mermaid shows at the Castro Theater. 
  4. The sole surviving specimen of the Franciscan manzanita — discovered in 2009 during the Doyle Drive reconstruction, after the species was thought to be extinct — has been moved to a secret site in the Presidio. Botanists hope to save the species via clippings from another manzanita found in 1947. 
  5. The rainbow house on Clipper Street.
    The rainbow house on Clipper Street.
  6. The half-acre grove of redwoods behind the Transamerica Pyramid, transplanted from the Santa Cruz Mountains some 60 miles away… 
  7. … and the plaque in the grove that commemorates the two dogs who were allegedly Emperor Norton’s canine companions. 
  8. The garage in Crocker-Amazon that looks unmistakably like nipples. 
  9. After a major renovation, the marquee of the Avenue Theater on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola has been turned back on. It’s easy to spot from the ramp that leads from I-280 to southbound Highway 101. 
  10. The Diego Rivera mural, Pan American Unity, at City College… 
  11. … and oh yeah, one year at City College is free for S.F. residents. 
  12. Burgers and beers at Red’s Java House on Pier 23, saved from a 1984 conflagration by the S.F.F.D. fireboat Phoenix. 
  13. Juri Commons, a block-long, diagonal park in Noe Valley that follows a former railroad right-of-way, which you can trace along odd property lines to the Atlas Stair Building on Harrison and 22nd streets. 
  14. S.F. has several sets of streets in alphabetical order, but nothing competes with Acadia, Baden, Congo, Detroit, Edna, Foerster, and Genessee, off Monterey Boulevard. 
  15. The Golden Hydrant just above Dolores Park, which halted the advance of the fire after the 1906 earthquake. 
  16. The Tom and Jerry House on 21st Street, a landmark of over-the-top holiday decorations every December. 
  17. That spot near the dog run in Alamo Square where you can see both Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tam. 
  18. 1360 Montgomery St., the impossibly fab Telegraph Hill address where Lauren Bacall’s character lived in the 1947 noir classic, Dark Passage. 
  19. Jeremy Fish’s Brown Bunny statue on Haight Street, which commemorates the Pink Bunny that preceded it.
    Jeremy Fish’s Brown Bunny statue on Haight Street. Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane
  20. Divisadero Popeye’s, excellent in spite of not having a restroom for customers.
  21. Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast, Bi-Rite Creamery’s Salted Caramel, Smitten’s TCHO Chocolate, and Mitchell’s halo-halo ice creams.
  22. Our weird and wonderfully named streets: Radio, Byxbee, Uranus, De Boom, Ulloa, Aloha, Beulah, Onondaga, and many others.
  23. The Cable Car turnaround at Market and Powell. Don’t pretend you don’t love it.
    The Cable Car turnaround at Market and Powell.
  24. The Alemany Farmers Market, the oldest such thing in the state (established in 1943 and originally located where the Market Street Safeway stands). 
  25. The fountains in St. Francis Wood. 
  26. The “Nebulous Potato Thing” at St. Francis Fountain. 
  27. Tenderloin National Forest celebrates 10 years of murals, food, and volunteerism this May. 
  28. The automated Muni voice that announces stops with that old-school S.F. pronunciation: “Vuh-LEN-shuh,” “Qwin-TERR-uh.” 
  29. The Snowy Plover at Andytown Coffee Roasters.
  30. The enormous model train at the newly reopened Randall Museum in Corona Heights Park.
  31. Lone Mountain Terrace, Harry Street, the Vulcan Stairs, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, and the dim-sum-related Vinton Court Steps…
  32. … the latter of which leads to Golden Gate Heights’ spectacular view of the ocean, one reason why Redfin named it the country’s second-hottest neighborhood of 2017.
  33. The imposing facade of S.F.F.D. Engine Company No. 24 on Alvarado and Hoffman streets in Noe Valley, and the movie-set-like exterior of the Old Mission Police Station on 17th Street.
  34. Tater tots, “Fried Fuckin’ Oreos,” and the Ass-End Happy Hour on Monday nights from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., at Bender’s.
  35. Bayview Rise, Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan’s illuminated, 187-foot public artwork on a grain silo near Islais Creek. (It’s coming down in 2019.)
  36. Brick-lined cisterns randomly scattered throughout (and underneath) our streets.
  37. The unique 360-degree view of southwestern San Francisco from the craggy, extremely obscure Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park in Ingleside.
  38. Little Free Libraries, including one opposite Four Barrel on Burrows Street.
  39. Two sculptures by S.F. native Richard Serra: Ballast at UCSF Mission Bay and Sequence on SFMOMA’s lowest level.
  40. The way the Salesforce Tower seems to become impossibly large when you drive inbound on Post Street.
  41. Lovingly maintained ghost signs, from Discolandia on 24th Street to Julie’s Supper Club on Folsom Street to “Par-T-Pak” and “Fresh Up With 7 Up” ghost ads in the Tenderloin. (Chinatown alone has tons.)
  42. The San Francisco Zoo hasn’t had an elephant in almost 15 years, but the “Pachyderms” building — and the dilapidated mural, Noah and His Ark — reflect its grand past.
  43. BiP’s mega-murals, including the five-story No Ceiling on Mission and Jessie streets, based on one 6-year-old Ja’Niyha W of Oakland and requiring 400 cans of spray paint to complete.
    BiP’s No Ceiling. Photo by Brenna Daugherty
  44. The 14-ton, $180,000 Del Popolo pizza truck and its 5,000-pound oven capable of reaching 800 degrees and baking a pie in 60 seconds.
  45. 140 New Montgomery, formerly the Pacific Bell Building, a 1925 Gothic Revival gem that was the tallest building in the city for two years. It’s still San Francisco’s most beautiful high-rise — Yelp’s occupancy notwithstanding.
  46. Baked chicken and the Sunday brunch-only Balsamic Bloody Mary at Zuni Cafe.
  47. Chicory coffee and crawfish beignets at Brenda’s French Soul Food.
  48. Some bragging rights: S.F. now has four restaurants with three Michelin stars (Benu, Coi, Quince, and Saison), and four with two stars (Acquerello, Atelier Crenn, Californios, and Lazy Bear), plus another two dozen with one star.
  49. Accessed via the entrance around the block at 23 Geary St., the 11th-floor rooftop at 1 Kearny St. has incredible views of downtown, making it the best privately owned public space we know of.
  50. Unquestionably, it needs more women headliners, but after 10 years, Outside Lands remains a wonderful music-and-food festival that’s stayed true to itself while others lose their soul. It’s even fun when we’re freezing.
  51. Archimedes Banya, Kabuki, and Onsen — three very different bathhouses to choose from when you just need to play hooky.
  52. From the lumpia at Soma Pilipinas’ UNDISCOVERED SF to the San Francisco Street Food Festival to SoMa StrEat Food Park’s Great Mac ’N Cheese Melt-Off, niche food festivals have shown some serious tenacity.
  53. The F-Market, except for those uncomfortable orange cars from Milan. Let’s extend the line to Fort Mason!

    The F market. Courtesy photo
  54. A ride down the Seward Slides and a climb up the Ingleside Sundial. (Note: That last one might not be legal.)
  55. Spicy lamb chashu ramen at Mensho Tokyo in the Tendernob.
  56. A hand-tossed, maybe-not-so-round andouille sausage pizza at the Orbit Room.
  57. Almanac Beer Co.’s Farm to Barrel series, Fort Point Brewing’s KSA, Magnolia Brewing’s Proving Ground IPA, 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon, and the newly reopened Speakeasy Brewing’s Prohibition Ale.
  58. SoMa queer bar The Stud got saved (although it still has to relocate) and a similar collective might yet resurrect The Gangway, which was S.F.’s oldest gay bar when it closed earlier this year. 
  59. The Mi Abuelita Favorita “moon bar” at Media Noche, guava-cheesecake ice cream on a stick with a crushed cookie topping. 
  60. The bench tucked among some Monterey cypresses in the Presidio from which you may stare straight through the Golden Gate Bridge’s two towers. 
  61. Paying a mere $3 to enter TreasureFest, formerly the Treasure Island Flea Market and the best possible apocryphal explanation for why the island got its name. 
  62. The star atop the Sir Francis Drake Hotel has scaffolding around it, because it will soon revolve once more. 
  63. Ernest Born’s skylight- and mosaic-filled Glen Park BART Station, a triumph of Brutalism — with the greenery-draped CPMC Davies in the Duboce Triangle a close second. 
  64. The King Henry VIII steak, cut English-style, from the no-longer-secret-menu at The House of Prime Rib. 
  65. The ever-changing political mural on the side of Galeria de la Raza, which people have occasionally attacked.
  66. From exhibits at the Tenderloin Museum to the Compton’s TLGB District to a new play of the same name, the renewed attention to the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot secures its place in LGBTQ (and American) history.
  67. A.C.T. has a new artistic director, Pam McKinnon, and the Curran Theater is roaring back to life.
  68. Islais Creek in Glen Canyon, one of two remaining freshwater channels that haven’t been culverted or otherwise buried (like Mission Creek through the basement of the Armory). It used to flow unimpeded to the Bay and maybe it will again.
  69. Sutro Tower: It’s a hulking, 977-foot wonder completed in 1973 that makes for a fun hike leaving from 17th, Castro, and Market streets — and you can detect it on the horizon from as far away as Mt. Diablo or I-80 near Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo.
  70. Lou Seal, so much chiller than the loose sea lions who kept attacking swimmers.
  71. The War Memorial, home to the Herbst Theatre (where the United Nations charter was signed in 1945), the beautiful Green Room upstairs, and a stained-glass window depicting the symbol of the atom.
  72. Bob Buckter, color consultant and the guy helping to stop people from painting their Victorians matte gray.
  73. Project Open Hand, which Ruth Brinker founded in the 1980s to deliver meals to AIDS-stricken San Franciscans, is expanding to feed people statewide.
  74. Titania the corpse blossom bloomed last year in the Conservatory of Flowers, and we love Golden Gate Park for all its flora, from the Fuchsia and Rhododendron Dells to the Cloud Forest in the Botanical Gardens to the Japanese Tea Garden. 
  75. Wild Side West in Bernal Heights, 56 years old and not quite a proper lesbian bar — but good enough for us. 
  76. Parker House rolls, ‘Toga Tots, a New York steak, and a Vieux Carre at The Saratoga.
  77. Saigon Sandwich and Yamo, still the two most affordable places for lunch.
  78. Although it’s now in New York, Jay DeFeo’s 10-foot-tall, 1-foot-thick, one-ton work The Rose is a quintessentilly San Franciscan piece of art. It took eight years to make and had to be removed from her Fillmore Street studio by a forklift.
  79. Electronic music label Dirtybird’s quarterly parties at Mezzanine.
    Claude VonStroke playing at the 44th Dirtybird Quarterly at Mezzanine. Feb. 9, 2018. Photo by Ben Ng
  80. How the right-wing seems to hate us more than ever because this city stands up for basic human decency and protects law-abiding immigrants from having their lives and families destroyed.
  81. Laffing Sal, the Organ Grinder, and the Toothpick Ferris Wheel at the Musée Mécanique, followed by a Double-Double at S.F.’s only In-N-Out.
  82. Green Apple, Bird & Beckett, Books Inc., Book Passage, Dog-Eared Books, Borderlands, City Lights, Omnivore Books, and all the other indies still kicking it.
  83. Unisex restrooms are everywhere now, but never forget that El Rio’s “Universal Toilet” and “Galactic Urinal” got us to the future by flushing away injustice.
  84. Like symbiotic organisms, Toronado and Rosamunde Sausage Grill’s coexistence has been a linchpin of the Lower Haight for years.
  85. The revamped Mr. Bing’s may have disappointed Bourdain but Doc’s Clock’s relocation is almost complete — once they raise $20,000 to get the neon sign back. Cocktail Time!
  86. James S. holds the record (one minute, 15 seconds) in the Bob’s Donut Challenge. Finish a $10.95 doughnut in under three minutes and you get a T-shirt and your name added to the Hall of Fame. Finish in under two and you also get a free drink and a refund.
  87. Farallones-spotting from Parnassus Avenue on clear days. Does Sup. Sandra Fewer beam with pride knowing they’re technically in her district?
  88. However you might feel about the otherwise naked guys who walk around the Castro with a sock wrapped around their dongs, you have to admit it’s local color. 
  89. The Mai Tai, the Irish Coffee, the Martini (probably), and the Pisco Punch were all invented here. So were Celery Victor, Green Goddess dressing, Crab Louis, chicken tetrazzini, slot machines, and television. 
  90. Up Your Alley and the Folsom Street Fair, from the volunteers who make it happen to the photographers who get consent before snapping pics of people chained to St. Andrew’s crosses getting flayed by a singletail. 
  91. Community Thrift, Schauplatz, Stuff, No., and Fiat Lux, holding it down for vintage and thrift in the Mission during the age of the full-frontal brand assault. 
  92. Longstanding tiki bars like the Tonga Room, Bamboo Hut, and Smuggler’s Cove coexist with kitschy tropical newcomers like Pagan Idol, The Den, and Del Mar.
    The Daywalker cocktail served at Pagan Idol. Photo by Jessica Christian
  93. Foodie nonprofits: La Cocina keeps making it possible for immigrant women to own their own businesses, and CUESA keeps us grounded to the land. 
  94. When you’re bored of the samples at Costco and 99 Ranch in Daly City is too far away, stroll the aisles at Manila Oriental Market for its bonanza of exceptionally large, affordable produce. 
  95. The Peacock Lounge, that slightly mysterious Lower Haight venue you’ve almost certainly walked by and never set foot in.
  96. Noir City, Beer Week, and Noise Pop combine to transform mid-January through mid-February from mid-winter doldrums to legitimate cultural season.
  97. Racism and faulty sprinklers marred the D.C. spin-off, but Tadich Grill is still going strong at 169 years of age, making it the oldest extant restaurant west of the Mississippi.
  98. The Church of 8 Wheels, The House of Air, Mission Bowling Club, and Urban Putt. 
  99. Buckyballs, weird tricks with colored shadows, the Tactile Dome, and amazing facts about the science of food, at the Exploratorium. 
  100. The five gold-leaf-covered onion domes atop the Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary Boulevard in the Richmond, the largest house of worship in the Russian Orthodox Church OutsideRussia.
  101. Between the charming Trocadero House and 81 seasons of free outdoor concerts, Stern Grove is a 33-acre wonderland. And sometimes, it’s overflowing with nasturtiums.

Related Stories