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Non-Chowish Sunday brunch with great view or ...?

My aunt is coming to San Francisco for the weekend and I'd like to take her out to a Sunday brunch. She's not really into food, and she doesn't eat much anyway, so I'm thinking of somewhere with a great view or interesting history or some other attraction. (Not that I would mind if the food was great, of course! But in my experience great view and good food don't go together very often.)

I haven't gone anywhere like that for so long that I have no idea what the possibilities are. Maybe the Palace Hotel Garden Court, or Nieman-Marcus, or the top of the B of A building (is it even called that any more? is it even open any more?)? The Cliff House?

As an example, I took her to Julius's Castle last year (her request) and she loved it. I guess I'm looking for a brunch version of that.

She also doesn't get around very well, so I need a place where I can make a reservation or walk right in. I don't think she'd enjoy standing in line.

Any ideas?

P.S. I apologize if this is off-topic, since the purpose of Chowhound is to discuss Chowish food. But I could really use some help!

P.P.S. I did search the boards, of course, before posting, but didn't find anything that addressed Sunday brunch without a price limitation.

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  1. Greens. Can't beat the view, and I think brunch is their best meal.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Good one always forget they do brunch.. however, might be a hard place for her aunt, unless the valet. Otherwise the parking lot is a bit far for someone that cannot get around too good.

      1. re: Lori SF

        You could drop her off in front of Greens and then park. It's got an amazing view, but I'm not sure I'd put it in the same category as Julius Castle. If the point isn't the food, the building is boring and doesn't have much history.

        I immediately thought of Cliff House when you said the brunch version of Julius Castle. Their Sunday Champagne brunch isn't cheap, but the space has an amazing history. The camera obscura is a tourist rap worth seeing.

        1. re: Lori SF

          I don't think Greens has valet parking during the day, but since FM has been charging for parking, it is a lot easier to find a space.

      2. maybe- The Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton or Top of The Mark

        The Carnelian Room at the top of the Bank of America tower

        1. Brunch version of that is definitely the Cliff House. They recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, and it's bright & elegant. You can make a reservation well in advance and the view is spectacular. Food - not so much, but it's passable.

          Note, the Sunday Brunch is a buffet setup that isn't part of the regular restaurant.

          1. Thanks a bunch, guys! Great suggestions. I think I'll go with the Cliff House, as it's supposed to be sunny on Sunday (I think), and also I love the Camera Obscura, which I haven't seen for a long time. (And then I'll go to Greens in a couple of weeks with friends!) The Carnelian Room and Top of the Mark are good ones to remember for her next visit.

            1. If it's sunny, La Terrasse might be a good choice. You have a view of the bay and Alcatraz from the terrace, and from certain tables, the Golden Gate Bridge. My lunches have been good so I imagine brunch would be too. Plenty of parking right next to it.


              1. If you're going to do the Cliff House, I suggest making a reservation for when they open, and plan to drop your aunt off first. Walking up (or even down) the hill might be a bit much for her.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Cindy

                  Yeah, I gotta agree with dropping your aunt off if you go to the dreadful Cliff House. Do NOT go for the Sunday Buffet. It is the worst buffet I have ever had in my live ... ever ... ever.

                  Go upstairs. The food isn't amazing, but they have popovers and if your aunt is having problems walking, the buffet there isn't a good idea. At least upstairs she can sit and be serived. The staff is snotty, so be sure you can get a seat by the window. Otherwise it is pointless to go there.

                  Quite frankly, I'd go to the Garden Court. You can always drive your aunt to the beach afterward to look at the waves.

                  Another thought is Bistro Boudin in Fisherman's Wharf. They have a paid parking lot next door, a faboulous view of Alcatraz and the Bay and the fun of being in FW (for a visitor). If you go to Bistro Boudin, tell the guys in the parking lot about your aunt's mobility problems. They are really good about allowing you to park nearby to the restaurant.

                  Here's my report on Bistro Boudin which lists a few brunch dishes ... but the more unusual ones.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Thanks very much! As it happens, when I gave my aunt these suggestions she wanted to go the Garden Court, as apparently my great-great-uncle owned the Palace Hotel at one time. I'll keep these other suggestions for her future visits, though!

                    1. re: MorganSF

                      You can't beat the Palace Hotel. Perhaps let them know that one in your party has difficulty with mobility and request a special table for ease of access and comfort. I'm confident that the staff will be attentive and accommodating.

                    2. re: rworange

                      Let me add something positive about the Cliff House, though. My daughter, her SO and I took refuge from the Boxing Day storm (High surf warnings, coastal flooding alerts, urban flood advisories, you remember the weather). They were very friendly at the bar and we had leisurely drinks (coffee and beer only) at the bar without any pressure or attitude, and the view was nothing less than stunning. It was between lunch and dinner, and the people at the window two-tops were also just enjoying drinks without any apparent pressure. The bottom line is that it's a great place for a drink and especially the view; forsaking the view in the name of foodie elitism is shoting yourself in the foot, IMHO.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        I think that the consensus on the board has been that it is a great place to get a drink while enjoying the view. I'm glad to hear the service has improved at the bar.

                        What one person might describe as enjoying drinks without pressure another might perceive as being ignored. I wasn't pressured on my first visit to the bar for over an hour. I never got drinks either. Great place though to catch up on writing without being disturbed.

                        I hope you will try the food there Gary. I would love to hear positive feedback. I want to like the place. Heck I even liked the old format when everyone hated it.

                        I tried. I ate at all three restaurants. Except for the drinks in the very pleasant lounge with view, the best thing I had was the popover. The food in the upstairs restaurant was carelessly and indiferently prepared. As stated, the brunch was memorably bad. Sutro, the classy restaurant, was just ok and a little pricy for what you got and food is better elsewhere. It was just above medicore.

                        Nothing foodie elitist here (and I PREFER chowhound to foodie). I tried. I just have better places to spend my money and isn't the site about the food and not the view ... maybe I should change my avatar to one with a SF view.

                        I was kind of excited seeing your positive post on the place and hoping to hear good things about the food. There are some places you just want to love but they make it difficult.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Some people think the site is about parking...

                          Since I probably don't dine at a sit-down Western cuisine restaurant more than once or twice a year, I'm not the one to be your guinea pig. Everybody knows I'm a pussycat when it comes to restaurant reviews, anyway.

                          I just thought I would dilute the venomous intro to your proffered opinion with some honeyed thoughts about the ability to painlessly enjoy the incomparable view; not trying to start class warfare, here..

                          Maybe you were just a quart low on your St. John's Wort when you wrote that..

                          1. re: Gary Soup

                            Uh, I passionately disliked having my Thanksgiving buffet there and the pain has faded. If you want real venom my original post on the brunch is somewhere on the site. I say this with no irony, I would have been better off at Hometown Buffet at 1/3 the price. No view, but I can walk along the beach later.

                            The only point was if going there, other than the drinks ... the best choice here if going for the view is the upstairs cafe and then order something that comes with popovers. That is just my experience based on my three visits after the remodel. Always looking that things improved.

                            I am quite mellow these days thank you ... thanks to an excellent $1.99 wine currently on sale at Grocery Outlet ... Grizz ... rather weird cap though ... heavy metal holding down a little round plastic circle. I have to guess that this is the reason the wine is discounted. Even though I like it that cap is so off-putting. St. John's Wort unnecessary ... never tried the stuff ... how's it taste Gary? Keeps you purring, eh?

                            I guess elist foodie seems a little strange to read when the same post recommends Bistro Boudin which was trashed by the Chronicle. That just happened to be the better fit (and from my point of view ... food) given the circumstances ... easier parking/access & to me a more interesting view.

                            You're breakin my heart, Gary ... I recently recommended Cheesecake Factory in Union Square because it just was the only place that fit the criteria ... I mean how elitist is the shamrock shake & McRib on my profile?

                          2. re: rworange

                            forget whether the service is good at the bar: how do you even get a *seat* at the bar? Whenever I've been it is standing room only. no way to write anything....

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              There's a cocktail lounge to the right of the upstairs cafe/bar. IIRC, there are a few seats along the bar, but the better deal is the area to the right which has couches, a fireplace, tables and a view down into Sutro's. The best table is in the corner window at the far end.

                    3. Sam's in Tiberon, if it's warm enough to sit on the outside deck you have a great bay view.

                        1. What about hte Sunday brunch at the Claremont, I remember going a few years ago and it was great, has it changed?

                          1. If you've never been to the Garden Court in the Palace Hotel, it's a very special example of "old San Francsico" that's not to be missed.

                            1. Just wanted to come back with the report that we ended up at the Garden Court. It was Super Bowl Sunday, so I have a feeling it was less busy than usual. The room, of course, is gorgeous, and there was an excellent jazz trio playing. The buffet brunch offers a large variety of food, including sushi, dim sum, traditional breakfast stuff (eggs, sausage, bacon, blintzes), cheese and pates, crepes made to order, raw oysters, prawns, salads, and hot food and desserts, which I didn't really look at. The food stations are set up around the perimeter of the room. The service was attentive and pleasant; they were very good at re-filling champagne, fresh orange juice, coffee, etc., and removing your plate as soon as you left the table to go back for more. I wasn't that hungry, but I was happy to see they had Humbolt Fog cheese (one of my favorites) and some other nice cheeses, with accompanying honey (three kinds) and chutney. My aunt went back more times than I could count, ending with a giant piece of dense chocolate cake.

                              In short, it was like a fancy buffet on a good cruise ship (the Queen Mary 2 arrived that day, which may be what prompted this thought). My aunt really enjoyed it, and I didn't mind it either.

                              (Also I got to hear about how my great-grandfather used to roller-skate on the balconies around the Garden Court back when it was the horse-and-carriage entrance, which was interesting.)

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: MorganSF

                                Thanks for the report back and a recent update on the Garden Court. Glad it made your aunt happy. I love Champagne brunches where they are generous with the sparkling wine and the wait staff doesn't disappear after the first pour.

                                1. re: MorganSF

                                  hmmm...oysters, champagne and Humboldt Fog, what is not to like? thanks for the update. Definitely sounds better than the Cliff House!