3 girls, 2 days, 1 night in San Francisco
I'm coming up to Santa Clara to celebrate a birthday. We're going to head up to SF on a Saturday morning, staying near the gates of Chinatown, and come back Sunday afternoon. We're 22-24 y.o. This is what I need:
1) ideas for bars/lounges: We can do "trendy", but we're not looking for something with a huge line out the door/impossible to get into (we may do bottle service if the place warrants it). We don't want a dive bar either. Prefer that there's music playing (and maybe a dance floor, but not a full out club). We don't want a restaurant bar or a bar that serves food. Doesn't necessarily NEED to have a view. We just want to have a good time, good mixed drinks (vodka & gin drinkers) at lets say 10-12$ a drink, top 40s music, something a little more spacious and not so crowded. We pretty much want to get drunk and have a blast. I tried looking on places like city search, but most of the bars have old reviews. We are willing to cab it to places, so don't limit us to just that chinatown area.
2) 1 dinner: A nice place, not a "chain" or anything super expensive. Willing to spend lets say $35 per entree, not including drinks. Things we like: italian, seafood, chinese/asian, big sushi fans (creative rolls mostly, but we do eat sashimi as well). We're not looking for THE BEST place with the BEST view (aka $$$$ tiny portions), but something do-able for a group of 5-8 (where once again, we can drink). Something unpretentious yet yummy.
3) 1 lunch spot: I really want to dry dim sum, but no one in our group is Chinese / aka we dont want to look stupid and not know what we're ordering. Otherwise I'm sure we can just find something as we walk around. So where do we go, and what do we order.
4) clam chowder: who has the best creamy chowder? Are there any "late night" vendors?? yumm or any taco truck type places after the bar??
Okay, thanks guys.
1) I'll give it a go. I don't go out as much as I used to so my recommendations are not expansive or the latest hot spots but I've had some awesome drinks at these non-divey bars that are close to chinatown or a short cab ride away.
2) For dinner...when I get together with girlfriends I like to go to the mission area. There's so many places to go for food, drinks and atmosphere. Some suggestions:
Tokyo Go Go - Great happy hour, awesome cocktails and sushi
Nombe - Just went there and really loved the japanese pub food and great sake cocktails
Starbelly - awesome vibe, good food and not too $$$
Beretta - food is ok, the drinks are better
3)For dim sum, I'm going to recommend Yank Sing or Great Eastern. Yank Sing is more americanized, more $$$ but is a great place for dim sum introduction. Plus they wheel the carts around. Great Eastern is in Chinatown so will be more convenient but this is where I go with my family when I have dim sum in the city.
4)Clam Chowder, do a search... I get my fill at Boudin but it certainly is not the best.
1) check in with cooler people than me about Harlot. I've been there once and it was packed and people were having a good time. This is likely not the place where you'll get the best advice on this category
1a) The mission. Medjool. Rooftop bar, fun place, fairly loud. More importantly, there's a *ton* of other bars within even a single block if you don't like the vibe or just want a change of scene. You might like Beauty Bar. When you want to dance, move over to whatever 12 Galaxies turned into. When you're ready for another drink move over to Doc's Clock for less noise and a well made but divey drink. The cocktails aren't Bourbon and Branch super special cucumber whatnot, but if you're vodka drinkers, you'll be happy with the craft anywhere along there. (Mission between 21 and 22nd, I think).
Look, cocktail specialists aren't at at "top 40's bars where you can have a blast, maybe with a dance floor". Get a great cocktail before dinner. Have maybe another cocktail with dinner or share a bottle or two of wine. The rest of the night will be well vodka tonics so don't stress it.
1b) The other areas with bars and clubs are the old "club district" of 11th St SOMA which the DNA lounge is still open and fun, and Holy Cow and Butter, but outside the DNA, those places are a little shabby these days. Paradise is closed, Fat City never really took off. There's clubs and bars scattered across SOMA and you'd probably need to make a list and keep hopping to you find something of the right groove. Cat Club is kind of fun with an excellent dance floor in the back and a nice bar in the front. But the fact that you even mentioned bottle service suggests Glas Kat might be more your style.
1c) You probably really want to go to lower polk street. That area is newer and fresher, and I don't know what bars are good. Which is probably what you're really looking for - not the older crowd that I represent.
1d) As an aside, I would put the Top of the Mark Hopkins on your list. This isn't the "top of the mark houston", it's the real deal. Pages of martinis, tons of class, big windows. Early in the evening (sunset) or a next-morning bloody mary. It is specifically san francisco.
2) You're being less specific than you think. $35 entree gets you any non-tasting-menu in the city and multiplies out to $80 to $100/pp after drinks, apps, desert, tip. "unpretentious yet yummy" narrows it down to, say, 400 places. If I was going to pick one out of the air - Chaya, because it's on the water and you'll feel real San Francisco. You could have a warm-up drink at Slanted Door (but just a cocktail there). Or, that stretch of mission that I mentioned has Foreign Cinema. Or Absinthe - fairly centrally located - great drinks, good food, fun atmosphere, cheaper. Tomasso's? Really? I hope you didn't pick it because of the good Yelp reviews. Yelp is seriously broken for SF. There's that newer place in North Beach for better pizza, or go to Little Star on Divis so you're close to lower polk.
3) Dim Sum - Don't go to yank sing. Too stuffy. Go to Gold Mountain. They have carts. The cart ladies will be pushy and you'll order too much food but it'll still be cheap and you'll have fun. Don't stress about "what to order". Make sure you see lots of what's in any given cart before picking a few items. Don't even ask what you're eating. You only get to be a dim sum virgin once, so make the most of it. You don't have to know anything about dim sum, you don't have to be chinese. Just point at what smells good.
Your girl friends won't do Dim Sum, how weak. Give them another try. If not, you want brunch. Foreign Cinema would be the call, so don't have dinner there.
4) Don't even think about late night clam chowder. It's not a good mix with alcohol and is seriously touristy in daylight hours. Every bar district has late night food of different types, so it depends where you are. Mission you're ending up at El Faralito at 24th and mission, which almost gets party-time at 2:00 when the bars are closing - get a regular burrito. If you're in lower polk it would be Grubstake, but there's a few other choices if you're still in the 1am frame (viet, thai, similar). SOMA I like It's Tops but will fall back to Bagdad Cafe, a nice stack of pancakes or waffles to end the night. There are taco trucks here and there, but they're not prominent in the club areas, they'll be a few blocks away.
There's lots of little slice joints, just follow your nose.
I do still go out quite a bit, and they don't want to go to what 12 Galaxies turned into - it's called The Blue Macaw and it's dreadful, with a lot of police action. If you're doing a bar crawl, and you don't want total divey bars, Valencia's your better bet than Mission St., and I'd say Range is a good place for a pre-and-during dinner cocktail, plus it's great food too, and I second Foreign Cinema (but you need a reservation). But yeah, not party, dancing places. Maybe Ruby Skye?? I personally don't like that place, but it's nearish where you're staying, and it's drinks and dancing and young folk. If at the end of night you wanted to do late night "stands" in the Mission - the bacon wrapped hot dog carts are all over the place on Mission Street from19th through 23rd or so.